Friday, March 27, 2009

Eat Your Words: It's not a joke; you really can consume the creations at the Edible Books Festival.

As a culture, we're obsessed with food—preparing it, sharing it, smelling it and most of all, eating it. French gastronome and author Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) put it best in his celebrated book, The Physiology of Taste, when he wrote, "Gourmandise is an impassioned, rational and habitual preference for all objects that flatter the sense of taste." And sometimes, those objects just happen to be books.

But we're not talking about your average paperback or hardcover bestsellers here. No, the objects in question are showcased annually at the International Edible Books Festival and are handmade from edible mediums like seaweed, filo dough, cake, spam, hot dogs, fondant and rice paper. And with today's innovative culinary techniques and resources like edible ink and play-dough, this palate-pleasing literature is looking (and tasting) better than ever.

The festival has become a worldwide trend thanks to its founders, librarian Judith A. Hoffberg and artist Beatrice Coron. The first International Edible Books Festival was held in 2000 and the event has grown dramatically over the past 10 years, reaching numerous countries. To date, these include Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia and, of course, the United States of America, where our very own Columbia College will host its 10th Annual Edible Books fest this year on Wednesday, April 1. The "foolish" date isn't just a coincidence, either; it happens to be the birthday of Brillat-Savarin.

This year's festival will feature work from culinary artists, literature-loving chefs and plenty of bibliophiles. The two-hour event will take place at the Columbia College Library (600 S. Michigan, third floor) with book judging at 6 p.m., followed by book eating at 7 p.m. Everyone in the community is invited to participate, bearing in mind one golden rule: the artwork must be edible and book-related (registration deadline is Friday, March 27).

If you're at a loss for words (pun intended), check out the photo gallery on the International Edible Books Festival website, where you'll find plenty of inspirational pieces from past events. Some of our favorites include literary puns like the "Tequila Mockingbird," portraying a faux dead bird floating in a glass of tequila, and the more literal "Book of Pi," featuring a rectangular slab of pie with number cutouts in its crust.

Perhaps eating a book isn't quite what the French gourmand had in mind when he constructed his own popular work on good eating. But surely his sense of taste would've been at least mildly flattered by a palm-size chapbook made from fresh snap peas, or a crunchy graham-cracker novel bound together by strings of bright red licorice. And if we truly are what we eat, according to Brillat-Savarin, then what better to be than a literary work of art?

If you're interested in participating as a bookmaker, you can register at book& or by calling (312) 369-6630. Entries must be dropped off on the day of the event between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Columbia College Library. Admission is $10 per person (free for those who enter an edible book) and $5 for Friends of the Library. Tickets are available at the door (cash and check only); all proceeds will benefit the college's Center for Book and Paper Arts' Equipment Fund.

This article was first published on Centerstage.

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