Issue one, the nostalgia issue, of Chicken and Bread Zine, sets out its intentions on the first page: “Celebrating food as art and centring voices of colour”. It’s a slim volume, compact with food stories that use nostalgia as a lens through which to explore familial relationships, memories, and questions of class, race and belonging. Food is an accessible entry point into otherwise sensitive, complex, and knotty questions. The experience of eating is simultaneously universal, relatable to all, yet unique to the individual, the food on our plate revealing so much about our sense of place, identities, circumstances, histories, likes and dislikes.
The pieces in Chicken and Bread zine offer reconciliation with coriander and it’s stubborn presence in Egyptian cooking, a love letter to a family meal deal chicken bucket, and poems on London gherkins and okra (or lady’s fingers). Recipes passed down by grandmas are interlaid with scans of old photographs, the familiar and musty images of disposable cameras, at birthday parties and family gatherings, so that the zine resembles a sort of communal album.
We spoke to Hope Cunningham, founder and editor in chief, to find out more about the creative process behind the zine, the complexities of English culinary identity, and where to find resources to diversify the media we’re consuming.
Firstly, I’m just interested in the process behind making the zine. Had you ever made a zine, or attempted this type of project before?
No, this was a first. I had written before, as the News editor at my university, and in my masters at UAL for the publication Shades of Noir. I’d studied English Literature, so I knew that writing was always going to be a part of how I made a living, but making zines was new.
Tell me more about Shades of Noir.
Their mission is to combat racism in higher education and the arts. I was writing an article for them each week, which helped give me some experience.
Having never made a zine before, where did you begin? It can be difficult to gather submissions unless you have a big enough platform to start with.
I graduated in 2017 in a place of really not knowing what I was going to do with my life. I had the idea of a food zine as a starting point, but just thought, ‘how would I ever make that materialize?’ I wanted to make it happen but didn’t know where to start. Then I started the Instagram, just posting pictures of food and things I thought were cool, I spoke to friends and just got some initial interest. But I didn’t know a single food writer, and couldn’t write the whole magazine myself. At one point I thought, ‘I’ve just got to do it’. I did a call-out on Instagram, and a few people were interested. I slowly but surely built up enough submissions, and things fell into place. Lockdown gave me a theme to tie everything together – nostalgia. I felt that looking at food through nostalgia made it accessible rather than being this big pretentious thing. Anyone can write about nostalgia. It was an accessible theme, which was the whole point. I know I used to feel like I didn’t have any right to write about food – and I do.
I loved the exploration of ‘Englishness’ within the zine, not in a whitewashed cream-tea way, but England through its chicken shops, walkers crisp packets in hedges, messy picnics. Even here in Manchester, one of the most diverse cities in the UK, there is a ‘world food’ section in Sainsbury’s – and it just feels so redundant and ridiculous, when every other aisle is also made up of ingredients and produce from the ‘world’. I guess it makes me ask, what is English food? Is there such a thing? Is it just a constant evolution?
I was born and raised in England and spent most of my childhood here, so when I think of Englishness I think of chicken shops, rice and peas. I think of my grandma in Manchester, the food she ate in Barbados and brought over; just all of the things I grew up eating. English food is an evolution, but the question is who is allowing that evolution to happen. For example, kimchi right now is having such a big moment, but we have to ask, who brought it here? Where are its origins?
The best cooks have it up there, in their heads, it’s second nature to them. These people deserve to be celebrated as much as the white chef that’s been famous for 20 years. It’s about balancing the playing field, and celebrating the art of home cooking.
The role of the home cook is so important. Whether we deem someone a cook or a chef, whether it’s a chore or an art form, has traditionally been decided by where it takes place: a professional kitchen or the domestic sphere. Of course, the kitchen has always been such a gendered place. I really liked the aunties, mothers and grandmothers that cropped up throughout the zine’s pieces – was this an intentionally feminist move or did this feeling come about organically?
Yeah, it was interesting- we only had one submission from a man. It’s so sad, we’ve been told for so many years that this kind of cooking isn’t as valuable, when there’s so much magic that happens in home kitchens. It’s wrong to not write about it.
Have you got any resources you’d recommend to people or sought inspiration from when making Chicken and Bread?
Shades of Noir, as I mentioned earlier, looks at racism in higher education. A friend has her own zine The Yellow Zine, spotlighting POC in the arts. Black in the Day is another one, an archive photography project. I’d sort of looked at all these projects and hoped to mix them into one. I reached out to Ruby Tandoh, who shared the Chicken and Bread Instagram on her story, and we got a load of new followers and submissions following that which was so valuable.
As someone with no background in publishing, no connections to photographers, and no money to put into it, using my own baby pictures and old photos, or those of contributors, was a way of getting amazing pictures for free. It was about pooling the resources I had in those initial stages.
Any upcoming projects? Will there be a second issue of Chicken and Bread?
There will be a second issue next year. I’m looking at doing a video series – on nostalgia again, just cooking and talking with friends. I graduated with a masters in screenwriting so that would be a nice mix. It’s about starting my own platform.