I can’t fathom how no one notices my desperation. Primal urges are hard to conceal. I must get my hands on you. Now I am famished. Wanting. Wanton. I finally have my way with you privately, after the others have left. I won’t have them seeing me like this, so out of control and needy. You eat me up inside, all the time. Not it s my turn. I devour you. (Appetites by Trish Cook, excerpt from Graze issue 3)
Nowadays, it seems like food blogs fall into either one of two categories: recipe porn or restaurant porn. I’m either looking at glamorous photos of homemade risottos and breads, or reading a review about some restaurant’s scrumptious foie-on-toast appetizer. Everyone’s mother and aunt has a blog with personal recipes or reviews of local restaurants and chefs, filled with mouthwatering images and descriptions of gelatos and gourmet burgers. And even when I’m not glued to my computer, I’m watching celebrity cook-offs or No Reservation reruns, and it all makes me realize that in our modern society, you just can’t fucking escape food. It’s sickening, really, but alas, I’m not immune to any of it.
So I set out to find a media source about food that really wasn’t about food at all—not how you grow it, eat it, cook it. That’s when I stumbled upon Graze magazine. “Graze is the anti-food-magazine food magazine–we feature no recipes, no tablescapes, no restaurant reviews. We’re not trying to commodify food; we’re trying to look at the ways food is in the background or foreground of politics, human relationships, locations, events, and life.” The semi-annual magazine is “interested in the stories that food tells about us–after all, our collective and individual human histories were nourished by the food that we made, smelled, ate, threw up, fucked up, and loved.”
When it comes to literary magazines, I think of the New Yorker or the Atlantic—fancy booklets filled with the pretentious ramblings of those who enjoy the art of mental masturbation. Clearly biased with contempt, I thought a bit more insight into the industry would clear any misunderstandings. Brian Solem and Cyndi Fecher, co-founders and editors of Graze, invite me over to Logan Square for a home-cooked dinner at Cyndi’s apartment, and I happily accept, bringing the obligatory pinot noir and a batch of my homemade blueberry muffins.
Cyndi and Brian remind me of your hipster theater buddies: artsy, vegetarian, coffee-addicted eclectics. But they’re extremely polite and sweet, not at all like the snobby critics I’d always imagined magazine editors to be. Cyndi preps our dinner as we chat about the magazine, farmers markets, and other random topics. Cyndi and Brian are both employed full-time; she works as a managing editor for Gather ‘Round and he works as a publications coordinator for the Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust. In addition to their weekday jobs, Graze provides Cyndi and Brian with “something to focus on, to love, and to develop [their] careers.”Cyndi says that Graze allows them to “mark time and create meaning” by emulating the demands, excitement, and natural progression of education (without the student loans). To publicize and raise awareness about their work, they hold various events throughout the year, including cookouts, release parties with live music and food, and panel discussions. “
Graze was born when Cyndi and Brian combined their love for food and literature in a way that wasn’t just a recipe book. “It’s not a cooking magazine; it takes a long time to explain to people what Graze is. It’s not Bon Appétit or Saveur. It’s food literature,” Cyndi emphasizes. She says the magazine doesn’t cater exclusively to foodies or cooks because the magazine revolves more around the culture and experience of food. “Food is such a broad term, and cooking is about meal prep. So we don’t have anything about meal prep, unless maybe it’s about the first time someone’s away from home on Thanksgiving and how that went.”
As we chatted in the kitchen, I munched on a variety of appetizers: edamame dip, sweet radishes, olives and chips. For the main dinner, we shared a delicious sprawl of vegan delights, including a fresh lettuce salad topped with radish shoots (dressing on the side, of course), shaved carrot and pasta fettuccini, and grilled asparagus.
Cyndi’s clear talents in the kitchen parallel her other food-related hobbies and activities. For instance, she plans community picnics at Logan and Palmer Square, where attendants bring their own food, plates, and blankets. She also cold-brews drinking vinegar, which she mixes with sparkling water for a refreshing beverage. In addition, she’s on the Board of Directors for Slow Food Chicago, an educational non-profit dedicated to creating “dramatic and lasting change in our local food system to ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat.”
And Cyndi’s not the only interesting one. For instance, Brian taught English for an entire year in China. His food philosophy is trying new techniques and ingredients, although homemade hashes (roasted potatoes, sautéed green veggies, and fried egg) are a favorite staple. His favorite book is God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Cyndi’s is Zoe by J.D. Salinger), and lived in Lakeview before moving to Logan Square.
“For me, it’s more about who’s in my life rather than where I am. I lived in Lakeview for 8 years. I guess I didn’t really feel a sense of community in that I didn’t have a built-in set of friends that were a nurturing, entering presence.”
Brian says that Logan Square exudes a much more small-town feel, in that everyone knows and supports each other. Cyndi agrees, adding that her neighbors own a couple of chickens. In fact, this particular dinner was my first adventure to Logan Square. From my brief drive through this quaint little area, I get the impression that it’s a small neighborhood on the verge of some major development.
As our conversation meanders around DIY food projects, haircut horror stories in Chinatown, and favorite restaurants, I’m seriously beginning to rethink about my stereotypes of literary magazines. Cyndi says that the biggest misconception people have about literary editors is they have glamorous jobs that pay for magnificently-furnished apartments. But she says,
“It’s incredibly difficult to manipulate language. But I think it’s so fascinating to take apart the language down to the very sentence, even down to the little markings that help make meaning.”
Cyndi and Brian are a shy duo (or I’m just highly outspoken), but they’re clearly passionate about their magazine. Like me, they bust their asses working on a project of humble, yet significant intentions. And sometimes, the process can be draining. Brian says his pet peeve is “Not having enough time for me. I’m an introvert so I have a hard time balancing all of the social things that I want to do, work, Graze, and my other hobbies.” But hard works almost always pays off—they’ve received major kudos from popular press, including the Chicago Reader and Gapers Block.
So, stereotypes dispelled—literature junkies and magazine editors can be cool. Especially if they like food. I can respect those who view food as an art rather than just something people craft and consume. As I wrote in my biography, I believe food is one of the universe’s greatest truths—it symbolizes our cultural past, our comforts and fears, our memories, our goals. And writing about food magnifies that truth even more, creating an elaborate course that defines our very souls.