Nutrition Facts: Always Look at the Label — a microreview of Anvil Publishing’s FAST FOOD FICTION DELIVERY edited by Noelle Q. De Jesus and Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta

In the art of anthology-making, textual framing is key. It discloses the editor’s method and intentions for the pieces chosen to be exhibited, how and why they are exhibited and exhibited together. And among all the various and sundry ways of framing an anthology — introduction, preface, marginalia, annotations — the title is almost always the most obvious key of all.

When you see a book called THE LIKHAAN JOURNAL 2014, you know it’s going to contain what editors from UP think are worthy of inclusion for the year 2014, with all the baggage that that inclusion comes; even the use of the word “Likhaan” implies a nativist frame, maybe a nation-building thrust to the anthologising, implying that the pieces included are all “Filipino.” When you see a book called PHILIPPINE SPECULATIVE FICTION 5, you know it’s going to contain specfic stories written by Filipinos and that there were four of these books already published prior to this particular volume; and the inclusion of the word “Philippine” does not only denote geographical or national boundaries within which the stories were written, but it is also a holistic statement saying “This is how Filipinos engage with the international genre that has called itself ‘Speculative Fiction.’”

So how does one read the decision to frame an anthology of contemporary English-language short fiction in the Philippines with the title FAST FOOD FICTION DELIVERY?

What is fast food? It is mass-produced food meant to be produced and consumed cheaply and quickly, typically chockfull of carcinogens and empty calories; it leads to cancer, diabetes, obesity; is packaged in non-biodegradable containers; the most famous of its franchises is among the top three leading causes of global warming; hallmarks of this industry’s service are the option to consume even more of its product for an even cheaper price, to have the product delivered straight to your door in twenty minutes or less else you’ll get the food for free but with the delivery boy paying for it from his paycheque. To describe it as an industry founded on excess and exploitation is merely to state factual information.

At this point in time, with all the chatter on sustainability, slow cooking, organic, antiGMO, even artisanal and “project” food, even with the ongoing glamourisation of healthy living, the decision to call the antho “Fast Food Fiction Delivery” comes across as a little weird. It implies uncritical, borderline irresponsible thinking, out of touch with the real world where SUPER SIZE ME the movie was premiered eleven years ago. Maybe the antho that they plan to do next is called SIX PACKS OF CIGARETTES A DAY POETRY?

But I suppose readers can glean from the antho’s contents that the editors intended to use “fast food” as a “cool/trendy” metaphor to describe the quick, maybe even disposable, nature of short-form/flash fiction, purely ignoring all the ideas encoded in the combination of those two words. Funny how the editors — themselves highly-respected writers — seemingly missed out on the value of words and their meaning. Nothing screams “lazy curatorial work” as much as deciding to name your short-form fiction anthology after a mode of food production and consumption that is problematic, to say the least, just because it was “cool/trendy.”

Unless the intention is to frame contemporary English-language short fiction in the Philippines as mass-produced art meant to be produced and consumed cheaply and quickly; poisonous in content, leads to awful fatal diseases; depleting and wasteful; a lasting, ruinous monument to colonialism and capitalism? If we are to assume that the editors in fact did their curatorial jobs well, were not superficial with their editorial decisions, in fact made very deliberate and measured intelligent choices with the naming thus the framing of the anthology, this seems to be the only rational explanation.

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Quick Cuts:

* Funny how practically all the stories are heteronormative!

* Funny also how practically all the stories contain middle to upper-middle class characters and sensibilities, while the title of the antho is about cheap mass-produced food!

* I know I make it seem like the editors didn’t write anything other than the title to frame the antho, but actually both of them wrote an intro each, although they only talked about how far the form has come and how good some of the pieces in the antho are, neglecting to mention any of their motivations for calling the antho “Fast Food Fiction Delivery!”

* I’m still undecided on the preoccupation over the very superficial formal conceit of wordcount as criteria for short work to be classified as fast food fiction!

* Talking about formal conceit, I’m very disappointed nobody played around with Twitter’s brevity of form (140 character limit) and unique engagement with subtext (hashtags)! Or even the easy feels of emojis. But I suppose that’s too “cool/trendy” for people? I mention this because the editors make hay with how some writers “played” with the form via revealing the subtext through overly-long titles, but then, fictionists here aren’t very exciting or intelligent with how they handle/play with/interrogate form, so, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯