In a new anthology, hard-hitting Maine writers focus on food

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By Will Grünewald
Excerpt from our May 2022 issue

Novelist Deborah Joy Corey resided in the fishing town of Castine – population 1,300 – for more than a quarter of a century. Yet she was caught off guard several years ago when she began to look into the issue of hunger, talking with the people who run food pantries, homeless shelters and others. community groups in the area, and she began to realize the extent of the problem. in his own backyard. “I was shocked,” she recalls. “In my own county, Hancock County, so many children are starving for food.” She was struck by the lack of fresh produce available at food banks, and that, she thought, was an issue she could have an impact on.

In 2019, Corey founded the nonprofit blue angel. First, she recruited local farmers, home gardeners, restaurants, and markets to donate food, and she started a flagship garden for the organization on the grounds of Castine Episcopal Church. Currently, Blue Angel can help feed up to 30 families at a time, delivering weekly supplies directly to their doorsteps. When the group has a surplus, they donate to nearby food banks and, in the summer, at an Orland shelter, they stock a free vegetable stand. “We primarily serve the working poor,” Corey notes, “many of whom are already working multiple jobs.”

Instinctively, Corey saw the issue of hunger through a writer’s lens. In particular, she thought about her own happy memories of food versus the stress and anxiety around food felt by others in her community. “We all have food stories,” she says. “We all relate to food, and it’s so varied for everyone.” That’s how she came up with the idea for a collection of multi-pointed food essays, the proceeds from which would fund Blue Angel. As the scope of the project grew, she partnered with her friend and fellow novelist Debra Sparkle, professor of creative writing at Colby College. Together they recruit screenwriters and edit what has become Breaking Bread: New England Essays on Food, Hunger, and Family, published this month by the nonprofit Beacon Press. In all, nearly 70 authors participated. Many of them are national figures (some with Pulitzers to their names), others are well known in these regions, and still others are relatively up and coming. All contributed for free. “For these writers, it’s their way of giving,” Corey says.

Among literary types, there’s Richard Russo who remembers beans — from Portland’s B&M baked beans in childhood to Venice’s fagioli in adulthood. Ron Currie probes the shame he feels over the shame he felt when his mother took a job in his college cafeteria. Lily King sweetly reflects on a life of chocolate chip cookies. Among the food specialists is NPR’s Here and now cooking guru Kathy Gunst, detailing her love affair with pickles. Portland Press Herald Food writer Peggy Grodinsky recalls a lifelong pancake-making ritual, dating back to the heyday of fake maple syrup. And elsewhere in the book, Portland Immigrant Welcome Center executive director Reza Jalali recalls his mother’s kofta in Iran. Tattoo artist and high school Latin teacher Phuc Tran considers pizza then and now, from his immigrant mother’s combination of white bread, ketchup and American cheese to the Italian-style margherita he imposes on his daughters in love with Domino.

The tracks range from sad to sweet. Food stories are just another way to tell life stories. For their part, Spark writes about the hunt for chocolate Kinder Eggs from Europe to Maine, while Corey contemplates his family’s cross-generational love affair with cooking. It becomes quite clear how Corey could come to worry about what the other families are doing for dinner, too. “My mother used to tell me that you have to choose a place and stay there,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily recognize it at the time, but there was a lot of wisdom in that. In your community, that’s where you can do the most good.


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