Food & Books Come Together at Cheeky Houston Art Event

Madeline Edible Book Festival entry by Bette Drexler

If the name “Edible Book Festival” sounds like a goof, that’s because it unabashedly is. Don’t worry, though — you won’t be asked to tuck into dry, pulpy paper or chew on rubbery leather bindings. The Houston Book Arts Guild (HBAG) hosts the annual event, and the Edible Book Festival’s modus operandi is to celebrate literature using food as an artistic medium. An example from the HBAG’s marketing materials involves a screaming gingerbread man with his arms bitten off to represent Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” 

“Because it’s kind of a jokey thing, it’s always around April Fool’s Day,” says Lee Steiner, a member of the HBAG who organizes the local iteration of the international event. This year’s Edible Book Festival is taking place on March 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, located at 1475 West Gray. April Fool’s Day falls on a Monday this year, so some participating cities — such as Houston — are holding events over the weekend, while others prefer sticking to the traditional date.

Some contributors enjoy finding creative puns to showcase their love of books. “A classic one is ‘Ketchup in the Rye,’” Steiner says. “We try to show either a picture or, If somebody has a copy of the book their entry is based on, they can display that book. It helps some people who are maybe not familiar with that literary work to make the connection: ‘So that’s “Catcher in the Rye”!’ Another version of that was somebody who had a catcher’s mitt with a loaf of rye bread in it.”

Catcher/Catsup in the Rye Edible Book Fest entry by Missy Bosch
Catcher/Catsup in the Rye Edible Book Fest entry by Missy Bosch. Courtesy Photo.

Steiner formerly served as the HBAG’s president and estimates that the group first discussed bringing an Edible Book Festival to Houston about “a dozen years” ago. The first was eventually held at The Printing Museum in 2015. The original Edible Book Festival was founded 15 years earlier by French-American artist Béatrice Coron and the late Judith A. Hoffberg, an arts writer, librarian, archivist and curator. They originally envisioned it as a commemoration of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s “Physiologie du goût”, a meditative treatise on gastronomy and taste. His birthday, fortuitously enough, happens to be April Fool’s Day.  

As an artist herself, Steiner doesn’t just sit on the sidelines when Edible Book Festival time rolls around. She actively participates as an entrant. Given the event’s proximity to Easter, she incorporates familiar seasonal treats and themes into her pieces.

“I went to Kroger, and I got an 8″ x 8″ or 10″ x 10″ brownie from their bakery, and I asked them to write ‘War and Peeps’ on it. Then I decorated it with some of the little Peeps chicks,” Steiner says. “I also did “The Runaway Bunny.” My daughters had these little bunny rabbits on skateboards figurines, so I had them as the runaway bunnies.”

“We’ve got some really gorgeous things,” Steiner says. “We want to get tons more people to do it bigger.”

Edible Book Festival prize bags. Courtesy photo.

Between 18 to 26 Houstonians enter the Edible Book Festival every year, many of them HBAG members. It costs only $6 to participate, and anyone hoping to share their love of food and books is encouraged to email Steiner for details regarding the rules and expectations.

Attendance is free. Visitors decide the winners via voting in five categories, with prizes consisting of a certificate and a gift from HBAG usually consisting of “a tote bag with some cool books and other accessories that fit the theme of the category.” Refreshments will be provided — and not the displays, either! Everything centers around fun and passion for food, for literature and for art — just as Brillat-Savarin’s fans intended.

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