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Food gone global: 'We conquer your stomachs, we conquer your hearts'

April 13, 2014|By Soumya Karlamangla
  • Times food critic Jonathan Gold, left, and authors Dana Goodyear and Gustavo Arellano talk about the L.A. food scene and its link to immigrant communities.
Times food critic Jonathan Gold, left, and authors Dana Goodyear and Gustavo… (Bret Hartman/For The Times )

The globalization of food could really be called the "Los Angeles-ization" of food, according to a Sunday panel at the Festival of Books called "Are We What We Eat?: The Culture of Food."

Led by L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold, the panel, which included OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano and New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear, agreed that though it is often unrecognized, the culture of Los Angeles has for decades been leading the way in making foreign foods mainstream and broadening diners' horizons.

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Gold said that the way immigrant communities are isolated in Los Angeles has led to authentic ethnic food in the city. Someone who lives in Koreatown, he said, could shop at Korean stores, send their kids to Korean language schools and exist in an almost solely Korean community, without mixing with other groups.

"Unlike New York where the neighborhoods are all crushed together ... here there isn't so much of that, which I think is probably bad for the culture but is really good for the food culture," he said. That leads to restaurants in L.A. cooking for people who know what the food is supposed to taste like. "We're getting it in a more unmediated form," he said.

FULL COVERAGE: Festival of Books

Goodyear, who wrote a book on adventurous eating called "Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture," said that Los Angeles can much of the credit for new and unusual ingredients that have become trendy in recent years.

She said that it's because of stores that sell ingredients specific to a cuisine, like a Korean market, that chefs are now finding new items and flavors to play with. These ingredients aren't actually new, but "come out of cultures that have been eating more resourcefully for hundreds of years."

It just takes a place as diverse as Los Angeles to access and learn about them. Arellano, who wrote "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America," said that the acceptance of a food by an immigrant community eventually leads to acceptance of the community itself.

"We conquer your stomachs and then we conquer your hearts," he said. Though now almost synonymous with Los Angeles, Mexican food was first despised in the U.S., he said. Attacking a culture's food is a common way to attack a group of people, since when people immigrate, the first things they do are set up "a place to worship and a place to eat."

"If we say your food is inedible, we say you're inhuman," he said. But now, they're eating breakfast burritos in space, so Mexican food isn't just global, it's intergalactic.

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