The Zine Life Chose Me
Adventures in self-publishing.
Sweat was dripping down the back of my neck when I decided to make a zine. I was trying to hail a yellow cab while hauling hundreds of cardboard bento boxes down Bowery, the heart of Lower Manhattan’s restaurant supply district. It was the day before a very large community bake sale I was organizing with my friend Tanya Bush, and shit was getting real.
Tanya and I made the bake sale to benefit two local mutual aid organizations, EV Loves NYC and Breaking Bread NYC. We enlisted twelve talented bakers to make everything from hibiscus butter mochi to mango lassi cookies, but when Tanya began telling me about her dream to make an entire magazine dedicated to desserts in the back of that taxi, cake was the only thing on her mind.
Honestly, I’ve always been more of a pie person. But then Tanya told me about cake’s history as a vehicle for poison (thanks to sugar’s ability to mask the flavor of arsenic) and religious significance (specifically Minne di Sant'Agata, a supple Sicilian ricotta pastry made in the shape of the breasts amputated off Saint Agatha when she refused to renounce Christianity). We had hundreds of boxes to assemble and a Toast Tab to wrangle. Clearly this wasn’t the best time to take on another commitment. But like love or pain, inspiration has a funny way of canceling out every other brainwave.
Five months later, Cake Zine is out in the world. If you know me IRL or on Instagram, you’re probably aware that our first issue is Sexy Cake. It’s definitely not a conventional food publication. Instead, it’s a glorious potpourri of recipes and essays, poetry and actual erotica, all aimed at exploring the timeless and also timely connections between sexuality and sweets. Tanya and I were honored to work with 32 contributors, from illustrators to food stylists, and the talented Noah Emrich did our design and printing specs. We sold out and shipped our first run, and pre-orders for the second (shipping in mid/late May) are live now. If you bought a copy or followed our Instagram, I’m very grateful for your support.
Sales tax. The cost of media mail. The perils of international shipping. These are all things that didn’t cross my mind while we were successfully speeding over the Williamsburg Bridge, brainstorming the theme for our first issue. I spent over six years working in newsrooms and even made a mini cookbook last year, but I’ll admit that I didn’t think beyond the Google Doc stage when I said yes. I certainly didn’t think we’d make a whopping 68-page print magazine.
When Tanya pitched me on a “cake zine,” I imagined the sort of zine I made in middle school: lovingly hand-stapled, maybe a little wrinkled. After all, the history of zines is as a scrappy form of DIY publishing. But it turns out we’re both ambitious, undaunted, and reluctant to dream small. It’s a potent partnership indeed, even if we made an actual magazine instead.
After so much compounded media burn out, it felt damn good making something unapologetically weird without needing to appeal to any editors (except Tanya) or advertisers (except Raaka Chocolate…thank you Raaka!). We’re already scheming about the second issue exploring a more sinister side of sweets, which will be open for pitches this summer. Sign up for the Cake Zine newsletter to hear about that!
Basically all my free time over these past few months was absorbed by emails and frantic late-night texting, so I certainly don’t expect you to make a zine on this scale. But, now more than ever, I’m a believer in the creative power of making something for the sake of making it. So excuse me if I evangelize just a little.
The title of First Zine is often attributed to The Comet, a sci-fi fan publication created by the Science Correspondence Club in 1930. But when xeroxing emerged as a cheap method of mass production in 1949, things really started to take off. Subcultures like anarcho-punks, Riot Grrrl, and even Trekkies embraced zines, and the movement is very much alive today. But it’s on us to keep it going.
You don’t have to make something for widespread publication. Throw some Word art on a list of your favorite movie recs for a friend quarantining with COVID. Write up all the meals you’ve made over the past month and turn it into a pamphlet to keep on the fridge door, so you can finally stop arguing about what to cook for dinner. Or best of all, grab some friends, pick a theme that you could talk about for hours, and start writing.
Don’t forget to send me a copy.
A few miscellaneous endorsements:
Everything Everywhere All At Once is the best movie I’ve ever seen. Period. I went in knowing basically nothing and left wide-eyed and slightly snotty. Go see it now and bring tissues.
Need new music? Here’s a 5-hour, very fun playlist for our Sexy Cake launch party.
I’m on a not-at-all scientific mission to try all the Negronis in NYC. The mezcal-spiked version I requested at Gage & Tollner recently has been my absolute favorite so far. It really sold the old school New York, red velvet booth, Baked Alaska fantasy.
Sushi As We Know It Will Not Survive. Can the Restaurant Industry Reinvent It? (Bon Appetit). The longest, most deeply reported story of my career (so far!) goes deep on the chefs trying to bring sustainability to the sushi industry. I interviewed marine biologists, fishermen, wholesalers, chefs, and conservationists to try and get to the bottom of this very big question. Despite the length of this feature story, I’d say I only scratched the surface, but you’ll never look at a spicy tuna roll the same.
And if you want to buy a copy of Sexy Cake, click here. Thank you!