Beyond the Food Court

An Anthology of Literary Cuisines

By Ximena Gonzalez

Edited by Luciana Erregue-Sacchi
Laberinto Press
2020/$23.00/218 PP.

Edited by Luciana Erregue-Sacchi, a Canadian-Argentinian writer and editor, Beyond the Food Court brings together the culinary traditions of 14 Alberta-based writers who use food as a lens to approach politics, geography, culture and identity. The result is a thoughtful collection of essays filled with appetizing descriptions of traditional meals and feasts that invite the reader to reflect about our relationship to food regardless of our individual background.  

In a culture focused on the more practical aspects of our diet—from nutritional value and availability, to sustainability and ethics—it can be easy to overlook the role food plays as an expression of identity, a sentiment accurately portrayed by Adriana Oniță in the opening essay of the collection, “Notes on Dor, Poetry and Learning to Cook in Quarantine,” a lively piece drizzled with words in Italian and Romanian.

Each essay here takes the reader on a journey of yearning, not only for long-lost recipes and flavours, as Wendy McGrath does in “Sauerkraut Tableau and Other Art Installations,” but also for a sense of normalcy and commonplace activities in the midst of a pandemic—or upon arrival to a new country.

In “Resolviendo” Ana Ruiz Aguirre describes food as a “cultural signifier which can sometimes reinforce social hierarchies, economic systems and community ties.” Indeed, since the US embargo was enacted in 1962, cooking food in Cuba has become an act of defiance. The limited supply of imported foods bred creativity and sparked the creation of communally prepared dishes such as ajiaco, a Cuban stew paralleled here to a multicultural society. “Concocting this soup entailed an exercise in community building,” Ruiz Aguirre writes. “Each person contributed whatever ingredient they could.”

The anthology as a whole reads as an ajiaco of sorts, with each essay rooted in a specific socio-cultural and historical context, yet contributing to a collective narrative. For instance, in “Disposable Double Lives,” Mila Bongco-Philipzig eloquently reflects on the challenges Filipino workers face in Canada, while Asma Sayed takes on the challenging task of conveying the significance of cultural losses imposed by the white gaze in “Of Curries and Custard Apples: Identity, Memory, Resistance.”

On a lighter but not less important note, in “Empty Mason Jars” Marco Melfi shares his (unsuccessful) attempts at maintaining a sense of connection to his Italian roots by traditional means. “Food delights, triggers memories, impacts how we see ourselves and how we relate to others,” he writes.

An enjoyable, important read, Beyond the Food Court shows a path to finding common ground in our polarizing times.

Ximena González is a writer in Calgary.

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