Plates have long had a seat at the table, but they’ve suffered in silence – quietly bearing the indignities of everything from barbecue sauce to mustard stains.
In February 2016, Brooklyn-based comedian Brandon Scott Wolf created an Instagram account called “Empty Plates of New York,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Wolf posts pictures of empty plates after eating meals around New York, describes the meal, and then includes a “quote” from the plate. (“Life can get messy, but thankfully I always find my way to the dishwasher,” muses Lawrence, a brown plate from Midtown.)
“Plates have voices as well,” Wolf tells The Salt. As of this writing, his account has 2,098 followers.
Wolf says the muse struck when he was trying to increase his social media presence. He had a Facebook, a Twitter account and a website where women could apply to date him, but no Instagram.
“I started looking at the app, and it was primarily food and pictures of Ariana Grande,” Wolf says. “I thought, I could do something with food.”
He took inspiration from the popular project “Humans of New York,” which pairs portraits of people with autobiographical quotes from the subjects. Then Wolf added a twist: Ditch the people for plates.
“I honestly say, ‘What does this plate have to say?'” Wolf explains. “I end up writing from the viewpoint of a basket who says, ‘Hey, I’m not a plate, but I identify as a plate.'”
“At first, I thought he was kidding, but he actually is serious about it,” says college friend Dan Sepe, who works in PR – an industry that seems to have failed plates completely.
Sepe, who has eaten out many times with Wolf, recounts a post-meal photo shoot at a Korean restaurant. “He took the plate and was positioning it. … It was very apparent that people were looking and going, what’s this guy doing with this plate?”
Still, Sepe believes in Wolf’s project. “He’s telling the story from the plate’s perspective,” Sepe says. “It’s less about the person, and it’s more about the plate.”
Wolf aims to post one plate picture per day. He compares his images to the work of splatter artist Jackson Pollock “for obvious reasons.” The prospect that some people might find his dirty plates unappetizing or even disgusting doesn’t trouble Wolf. “Like most people say of art of any kind,” he says, “as long as you feel something and want to talk about it, that’s good.”
Some of his Instagram followers appreciate the lack of culinary appeal. “I like that it doesn’t make me hungry,” says follower Samantha Jane Gurewitz, who works primarily as a makeup artist in New York City.
The empty plates are also a hit with the artist’s mother. “The empty plates show me that he nourishes himself correctly,” says Andrea Wolf. She says she never had trouble getting her son to clean his plate as a child and that his favorite food was broccoli. “I’m so proud of my son. I just can’t say enough about him … I’m maybe his biggest fan.”
But Wolf hopes to dish out more than just Instagram photos. He’s toying with the idea of a cookbook featuring exclusively pictures of empty plates and potentially donating proceeds to the Food Bank for New York City. Until then, he continues to bring power to platters and succor to saucers.
“The Internet is very strange,” says Wolf of his Instagram’s success. But he says the project is helping him grow. “This project is based on the dedication to write every day,” Wolf says, “and really a testament to the amount of time I have on my hands.”