by Sarah Rafael García
"I was looking for something to substitute my craving for happy hour appetizers with my cackling women friends and bubbly brunches with some of my Gay men besties."
This year, like many of you, I have been experimenting in the kitchen. Naturally, I was attracted to cookbooks...but not enough to cook from one. I wanted to indulge myself with something different; not as an escape, but as a substitute to social gatherings. I wanted a way of conversing with food to get that same emotional gratification I got while salivating over stinky cheese and breaking bread with good friends.
Natalie Eve Garrett’s Eat Joy: Stories and Comfort Food ended up next to my breakfast for nearly three months as a result of depression. As a human trying to get through the loneliness of the pandemic, I was struggling to read. Not because I didn’t have any books that interested me, but I was looking for something to substitute my craving for happy hour appetizers with my cackling women friends and bubbly brunches with some of my Gay men besties.
Eat Joy is an illustrated anthology of essays about the comfort foods—and recipes—that helped writers get through the deep emotions of life, some surrounded by friends, some lost in nostalgia, and others depressed by solitude. It brought me recipes from some of my favorite writers of color: Fide’s Jollof Rice by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Macaroni and Cheese by Carmen Maria Machado, Diri Blan (White Rice) by Edwidge Danticat, Merenguitos by Chantel Acevedo, and 11 more writers of color that I read for the first time. The collection allowed me to taste growing pains, loss, tears and memories, while providing recipes that blended culture, healing, and familial traditions.
In the middle of reading the 31 vibrant essays, I ordered copies for a handful of women and invited them to Sunday brunch gatherings over Zoom. We read collectively, shared our personal connection to the story of the day and recalled our own comfort foods from our past and present—chilaquiles, cheddar cheesecake and Porto’s pastries. As time went on, our group ebbed and flowed like the ingredients found in the stories “Leaves” by Diana Abu-Jaber, “Bake Your Fear” by Rakesh Satyal and “Grief Pickles” by Kristen Iskandrian. Although our reading time got consumed again by the absence of being physically present, every once in a while I get a message from one of them sharing an Eat Joy moment that helped them get through the week. All of us admit to rationing the stories in order to make the meal last longer, preserving the perfect bite to ease our feelings of the heaviest times in our life.
Sarah Rafael García is an award-winning Chicana author, artist, and LibroMobile founder.
This article was published as part of our Tiny Review series