As more people spend time thinking, writing, reading, and talking about food, the need for in-person forums to enhance the kinds of idea-sharing that already happen online only seems natural. The latest of these events will be aimed specifically at those whose love for reading rivals their interest in food. Elizabeth Thacker Jones, a graduate student in Food Studies at New York University, started thinking about creating a food-focused book fair over a year ago, and from May 4 to May 6 in Brooklyn, she’ll finally see it come to fruition.
For some, it’s a little hard to believe Food Book Fair 2012 is the first of its kind. “People react to say, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t already happened,’” Jones said.
It won’t be a book fair in the strictly traditional sense. As Jones describes it on her website: “Permeating through art, design, fashion, architecture, activism and publishing, the Food Book Fair is a festival of food culture.” The panels she has planned speak to that, with titles like “Food + Design + Tech,” “Food + Cities,” and even “Food + Porn.” Celebrated figures in the food world like Marion Nestle, Tamar Adler, and Bryant Terry will give talks and book signings. Saturday evening, a “Foodieodicals” event will showcase over 10 independent zines and quarterlies, followed by a Pecha Kucha Night — a tradition started in Japan involving short slideshows, in this case of creative food projects. Sunday’s schedule includes a Hemingway-inspired literary dinner.
The fair is designed to offer something for everyone, not just those already deeply immersed and invested in food issues. “This word ‘foodie’ — there’s kind of a negative undertone to it,” Jones said. “[The book fair] is meant to challenge that concept. We want it to be accessible to everybody.”
To that end, interested parties who may not have the funds or time to commit to a weekend-long festival can pick and choose individual events to attend.
Jones has been working and learning in the food world for over a decade now; she’s had jobs doing everything from cooking, to farming sturgeon in California, to, most recently, working for New York’s Greenmarket farmers market organization. She’s also worked in publishing, so the Food Book Fair seems right up her alley. But Jones understands how far away the foodie world, with its elitist connotations, can seem from the reality of so many Americans. “My experience growing up was [that] we rarely ate as a family,” she said. “The microwave was how I cooked as a child.”
It wasn’t until a decade ago, when Jones moved to the Bay Area — a longtime “hub for food-systems thinking,” as she describes it — that she became drawn to the ways food, politics, and culture interact. “You can easily observe the overarching history of our country through the lines of the food system,” she said.
That kind of realization is happening all over the country now, sped along by influential works like Food, Inc. and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dielmma. The Food Book Fair offers a platform for the conservations it sparks, among people for whom “food is on the spectrum of what they feel passionate about, but maybe not the first thing they’re addressing,” Jones said.
Jones plans to expand the event beyond New York. She hopes to host a Food Book Fair in San Francisco in early 2013, and maybe one in Chicago, too.
“The dialogue can continue to grow, and we can connect the dots,” she said.