A Sensory Journey
Midtown teacher, writer and chef is Inside’s newest columnist
By Jessica Laskey
Gabrielle Myers joins Inside Sacramento this month as our new Farm to Fork columnist. Her work celebrates and explores the region’s remarkable bounty of food.
Gabrielle Myers doesn’t just write about food. She writes about the food of life.
“If hornets catch in fig tangles,
Mingle fuzzy wings
Against fruit stretch’s broad belly drops
(Sun-wrinkled in honey-suckled summer),
What is she left with, her ballasted street?
Pollen crumbs leave her stunned, stung.”
The opening lines of “Figs,” from her new poetry collection “Too Many Seeds,” is a perfect example of the chef, writer and educator’s way with words. Myers describes food in ways that make your mouth water. She describes love and loss in ways that make your eyes water.
“Writing is my special outlet, my way of embracing the world and paying attention to everything around me,” she says.
The Maryland native discovered writing in high school, but food was already a keen interest, out of both “passion and necessity.” She describes her parents as workaholics, so it would often fall to young Myers to get dinner ready, often with ingredients from the family garden.
Her love of earth’s bounty led to stints at garden centers and nurseries on the East Coast throughout her teenage years. Her love of adventure led to a cross-country move after college in the late 1990s to the Bay Area, where she attended the California Culinary Academy and worked for celebrated chef Paul Bertolli (of Chez Panisse fame) at his Oakland restaurant Oliveto.
“We would get in a whole hog, lamb or fish and butcher them down and use every single part of the animal,” Myers recalls. “We made everything from scratch. I fell in love with the way that cooking is about the possibilities on a plate and making a connection with the farmers—having a true exchange with the people who grow our food.”
This connection led Myers to an internship in 2006 on an organic farm in Vacaville where she learned how food is grown and who grows it. The emotional events surrounding her time on the farm became the memoir “Hive-Mind,” which she published in 2015. The book contains traditional prose and the poetry that makes up most of Myers’ oeuvre.
After leaving the farm, Myers returned to her love of writing and attended graduate school at UC Davis. She cooked to support herself and completed her master’s degree during the Great Recession.
Steady teaching jobs were scarce. She taught English and writing all over the region, including UC Davis, St. Mary’s College, Diablo Valley College, Sacramento City College, Yuba College and Las Positas College. Today she holds a tenure-track job as an English professor at San Joaquin Delta College.
The Midtown resident’s newest writing project, “Too Many Seeds,” was published in December and features poems “focused on food and the different ways it comes to us.” Myers brings alive her experiences in restaurants, on the farm and a dried fruit factory in Vacaville with vivid, descriptive phrasing that crackles with wit and melancholy.
“I wanted to write about the other side of agriculture that people aren’t usually exposed to,” Myers says of her fruit factory poems. “I write about the people who worked at the factory—most of them were undocumented—how they were treated, the chemicals they were exposed to. Mass production of produce in California is very different from the farm-to-table experiences I’d had.”
Whether she’s describing quality control at the factory where “men in reflective boots scrub stains from the aster-blue floor,” a creek “clinging like kudzu to tulip poplar,” the loss of a dear friend who “showed me to move among branches,” salmon processed on a white cutting board that “makes your pink flesh perk up in bleaching kitchen light” or the sweetness of the “fabled fig,” Myers weaves a sensory journey readers won’t soon forget.
For information, visit gabriellemyers.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous profiles can be found and shared at InsideSacramento.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: insidesacramento.