The anthropologist Dame Mary Douglas once stated: "The human body is always treated as an image of society." If this is the case, currently our society is seeing a lot of love for self-expression through tattoos with food an interesting element.

The tattoo has moved into a new realm of perception. Generations ago, having a tattoo meant you were in the navy or had been in prison and that was about it. And while some people may still associate tattoos with bad guys and dodgy folk, it’s hard to think someone is menacing and dangerous when the tattoos they have are cupcakes on their chest or an elegant row of colourful vegetables on their arm. Through tattooing, the love of food and art is moving to a level of self-expression that is intensely personal and as complex or as simple as its wearer chooses.

Tatts are permanent but the one thing this (un-tattooed) writer learned is that tattoo wearers are not only aware of this but, more than anything else, are excited about growing old with their culinary-inspired artwork.

To celebrate a love of food (and tattoos), we’ve found some local folk who are not only putting the edible in their mouths, but all over their bodies.

Nathan Robey, 35

With his surreal crab-cake and duck pie making those who see them smile instantly, Nathan Robey’s initial motivation for these particular tattoos wasn’t a great love of food but to simply make people laugh. “I was at a pub in Fitzroy,” he says, explaining the latter, “and on the menu was duck pie and the image just flashed up in my head. I was at a stage where I was comfortable with tattoos and I was down for more comedy tattoos.”

The crab cake idea, meanwhile, came from a doodle Nathan did of a crab with a cake body. A tattoo-artist friend took the image and emailed him back with an idea of what is now the crab-cake tattoo on his leg.
The typical question from those of us who don’t have tatts is always: how will you feel when you’re 70 and you still have to see the same image? Nathan says, “I’m really looking forward to that. When your skin starts to give and seeing how the ink holds out. You see old men with tatts now and the ink’s bled into their skin but they’ve come a long way with inks and guns and needles.”

Damien Styles, 39
A tattoo of a knife on his chest, above his heart, was “a bonding thing” with his first head chef when Damien was 19. “I already had a panther and a sun and we were at the pub one day, we’d had a few, and he really wanted to get a tattoo [so] I said let’s go and get it done now.” He said: “Is it that easy?”

“We got exactly the same knife in exactly the same spot. It was his first and his only one as far as I know.”

Damien had much respect for his head chef at that time and credits the man with making him the chef he is today. “He was a god as far as I was concerned. He was the one chef who took me under his wing and taught me how to cook properly. I still cook the same way today because of what he taught me.”

Damien continues to get tattoos. “My tattoos stem from every big, poignant moment in my life,” he says.

Ruth Charters, 31
Coordinator, Public Affairs & Communication, Australian Red Cross Blood Service
Ruth’s very first tattoo was a star but it was a breakup with a boyfriend that saw her decide to get a tattoo she’d been wanting for a long time. “I thought, ‘bugger it, I’ll just get my chilli and garlic tattoo, I’d been wanting them for ages.’ Then I think I got addicted.”

As well as the chilli and garlic on the inside of her left arm, Ruth now also has broccoli, eggplant, mango and some cherry tomatoes (that have been added since these pics were taken).

“There’s no deep-down reason, I just love all these and eat these all the time,” she says pointing to her veggie-dressed arm. Her passion, however, has extended to having the words I’M HUNGRY tattooed behind her bottom lip simply because, “I am hungry, I’m always hungry, I love food!”

CJ Krause, 25
Party promoter Street Party
CJ Krause’s first tattoo was an art piece four years ago, and she now has a sleeve that is an homage to sweet things. There’s a cupcake with a spatula and whisk crossed underneath (in the same vein as a skull and crossbones), oven mitts together in prayer, a red KitchenAid mixer, a doughnut, an ice cream and gummy bears galore. Krause’s tattoo sleeve is a joyous expression of her love of baking: “I like to bake – a lot,” she says with a smile.

It’s impossible to think someone is menacing or dodgy when they have such colourful, happy artwork on their body but people still judge those with tatts. “I’d rather people came and asked me why I have what I have than stare at me,” CJ says. “They’re there because I like them, they make me happy and I like the colours.”

Justin Emerson, 35
Director, Supreme Coffee
Justin’s coffee-inspired tattoos include a portafilter (also known as a coffee group) on the inside of his right forearm and a small steaming cup of coffee on his ankle.

“I got my first tattoo about 12 years ago but [got] the portafilter [after] I started making coffee in Wellington, New Zealand, then became a machine technician. It made sense to get that tattoo for what I was doing. I really like the technical nature of it (the tattoo).”

Justin started getting tattoos way before it became popular. “A lot of people are getting them because it’s cool and that’s the worst reason I reckon. For me, they’re about a significant event. I don’t regret any of my tattoos; they represent a part of what I’ve done and where I’ve come from. They’re a part of who I am.”

Alison Lister, 27
Restaurant Manager
Alison got her first tattoo 10 years ago and now has a cup cake, a slice of cake, doughnut, lollipops and sugar skulls among the other ink. Getting a tattoo was a natural progression for her. “Tattoos were a part of the culture I grew up around. It’s amazing artwork and takes the idea of art to another level. There are so many artists doing great work.”

Her food tattoo choices evolved from simply liking the images. “I don’t eat a lot of sweets but I think they’re really cute and I love the colours. People still gauge people with tatts as being bad, which isn’t true,” she adds.

She is very passionate about the art form and sees it as a positive assertion of self-expression and also works as a canvas for the artist. “Tattooing is alive; it’s moving artwork and an amazing expression of who you are.”