Andrea Massaad: on Cooking Everything in the Microwave
I've known you for about four and a half years now, and to say that you've really come into yourself as an artist and a human is the understatement of a lifetime. How has your practice changed since leaving college?
It wasn't until a little after I finished film school that I dedicated more time to mediums that I had set aside while practicing live action film production in college, like drawing, collage, and photography. Right after graduating I think I pigeonholed some of my video practice, and thankfully my ideas of what it meant to work in film at the time along with it, while I explored interests in food and design. That kind of morphed into different realities from becoming an artisan ice cream truck fleet manager in NYC, to cooking a lot and dreaming of starting my own food business, and to going fully vegan. I've recently started having a lot of fun with video and photo again since combining it with my love of food.
I first met you in college when you were studying film and I was studying psychology. I think we really bonded because we did a lot of fun courses, like the special effects movie makeup class we took together. That was great!
I have a decayed mummy head sculpture in my closet that is difficult to explain to strangers, but yeah, good times.
Over the past few years, you've been sharpening your skills, particularly in animation, cartooning/graphics, and photography. I always laugh at one of your animations - a group of chicken drumsticks doing the can-can...how did your mind even think about making that?!
I've been fascinated with the graphics in microwave oven cookbooks from the 70s and 80s. There are instructions for cooking EVERYTHING IN THE MICROWAVE --pot roasts, souffles, whole lobster, flan. I have a time lapse photo of a marshmallow inflating on top of a s'more shot at four second intervals through the oven door framed on my wall from 'Basic Microwaving' by Barabara Methven. The cover of the book is a hamburger, a corn on the cob, and a slice of chocolate cake hovering in a black space vacuum with extreme motion blur. It's spectacular. I was playing around with making a collage of these cookbook images at the time, mostly through periodically sending Lucky Peach job solicitations in the mail that were supposed to be quasi-love letters but came out looking like cut out ransom notes. At the same time, I was also taking a continuing ed animation class at SVA to dust off my technical skills in animation. I thought those chicken legs would look better dancin'.
Now you've gone in a hilariously different direction and are starting to do photography and stylizing for a vegan zine. How long have you been vegan for?
1 year since January!
A lot of your recent artwork is a play on ideas of veganism and incorporates visuals from other food-based media, like the cookbooks and the magazine, Lucky Peach, which you mentioned earlier. How have you integrated those influences into your animations and photography?
Lucky Peach is so visually stunning, so someone could be drawn to it whether they have an appreciation for food, design, or both, or neither, because it's just guaranteed to turn heads. There's a that-isn't-for-me attitude hanging around veganism for so many that I want to evaporate with art centered around vegan food in scenes that are beautiful, shocking, perhaps confusing, sometimes repulsive, maybe delectable, and always sexy, because perhaps if we break all the rules and make art that isn't "for anyone," it's actually for everyone.
You've been very kind in cooking and feeding me delicious vegan food as a way to promote veganism instead of forcing me to watch horrible videos of animals being slaughtered.
My favorite way to share veganism with others is by feeding them delicious things. The reasons that I, and many others, choose to eat vegan are so somber that it's uplifting to celebrate the silver lining: kickass tasting and nourishing foods that exist outside the flawed systems of food production that cause mass animal suffering and environmental decimation. When I cook for others I hope for it to be a demonstration of how accessible a vegan lifestyle is despite common notions, and even if it doesn't spark an immediate eureka moment and an overnight lifestyle change, hopefully we can start by agreeing on one thing-- "that's delicious”.
We just worked together on the first photoshoot for your zine. Can you talk a little more about that project and your inspiration for the zine?
I'm still incubating the idea, but I'm hoping to compile food-focused art from many contributors along with vegan recipes and articles into something beautiful that will turn a lot of heads.
A lot of vegan foods are supposed to be "non-vegan passing," as in bacon and fried eggs. I've heard so many people (mainly non-vegans) talk about how it's "stupid" for vegans to eat food that LOOKS or tastes like their non-vegan counterparts. How do you feel about that, particularly in relation to your photos?
Some of the foods that I photograph, like the fried eggs made out of textured soy that you mention, I work with purely for their shock-effect. I'm fascinated and excited that they exist even if I wouldn't put it in my grocery cart to take home and eat for breakfast. I think everyone's relationship with mock meats is varied and it can have a lot to do with the reasons why you went vegan and also just where you're at presently in your relationship with your vegan practice. It's never fixed.
There are those who have no interest at all in eating realistic mock meats simply because they have no interest in eating real meat. There are those who have given up animal food products that they once loved, and this is a great alternative. There are those who regularly eat meat who might try it to gain some insight into alternative proteins and use it as a bridge over their apprehensions about giving up meat altogether. I understand the confusion around it for some, but I would never scoff at anyone's effort to choose plant-based alternatives over animal products in any increment. It's all relevant. It's all meaningful. And take or leave the mock meats, I love that they all exist. Let's all look at them.
What other types of foods are you planning to shoot in the future?
I'm looking forward to collaborating with vegan brands both local and across the country to photograph and review products that are visually striking, delicious, and available to purchase! I'm especially interested in vegan proteins like seitan and soy products at this time as the first issue of the zine will focus on fake meat. I might also be squishing a lot of tofu in the near future.
Are you hoping for a particular reaction from viewers and readers when they see your illustrations and photographs?
Ew, yum, fuck yeah.