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There's a new way to play with your food: Inside The Runcible Spoon

Wednesday - 7/9/2014, 6:59am  ET

The Runcible Spoon is a food zine, made in D.C. It captures the imaginative and fantastical elements of food through illustrations, narratives, essays, recipes and more. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON -- Malaka Gharib thinks most writers and publications take food too seriously. She, on the other hand, likes to play with it.

"I'm not an expert on restaurants in D.C. or an expert in local food, but I am an expert on imagination and playing with my food. And I am happy to find others who are the same way and share that."

Gharib is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runcible Spoon, a bi-annual zine publication she launched in 2010. If your first question is, "What's a zine?" you're not alone. It was mine too.

Gharib defines a zine as a small, independent publication that's similar to a comic book in illustrations, but includes more narratives, essays and personal stories. Her zine focuses on food, and its contents vary based on each issue's unique theme.

The Breakfast Issue is filled with illustrations depicting what people around the world enjoy for their first meal of the day. There's also an essay on tea followed by recipes that include the beverage, and a cut-out of a four-sided fortune teller to help indecisive eaters choose their breakfast.

The issue dedicated to bland food includes a narrative on water; a photo essay of a contributor's attempts to make rice cakes palatable and recipes for casseroles.

"We do things that tend to be a little bizarre," says Gharib, 28.

The publication's colorful commentary on food doesn't stop with tongue-in-cheek illustrations and collages. In a past issue, a Brooklyn artist created an installation of what he thought an alien would look like while eating food, Gharib says.

"We try to think about food in a way that doesn't romanticize it or fetishize it. We want you to feel that excitement or that anticipation of eating. What are the foods that make us daydream and salivate?"

When Gharib launched The Runcible Spoon four years ago with a Kickstarter campaign, she used it as a creative outlet to balance her interests and hobbies with her day job. She also hoped to tap into D.C.'s creative community.

"Through the magazine, I learned that there are a lot of like-minded people [in D.C.] and I was able to find my tribe through the magazine," says Gharib, who works as a social media editor for an international campaign that aims to end poverty and preventable diseases.

The Runcible Spoon has grown from what Gharib calls a "highly-localized" publication to an international one. The zine costs between $7 and $12 and is sold in specialty shops and bookstores in D.C., Baltimore, New York, L.A., London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Putting an issue together takes months for Gharib and her team of volunteer editors. During the slow months, she spends about an hour a week preparing an issue. When she's actively working on the zine, she spends a few hours a day, several days a week.

The zine's headquarters is the dining room table in her Capitol Hill apartment. After Gharib and the editors decide on the theme of the next issue, they reach out to writers and artists they want to contribute to the magazine.

"One of the amazing benefits of being in Washington is that you have amazing access to people who are just so talented in their day jobs and also in their night jobs," says Gharib, who tries to get people with different backgrounds and perspectives to share "a whimsical and fantastical" recipe, essay, story or cartoon about food.

"We have a whole process where we work with the writers from start to finish. We make sure they're on the right track; we copy-edit; we send them feedback."

Once all of the articles and art submissions are collected, Gharib formats the magazine in InDesign and prints it out for the next step in the zine process.

"Then we actually cut up the printed paper and lay it out by hand in a 40-page [book] using magazine cut-outs and found materials to create pages of the magazine," Gharib says.

The newly colorful pages are scanned and sent to a printer to produce a typical batch of 500 "Runcible Spoon" issues.

Gharib is strategic about where she sells the zine. She says the target audience is those who value indie publications and "who kind of dig weird food stuff."

Since starting The Runcible Spoon, Gharib has discovered a number of things -- from new recipes to new talents.

A friend submitted what has become one of her favorite recipes for eggplant curry, only Gharib renamed it "Pit-Sweat Curry" for the Gross Issue. She also fell in love with a "sinful and delicious" fried avocado recipe, which was featured in the zine's Swimsuit Issue -- a theme that Gharib says was "pretty thinly veiled." Gharib contributes at least one piece of content to each issue, and in the process has discovered she loves to draw.

The zine scene in D.C. has also continued to expand in the past four years. On August 9, The Runcible Spoon will join hundreds of other zine producers for the annual DC Zinefest. Now, Gharib is focused on the future and growing her publication.

"We aim to create a longer magazine, a more funky magazine, more creative and unexpected stuff -- just expand our global empire of The Runcible Spoon," Gharib says. "We want this imaginative, playful world about food. We want people to play with their food."

What goes into making The Runcible Spoon? Watch the video below:

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