A New Bay Area Zine Wants to Keep Food Writing Weird

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The cover of the Mouth2Mouth zine, with a photo illustration of two women in wetsuits digging for clams.
With its arty, off-kilter aesthetic, Mouth2Mouth is the spiritual descendent of the dearly departed food magazine Lucky Peach. (Meg Fransee/Floss Editions)

The coolest new Bay Area food magazine can’t be found in bookstores or on newsstands. Its masthead only includes a handful of professional writers—or actual “food people” for that matter. Conceived and born in San Francisco during the pandemic, Mouth2Mouth isn’t even really a proper magazine. 

Instead, the publication comes out of another long and proud DIY tradition here in the Bay: It’s a zine. And it’s now soliciting submissions for its second issue.

The brainchild of San Francisco architect Hallie Chen, Mouth2Mouth has some of the same hip, arty, off-kilter aesthetic of the dearly departed food magazine Lucky Peach—but without the whiff of toxic masculinity that contributed to that publication’s eventual undoing. Chen was an obsessive Lucky Peach reader back in the day, and says she was missing that kind of literary, intensely personal storytelling—the kind of food writing where the food was “almost peripheral.”

“I think of food as a place—it’s this intersection of people and material and memory and space. … It’s more of an art project than a food thing,” Chen says of the zine.

The zine open to a spread that shows an vintage photo of an Asian couple on one side and the beginning of a photo essay called "Twinsgiving" on the other.
The zine's design aesthetic is a mix of watercolor illustrations, vintage photographs and doodles. (Meg Fransee/Floss Editions)

Mouth2Mouth’s first issue, published last spring, has a story about a Korean American woman digging for geoduck with her mother in the pre-dawn light of Tomales Bay. It includes a slew of nostalgic, heartfelt recipes—for flour tortillas, bánh bèo, Cheerios served over espresso—that are written in the form of poems, doodles and photo collages. One ostensible recipe, “How to Cook a Tiger,” by the writer Xiaowei Wang, traces the roots of Baoning vinegar to a village in Sichuan, China, and also digs into the history of anti-Asian sentiment in California in the early 20th century. 

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For her own contribution, “Pizza Is a Place,” Chen drew on her background as an architect to reimagine a slice of pizza as a landscape, from the spicy oil that pools inside each cup-like curl of pepperoni to the valley of dehydrated red sauce that forms at the foot of the crust. 

It all looks very stylish—thanks in large part, Chen says, to the design work of Wolfman Books founder Justin Carder. And Chen is especially proud of how few professional writers and chefs contributed to the zine. Instead, she pulled favors from her broader community of Bay Area friends and acquaintances—artists and cooks, but also tech workers and other regular folks. “It’s mostly people who never write, or never take pictures, sharing something,” Chen says.

Two illustrations of a slice of pizza, one showing the "valley" of wet and dehydrated sauce under the crust, the other showing the "money shot" of the spotted undercarriage.
A panel from Hallie Chen's "Pizza Is a Place," which draws on the author's day job as an architect. (Hallie Chen)

The title comes from an offhand comment that Chen’s partner made one time about being glad that the two of them saw “mouth to mouth” about a particular food trend that they despised. (“I thought it was so clever but also deep,” Chen says.) For her, the term also evokes oral traditions, verbal communication, kissing and the act of a mother bird feeding its baby.  

Chen says she doesn’t consume enough food media to position Mouth2Mouth as any kind of overt critique.  But at its core, the zine isn’t very concerned with the topics covered by more traditional, mainstream food publications—as illustrated by the phrases of interest that Chen lists off in the first issue's introduction: “cooks not just chefs, food-based experiences, anti-optimization, anti-listicle, general interest.”

Beyond that overarching mood board, Mouth2Mouth doesn’t stick to any overt theme. For the inaugural edition, Chen asked potential contributors to think broadly about family and memory. For the second issue, she hopes to solicit pieces that have something to do with matriarchs—though she acknowledges it’s hard to make specific demands when she doesn’t have a budget to pay contributors. 

Watercolor painting of three fruits in different sizes and shades of green: "your avocado" (the smallest), "my avocado" and "a papaya."
"My Avocado," by Chloe Roth—one of the many pieces of loosely food-themed artwork featured in Mouth2Mouth. (Chloe Roth)
A photo collage: a mother giving her child a bath in the sink; the text reads, "I wish I knew your secrets: pecan pie, biscuits, okra stew."
"Art Secrets," by Chinwe Okona. (Chinwe Okona)

Those interested in submitting writing or art to the second issue of Mouth2Mouth should email Chen at hahallie@gmail.com by April 15. Her hope is to produce and print the issue in time to sell it at this year’s San Francisco Art Book Fair, July 15–17, where she hopes to have a table. 

Otherwise, Mouth2Mouth isn’t easy to snag. Copies of the first issue ($15) are available periodically via the Oakland home-based indie art book printing house, Floss Editions. For the time being, the zine doesn’t exist in digital form on the internet. 

Chen says she started Mouth2Mouth during the pandemic in part because she had a little bit more free time. But the act of making zines has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, going back to the days when, as a teenager, she’d go to shows at the Long Haul Infoshop and 924 Gilman in Berkeley—both epicenters of Bay Area zine culture. She sees the practice as an indispensable part of the region's punk heritage. 

Now Chen hopes to keep her new food zine going for as long as she can—though she doubts it’ll ever be more than a side gig. She doesn’t actually aspire to run the next Lucky Peach. And, anyway, it’s the amateur, DIY aspect of the project that appeals to her. 

“People constantly surprise me—people I think I know well through friendship,” Chen says. “It’s so incredible to learn the depth and breadth of people’s capabilities.”