I’m staring at a glass jar full of onion skins. They look delicate yet harsh, and with a battery-operated tea light inside, the dry skins flicker like a mess of spiderwebs caught with a lightning bug. Talk about an organic decoration.
Zachary Pacleb and I are standing in the basement of The Vera Project during the opening reception of his art installation, “Leftovers: Volume 2.” Around us are different pieces of art made either about food or from the remnants we create as we cook food.
One artist, Madeline K., has made a 3D floral piece from coffee filters. It’s entitled, “We Have A French Press Now,” and it somehow speaks so neatly to the guilt we feel about our own trash, purchasing a French press before we run out of coffee filters.
Zach is a chef and an artist. It was difficult for me to decide which of those to list first since with Zach, the identities aren’t mutually exclusive. His process to create one – either art or food – feeds into the process for the other. His art is born from his food, and his food is art.
“Leftovers: Volume 2” as a series is a long and slow process. The first volume debuted at Fred Wildlife Refuge in June of 2017. Zach describes the show as something to do in Brothers & Co.’s offseason. He and his brother Seth started Brothers & Co. as a catering company after they were turned off the greed and idiosyncrasies of the restaurant industry. Brothers & Co. currently pursues an array of artistically-fueled food endeavors, including a ‘Ramen and Tacos’ booth at Seattle-area farmers markets.
For the “Leftovers: Volume 2” opening night reception, chefs and food visionaries from Seattle offered bites made with repurposed food scraps. The lineup of tasty mouthfuls included something from Melissa Miranda of Musang, Erik Jackson of Good Day Donuts, and Kristina Glinoga of Butchery 101.
Food art enthusiast, Jeremy Buben, owner of the Food Art Collection apartment gallery, helped curate. Adding to the inedible artwork for the show are Ariel Orion Anne Parrow, Monyee Chau, Amy Salowitz, Brandon Aleson, and Madeline K.
When I asked Zachary about his fuel behind the “Leftovers” series, he cited climate change.
“I feel so much anxiety about it,” he said, “I’m looking for absolutely anything I can do to mitigate it.”
Scattered about the exhibit are facts and figures pulled from the Seattle.gov fact sheet on food waste. An average of 400 pounds of food per person goes uneaten every year, we waste more than 20 percent of freshwater on food that’s never eaten, and so on.
Zach believes conversation is the key to change.
In my own life, I see food waste at every turn.
My dad buys broccoli and then lets it go bad in his fridge. “It’s okay,” he tell me as he dumps the once green head straight into the trash, “I have cauliflower.”
I watched my best friend – one of the best home chefs I know – cut away a half-pound of fat from chicken thighs and pitch it immediately.
Right now, as I write, I can see two separate sets of fruit, courtesy of my housemates, rotting on the kitchen countertop. One particularly sad and moldy looking pear is suffocating inside a plastic bag, adding insult to injury.
For the opening night of “Leftovers: Volume 2” Zach involved entrepreneur Kellie Phelan who founded The Works just a mere nine months ago. Patching your jeans, growing lettuce at home, and making herbal remedies for stress, The Works is a place where adults can go to learn the essential skills our forebears forgot to tell us about.
“These skills are in this newfangled sustainability movement,” Kellie says, “but that used to just be like, life.”
Zach also invited his friends from the culinary world to the reception. Each was tasked with making a dish out of food scraps. By seeing what can be done with what we’d normally throw away, Zach hoped to make people examine their cooking process.
For the next iteration of “Leftovers,” Zach envisions a forum-style event featuring some of the top Seattle chefs and, of course, a giant onion-skin lantern.
The public will have to wait, however, for Brothers & Co. to open their own culinary space first.
It won’t be traditional but would you expect anything else from a person who turns onion skins into home décor?
To see “Leftovers: Volume 2” until March 29th, visit The Vera Project.
Danielle Palmer-Friedman is a Seattle-based writer who works in events. She’s in love with ice cream and local theater and currently obsessed with poetry and taking leftover food home. You can read her published work on The Daily and the Vitamin B blog, or check out her personal blog.