The golden lager calls my name with an inviting, frothy head. The oysters are topped with an El Bulli-approved foam. The images appear to tease a night of delicious eating and drinking. That is, until you look a little bit closer, and you see the beer is covered in styrofoam balls, and the oysters are paired with nothing but Saran Wrap.
It’s all *gag* plastic.
The Microplastic Series is a collection of photos produced for the Copenhagen Zoo by food branding and communications firm Sweet Sneak Studio. While the studio is known for creating campaigns for companies such as dairy producer Arla Foods, the zoo wanted to highlight the dangers of single-use plastics to all species. And so the two groups teamed up to create the photos you see here: delicious dishes contaminated with plastics.
“Our intention is to challenge the common view on the beauty of food while not overlooking the ugly side: food waste, unsustainable packaging and the impact our consumerism has on nature,” the studio writes via email.
As plastics break down in our environment, they don’t simply disappear; they just become smaller. As a result of these microplastics across our environment (in vastly greater concentrations than originally realized), the material ends up in our food. The average person consumes as many as 52,000 microplastic particles a year—so much that it’s measurable in our fecal matter. Of course those plastics end up in the fish we eat, but they also end up in beer, bottled water, salt, and honey. Our entire ecosystem is contaminated by invisible plastic.
Sweet Sneak visualizes the true invasiveness of microplastics through these caricatured images, which took a day to photograph and were put on display at the zoo last year, including a sushi roll wrapped in grocery bags, a honey jar filled with confetti, and a sushi tin that opens to reveal a coffee lid with a carefully placed frisée of orange plastic.
“Usually, the aim of the work we create in our agency is to draw beautiful, mouthwatering images that stimulate desire and appetite,” the studio writes. “For the message of the Microplastic Series we wanted to pick up the thought of food usually being something aesthetic and pretty at first sight, but then shock the viewer when taking a closer look.”
The effect works. Somehow, the images strike a balanced tone between visceral appeal, shock, humor, and disgust. They call us to action without ruining our day—though that happy hour beer may be a little tougher to swallow.