First things first: There was a new episode of Backyard Industry radio last week about eating invasive species as a way to manage them. I focused on a local person who’s all about introducing the autumn olive into the local food landscape here in central Illinois, but as I was putting the piece together, I ran across several other interviews/articles about eating, managing, and examining the very concept of invasive species. There was this piece at NPR about a 6th grader’s science-project discoveries regarding lionfish (since mired in controversy), and then there was this interview with writer Emma Maris about her book Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. I haven’t read the book, but the part of the interview I happened upon as I was driving back from my beloved prairie preserve (where I saw a bunch of white-tailed deer, considered by many in this area to be invasive) was about ecosystems and invasives, if not specifically about eating them. It’s interesting, uh, food for thought and damned provocative when you think about them in the context of the current food system in the US.
Tonight I was putting together a care package of reading material for my friend Millicent, who is spending her summer cooking in the Adirondacks for a nice Midwestern family (“I know, boo-f*ckin’-hoo,” she wrote). I met Millicent in Chicago about 20 years ago when we were both working for an independent music distributor; we came back together 2 summers ago while she was touring her book about pie. She slept on our couch and we spent a fantastic evening going through many cans of beer in my driveway, discussing independent food and music and art and culture and their many intersections like the couple of aging punk-ass ladies we are. Anyway. Millicent put out the call for some stuff to read as she closes out her time up there, so I got to work. I won’t say exactly what I found for her, except that I think she will LOVE IT, but I will allow that I ran across this gem in our basement – a terrible place to keep something that was at least partially responsible for a major change in direction for me back in the late 90s/early 00s. Behold:
That right there is a copy of The Journal of Gastronomy, published by the American Institute of Wine & Food, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter/Spring 1993. I spotted it on a shelf at a Salvation Army during a thrifting trip, thought, hm, and paid my 50 (EDIT: 55, see cover) cents. Go on, look at the table of contents up there. Laurie Colwin, Joan Dye Gussow, Margaret Visser, that guy who wrote the book Flow, etc. My mind was blown. BLOWN! FOR FIFTY(-FIVE) CENTS! I didn’t know this type of writing about food – the experience of it, the culture of it – even existed. It’s been a talisman, one of my personal Big Bangs, and the fact it’s been hanging out in our very undignified basement for ages is a tremendous oversight, given the fact that everything I’ve done around food for the last 15 years is a result of thrifting it.
The journal ceased publication in 1993; Gastronomica has more or less picked up the slack since 2001, and we all know what happened after Michael Pollan wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma. There’s no shortage of excellent, thinky food writing out there in 2014. But what I loved about this single issue – the only issue I’ve ever seen – of TJoG is that it was published pre-internet. There are no URLs on its covers or masthead, no promises of extra “content” somewhere in the ether, no link-induced rabbit holes. It’s just print. The photos are in black and white. It’s conversational rather than aspirational, and the contributors assume the reader is invested and intelligent. It’s also a snapshot of a time long gone – the primary concern about the disruption of meals in 1993 had everything to do with TV, not each individual participant burying their faces in a device or taking photos of their food. Finding that journal tonight was the equivalent, for me, of running across a prized Sixteen Tons 7″ (recorded by Steve Albini!) or a cassette recording of my radio show from college.
Nostalgic? Sure. I’ll own up to that. But it’s also a tactile reminder that we’re the cumulative result of all our influences. Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter/Spring 1993 is moving back up to my desk.
PS: I’m not sending this fusty/precious old thing to Millicent, just other precious/fusty old things. Though I do think she might enjoy the Colwin piece so perhaps a little Xerox love will be going into the envelope…