When I first began photographing food tattoos around Boise for this issue of Edible Idaho, I thought I might have to slip into the world of Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s testosterone-fueled late-night fever dream of life in the tatted-up, coked-out world of restaurant kitchens. What I found was far more clear-eyed and thoughtful: a love of grandparents and children; a fondness for gardens and cooking; all kinds of memories.
Here are some of those stories.
Mandy McCord Collins, who works at the nonprofit Nutrition Works, invited me to her airy Eagle home to photograph a large tattoo of beets on her back, done in the style of a 19th century botanical print. “I got really sick about five years ago,” she told me. “I got rheumatoid arthritis and that was kind of a wakeup call to me. It really got me to thinking of living my life with intention and living more healthy and stress free ... Beets are super healthy, they’re full of magnesium and all these vitamins and I love them, so it’s just kind of a testament to my living a life in a healthy way and making choices that are going to be good for my body and mind.”
The four beets in the tattoo represent Collins and her three children. “It’s kind of fun,” she said through a grin, “to ask my kids which beet you are.”
Toni Hodge, who owns Shangri-La Tea Room, got her tattoo as a Mother’s Day present from her tattoo-artist daughter, Natalie Hodge. “It’s a teapot hovering over a lotus flower,” she said of the tattoo on her right shoulder. “It is also the logo for our business ... and it’s been 10 years since we started Shangri-La Tea Room and Vegetarian Restaurant. I decided it was time for me to mark it—so I did.”
Marking something significant was the motivation for everyone I photographed. Jed Glavin, winemaker and owner of Split Rail Winery, had a stylized grape root etched onto his left arm like a viniferous lightning bolt. Dana Wallace, sous chef at Cloud 9 Brewery, had an array of vegetables inspired by an 18th century French seed catalog tattooed on her right arm. Rob and Keely Landerman, brewers and owners of Woodland Empire Ale Craft, got celebratory tattoos as anniversary gifts for each other.
“It was done by a friend
who had some ink and a needle
at the end of a ball point pen”
“We had a friend in Austin,” explained Keely Landerman, “who had one that said, ‘Making Lemonade’ and it had a little cut lemon on it and we thought that was super cool, a way of saying when life gives you lemons.” So Rob got one with chickpeas that says, ‘Making Hummus’ and Keely got one with limes that says, ‘Making Mojitos.’
The most diminutive, most rustic food tattoo I found belonged to Jamie Drysdale who has a pizza slice the size of a guitar pick and barely more elaborate. Yet even it marked a significant moment: When he and five North Carolinian friends, who’d visited a local dive pizza joint every week of their friendship, were finally leaving the state, they decided to commemorate their departure with pizza tattoos.
“And it was done by a friend who had some ink left over and a needle at the end of a ball point pen,” said Drysdale. “We had a lighter to disinfect the needle.”
On the other end of the scale, Nicole Ferguson, who works at a local nursery, has fruit and vegetable tattoos that tumble cornucopia-like from her left rib cage down to her ankle.
“There’s something so primal about fruits and veggies,” she said. “I got some mushrooms because they look cool; I got a coconut and some ginger root and some hops, but first it was tomatoes and apples. I’ve got a pomegranate on there, avocado.”
Justin Moore of Fiddler’s Green Farm has a large kale plant inked along the inside of his right arm, its bare roots spreading downward like mildly gothic blue veins. On the backside of that same arm, a single onion plant stands, its long, tangled leaves reaching upward for his shoulder.
“I started with the kale tattoo,” Moore said while standing in one of his fields. “I traded a CSA share for it back seven years ago. I would truck food over to [my tattoo artist] with my bike cart every week, deliberating on what kind of tattoo I was going to get and thought, ‘I’m going to get a kale tattoo.’ So I ripped up a kale plant from the garden and brought it in to her and said, ‘This is what I want.’”
In turn, Moore paid Angi Hronek, a friend and herbalist, for helping out on his farm with a garlic tattoo that unfurls along her upper spine.
“Garlic is probably the most tasty medicinal root that I know,” Hronek said with the earnest air of a true herbalist, then broke into a smile. “Instead of getting paid cash, I got paid in tattoo.”