The Food Column: New reading series -- Wording their eats

I'm standing in knee-high rubber boots, watching blood pool into translucent puddles then drift slowly toward the drains in the center of the sloped concrete floor. My long hair is bunched up under a plastic shower cap, pulled down nearly over my eyebrows, and around my ears. I'm not talking much, because it's noisy in here: the hum and whir of an electric meat saw whirring through flesh; the metallic lurching of a pulley hoisting thousand-pound bodies up to the rafters; the hole-punch ricochet of a bolt gun, and the resultant crumpling collapse. I'm just watching, as the staff of six works the Wednesday morning slaughter line at Black Earth Meats in Mount Horab, Wisconsin. And I'm staring at the skinned head of a steer.

Have we got your attention yet?

That paragraph was from Marissa Landrigan's "The Vegetarian's Guide to Eating Meat." Passages like it, with food in the foreground, will be featured in a new food-themed reading series called "Acquired Taste."

Organized by Ms. Landrigan, assistant professor of English writing at the University of Pittsburgh's Johnstown campus, the series will feature local authors reading from their books and other publications focused on food.

The series' inaugural event, "Fast Food," is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield. Admission is free.

The three individuals reading about fast food (loosely defined) will be:

* Dave Housley, founding editor of the literary magazine "Barrelhouse" and author of "Commercial Fiction," a new book of 18 stories inspired by TV commercials for food products. He lives in State College.

* Poet and essayist Sheila Squillante, associate director of Chatham University's creative writing master's program.

* Ms. Landrigan, who is seeking a publisher for her book, the first paragraph of which is quoted above. She describes the book as a combination of memoir and investigative journalism, tracing her journey from "vegetarian PETA activist to blood-and-guts-eating omnivore."

Through the reading series, Ms. Landrigan hopes to increase awareness of the broad scope of food writing. In shopping her book around for a publisher, she's found that people tend to pigeonhole food writing into two categories: cookbooks or restaurant reviews. But while writing her own book, she read "a lot of food writing that was great literature," she said. "I hope the reading series will showcase some of that."

But don't think it's too serious; upcoming readings will inject some fun into the education process.

The second reading event, "Punky Foodster: Readings on Food, Sex, and Rock and Roll," already has been scheduled for 8 p.m. Jan. 18 at The Shop in Bloomfield, where three local bands will alternate performances with three readers.

Readings will occur about once a month. Future topics will include Blood & Guts, Happy Hour (scheduled at a bar), Potluck (where readers will bring samples of a food they read about for attendees to taste), Local Food and Worst Meal Ever.

"I'm hoping there will be crossover appeal" for the series among university students and faculty, foodies and literature lovers, Ms. Landrigan said.

For more information:


Holiday cooking classes abound at local cooking schools. Here's a sampling:

Gaynor's School of Cooking, South Side: Children's holiday cookies (Saturday, Dec. 14), Feast of Seven Fishes (Tuesday, Dec. 17), chocolate candy making (Saturday, Dec. 21).

Crate, Scott: Ultimate Cookie Tray (Monday, Dec. 16), Easy Breezy Holiday Appetizers (next Thursday, Dec. 19).

Giant Eagle Market District, Robinson: Cookie Exchange (Sunday, Dec. 15), Couples' "Top Foodie Team Tournament: Gingerbread House" (next Thursday, Dec. 19), Children's cookie exchange (Sunday, Dec. 22).

More cookies

Holy Trinity Cathedral Cookie Walk: Nut, apricot and poppy seed rolls, lady locks, nut horns and other ethnic delicacies. 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 14 at the cathedral in Whitehall. To pre-order, e-mail or call 412-882-3900.

Charitable efforts

Pecan sale: Mammoth pecan halves for $12 per pound plus shipping, or 12-ounce bags of chocolate-covered pecans for $9 plus shipping, while supplies last. Proceeds benefit scholarships for women at Smith College in Massachusetts. Contact Ann Ostergaard, 412-488-8836.

Feed Four More: Grocery bags filled with items to feed a family of four have been placed at the checkout counters of Whole Foods Market in Wexford Plaza, McCandless. Throughout the month, customers can buy a bag for $10, and all the food will be donated to the Northside Common Ministries food pantry.

Party With a Purpose: Only two teams get to compete in the Super Bowl, and alas, our Steelers are not one of them this year. But every NFL city gets to send a chef to the Party With a Purpose, part of Taste of the NFL's charitable campaign against hunger. This year, Chef Anthony Zallo of Downtown's Bigelow Grille again will represent Pittsburgh at the charity party held each year (

Rebecca Sodergren: or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


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