Monday, July 23, 2018

Thank-you Jonathan Gold and Linda Burum

I was saddened to read of Jonathan Gold's death over the weekend. Others wrote about his importance quite eloquently. Gustavo Arellano (Ask a Mexican) explained, "His strength lay in the fact that he wrote as someone thankful that the Los Angeles of today was not the Los Angeles of his youth."

Ruth Reichl, his friend and former editor wrote:
But Jonathan didn’t want us to go out to Monterey Park simply to eat Sichuan pickles. He didn’t lure us out to El Monte or the world’s best birria burritos for their mere deliciousness. He wrote enticing prose designed to take us out of our safe little territories to mingle with other people because he knew that restaurants aren’t really about food. They’re about people.

He gave us the keys to a hidden city, introduced us to folks we’d never have known. And the city changed. It is nothing like the city I found when I first came here in 1984.
If you want to understand LA, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Gold's classic, Counter Intelligence: Where to eat in the real Los Angeles.

Gold wrote a column for the Counter Intelligence column for the LA Weekly starting in the mid-1980s.  A collection of the columns was published as this book in 2000.

When we first moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s, A Guide to Ethnic Food in Los Angeles by Linda Burum (1992) was our LA food atlas.

We used to read the chapters (organized by ethnic food type) while looking at the AAA map of Metro Los Angeles (for the big picture) and the Thomas Guide for details. We planned outings to different areas of LA around food and walking around.

Until I moved to LA, I didn't understand it. It's still so vast and hard to describe. But food sociology is certainly a great way to start. Go out and explore. Eat. Look around. Listen. Talk to people.

I sat next to a food critic on a flight who knew Linda Burum. I asked why she didn't update her guide. He said that she moved to NY and was doing other stuff now. In the obituaries and tributes to the important work that Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain have done in popularizing food sociology/anthropology, I see little mention of women.

I want to remind people not to overlook the women who were already there, doing the work in plain sight.  So many women have done the patient work of spending time in kitchens and explaining culture through food.   Culture has room for many heroes.

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