Are Toronto's graffiti artists hungry? Are they skipping meals to buy paint? If a recent visit is any indication, it would seem so. During the span of a few days, walking around the city netted no less than 12 food-related graffiti tags (most of them in Kensington Market and Chinatown), including renditions of anthropomorphic cupcakes dancing around on an alley mural. Considering that one of the more well-known graffiti artists (or vandals, depending on which side of the debate you're on) in T-dot goes by the name "Spud," maybe these other food-related tags shouldn't surprise.
Read More: Toronto Food Graffiti
Food graffiti? Yes. For the uninitated, here's the short version. The beginning of modern graffiti dates to the early '60s in Philadelphia. As Dimitri and Gregor Ehrlich noted in their New York Magazine article of 2006, "Graffiti in Its Own Words," it was a time "when Cornbread and Cool Earl scrawled their names all over the city." You heard that right. "Cornbread," a food tag, was done by one of, if not the originator of modern graffiti.
Did Darryl "Cornbread" McCray choose his name because of his affinity for actual cornbread? Yup, it would seem so — at least according to an interview with the artist in 2010 by the Philadelphia City Paper: "In 1965, Cornbread, then 11 years old, was sent to a reform school where he picked up his alias. (He'd begged the school's cook to serve cornbread like his grandmother used to make.)"
Well, that tradition continues. Over the past six years, prolific food taggers have shown up in New York, San Francisco, and Portland among other cities. In fact, about two weeks ago, New York street artist KATSU (also a popular Japanese dish in which a pork cutlet is breaded, fried, and at times topped with curry sauce), was noted as having appeared in a city that hadn't seen it before, Detroit. According to Motor City Muckraker, KATSU's trademark tag has appeared on at least four Detroit buildings.
Why "KATSU?" Why food? The artists would have to weigh in (they're welcomed and enouraged to below). But you don't choose a tag like "Egg Yolk," "Bacon," or "Pizza," because you think fashion or sports-related words are ways to build reputation, garner mainstream attention, or pique the interest of the people who might be able to help you make the move from the street to the gallery, runway, or wherever else you might want to get. Whether you're looking to make a name or capitalize on one, one of the reasons you pick a food-related tag is because you know that it hits home, draws on some element of popular culture. You could argue that few things do that as easily as food.
Does the food tag trail in the cities noted above have anything to do with their food scenes? That might be a stretch. Then again, the intersection of cooks and artists, both outsiders, isn't. Is there a greater commentary being made through these food tags? A conversation happening? Who knows. The Internet makes it easier to pin down, or at least ballpark when tags were put up (there's evidence that Grape tagged one Toronto building at least as far back as last summer), but precisely tracking a tag's trail can still be difficult, and making contact with the tagger tougher still.
Regardless, food graffiti recently spotted in Toronto included food-related tags like "Hams," "Cream," "Tofu," and for the love of all things food, "Sweet Taters." You can view them all in the slideshow. Interestingly, tags documented in Toronto like "Meat" and "Tofu" have been spotted in other cities that are fairly food-obsessed, or have rich, growing, and vibrant food scenes. Consider Hogtown among them.