The North Coast Journal
’s own Jennifer Fumiko Cahill got some national recognition this week.
At its annual newspaper contest awards ceremony over the weekend, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia
announced that Cahill, our arts and features editor, finished second in the Food Writing category and received an honorable mention in Best Columns in our circulation division, which sees the Journal
compete against papers twice its size.
The awards stem from three Table Talk pieces Cahill wrote for the Journal
in 2017 and the first two installments of her bitingly satirical “Seriously?” series. If you haven’t had a chance to read these, we urge you to double back.
“How to Dine Alone
,” in which Cahill explains why you don't need company to eat out like a boss:
“I was rescued by a flurry of activity as a woman in a sharp blue jacket, her hair coiled in a Hitchcock bun, strolled in and took what seemed to be her usual table. She listened to the specials, ordered quickly and opened a small book as the staff receded. When her seared scallops arrived, she ate deliberately and sipped her wine, returning to the book when she was finished — a silent cue that summoned a waiter to clear her plate. She was epic. I stole glances of her as I cut my roulade of beef, marveling at her relaxed command of her own table, the ease with which she asked for the dessert menu, looking up at arriving diners and going right back to her meal and her book. Watching her, I no longer wanted to eat alone. I wanted to dine alone.”
“Dinner with an Old Friend
” is technically just a piece about how to cook Lap Xuong Fried Rice but that’s just the vehicle — the heart of the piece is a nostalgic rumination on friendship, immigration and culture:
“I met her mother, a small, quick moving woman, only once before she died. She spoke only in Vietnamese and regarded me with a look I knew from my own immigrant family — a mixture of kindness and caution. I was out in the larger world with her daughter, helping her navigate it and pulling her away into it. She offered me sweets and watched me as I ate.”
“In Defense of MSG
” is Cahill clapping back at the anti-MSG sentiment that seems to uniquely swirl around Chinese food restaurants — she ponders why Doritos loyalists never seem to complain of “Extreme Nacho Syndrome” — and professing her love the umami flavor:
“They’re not like salt crystals, exactly. They’re longer, like white bugle beads from a glamorous 1920s dress. In a pile, they sparkle like dreamy snow in a stop-motion Christmas movie. And when judiciously added to food, they're goddamn magic.”
“A Men’s Guide to Surviving a Sexual Harassment Witch Hunt
” is Cahill’s satirical response to the “tidal wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations” against a host of prominent men last year:
“Overnight we were prioritizing women’s safety and well-being over men’s God-given rights to casual sexism, predatory behavior and semi-nude messages at the office. Frankly, nobody saw it coming. This new obsession with treating women like people can be confusing, especially for those who looked to
Mad Men as an aspirational HR training video. So here are some tips to help men navigate office interactions now that they've found themselves just one unwelcome elevator fondling away from career disaster. If that's not a witch hunt atmosphere — just like when powerful men whipped up mobs, hanging, torturing and burning mostly women — then what is?”
In “I Sent an Email with a Period Instead of an Exclamation Mark and Everyone Died
,” Cahill explores the unique pressures woman face in the workplace, including the the need to punctuate pleasingly:
“‘Ken,’ I typed in an email to our supply manager, ‘Please order more paperclips. Thanks.’ And there it was. Right where a cheerful exclamation point should have been — providing that jumpy ending that sends an apologetic grin and shrug so my disembodied female voice can sound as non-threatening as possible. Now that Comic Sans has been outlawed, an exclamation point is the only way to convey that, despite the wage gap, being passed over for advancement and Carl's weird staring, I'm fine, fine, fine! I'm happy! It's also the only way the person reading my email would know I have breasts.”
We hope you’ll join us in congratulating Cahill on the well-deserved recognition, and indulge yourself in reading — or re-reading — her work. And if you have the time, we urge you to peruse some of the other honorees' work here
and marvel at what a free press can accomplish when given resources, time and space.