When I was growing up in Argentina, my grandmother told me stories about a girl named Luisa. This naughty child had helmet hair with bangs and a crooked smile that twisted up into a grimace whenever anyone offered her a new dish to try; she was the pickiest of eaters. Years later it dawned on me that Luisa and I had a few things in common. We shared the first letter of our names, the limp hair, and even that peculiar gesture: I, too, would turn my mouth away from suspicious fare. I never had much appetite for my grandmother’s culinary experiments, but with each account of Luisa’s antics, my hunger for her tales grew.
After my husband and I emigrated to Canada, I discovered real hunger was best sated by Argentine cuisine. Whenever the scent of empanadas, milanesas, and asado filled the house, the stories about people back home would flow. Gradually the feeling of geographic distance disappeared, and sometimes it seemed as though our family and friends were chatting with us from across the dinner table. As the years passed, I learned to cope with homesickness. Food became a conversation starter, and as I listened to other people’s stories, I began to understand my new community better.
Then, a few summers back, while reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the gourmand’s mouth-watering depictions of his restaurant meals. In one scene, Hemingway reflects on “transplanting” himself to France, where he can write with fresh perspective about his boyhood in Michigan as he sips his rum St. James at a café on the Left Bank. Once drink and draft are finished, however, the author’s mood dips: he feels, as he always does after completing a project, “empty and both sad and happy.” To fill the void, he orders a dozen oysters and washes them down with a half carafe of dry white wine, “leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture.” Vignettes like this, which depict the oscillation between want and satisfaction, made me crave more stories from writers like him — and, I realized, myself.
In the fall of 2019, while chatting with a friend — also a writer — I mentioned my fascination with Hemingway’s culinary accounts and the feeling of emptiness. My friend, who lives with depression, thought such episodes were evidence of the author’s medical condition. He pointed to the relief brought on by food and drink: “When you are depressed, you distract yourself by focusing on small things, to see if the pain abates.” Hemingway’s hunger inspired us to seek out more stories in which food could serve as a pretext to explore other kinds of longing.
The quest became a book project, and we soon found our writers: hyphenated Canadians from all over the world who, like us, call Edmonton home. I needed to apply for support from the Edmonton Arts Council, but I had never worked on a grant budget before, so my friend sat down with me to crunch numbers and categories over coffee at our local café. At one point he asked, “So, who will be your publisher?” I replied that I had no idea. “Why don’t you become a publisher?” I couldn’t see a reason not to.
My grant application was successful, and in March 2020 I began work on Beyond the Food Court: An Anthology of Literary Cuisines. Injera, biryani, masgouf, and ajiaco — together with a trove of memories — filled the pages. By August, I had established a sole proprietorship. And in October, our new book hit the shelves, both real and virtual.
I am no longer a picky eater like Luisa, nor am I an epicure like Hemingway. I have found balance. In publishing, I satisfy my desire to share narratives that roam beyond borders of nation and genre. In 2021 we came out with a second anthology, Beyond the Gallery, in which writers originally from Latin America share visual encounters through fiction, creative nonfiction, journalism, and academic research. Our third book, The Ghost of You, by the Peruvian American Margarita Saona, will be our first collection of fiction by a single author. As we evolve to include world literature in translation, I hope readers will lose and find themselves in our stories.