project image
Alex McKenzie

first performed on April 6, 2015
Various restaurants and bars, in the kitchen, and on Snapchat, Charlotte, NC
performed ongoing for 30 days in 2015


Charlotte, NC /


The imperfect, limited nature of language has been a basis for arguments and misunderstandings since God first said, “Let there be light.” As if communicating with words wasn’t challenging enough, the 21st century influx of non-verbal, technology-based communication has bred its own species of ambiguous conversational tools: emojis. Did that kissy face with a heart mean, “I love you” or, “I like your butt”?

For us, it usually means both. Like many other couples, we have ascribed special meanings to emojis that make our text conversations nearly impossible for others to interpret. Somewhere between using the french fries icon to convey enthusiastic approval and the easter island head to punctuate bad jokes, we decided to apply emojis’ limitations (and ensuing creative liberties) to another aspect of our lives: our diets.

For 30-days we restricted our entire food and beverage consumption to things found on the emoji keyboard. We spent several hours determining which real-life foods are “emoji-kosher,” fighting over things like whether or not the Tangerine could also be interpreted as an orange. To stay accountable, we each kept two separate food journals: one was a traditional, hand-written notebook that gave us space to describe exactly what, when, and where we ate. The other was through Snapchat* which allowed us to superimpose pictures of our meals with their emoji ingredients and share them with each other—and our followers—in real-time.

The lack of diversity offered by emojis’ food and drink section challenged our resourcefulness. No spices or condiments are featured, but we took the little image of an ocean wave as permission to go to the beach, collect some water, and boil it down to salt. Roasted cantaloupe seeds and homemade strawberry jam became snacking staples. Our days would start with fresh-squeezed juices and end with spiraled-apple and basil salads topped with fried shrimp.

By the time it was over, we had transformed a handful of emoji into a month’s worth of meals. We have since compiled our favorite emoji diet conceptions into The Emoji Cookbook.

*Snapchat is a mobile app that allows users to send pictures that will delete themselves after one view, with the sender choosing a visibility time frame from 1 to 10 seconds. Users can also post pictures to a “story” which remains viewable to their followers for 24 hours.