Beyond the Food Court: An Anthology of Literary Cuisines, is the first book published by an new imprint, Laberinto Press. Laberinto Press is located in Edmonton, Alberta, and their mission is:
In a largely primarily anglophone and Anglo-centric publishing industry, Laberinto Press is Western Canada’s first press to publish writers whose first language is not English, and World Literature in translation (focusing right now on tapping into diaspora authors living in Canada).
This book caught my eye when it was featured in my Facebook feed. Generally I ignore anything Facebook is trying to sell me, but this seems like a book that is right up my alley. If you look at my reviews menu, you’ll see that there are a lot of restaurants that cover cuisines that didn’t originate in Europe and North America. This book contains several stories about such cuisines.
In the memoir with recipes vs cookbooks debate, I fall decidedly on the memoir end of the scale. This is another reason I am intrigued by Beyond the Food Court. I like stories that tell about the meaning of food in people’s life and this seems like a book that will tell some of those stories.
Edit: An interesting aspect of this book is that it is written by people living through the Covid-19 pandemic. This adds an extra layer of isolation on top of the isolation that many newcomers often feel. I was thinking about this while reading but neglected to put it in the original post.
Beyond The Food Court: Reading and Learning
The book is broken down into six sections, all containing Culinary in their headings.
- Culinary Languages
- Culinary Geographies
- Culinary Politics
- Culinary Heritage
- Culinary Nostalgia
- Culinary Arts
As the mission statement written above states, one of Laberinto Press’s goals is to publish works from authors for whom English is an additional language. This hits me in the very first chapter, which contains writing in English, Hungarian, and Italian. This forces me to slow down and pay close attention to what is being written. A good first step in any learning experience.
One term we often hear when it comes to cuisine that is not part of our heritage is the word, authentic. This generally refers to ingredients, implements, and techniques. However, as Beyond the Food Court suggests, evidenced by the above headings, authenticity is also related to so many more aspects of a cultures, and places.
I love Ethiopian Food, and this is one example that jumps out for me in the book. Shimelis Gebremichael’s chapter: Missing the Beloved Injera, makes me aware that there is more diversity to Ethiopian food than I currently realize. What really stands out, is the difficulty to replicate what was previously enjoyed. Memories are an important part of our food experiences, and the inability to access these ingredients, distorts, and damages the memories for many newcomers.
More of a Hindrance Than a Help
One theme that runs throughout Beyond the Food Court is how obtuse we settler Canadians are as we interact with newcomers. Our focus on the use of English is one example. Often scorning newcomers slowness in learning English, even though for many newcomers, it is their 3rd, or 4th language.
This can range from a professor expecting a Chinese newcomer to be an ardent defender of Marxism (101), through to Tim Horton’s cavalier manipulation and abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker program (44-51).
We are also brought through to the food court image used in the title. Our food courts, now mostly empty because of Covid-19, are places where diversities are melded into a diverse sameness. For example, several Indian cuisines may be blended into one, without regard for the regional, cultural, and political differences. Until reading this book, I was completely unaware that Beef Biryani is used as a tool to denigrate and attack Muslims(60-67).
I could go on and on about the many little things that there are to learn from Beyond the Food Court. Instead, I’d really like to recommend you pick up this book and read it for yourself. If you have a food based book group, Beyond the Food Court would make a great choice for your next reading material.
I am also looking for future books from Laberinto Press. This is the kind of food writing we need much more of. Food is not just a form of energy. Food brings us together, and if we allow it, keeps us apart. Books such as Beyond the Food Court will help us do more of the former, and less of the latter.