The Clerestory Podcast S1 E25

The Oklahoma Tenant Farmer and Me
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Issue No. 6: Food

In the sixth issue of Clerestory Magazine, poets and writers explore how food comforts and connects us to each other.

Listen to this issue’s playlist on Spotify.

Dear Reader,

We can trace the timelines of our lives through food. The food we love honors the families who raised us, the places which shaped us. Food comforts us. It shapes our celebrations. And it connects us to each other. We bring wine to new neighbors. We bake cherished cakes for birthdays, weddings, and baby showers. We take casseroles to those who are grieving and brothy soups to those who are sick. Whether it’s a simple piece of toast or an elaborate holiday feast, food defines our days and our lives, in big and small, in simple and meaningful ways.

I am biracial, from a - truly - multicultural family. At our family gatherings, the Keralan fish curry sat alongside the Malaysian satay and fried okra and sauerkraut and gratin dauphinoise and confetti cake. Each dish was filled with flavor, made with love, and connected to different lines of ancestors who endured wildly different hardships, prayed in wildly different ways, and put their feet on the earth of wildly different homelands. We were spoiled by a family of incredible cooks, who honed their skills in New York diners and home restaurants in Kuala Lumpur.

Our memories of food mark where in time and space we find, found, ourselves. I remember the bite of the sour cream donuts we’d eat as a family after church. The scent of my mom's meatloaf, which she'd make at the start of every new school year. The sour spice of my grandmother's beef curry when we'd visit her apartment. The hours my parents spent skewering our family's traditional satay, while we watched the 2004 Olympics together. Making an entire Thanksgiving meal, on the fly, for my now husband's British-Australian family the first time I met them. The pear tart from a patisserie in Paris. The first pizza my husband and I ate on the empty floor of our first New York apartment. The chicken and rice dish he makes on Christmas Eve. Eating oysters with my brother in Los Angeles. I imagine, dear reader, you have stories and memories like these, too.

When I chose food as the theme for our spring issue, I thought of our work as a kind of revelation through celebration. When we think of food, we think of love. As you'll soon see, this issue is filled with themes of love, family, grief, and joy. By celebrating our own joys, comforts, and loves, we can remember how every person deserves the same - things that uplift, nurture, heal, comfort, and connect. In the words of Alice Waters, “Good food is a right, not a privilege.”

I was astonished, by how many submissions for poetry we received. While we typically only publish a handful of poems per issue, poetry will be a significant part of this one. As it's National Poetry Month, it fits well, but it also feels a little lighter, like the wisdom can seep in more quickly, in this concentrated form, for as Gwendolyn Brooks said, “Poetry is life distilled.”

I hope these stories inspire you to reflect on the loves, memories, and timelines of your own life. I hope these words will help you carve out a few more moments of sweetness, joy, comfort, and connection in these challenging times. And I hope this collective work will help us all see more clearly the ways we can build well-fed, well-nourished communities that are caring and just.

As you do so, listen to our Kitchen Mix playlist, and find our reading recommendations for National Poetry Month and on the subject of Food.

With deep gratitude,

Sarah James

Sarah James is the editor-in-chief and founder of Clerestory Magazine. A graduate of Yale and Middlebury, Sarah is a biracial South Indian-American woman of color and a writer. You can find her work elsewhere in The Porch, Darling, and Relevant, among others, or on her website.

Discover more from Sarah James.
essay Grill Night on Virginia Street

Sunset, palm trees, and chicken on the grill - these three ingredients should have made for a perfect evening.

essay Food, A Love Language

Cherished family memories ground and bond us, enriching our lives in ways nothing else can.

essay A Work of Art

That hot June night, my mother made me ride with her in the dark blue Dodge out to Route 38, what we thought of as “the highway.”

essay End of Days

What a dinner Monica has prepared for us. First, she and Allesandro and the younger couple with the baby girl, bowls of snacks and a glass of local red wine in the shade of the towering fig tree.

essay Savoring Central Texas and, Specifically, Its Barbecue

When I was a girl, I knew only one thing about Loop 360: it was the road that took my family to the barbecue restaurant overlooking Bull Creek

essay When Everything Was Everything

Years before I went to restaurants with dishes like “scallop mousse” and “seaweed gremolata” on the menu, I was a Jersey girl who loved bagels.

essay Easy as Pie

I cleaned out the cookware cabinet in my kitchen. Marie Kondoed it. 

essay An Old Hunger

The gutter overflowed with brown, spiky husks like the aftermath of a tiny urchin apocalypse.

essay My Mother's Recipes

What could she have wanted with all of those empty containers, so meticulously cleaned and stored so haphazardly around the house?

poem Basque Cooking

Plenty of potatoes, garlic and lamb. Bundles of sage and jugs of harsh red wine.

poem Tea Ceremony

I know you would remember every tea, we sipped in New York, Philadelphia, Toronto—blurred, now, to Earl Grey for me.

poem Saffron

The pistils stand on end—thin red reeds, in a tiny glass bottle.

poem After Another School Shooting, I Cook Red Beans and Rice

I can't hear the TV news over the soothing static of diced onion in the pan.

poem Bliss

The tomatoes cool themselves, in the long breezes, hoarding in their flesh, fabulous waters.

poem Watermelon

Haven't we all been cut into halves? One half empathy, one half what the hell.

poem Oatmeal Morning

No amount of mother’s food or drink could give her comfort.

poem Bread

Put yeast in a cup with hot water and sugar.  Sift...

poem A Catered Event

Her shadow on the barn, cast by winter-weary sun, is taller than a five-year-old.

poem Ferment

Cucumbers sprawling in garden, insects tickling yellow flowers, we grow together.

poem Just Soup

She, holding ladle, wanting, no, needing to help.

poem The Avocado

Dressed up like an armadillo rolled into a ball, the avocado ripens on the sill.

poem Fruit Trees

Old man Peesel’s cherry orchard, of the empty prairie, the fruit reddened our fingers, lips...

poem Kitchens

For my grandmother, fat was a solution, not a problem: my grandmother’s miracles employed bacon fat and lard.