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The IHLR Feast Issue 2021 (23.1)
Fiction by: Zane Biebelle | Emily Pegg | Gionni Ponce
Nonfiction by: Peter-Adrian Altini
Poetry by: Joe Betz | Leah Falk | Anthony Thomas Lombardi | Chloe Martinez | Josh Myers | Clara Bush Vadala
In the Saddle: Gabrielle Bates
From the Horse's Mouth: Gionni Ponce
We love all of our projects and publications here at Iron Horse, but one of our favorite activities is regularly feeding our Instagram account, @lunchwithironhorse, some of the delicious meals we’re munching alongside the equally delectable books we’re devouring. There’s just something simpatico in the language of eating and reading. We consume the words of a good book, savor fresh concepts and images, digest their significance, chew over ideas, and are nourished by the contents, and perhaps, most importantly, we tend to enjoy what we read even more when we share and discuss it with friends, loved ones, and even strangers. And anyone who belongs to a great book club knows that meetings feel incomplete without a spread of scrumptious snacks.
For this issue, we asked writers to send us flash, stories, essays, and poems focused on meals, feasts, cooking, hunger, recipes, sustainable agriculture, foot stamps, food deserts, food porn, last meals, and anything else related to eating, foraging, enjoying, avoiding, or experimenting with food. As always happens with our themed issues, the submissions addressed the concept of food, feasts, and hunger in ways we hadn’t anticipated. For instance, when we released the call for submissions, we couldn’t have known the full impact that COVID-19 would have on restaurants and their staff, food insecurity and the supply chain in general, the health and safety of delivery drivers, grocery stores and their vulnerable workers, farmers, harvesters, employees of meat-packing plants, or the risks suddenly posed to shoppers and drivers for Instacart, DoorDash, Favor, and other such services. Since our submission period extended into April of 2020, a few of the pieces in this issue were already grappling with those implications. In particular, Chloe Martinez’s poem, “Nazar na Lage,” directly addresses the new terror of waiting in a socially distanced line to enter a grocery store.
Other submissions spoke to the ethics of eating, as in Josh Myers’s poem, “ I miss eating meat so much I want to cry,” or the social graces involved with serving and being served in a restaurant, as in Clara Bush Vadala’s poem, “Waitress,” whose title persona uses lime juice to mask rolling her eyes at a table of obnoxious customers. In her story, “Elkhart’s China Boo-fay,” Gionni Ponce exposes the cultural assumptions diners and restaurateurs sometimes make about each other. The young narrator of that story marvels over “every kind of Chinese food” available in the restaurant’s buffet line, a list that includes chicken nuggets, French fries, and crab legs, plus the donuts “fried toasty and rolled in cinnamon sugar.” But while the proprietors of China Buffet have worked to make their cuisine, and their customer service, fit the changing demographics of Elkhart, Indiana, their assumptions about the narrator’s mother send an unsettling ripple through the entire concept of America’s supposedly harmonious melting pot.
Other pieces go straight to the source of our food: the land and people who produce it. Joe Betz’s poems peer through the lens of agriculture to examine the lives and sometimes untimely deaths of those who work the land. And in the story “Lemon Seed,” Emily Pegg’s narrator wrestles with her heart and conscience in the midst of a lemon orchard “dripping with yellow fruit.”
Food and motherhood feature in Leah Falk’s poem, “41. Is there a belief that the request of a pregnant woman must not be refused? What is the reason for this?” For one expecting mother, sustenance makes her a “fort of fiber and starch,” while another offers her unborn child the “poor comforts” of scrambled eggs and soup. Comfort is also at issue in Anthony Thomas Lombardi’s persona poem when the speaker, Amy Winehouse, uses chain-smoking to get her through the long hours in an imagined stay at a rehabilitation center.
Zane Biebelle’s story, “The New You,” tackles America’s value system as it relates to food, feasting, fasting, and appearances, interrogating the notion that one’s inherent worth must be inextricably linked to the ability to achieve impossible beauty standards. Here, the cycle of poverty, capitalism, reality television, and female friendships all come under the microscope, revealing a series of ugly truths.
While food can divide us, it can also be the language by which families communicate, cultures survive, and treasured memories surface. Peter-Adrian Altini’s essay, “The Chocolate Room,” paints a picture of his mother in fragments of handcrafted candy and cracked eggshells, and the result is an indelible portrait of a person whose legacy lives on in the places where she worked her culinary magic.
We make and consume feasts to celebrate our successes, mourn the dead, honor our origins, and also, sometimes, to try and forget them. Too, in this issue, we were struck by the ease with which speakers and characters move through the world and all its populated places—restaurants, hotels, bars—without fear of contamination, a relic of our past behavior that can’t help but bring on nostalgia for those of us longing for a return to some semblance of “normal” life. As we move further into a year of new hopes and new beginnings, we invite you to fill yourself with the works in this issue, to sample the sour and bitter along with the salty and sweet, and to be as enriched by the variety in this smorgasbord of experiences as we were.
Buy your copy of our Open Issue here for $5.
Due to Covid-19 budget cuts, international readers will receive an electronic copy only.