Every day, 32-year-old Danling Xiao posts a fun picture on Instagram featuring cute characters she’s made out of fruit and vegetables. The project started in 2013 and has since grown into a website, weekly newsletter and now a Vivid Ideas talk about the varied careers you can follow within (and on the fringes of) the food and drink industries.
“I started posting every day after I quit my full-time job,” says Xiao, who works on the artistic and ethically motivated project Mundane Matters alongside her career as a designer and brand consultant in Sydney. “Interestingly, the journey has taught me so much about the impact of our eating habits. I learnt to eat more healthily and ethically, to reduce waste and minimise my carbon footprint.
“The way we eat and consume has never been so crucial to the generations to come. Take one very simple example: disposable coffee cups. It’s estimated Australians use one billion disposable coffee cups each year, which will not biodegrade for another 400 years.”
Xiao shares personal stories behind her work in her daily posts. Some of the most popular images include an anatomically accurate heart made using a strawberry, and a video of Danling blowing the skin of an onion – in a bid to draw attention to the need to further educate children about healthy eating.
She’s created 700 characters and stories through food, which she always eats afterwards. “I like the ones made from imperfect fruits and vegetables,” says Xiao, who also runs workshops with Dinosaur Designs founder Liane Rossler, so her 47k Instagram followers can have a go at making their own edible sculptures. “Everything our participants create is a delight to see – no two creations are the same. It’s an engaging way to help reduce waste and inspire healthy eating.”
Danling moved from China to Melbourne ten years ago, but later settled in Potts Point with her partner. Nearby restaurant Billy Kwong is her favourite place to eat in Sydney. “I admire not only Kylie Kwong and her team, but also Kylie’s philosophy in food and kindness to our community. My other favourite is of course is Clayton Wells’ Automata. Everything they do is beyond perfection.”
In June, Danling is presenting a panel discussion on creative food careers with chef Clayton Wells, cake creative Katherine Sabbath, food photographer Nikki To and (ahem!) Time Out. “They are the greatest talents I admire and I am curious about their creative journey,” says Xiao. “When I started out a couple of years ago, I wish I’d had better understanding self-employed careers in the food industry... Instead I spent two years finding a ‘niche within a niche’, going through phases of doubt and fear and testing out different ways to sustain my practice. I hope sharing my journey with others will mean they don’t have to walk the long way around, like I did.”