Frustrated with the lighting in our kitchen and dining area – despite our awesome, new, and bright IKEA dining-room pendant lamp – I’ve finally created a very low-fi lightbox for shooting pictures of the food we cook. And so, the word “plating” has surfaced in my vocabulary, the first use of which did raise an eyebrow on my husband’s face. He knew what it meant, but he also knew that I’d turned over a new leaf.
He’s always been very complimentary of my photography, but for the most part, I’d relegated it to the land of iPhone photography. With the “lightbox” in the corner of our guest room, I’ve taken it up a notch, and have started almost exclusively using my Canon SLR for the shots. For food that I doubt will look good under that scrutiny (most dishes that involve the oven and the color green), I still rely on the iPhone and its wiggly convenience and honesty.
We may need some dinnerware other than the white Crate and Barrel set we selected in our wedding registry, but they do pretty well, for most plating. Luckily we have napkins with a wider range of colors and patterns.
The truly interesting thing about this lightbox is that I assembled it at about the same time that Steve and I committed to an animal product-free diet for the month of March. Why did cooking mainly plants inspire me to put more effort into shooting pictures of the food?
We’ve been captivated by the variety of flavors, textures, and colors that we’ve encountered (and, I admit it: floored by things you can do with tofu). Indeed, this experiment was born of a desire to get more nutrient variety into our diet, than out of real fear of any dangers of animal fats and proteins (I mentioned The China Study in a previous post). It’s possible that collards and coconut milk are simply more photogenic than flank steak or our favorite sausage, feta, and orecchiette recipe. But I think there is more to it than meets the eye (cue wah-wahh sound).
Something happened just last evening that may explain this convergence: I was home, alone, faced with hunger and a refrigerator half-full of produce. We’d done our biweekly shopping last weekend, and had made it though about half the recipes we had selected. There were leftovers in the fridge for me to eat, but the full crisper bins, with some items already showing signs of decay, indicated what the right thing to do, was: some cooking.
In an hour’s time, I had some very tasty food ready: an appetizer of roasted plantains, and I had a hearty soup a-simmer on the stove. Normally, after a few hours of cooking, I feel a comforting sense of satisfaction, from having emptied the cabinets of some of the packaged food that we’d bought (our cooking usually involves items from the cupboard, fridge, and/or freezer). We often find ourselves in the situation of tossing rotten produce: we can’t get to it in time. Prior to this diet experiment, a busy week would often shepherd us into restaurants for a few meals. This meat-free diet seems to keeping us at home or in sack-lunches, more often.
However, last night, after emptying one of the crisper bins and half-emptying our onion and potato stash, the satisfactory feeling had a different quality. Victory! I’d used up perishable stuff, and there was no packaging left over to put into the garbage. Any scraps all went into the compost bin. They’ll all go back into our garden.
I’m off, to get some tomato and pepper seeds started. BAM! It doesn’t always work this well, this effort to save the planet and make healthy choices.