February 16, 2014 | 6:05pm EST
Revered by The New York Times and The Washington Post, D.C.’s own humble food magazine has been making the rounds around the country and rapidly increasing in popularity. The collage-crazy Runcible Spoon is completely handmade, with letters cut out to make headlines, news columns individually pasted in, and pages layered with scrap photos that have been harvest over time. To give you an idea, in its latest issue called The Cheap Issue a haphazardly cut photo of a surprised Nicki Minaj is displayed on the same page as a satirical article, “Always Thank the Chef,” and a vintage stock photo of a boy in a lobster costume. I recently met up with Malaka Gharib, the ‘zine’s creator and driving force, to talk about her beloved Runcible Spoon.
What made you want to make a food ‘zine rather than any other ‘zine? When I was growing up, I thought that music was cool, fashion was cool, but when I became an adult, I was no longer interested in that stuff. I was interested in food.
What drove you to make a ‘zine that would be mass distributed? In the ‘zine world, there are different kinds of ‘zines. Personal ‘zines are the kind you think are personal and made in small batches. But I come from a magazine background, so I’m more comfortable making something that’s more like a magazine that’s distributed to as many people as possible. It’s a format I feel comfortable with. People who like weird foods, we’d love to share it with.
I noticed that your ‘zine has a certain aesthetic and you personally came up with most of it. What drew you to that type of style? The “zine-est” part of our ‘zine is that we do everything handmade from scratch. I also don’t know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator or Adobe InDesign, so my limited capability of layout is me cutting and pasting everything by hand. But, I will say that I also have been collaging paper, which has always given my ‘zines and journals a certain aesthetic.
Your ‘zine has the craziest themes, for example, The Mad Science Issue, The Gross Issue, and The Salt Issue. How do you come up with the themes? That’s a joint decision we make with our editors. We decide what is a really fun topic and we choose that. We basically have a week where we think of all the ideas we can, and then we have a meeting where we share our different themes. Whichever is the best idea, we’re going to run with that.
Growing up, were you artistic? I would say so. My mom worked at the airport, so she would come home with stacks of magazines from around the world, like Elle China and The Tattler from the U.K. I would open them up and see them as little worlds or reflections of how one of the worlds look like, and I would cut them up and use them in my art projects. I used to collect scraps and if I saw a picture of a small, tiny thing that I liked, like a lemon or a flower, I would cut it out. I would have a box of these little scraps that I would keep. I’ve always been interested in paper and magazines.
Do you think that your artistry also runs in your family? My aunt is a doctor in Los Angeles, but I think she’s always had a creative streak in her. She always collected stamps and my grandmother was always interested in teaching me how to use my hands, like sewing. I would make dolls, I would cook, I would go to the garden and make my own geraniums. She was very interested in that domesticity and I really like that too.
How do you find your writers and contributors? A lot of them now come to us, but most of them are our friends. A lot of times, people come to us and say that they’re interest in writing. Other times, we’ll see a writer in real life or an artist we really like, and we’ll reach out and ask them to come and do stuff for us. More often than not, they say “yes,” so that’s good!
How do you feel about your success with Runcible Spoon and how it’s been catching on recently? I’ve always wanted to work for a food magazine, like Saveur. I was offered an internship there, but I couldn’t afford to move out to New York. I was very sad to decline it and have to work a real job in DC, but a friend of mine once told me, “You can always get into the party from the back door.” Making the ‘zine, I’m entering the party and working in the food world, but in a different way. I think it’s been more rewarding than taking the traditional path of interning at a food magazine and then working there. I feel very proud that I was able to make it into the industry that way.
Where did you get the name for your ‘zine? The first book I ever bought from Scholastic Books – you remember that? – was The Owl and the Pussycat. Runcible Spoon is a line from that book. It’s a made up word that means nothing.
What are you planning for Runcible’s future? I think that slow and steady wins the race. Perfecting the way that we reach out to people, doing more events, and making the ‘zine longer and better quality is my idea. I’m happy to do the ‘zine for another five years, or another two years, but I have other things to offer in this world. There are so many years to live, so let’s work on this project first and we’ll see how it goes.
Runcible Spoon is sold at Each Peach Market, Qualia Coffee, Seasonal Pantry, and Treasury Vintage, which are all in D.C.
To buy online, visit the ‘zine’s Etsy page.