By Belle Crawford
North Carolina writer and baker Keia Mastrianni has shunned the typical 9-to-5 in favor of pursuing what she loves most: making old-fashioned pies from scratch and writing about food culture through stories of people and regional ingredients. In October, Mastrianni partially funded a journalism research trip to Puerto Rico by selling her homemade pies on the streets of Asheville.
She began her small-batch pie business, Milk Glass Pie, in 2010 during a difficult time, when everything in her life felt upended and unpredictable. “I needed something that I could do with my hands, something meditative that could help me stay present in the moment,” she says. Milk Glass Pie now provides a loyal customer base with pies made from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
When she’s not working her magic in the kitchen, Mastrianni uses writing to explore topics related to food and the connection between agriculture and social issues. In June, after finishing work on a cookbook she coauthored with Charlotte chef Bruce Moffett, Mastrianni began looking for her next project. She attended a journalism workshop in Detroit put on by media organization Feet in Two Worlds.
“In Detroit, I met Tara Rodriguez-Besosa, the brains behind El Departamento de la Comida, a nonprofit that empowers small scale family farmers in Puerto Rico by providing them with a space to sell their produce on consignment,” she says. “There were several other inspired speakers from Puerto Rico at the conference, all discussing themes surrounding agricultural resiliency and food sovereignty. By the time I was home, I knew I was going to make a trip to the Caribbean.”
Mastrianni spent the next two months preparing for her journey, including raising funds by selling her homemade pies in a pop-up shop—a flash retail stand erected for a few hours at Trade & Lore Coffee in downtown Asheville. “The thing I love about selling pie is the joy it brings people,” she says. “No one is ever angry when they’re eating pie.” Mastrianni quickly sold out of the pies she’d made for her fundraiser that day, just three days before her flight to San Juan.
In Puerto Rico, Mastrianni connected with El Departamento de la Comida on a volunteer brigade to the town of Loíza. There, she helped plant trees while she listened to the oral histories that shape the community’s collective identity. She was invited to share homemade, locally grown meals with the people she worked with and learn about the courageous efforts they have undertaken to develop agricultural resiliency in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
“One of my goals as a writer is to do the people that I’m writing about justice,” Mastrianni says. “I want to honor their voices and perspectives in order to communicate their dignity.”
Find Mastrianni’s work on food and agriculture, including her upcoming articles about her experiences in Puerto Rico at KeiaisHungry.com. To receive information about Mastrianni’s pies, including pop-up locations, visit MilkGlassPie.com.