there were a lot of words i wanted to attach to this, a lot about feelings and loneliness and want, about a lifetime of looking in and wanting so badly to be a part of something. that’s a lot of emotional crap to process, though, and a lot to find words for, and it hasn’t been a great week for finding words, so here’s an explosion of pink instead.
last week, the cherry bombe cookbook was published by clarkson potter, and, over the weekend, i went up to san francisco to volunteer at cherry bombe jubilee. for the uninitiated, cherry bombe is a magazine that focuses on women in food, and it has, for the last few years, held an annual conference in new york called jubilee, which it brought to the west coast for the first time this weekend.
i’ve wanted to attend jubilee since i started reading cherry bombe last year, but i left new york (temporarily) this january and SF jubilee cost $250 for the day. $250. on a similar thread, the inaugural women’s march conference is $295. as much as i understand that conferences cost money, with ticket prices like these, i wonder who these groups are trying to target, what kinds of people they’re trying to draw, what kinds of communities they’re trying to build. not everyone has a few hundred to spend on one day (or on one weekend, which also requires paying for accommodation and transportation), no matter how great any of the offered panels is.
maybe that kind of exclusivity is not what is intended, but that is the message that is sent.
(disclaimer: i did fly up to SF to volunteer, but flights between LA and SF aren’t unreasonable. i stayed with my BFF. we cooked a lot.)
(on a related note, i have this giant peeve when authors are on book tour and only do ticketed events in a given city. i don’t care if the ticket costs $12 or $50 or $300 or if it includes the book. maybe i’m hypersensitive to this because i’ve been in positions where i was getting by only because my parents were paying my rent, eating as cheaply as i could [lots of ramyeon, white rice, eggs, and hot dogs — maybe a whole chicken occasionally that i would roast and eat as long as i could], obsessively counting subway rides and saving them for job interviews, and turning down friends and social events. maybe i’m hypersensitive to this, but that ticket price sends a particular message.)
i think this is another reason i wonder who cookbooks are marketed towards. the cherry bombe book is $35, before tax. kish’s book is $40, before tax. benu is $50. who is this demographic, and, more importantly, what about all the people who don’t have these means? and don’t worry — i think about how ridiculously expensive hardback books are, too. $28 for a novel, before tax? why should reading good literature be something that requires a certain amount of means?
(i know we have libraries. the existence of libraries doesn’t negate my point, though.)
i know publishing is a business, and i want publishing companies to make money. i want them to continue to make beautiful books and publish great writing and invest in writers and cookbook authors and illustrators. i want writers to make money, so they can continue to write great books without having to work soul-sucking jobs of drudgery to make rent and put food on their tables.
hell, i want to be one of those writers, and, yes, this is hypocritical, but i would love to have a book out in hardback, too. i'm not immune to that kind of want.
at the same time, the book industry, especially the literary fiction element of it, loves to set itself up as an industry that serves a lot of good, that injects good into communities and into the world. we talk a lot about how books are crucial, how it’s necessary to put good writing out there, and all of that is great and i wholeheartedly support it — stories are foundational to how we see the world, and i do think that publishers, editors, authors, book designers, publicists, marketers, interns do crucial work in putting good books out there.
at the same time, though, i find it all pretty hypocritical when only people of a certain means can, one, afford to read the books the industry touts as beneficial to society and, two, (more importantly) participate in the reading community by attending events and readings and talks. publishing (and food) is only hurting itself by blocking out swaths of people, people with ambition and talent and stories to tell, with unique perspectives and aesthetic point-of-views that can inject something fresh and vibrant into what can only ultimately become a bubble industry (which it’s also doing with the continued stupid, willful lack of diversity that is such an easy “problem” to do something about).
and maybe that’s a lot to attach to a $250 ticket, and i know that publishers do try to contribute whether by supporting libraries, donating books, raising funds for booksellers in need, but i think it still warrants thinking about, even though i clearly don’t have any answers. and i’m also not saying a conference of the scale and detail like jubilee should be free or cheap, but there is something to be said about these things because honestly? how much good comes from only attracting people who look and have like you?
i love the events cherry bombe does. i loved their food fight panel (and i really hope they do more). i love the panels they do at jubilee. i love that they’re a magazine that is socially aware and conscious and encourages their readers, also, to be active, to pay attention, to care. they use their platform to advocate for women in the culinary industry, to boost profiles, to raise awareness for social campaigns, and they do so much that is awesome and vital and praiseworthy.
and this is why my criticism with cherry bombe as a magazine irks me — i know they are capable of more.i know they can be more than just a pretty magazine with a gimmick (women in food). i know they can do this. and yet …
as i was reading the cherry bombe cookbook, i admit i was disappointed, though it wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling — i often feel a little deflated whenever i read one of their biannual issues. maybe it’s the writing, not the quality but the shortness and brevity of the pieces that, for some reason, aren’t given the space to dig deeper, the dominance of [straight] white women, the circulation of the same crew of photographers (alpha smoot, alice gao, etc) from magazines like kinfolk and cereal that means we have this clump of magazines that all look, feel, and read the same. i want more depth; i want more meat; i want a magazine that maybe isn’t so incredibly on-brand but delivers great, strong, thoughtful writing that does more than skim surfaces.
the cookbook is no different in what it delivers and how i feel about it. the cookbook, overall, is a collection of recipes contributed by women, many of whom have illustrated careers in food, and the idea, in and of itself, is a great place to start. there’s a very brief introduction from kerry diamond (editorial director) and claudia wu (art director), and the recipes are grouped into types of food (mains, sweets, etcetera), each recipe given a brief headnote about the woman who contributed the recipe.
again, conceptually, it’s great, but the book is pretty much just a rolodex of recipes. the headnotes are brief (so brief), the bios the most basic identifiers, and, while the book is beautifully photographed and designed and completely on-brand, content-wise, it’s pretty shallow, skimming the surface of what it could have been. we could have gotten more stories; we could have gotten more from these women, about these women, who they are, why they submitted the recipes they did, what makes them special. we could have gotten more about all the things that makes food what it is, what judy rodgers sums up so well in the zuni cafe cookbook (norton, 2002):
everything else [other than the cheese program], i am very proud to say, is derivative. i cannot make a dish without trying to conjure where it came from, and where i first had it, or read about it, or who made it, or taught me to make it. and who grew the vegetables, raised the chickens, or made the cheese, and where. in this way, the simplest dish can recall a community of ideas and people. i hope that some of my — and your — efforts in the kitchen sustain that community or provoke you to explore and sustain different ones on your own. jean troisgros always insisted that cooking is not an art, but is artisanal. his distinction acknowledges the necessity of cooking, and honors the collaborative genius of community in coming up with good cooking. i have written this book for those who wish to linger over details in that continuum of ideas, and who consider cooking a labor of love. indeed, food itself is only part of the seduction of cooking. (27)
in the end, i wanted to know why i should care about the cherry bombe cookbook as something more than a beautiful coffee table book. i wanted to know why i should recommend this to people. i wanted to know why it was essential, what made it unique — or it’s not that i wanted to know this because i know why a magazine like cherry bombe is necessary and i know the work they do; i want everyone who picks up this book to know, too, without needing an event, a review, an article to supplement it.
it’s why i wanted the book, why i want their individual issues, to go deeper, to break past the surface, to get at everything that i think makes cherry bombe awesome — the social awareness, the activism, the conviction and belief that it is crucial to highlight the work of women in food, to change the disgusting gender imbalances, to highlight WOC and refugee women and queer women and women outside the hetero white mainstream. i love the events cherry bombe puts on; i want all that in the pages.
i want more than superficial, on-brand prettiness. i want more than something to look at.
going back to (and ending on) that $250 ticket, though — you know what i’d have loved to see? an offer for scholarships, maybe reaching out to people in food who have succeeded, who have the means and also believe in the mission of cherry bombe, people (women and men) who would want to financially support a girl, a woman, so she could attend. maybe they could look for and support a girl in culinary school or a girl of color or a queer girl. maybe they could look for and support a girl who wants to write, a girl with a disability, a trans girl.
maybe there was an attempt to do this, but, as far as i know, it wasn’t public — or, at least, it wasn’t posted on their social media, website, or newsletter, to which, how effective is that?
and, again, hey, maybe i’m being hypersensitive, but, as someone who’s been (and still is in many ways) on the side of looking in, not being able to participate in things (admittedly, not all things, for which i’m grateful) because of money, i know how it feels, and it feels like shit.
because, as i volunteered with a great group of women, as i watched the panels (i couldn’t hear anything from the merch table), i thought how awesome this was, how great the things that cherry bombe is doing, how sad that pretty much everyone in attendance looked the same, like they were in the same class with the same means, when i could imagine so many girls out there, girls with so much to offer, who would absolutely love an opportunity like this but can’t take it because of money.
i’m sure those girls will find their own way. i'm sure they'll make opportunities of their own. it still frustrates me, though, the ways we block out people who don’t look like us and have like us when they’re the ones we should probably be seeing and hearing more.
editing to add that it's been brought to my attention that 10% of tickets were given away to local community groups and all the speakers and F&B people were comped.