We’ve known for ages that our sense of taste is inextricably linked with olfactory cues. More recently, we learned that the size and weight, even the color, of the utensils we eat with influences our perceptions of food. Now suppose those utensils are dressed as vegetables. Sends your senses reeling—and your environmental awareness inevitably up.
Graft is a line of disposable tableware built from polylactic acid (PLA) derived from corn starch and crafted to look like something you might actually eat, rather than eat with. The project loosely echoes the ethos of the “compassionate carnivore” movement—in which meat-eaters raise and slaughter their own meat—albeit with a lot less gore.
“I would love to introduce bioplastic to people without saying so by words,” designer Qiyan Deng tells Co.Design. “It’s a beautiful material that deserves design concern, not only moral exhortation. Since bioplastics are made from plants, why can’t I just make them look like themselves?”
Deng created the Graft line for her master’s diploma project at the University of Art and Design in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bioplastic utensils, made from biodegradable materials like corn starch or vegetable fats and oils, aren’t brand-new to the market or the provenance of eco-conscious small businesses: Whole Foods has a composting option for containers and forks and such, and Le Pain Quotidien has been experimenting with biodegradable dining materials for several years.
These efforts, while admirable, still produce products that look and feel like the old throwaway plastic standard. By giving her utensils more of a narrative, Deng hopes to make disposable wares that feel less like tools and more like objects that add fun and thought to mealtime. “They arouse the imagination of taste right after people see them,” she says.
Indeed, she carefully chose the connections between certain utensils and certain foods, for both playfulness and provocation. Savory vegetables make sense as a fork, which you’d most likely use for a salad. And an orange for a goblet may bring out the sweeter, citrusy notes of a beverage. The charm to Deng’s designs serves a final, greener ultimate utility, however: They just might turn out to be keepers.