Los Angeles has become one of the great food capitals of the world, and if like the saying goes, “you are what you eat,” then what does the city’s relationship to food say about its people? Launching this summer, the Library Foundation will celebrate the rich–and untold–history of restaurants and food in the City of Angels with “To Live and Dine in L.A.,” an exciting new project spotlighting the Los Angeles Public Library’s extensive menu collection.
Following up on 2013’s “Songs in the Key of L.A.,” which celebrated the Library’s sheet music collection, this new project will be the second in a series of collaborations between the Library Foundation and the Los Angeles Public Library to explore the Library’s historically significant collections. “One of the many important roles [libraries] play is celebrating Los Angeles, its history, the fabulous and complex diversity of its residents, and L.A.’s tremendous contributions to the arts, technology, and culture,” writes City Librarian John Szabo. “Menus are like libraries. They serve as menus to the world and take you places.”
The menu project kicks off with the publication of To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of the Modern City, the first-ever book exploring the long history of restaurants and menus in Los Angeles, written and edited by USC Annenberg Professor Josh Kun and published by Angel City Press in June 2015.
“At its heart is a celebration of how a fundamental human need both inspires creativity and defines a city,” writes Library Foundation President Ken Brecher. This visual feast of a book features more than 200 menus with insights on L.A.’s food scene from chefs like Roy Choi, Joachim Splichal, Nancy Silverton, Susan Feniger, Ricardo Diaz, Jazz Singsanong, Cynthia Hawkins, Bricia Lopez, and Micah Wexler, and cultural observers like Jonathan Gold and Staci Steinberger, among many others.
Beginning Saturday, June 13, the Library Foundation will open a major exhibition in the Getty Gallery at downtown’s historic Central Library with rare archival menus and restaurant photographs from the Library’s collection, dating from 1875 to 1980. Designed by the acclaimed team wHY, the exhibit will invite visitors to connect around a “welcome table” while seated at lunch counters, banquet tables, and lazy susans. The exhibit will also include installations by contemporary artists Fallen Fruit, Haruko Tanaka, and Karla Diaz, a video wall of short interviews with contemporary chefs, and “My L.A. Menu,” providing visitors blank menus to write their own quintessential L.A. meal.
Throughout 2015 a diverse slate of public programs will run at over 30 neighborhood branches across the city to raise awareness of food politics and food insecurity in contemporary Los Angeles. Working closely with organizations that are concerned with creating a city where healthy, sustainable, and equitable food sources are available for everyone, the Library will offer free programs to educate and empower local communities about food issues through story times, lectures, nutrition workshops, cooking demonstrations, and other creative activities.
Here are a few highlights from the 50+ programs and events coming soon.
Saturday, June 13:
“To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of the Modern City” book published by Angel City Press.
“To Live and Dine in L.A.” special exhibition opens at the Central Library’s Getty Gallery.
Sunday, June 14:
To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of the Modern City
Can a city’s history be told through restaurant menus? From the city’s first restaurants in the 1850s up through the most recent food revolutions, join Josh Kun for a rollicking multimedia tour of the L.A. Menu paired with a conversation on L.A. food past and present with chefs Joachim Splichal, Cynthia Hawkins, and Ricardo Diaz.
Tuesday, July 14:
To Live and Eat in L.A.: Food Justice in the Age of the Foodie
The L.A food scene is as trendy, tweeted, pop-upped, and profit-busting as it’s ever been, and yet more people are going hungry at a greater rate than perhaps any other moment in the city’s history. With vintage menus as our guides, join Kun for a conversation about the struggles and triumphs of contemporary food activism with urban gardener Ron Finley and the Healthy School Food Coalition’s Elizabeth Medrano.
Thursday, August 27:
Lost & Found at the Movies: Film to Table (RSVPs opening soon!)
A seven-course filmic feast that explores the many rich flavors of “food in film.” From the earliest years of cinema, food (or the lack thereof) has been part of the texture of cinema, its stories, characters, themes and metaphors. From plenty to poverty, diners to dinner parties, chefs to cannibals, we look at how cinema looks at food. We’re joined by special guests Laura Gabbert (filmmaker) and Jonathan Gold, the subject of the new documentary City of Gold, a fascinating, layered portrait of the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic and his intrepid culinary exploration of Los Angeles. City of Gold will be released later this fall by Sundance Selects. Other courses include: cinema’s best food films, the most bizarre things consumed in movies, recipes for disaster or the art of food styling, memories of meals gone by, cinema’s recent nod to “slow food” and a review of table manners, or how dinner table scenes reveal the American family. As always, we dip into American film archives for our regular segment on lost treasures. And for dessert, we explore pie origins. Be sure to expect a few unexpected dishes. Library Foundation Member reception to follow.
Visit lfla.dev/live-and-dine for more information about the “To Live and Dine in L.A.” project and programming.