When Malaka Gharib, founder of the Washington, DC, zine The Runcible Spoon, is told that her publication has been spotted in the halls of the federal government, she chuckles in disbelief: “Really?” Her reaction is understandable: The zine, focused on new and healthy eating in the district, collages adorable illustrations and magazine cutouts alongside articles titled “Food So Fresh It Should Be Slapped: Celebrating the Season’s Best at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market” and recipes for homemade mustard.
That this free eight-page, black-and-white photocopied rag would be read by the nation’s stodgy power brokers seems dubious.
After all, the 24-year-old created the zine to be decidedly egalitarian: “We’re about democratizing the DC food scene and bringing it — quite literally — to the streets,” the mission statement reads.
I later discover Treasury (where I’d heard The Runcible Spoon has been spotted) is not only a government department to which you pay your taxes. It’s also a vintage boutique in the district’s hip U Street district where Gharib lays out copies.
The populist ethic of The Runcible Spoon is a historic hallmark of zines, loosely defined as small-circulation, cheaply produced independent publications that are often free or low cost. Zines exploded in the 1980s, due to the proliferation of copy centers and affordable computers. The early ’90s saw another resurgence of the medium, when young feminists in particular used it as a tool for activism. This was all, however, before the World Wide Web juggernaut killed many a printed word.
As many publications today flee for the digital hills, Gharib’s fetching year-old zine is a hopeful sign that not only is print not dead, but, as many in the scene attest, it’s thriving. Statistics on zines are hard to pin down, partly because of the informal and transitory nature of the genre, but many enthusiasts say the field is doing just fine in the 21st century.
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!