For Epicurious, by Sam Worley.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi is a poet and essayist who recently published The New Economy Chapbook Cookbook: Volume 1, a collection of fortifying recipes for cooking on a budget that’s available for free on the internet. Its contributors are largely poets, other writers, activists—and passionate home cooks. Calvocoressi, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, solicited their recipes on Facebook and compiled them into a zine-like volume: casually organized, refreshingly anti-aesthetic, and filled with tender personal stories of getting by in tough times. I called her up to hear more about the project.
HOW THE COOKBOOK CAME TOGETHER
“Because of various things that were going on in my personal life, I realized that this year was going to be a tough year economically for us. Also remembering that my mother, who took her life when I was 13, was very poor, very mentally ill, and really underserved by various systems that could have helped not just keep her alive, but make her life more humane — I started thinking about those lean times, when things like ‘How am I going to afford food?,’ ‘How am I going to actually put food on my table?’ become a mental health issue as much as anything else.
“So I went on Facebook, and at first I thought, I’m just going to ask people about cheap recipes that they have used in tight times. But then I thought, maybe what I’ll also do is see about compiling those recipes and turning it into some kind of cookbook that can be given away for free on the internet. And then possibly people could print it out and have it bound, and distribute those bound copies to food kitchens or anywhere they wanted. Or make a decision to say, ‘My friends and I bound 50 copies of this cookbook, if you want to send us donation receipts for $10 to this local food pantry, we’ll send you this book.’ How many different ways could we make a generous feast of this? I just ask that nobody makes money from it.
“All of these people not only sent recipes, but there are really moving stories in there — Alice Anderson talking about when she suffered a traumatic brain injury and how she was going to feed her kids. People talking about being out of work or having gotten divorced. It seems to me like — we’re talking about what’s America now — real American stories. And people drew pictures and people took photos. It ended up being just this thing that was so moving to put together.”
WHERE “NEW ECONOMY” COMES FROM
“I’ve been thinking in general about this idea of ‘new economy’ in my own life. Not just in terms of this cookbook but also for my life as a writer, and a writer who has a certain kind of privilege in the writing world — who has been, at least in the world of poetry, successful — but who also, like many people, has faced times of incredible economic difficulty and who is also concerned about the effects that capitalism is having on every aspect of making art and being an artist, and also just being a citizen of this country.
“Before I did the cookbook, I had been using this hashtag #neweconomy. For instance, for the period of a year, pretty much every Sunday, I would work for four or five hours and meet with people individually via Skype. I would edit — we could talk about their poems, we could talk about prose, we could do syllabus work — in return for a donation receipt for $40 to a charity that I had chosen for that week. I ended up raising close to $7,000 without ever touching money.
“That’s where I started using this term ‘new economy’ — what if there was an economy outside of the monetization of everything we did that had to do with making art and the branding of everything we did making art? What if I could reframe my own understanding of what my economy was, and have an integral part of that be helping other people out and resisting the push to monetize everything that I do?”
WHAT THE COOKBOOK MEANS RIGHT NOW
“One of the things that was really important to me, which I was really impressed that people didn’t push back on at all, is that we were not going to do bios in the book. Because one of the things that I think that we as poets in particular are being asked to do more and more is to be salespeople, and to get our work out into the world by essentially turning ourselves into a brand. One of the things that I think is harder and harder for poets to do is not to use every opportunity possible as an opportunity to move one’s career forward. So I thought, gosh, is it possible to do this thing? All of our names are in it, and people can go and decide to look up people’s poems. But it’s also no different than my grandmother’s garden club cookbook. She didn’t put her bio.
“I think more and more, our tables are going to be the places where we talk about how we are going to live in this country safely and humanely. Hopefully this cookbook can also be a way of organizing people to do that. We say we’re a community. What happens when people from all over the country, and maybe all over the world, make a cookbook together? How many people can benefit from that?”
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