Every magazine does a food issue sooner or later. But we found that the sheer popularity of the concept can be dissuasive. The challenge—and, ultimately, the reward—was to make it our own. Our former editor, W. Ralph Eubanks, conceived of this issue and acquired many works, from fiction to poetry to photography. Once we put out the call for submissions, both new and longtime contributors delivered—from far-flung reported pieces to ephemeral surprises we could never have dreamed up.
VQR Contributing Editor Jason Motlagh leads our international reporting with an excursion to Havana to sample Cuba’s iconic Coppelia ice cream, which dates back to the beginnings of the Cuban Revolution and seems poised to outlast the Castro regime itself. Erik Vance follows with a meticulously reported story on how the fishermen of western Mexico and consumers in China have impacted the sustainability of the world’s big sharks. We accompany Colleen Kinder much farther north as she endures two of Iceland’s most intimidating phenomena—winter and Thorrablot, a solstice banquet of rancid delicacies and strong schnapps that helps fight off the doldrums.
Closer to home, Kevin Young pairs poetry and essay to explore the intersection of food and civil rights through his account of Booker Wright, an African-American waiter fired for speaking the truth about life in the Jim Crow South. Young’s “Repast” is complemented by Melanie Dunea’s illuminating photographs of a Mississippi town that contends with this editorial legacy.
Just as the South is a compelling stage for food storytelling, so is California. James Conaway’s tour through Napa Valley viticulture leads him to inquire whether the region’s success is an embodiment or refutation of the Jeffersonian ideal of the family farm. And Lauren Markham goes inside the kitchens of chic San Francisco restaurants to see how chefs claim their creative turf on Instagram.
Remembrances are inevitable in food writing—the memoir a staple of the genre. This issue includes remarkable examples of food remembrances, such as Sierra Crane-Murdoch on her days among the drifters of Fargo, North Dakota, and the sublime oddities of working the sugar-beet harvest. Siva Vaidhyanathan reflects on the disappearance of authentic South Indian cuisine and what this fading culinary legacy means to a father. Also drawing on childhood memories, Pamela Erens explores her tenuous relationship with eating and the pleasures of denial. For collector Jessica B. Harris, remembrance comes in the form of historic postcards of food from Africa and the diaspora.
And what would a food issue be without cake? Thankfully, you don’t have to find out, because Bill McCullough has turned his camera toward a number of wedding cakes—and those who eagerly await them.
Lastly, let’s toast to more good news: VQR was a 2015 National Magazine Award finalist in four categories: Reporting, Fiction, Essays and Criticism, and General Excellence. In addition, Motlagh received the South Asian Journalists Association’s Daniel Pearl Award for “The Ghosts of Rana Plaza,” from our Spring 2014 issue. We are pleased to have him—and other globe-trotters—with us for this issue. Cheers!