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Wednesday, February 1

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Interview Fri Aug 24 2012

Graze Magazine Brings Farm to Table

Graze_Market to Makeit webphoto.jpegGraze Magazine is hosting From Market to Makeit, at Bang Bang Pie Shop this Sunday in Logan Square, asking that attendees bring the publication's most treasured topic to the table: food. The potluck style dinner begins at the Logan Square Farmers Market at 10am where participants meet Graze staff and can grab a free cup of Bang Bang's coffee.

Graze asks that all of the food that appears at the potluck be predominantly sourced from the farmer's market, holding true to its tag line, farm. feast. feelings. Bang Bang is offering up its own contribution to the potluck for dessert, plus there's music from Poor Elvis starting at 5pm in the shop.

In time for the event, for which there are still tickets available (!!), we asked Graze founders Cyndi Fecher and Brian Solem to talk about the significance of the event, and a bit about Graze Magazine's unique perspective as well.

What was the impetus for the event?

Cyndi: Though this is the fifth event Graze has hosted in our short lifespan, it's actually the first one we came up with after dreaming up the idea of Graze. It just seemed so lovely to attend a dinner, surrounded by like-minded people, listening to music and enjoying the outdoors.

Brian: There is so much red tape to slash through to host an outdoor event unless it's held on private property. After getting a taste of Bang Bang Pie Shop's rhubarb pie this spring, I started following them on Instagram, where they posted a photo of this pristine backyard filled with bright red picnic tables. It was almost ... too perfect. When Dave and Michael and Megan actually agreed to host our event there and make a custom dessert for our guests, we went just a little bit nuts with excitement. And then to have our search for a heartfelt bluegrass band result in Poor Elvis, we knew that this vision we'd had from the get-go was going to come to fruition.

How does this capture the meaning of Graze's mission?

Cyndi: Hosting an event with such a focus on localism, down to one specific neighborhood (Logan Square), is also really energizing--to see this much activity surrounding such an important topic with global implications feels really great. Graze's unofficial tagline is farm, feast, feelings. This particular event seems to sum up those ideas quite nicely.

It seems to me that the idea of a potluck is especially appropriate to Graze. Different food preferences, histories, etc. coming together. Is there something to that, or was this the most viable option planning wise?

Brian: It's actually quite difficult to plan, since we're relying on guests to bring the central element--the food! The risk is definitely worth it. We're looking forward to getting to know a little bit about each guest through the dishes they bring. We try to bring a variety of experiences, histories, and viewpoints to the content of Graze, and in a way, we're trying to do that at a big red picnic table at this event.

What is it about food that inspires writing in your opinion?

Cyndi: Every single person on this planet needs to consume food in order to survive--its larger purpose is universal. But it also has implications for the personal, for the very specific. Because of that, food affects everything from politics, to child-rearing, to economics, to literature, to love, even. Why did the waiter's union strike in Chicago in the 1890s go largely unnoticed, and does that have implications for an understanding of labor unions in Chicago and the United States today? Probably. Do you remember what you ate on the night you decided to leave your husband? Probably. If the subject of food inspires either emotion or reason, and we believe it inspires both, it is worth writing about, and thinking about, in community.

Graze is very much a niche publication. What makes a special interest publication like this work?

Brian: On the creative side, it's worked incredibly well to be able to present a very specific prompt to our submitters. It's really edifying to see how many writers really get our about-food-but-not-about-food focus, and we've delighted in reading the hundreds of pieces we've gotten over the last four months alone. On the business side, being a special interest publication means that we have a very targeted demographic that we can attract through our events--which support the funding of Graze--and our product.

What went into solidifying your concept and making it a functional platform for writers?

Cyndi: Whew. A lot of late-night brainstorming meetings, and a lot of coffee. We're still working hard to solidify what we talk about when we talk about food. We hope we can continue to offer a space for writers who care about these topics as much as we do--art, culture, love, sex, family, economics, etc.--all through the lens of food. In many ways, food is simply Graze's organizing principle to talk about the bigger issues. We want to give writers and visual artists a chance to tease out all of that in our pages. And at our events, for that matter. We see the Graze events as a really integral part of the conversation. People read the magazine, sure, but community is also built by getting together and physically occupying the same space, which is hard to do inside the pages of a magazine. We hope that there's a platform for writers as well as non-writers, who want to take part in this larger food and cultural conversation and movement.

Do you have any advice for a writer looking to specialize in a particular topic, food or otherwise?

Brian: That's really hard to answer, especially since I would say that Graze isn't necessarily a publication designed to showcase food writers, in the traditional sense. I think the best submissions we've read bring some knowledge of food basics, sure, but there's that emotional and symbolic component of the food--the way the food is used as a literary element instead of a subject--that really excites us and feels particularly Graze-y. It makes the scientific and classically trained knowledge of food less important than an understanding of food through one's experiences and history.

But as far as food writing advice goes, in July, we hosted a two-hour-long discussion panel among eight spectacular Chicago-based food writers, and this topic came up. The moderator, Martha Bayne of Soup & Bread, observed that most of the writers onstage had come to writing through food, as opposed to coming to food through writing. Tasting Table's Chicago Editor Heather Sperling said, "Having first-person experiences can enrich your writing," and I think I agree with that. The best way to express something to a reader is to learn as much as you can about it, and that means you might need to eat fermented fish paste or slaughter a deer. All in the name of the craft of writing, of course!

Buy your tickets for $10 and show up at Bang Bang Pie Shop is located at 2051 N. California Ave. from 5-8pm with your farmer's market fare.

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