Luciana Erregue-Sacchi, the editor of Beyond the Food Court, describes this collection of creative non-fiction essays about food as a feast. She is spot-on: each essay is an exquisitely crafted dish; the ingredients of family, culture, nostalgia, and history all in perfect balance. This book will make you hungry. It will also make you think.
In this collection, Sacchi curates a series of creative non-fiction pieces from writers currently living in Alberta who have connections with various countries around the globe. Some are recent immigrants, and some arrived in this country as children. Some remember their immigrant parents or grandparents, and some have Indigenous heritage in Canada. The result is a series of stories that are both familiar and fresh. Whether you’ve never tried a ripe Alphonso mango, or you constantly long for Injera made with proper teff, or you’re forever chasing the flavour of your grandmother’s cabbage rolls, these authors will remind you that food is an incredibly multifaceted, critical part of our lives. Food is political. It is personal, and it is powerful in cementing core memories we carry forever. It is geographical, tied to specific lands and peoples. It can be an expression of love from those closest to us.
One of the strengths of this collection is its variety of styles and focuses. Asma Sayed puts the reader in her shoes in 1998, when she immigrated to Edmonton from Gujurat, India and struggled to find the ingredients that would help make her feel at home in this new, cold country. In his essay, Yasser Abdellatif gives a detailed historical and geographical account of Egyptian cuisine, reminding the reader that to talk about food, is also to talk about geography, “about location and climate, wind and rain, rivers and seas, crops and fruits, cattle and livestock” (32). Shimelis Gebremichael’s essay highlights his longing for Ethiopian cuisine, featuring descriptions of kaleidoscopic foods and prismatic vegetables that are enough to make your mouth water.
Mila Bongco-Philipzig’s essay is frankly astounding. She writes about the connection between Tim Horton’s and its direct role in recruiting Filipino workers for tenuous contracts as part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This essay is perspective-shifting. At the very least, “Disposable Double Double Lives” will transform the way you think about your morning coffee.
While its essays consider the personal and political history of food, Beyond the Food Court is very much a book of our time. Each author is keenly aware of the COVID19 pandemic; this peculiar time that both encourages many people to reconnect with their kitchens, and makes it so difficult to be close to others with whom we might share food and culture.
Sitting down with this book is truly like pulling up a chair at an international banquet. I truly enjoyed being at the table.
Beyond the Food Court is available exclusively from www.laberintopress.com