The Microcosm Interview with Edible Secrets’ Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow!
What do top-secret CIA assassination plots, Black Panther arrests, and Reaganomics have in common? Food, of course! Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow collect, contextualize and graphically narrate declassified government documents with food as a theme! Over 500,000 declassified memos, debriefings and transcripts were combed to uncover some of the most important and iconic people and narratives from US history. Providing a voyeuristic insight into the US government, these documents are like reality TV for politicos and foodies: Assassinations by milkshake, subliminal popcorn cravings, Reagan’s love of hydroponics, and what could be Fred Hampton’s most radical action—giving ice cream to small children. Illustrated throughout by Nate Powell.
Q: For anyone who hasn’t gotten a chance to read the book give us a little overview. What can people expect?
MH: An entertaining introduction to government secrecy and radical US history…starring food. Assassination by milkshake, a communist Jell-O box, subliminal popcorn cravings. It’s political voyeurism for foodies! Through food and declassified documents we’ve graphically narrated histories of the Black Panther Party, the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Fidel Castro and Cuba, US government experiments on humans, globalization, and more.
MP: We tried very hard to make the book accessible and interesting to people of all ilks. There are graphics with information like “Top Five CIA Pranks on Fidel Castro,” which gives a little overview of the five most ridiculous assassination attempts/attempts to annoy Castro, or a graphic depicting all of the interactions the Black Panthers had with the police from 1968-1969 (hint: there were a lot). And there are also essays for people who want to delve a little deeper, which give a history of the documents and a little background that explains how that document came to be–for example, why did the US government fund a study on subliminal messaging, or how did Reagan come to be sitting in a room talking about hydroponic lettuce? Those questions get us into discussions of experiments with mind control and the US legacy of creating better torturers, and discussions of food subsidies and how the world food supply is propped up in order to keep capitalism legitimate. Like I said, something for everybody!
Q: How did you guys get a hold of the documents you used? How long did it take you to collect them all?
MH: The documents were casually collected over many years. The first document I found by mistake. Late one night I was searching a computer database of declassified CIA documents and, in a moment of boredom, decided to search for Jello Biafra of the punk band the Dead Kennedys. No results came up for Biafra (though I’m sure he has quite the FBI file out there somewhere), but the document featured in the book about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and the notorious Jell-O box popped up.
The documents were collected over a period of 5 years from library collections and online databases. If you’re interested in declassified documents, you should start by asking your local librarian for help finding them. And in the book we include a sample Freedom of Information Act Request. Before becoming a book, Edible Secrets was a portable art installation of the documents (enlarged and screen-printed), historical artifacts, dioramas, art, and even featured an audio tour at one point.
Q: The super awesome Nate Powell does the illustrations for this one. How was it working with him?
MH: Nate Powell and I were roommates for many years, including when Edible Secrets was conceived of. So it was great to work with Nate, as he was the primary sounding board for all things Edible Secrets. And Nate is an illustrating genius, and produced perfect illustrations for each chapter and a beautiful cover. There were a couple that didn’t make it into the book; maybe we’ll put those up someday.
MP: Nate is amazing! Besides being an awesome illustrator with the power to tell an entire story in a single pen-stroke, he is a super nice person with a wonderful creative energy.
Q: What do you think of this whole WikiLeaks thing?
MP: One of the more interesting things happening right now connected to WikiLeaks is the dialogue occurring around the issue of Julian Assange (the face of WikiLeaks) and sexual assault. There have been some good discussions in the media about it. As writers we feel it is important to confront these issues head on. When sexual assault victims are used as pawns, all victims and survivors ultimately lose, because the rhetoric around assault is clouded with other objectives.
MH: As for the (most recent) leaks themselves, they are intriguing. The most recent WikiLeak, dubbed Cablegate, is a data dump of 200,000+ state department cables; essentially internal memos from US embassies abroad. The documents released so far (only 1% of the documents are available to the public) do not provide any earth-shattering revelations, but are interesting for the level of candor in the narrative voices. They read more like emails between friends -kinda evil, profit-hungry friends- than official US documents or declarations.
PS, be on the lookout for our Gastronomical Guide to Cablegate, as we could not resist the temptation of using the food filter on Wikileaks: socialist sandwiches, Chinese licorice machine parts, and more government favors for Coca-Cola.
Q: What’s next for you guys? You have an event coming up soon. Tell us a little about that…
MH: Right now we are just trying to get the book out there. On January 15th we’ll be doing a presentation on the book at Bluestockings in New York City. After that we hope to do some events in the Midwest and maybe attend some book fairs.
As for next projects, we are tossing some ideas around: a history of plane hijackings before 9/11, a resource guide for prison abolition, and potentially a memoir/cultural history of asthma if Mia ever finishes that quilt she’s been working on.
Q: Finally, give us your top five favorite foods…
MH: beets, pizza, cupcakes, brussels sprouts, ice cream
MP: lentils, soup of almost any kind, sourpatch kids (corporate vegan deliciousness), vegan wings with homemade buffalo sauce and vegan ranch dressing, and ice cream.