Jen Ede isn’t a foodie.
"This is going to be scandalous!" she laughed as we sat in Larry’s Market in Brown Deer to talk about Edible Milwaukee, a new quarterly publication that will cover Cream City cuisine and those who produce, distribute and, of course, consume it.
Ede, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the magazine, has nothing against foodies. She loves foodies. But she feels that her connection to food and its significance is a little more complicated than what the moniker implies.
"When you refer to someone just as a foodie, I feel like it misses the point a little bit. I feel like it’s a bit oversimplified and it has a lot of connotation of overpriced olive oil," she said.
"It doesn’t grasp the underlying things: food justice, food security, health, sustainability. Food is complex. We are definitely a magazine that appreciates good food, but it’s important to us that that food is conscientious and grown in a way that is not harmful to communities or the body."
But readers don’t need to worry that Edible Milwaukee, which belongs to the network of over 75 Edible Communities publications in North America, will be anything too political. It is, rather, a celebration of the culinary traditions of Wisconsin.
The premier issue launched last weekend, including pieces by local notables like John Gurda, Martin Hintz and Erika Janik. And this is just the beginning: Ede wants the magazine to feature a cross-section of Milwaukee writers, photographers and businesses.
"I feel like it’s Milwaukee’s food magazine," says Ede. I want people in Milwaukee to feel like it’s the pulse of this city. I call it a ready-reference guide. It’s a reference guide to things to do, places to eat, companies to support, people who exist in the community who are doing the food thing in a good way day in and day out."
The advent of Milwaukee’s own edition of an Edible publication is something long anticipated by the food community here. There are incarnations existing already in Madison, Door County and Chicago. Edible Milwaukee will cover a territory that extends north to Sheboygan, west through Waukesha County and south to the Illinois border.
The magazine features an eight-person advisory panel made up of well-known local food personalities, including OnMilwaukee.com’s own Lori Fredrich.
"Considering the recent growth and maturation of the food scene here in Milwaukee, Edible Milwaukee has come to the city at a perfect time," said Fredrich. "Not only are there plenty of new and exciting things going on in our city, but there is a need to look back and pay tribute to the rich and storied history of the food which is produced, enjoyed, and distributed here. Having an active Edible publication in town provides additional proof and valuable validation that Milwaukee is fully equipped to be a legitimate food destination."
And while Edible will definitely pay homage to classic Milwaukee eats ("We’ll cover cheese a heck of a lot!") Ede also envisions the quarterly as "a snapshot of Milwaukee as it was and as it is."
The magazine includes recurring sections like DIY MKE (an at-home how-to guide), Vintage Eats (highlighting Wisconsin’s rich historical food traditions), Grist for the Mill (a section for Op-Ed pieces) and Edible Culture (which profiles artisanal businesses).
Ede credits the magazine’s eight-person editorial advisory panel with giving her guidance after she spent some time away from her hometown of Milwaukee. Her background is in the study of language and literature, which gave the 29-year-old a great foundation for her current work. Food, she says, is a unifying cultural element.
"Studying languages and literature, I was always interested in the food aspect. To understand someone’s culture, one of the easiest ways is to ask them what they eat and what their food memories are," she said. "It’s a really easy way to communicate because food is a baseline. Food is a uniter. Everyone has it in common. I always looked at culture through the lens of food."
She switched to a culinary career for more professional fulfillment, working first as a personal chef and later at Boston’s Chefs Collaborative, a non-profit that helps chefs and restaurants nationwide make sustainable buying decisions.
It was in November 2011 that the homesick Ede sent friend Tracey Ryder, the founder of Edible publications, an email asking whether or not there was a Milwaukee incarnation of the magazine.
"Somehow, miraculously, Edible Milwaukee didn’t exist," she said. "It was like, done! That’s it! I say all of the stars aligned." She signed the contract for the license in September of 2012 and moved home the next month.
It was an opportunity to be close to family and familiar surroundings, but more than that, the move brought Ede back to a city whose rich culinary traditions have always inspired her. It is these traditions that will serve as the guiding force behind Edible Milwaukee, especially as the cultural – and culinary – make-up of the city is shifting.
"We came from German, Polish, Eastern European foods, but if you look at the face of this city, they exist still – and if you look in the magazine, we’ve got a 76-year-old Polish sausage maker in South Milwaukee – but at the same time, there are new traditions emerging through the cultural groups that are in this city," she said.
"Ten years ago, the South Side was predominantly Hispanic. Now it’s Palestinian, Somali, Pakistani, Indian, Egyptian, all of these exciting new things – there’s an Asian food scene that’s booming.
"We adhere to our old traditions but we also have these new traditions emerging and I think that ultimately makes that food resilient."
"Milwaukee has gained a well-deserved reputation for its German heritage, which rightfully includes sausages and beer. But, the city also has a history that includes so much more," agreed Fredrich.
"Our city has long been home to Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Italian and African populations whose history is entwined with cultures of food. It's high time there was a focus on telling those stories and opening up a dialogue among the varied peoples of our city. Food has been long known as a great unifier, and I have high hopes that Edible Milwaukee will begin to unravel the veil of mystery that has long kept people in our great city apart."
The cover of the debut issue features a beautiful update of the iconic "Milwaukee Feeds and Supplies the World" illustration first published in 1901, depicting a leaf-clutching goddess beside a globe centered on Milwaukee. The updated rendering, done by Scott Starr at Rev Pop, perfectly encapsulates Edible Milwaukee’s mission statement.
"We really racked our brains about what one image would encompass Milwaukee’s food scene," Ede said. "And there’s this old poster from 1901, and I think people know it in this city. We thought updating it and bringing it into the 21st century would be a really great old Milwaukee mash-up."
Subscriptions are available to Edible Milwaukee for $30; subscribers will have the benefit of receiving their magazines in the mail in May, August, November and March. It’s also available free at the magazine’s community partners (listed on the website) and at some to-be-determined special events.
"Milwaukee has long been one of this country's best kept secrets," said Fredrich. "Yet, it remains a modest, unpretentious place with a brilliance much more spectacular than its demure nature would indicate. It's high time we started wearing our pride on our sleeves and celebrating the many great things we have to offer. Edible Milwaukee is just another way we can begin on that journey."
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.