Why I Can't Stop Buying NFT Art of Food

And why I'm making my own.

Examples of food NFTs
Photo: First row L to R: Spookies / Narrator for Dumpling Mafia / Mighty Manateez Second row L to R: Narrator for Dumpling Mafia / Spookies / Rockbunn

It started on August 28, when I saw a cute ghost with a turkey and decided to buy it. Since then, I've purchased dozens of NFTs, many of which depict food in unlikely and whimsical situations. I now also own a ghost with an ice cream cone, a tuxedoed manatee eating a burger, and a few animated baos that are part of a rock band.

At this point, for those of you who aren't familiar, I should explain that an NFT is a non-fungible token on a digital ledger known as a blockchain. It's a way to buy, sell, and transfer digital art and other creations and assets. If this seems confusing, don't worry. Buying and selling NFTs doesn't require blockchain expertise or coding experience or a desk or even putting on pants. There are lots of people trading NFTs in dimly lit rooms, in their pajamas, all day long. Once you get started on a site like leading NFT marketplace OpenSea, buying and selling NFTs isn't much more complicated than using eBay.

There are plenty of articles about how to install a cryptocurrency wallet, such as Metamask, for NFTs. There are detailed explainers about NFTs and the Ethereum blockchain where most of them currently reside. There are amusing first-person stories about NFTs in major media outlets. Some publications, including Time, have even released their own successful NFTs. But as I've personally discovered, one of the best ways to learn about NFTs is to just jump on OpenSea or a rival marketplace like Nifty Gateway and start looking around.

Many people think of NFTs as speculative investments, and there are no doubt NFT buyers who have made life-changing money and other NFT buyers who have seen the vast majority of their purchases decline in value. And there are lots of other people who consider NFTs as their latest fun hobby, one that happens to involve spending money on JPEGs.

I've bought into NFT collections like Spookies, Mighty Manateez, and Rockbunn because I like the art and the teams behind the projects. (Social media, including Twitter, Discord, and Clubhouse, is a good way to find out about NFT launches and interact with NFT creators.) For example, Rockbunn is the work of a Thailand-based artist, known as Poptoday, who previously designed the highly regarded TeddyBits NFT.

So this is my primary advice when it comes to NFTs: Buy art you like from people you like. And, yes, there are plenty of NFTs that look unattractive to me but have increased in value significantly. This is part of the magic. The quality and value of art can be largely subjective, of course. This has always been true. The Fast Food Punks parody (with images that are more expensive than any I own), the purposefully bizarre Sushiverse, and the various stoner-chic pizza-themed NFTs on the market aren't my style. But I dig the vibrant Boss Beauties collection (which features many women chefs) and the buoyant Bubblegum Kids (which has playfully turned ice cream into headgear). And I think the dessert-loving dogs of Shabu Town Shibas are adorable. Disagree with my taste? That's great. Do your own research and decide what makes sense for you.

In my search for NFT art with Chinese food, I didn't see much that I felt was worth buying. (There's a surplus of weird boba-adjacent NFTs, and none of them look right to me.) So I'm teaming up with L.A. chef Shirley Chung, food-festival veteran Caryl Chinn, artist Narrator, and digital-currency ATM company Coin Cloud to create our own NFTs. Later this month, we'll launch both the Dumpling Mafia Bosses collection and the Dumpling Mafia collection to celebrate Chinese-American food and to put some fun dumpling art onto the Ethereum blockchain. Also, Chung (who runs Ms. Chi Café), Chinn, and I have previously worked together on fundraisers for the AAPI community and the #StopAsianHate movement, so we plan to auction off some special NFT art for charity at a Lunar New Year event in Los Angeles next February.

Many NFTs do well because they offer perks and a way to be part of a community. For us, Dumpling Mafia started as a dining group that ate dumplings all over L.A., so throwing a Lunar New Year party with dumplings made by Chung feels appropriate. Buying digital art and pondering the implications of the metaverse for hours every day can be its own kind of dopamine rush, but we're here to remind you that it's still a blast to visit an actual restaurant for in-real-life socializing and delicious food.

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