Mashing Up Verse and Gastronomy

The Food Poet, Oakland resident Annelies Zijderveld, finds her niche in photographic food poems.


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Zijderveld started writing poems in high school and eventually received an MFA in poetry.

Photo by Stephanie Shih

When peeling an orange or chopping fennel for a salad, one may appreciate their taste and aroma but probably won’t be moved to the point of writing poetry. Oakland resident Annelies Zijderveld often does just that on her blog, The Food Poet. Her stunning photographs comingle with recipes and poems, not only to pay homage to oranges or oatmeal but also to comment deeply on life, love, war, or mortality.

Zijderveld, who started writing poems in high school and eventually received an MFA in poetry, described her blog’s mission this way: “I invite the poetry to mingle with food and for the food to be inspired by the poetry of life.”

Her first job working in a French bakery motivated Zijderveld to experiment in the kitchen. After earning an earlier MA in intercultural studies, she was almost on her way to Delhi, India, when she agreed to briefly help a friend who worked at Mighty Leaf Tea Company. Those few weeks turned into eight years, and she ended up as Mighty Leaf’s marketing director. The experience fueled her love of tea and resulted in a cookbook, Steeped: Recipes Infused With Tea, in 2015. The cookbook presents recipes that incorporate a global lineup of teas, such as Masala Chai Pumpkin Bread, Earl Grey Soba Noodle Salad, and Chamomile Corn Chowder.

Although she teaches cooking classes, writes for numerous publications, and runs a digital media consulting business, Zijderveld’s abiding love is poetry. She is especially drawn to the long tradition of “gastronomic poetry.”

In her poem “A Message to the Sandwich Board,” she decries the appearance of pumpkin-flavored-everything in early September, eclipsing luscious end-of-summer-tomatoes. An excerpt: … “No pumpkin can kiss bacon / and lettuce rightly, nor can it confer to marinara / the flavor of a simple San Marzano tomato. / So, please pass on the Pumpkin Spice latte / until the air curls at the edges like the leaves / drying upon their branches. They too will fall / when the light dwindles at work day’s end. / Until then, savor the Sungold, relish the Roma, / Let the Early Girl catch the worm …”

Penning food poetry, Zijderveld said, “gives me an opportunity to write about things that people might not be that open to hearing. Is a poem about pumpkins really just about pumpkins? There is a line in there where I talk about our desire to chase immortality. We’re never satisfied with what we have right now. So it can be as simple as eating an Early Girl tomato at the peak of its season.”

Zijderveld likes to play with form and wondered whether a food poem had to be just words on a page. She developed a unique form, photographic food poems. Each contains a dozen or so ravishing shots of the steps to prepare one of her recipes. But each photograph is also overlaid with the line of a poem.

“Every frame tells its own small story, just like a line of poetry, but all together they tell a larger story,” she said. She had just read about refugees losing their homes and living in camps as she prepared the recipe for Tomato Basil Baked Oatmeal.

 “I didn’t start out thinking I was going to write about this, but looking at the basil and sliced tomato, this is where it took me.” The line, “At night a mother sleeps with her ears open” is overlaid on a photo of forlornly scattered tomato crescents. “They reminded me of sleeping in a camp among all these strangers,” Zijderveld said, “But you’re sleeping with your child, so you have to be alert.”

She is currently working on a collection of poetry, which will include some food poems. “I love poetry but I think it’s deeply misunderstood by most Americans. If they say that poetry is not for them, it is because they have not yet happened upon a poet who speaks their language.” 

 

Published online on Nov. 8, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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