The Shrinking Edible Press: Exploring Food Writing in Small Formats
Back in September, while attending the Association of Food Journalists national conference in Memphis, I handed out issues of Crop Stories to speakers and attendees. The response was positive.
It was Kat Kinsman, formerly of CNN's Eatocracy and now of Tasting Table, who offered this comment when I handed her a copy. I'm paraphrasing: Food writing is going small; zines are the future. This is good news to me. As an old D.I.Y. punk kid who grew up reading Kinkos-produced xerox zines and stuff like Cometbus, reading food is such a fashion is comfortable.
Food writing, certainly, has been small-ish in other ways for some time. The community of professional food writers isn't *that* big; and food blogs, often the work of talented solo cooks laboring in their spare time, are where many cooks, especially of my generation, get their recipe ideas.
But beyond magazines, cookbooks and the digital realm, another food writing platform has become popular recently: the thin cookbook, the zine, small press, what have you. I wrote a bit in August about Short Stack Editions, an ingredient-focused small cookbook that's received the most press. More recently, this Little Big Books project, another small cookbook series focusing of the immigrant cuisines of the Midwest as well as culinary "unsung heroes," came to my attention.
I could list out all the quarterly food magazines that have sprung up, and there are many other small zines I'm not listing here but will eventually. Instead I'll highlight the two that keep my attention and are Christmas gift worthy for the cooks, farmers, farm-lovers and such in your life.
Brother Journal was started by Atlanta chef Ryan Smith. His work in such revered kitchens like Restaurant Eugene and Empire State South exposed him to the South's choicest ingredients. Brother stems directly from Smith's quest to trace those ingredients to the source, both place and maker. Each issue, there are three at the moment (note: No. 1 is out of print), features stellar writing and photography by Atlantans like Wyatt Williams, Rachael Maddux and Andrew Thomas Lee. The design is minimalist but classy, using handwritten text in places to emphasize more humorous or emotional points. The issue ends with a meal, and offers "recipes" like how to eat oysters (shuck them) or clams (boil them) or make a cheese plate (put more cheese here!).
Here's a creator's description of what Brother is:
The idea sprouted in my head to make a magazine not because there aren’t enough curated, pretty pictures of food in the world. There’s already plenty of that. The idea of a dinner table is that it brings together people and conversation and stories and drinks and food, too. This magazine might be something like that — a place where people meet over a good meal.
On it's face, that idea to bring people together over food...there's also plenty of that. At first glance, the project may feel a bit too hip, but read on, it's not. The interest these cooks, writers, designers and photographers take in this subject is entirely honest.
Put An Egg On It is most memorable for its green card stock. The design mixes photo, illustration and text in combinations that aren't groundbreaking, but varied enough to keep the eye interested. Issue eight devoted four spreads to food art as created by children, if that gives you any indication of this publication's mood. The stories lean toward the highly personal, tying food to life experiences, usually family. The stable of writers and illustrators are geographically varied in where they grew up and where they live now, that the memoirs aren't repeated. Recipes are plenty, and are derived from those written experiences and not a chef's kitchen. That won't make them easy. Given the multiple cultures represented in the Brooklyn-based zine, there are plenty of new ingredients and techniques to try out. This $7 zine (cheaper if you buy it online but then you've got to pay shipping) comes in a traditional 8.5 x 5.5 inch format, which I like. Put An Egg On It has already released nine issues, so there's plenty to tuck into here.