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I’m a historian and writer based in LA. I’ve done some time in both the food world and the art world; much of what I write about comes out of those two realms, In 2015, I completed a Ph.D. in cultural history from University of California, Berkeley, which messed with my head (in a good way).

indiam [dot] gmail [dot] com

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Writing

Food

How the 1984 Olympics Defined California Cuisine in the Eyes of the World, Los Angeles Magazine, 2018 

The Weird Science Behind Chain Restaurant Menus, Vice Munchies, 2018

So You Think You Can Dance––With the Dough? Roads & Kingdoms, 2018

The Bros Who Disrupted the Sandwich, Eater, 2017

The Official "Longest Pizza in the World" Guinness World Record Was Set in Fontana, California, LA Weekly, 2017

Shroomtown, Lucky Peach, 2015

Taste-Based Medicine, Gastronomica, 2015

The Language of Food Gifts in an Eighteenth Century Dining Club, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery, 2015

The Rise of the Electronic Cigarette Cognoscenti, The Huffington Post, 2014   

Does the Foodie Have a Soul? Gastronomica, 2013

The Politics of the Turtle Feast, The Appendix Journal of Experimental History, 2013

Can Kombucha Couture Save the World? The Huffington Post, 2013

How to Brew 17th Century Coffee in Four Easy Steps, The Huffington Post, 2013

Art and Design

Chasing Streetlights, Curbed LA, 2018

How Light Pole Banners Took Over U.S. Cities, Curbed, 2018

What Our Collections Say About Us, Unframed, 2017

Luther Goes Viral, Unframed, 2017

Reviews

LA Cooks Itself: On Aleksandra Crapanzano’s Eat Cook LA and Elisa Callow’s The Urban Forager, Los Angeles Review of Books

Menu Matters: On Alison Pearlman’s May We Suggest, Los Angeles Review of Books

Writings on the Sober Life, by Luigi Cornaro, Gastronomica

The Food Industries in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Food, Culture, and Society

Eating the Enlightenment, by Emma Spary, Food, Culture, and Society

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The Social History of LA’s Streetlights

Los Angeles is famous for many things: its traffic jams, its taco trucks, its googie buildings, the sunshine. My book explores the most overlooked form of its cultural patrimony: its streetlights. 

Photo by Glen Norman

Photo by Glen Norman

From the early calls of the 1880s (when the newly launched Los Angeles Times salivated over a 200-foot arc tower installed in northern rival San Jose) to the 1920s and 1930s “renaissance” in electric street lighting (a response to an explosive housing boom) to the 1950s invasion of the utilitarian cobra-heads (which illuminated our metastasizing freeway system), streetlights have shaped the way we navigate the built environment. Developers equated streetlights with progress: stimulating commerce and deterring crime. They marked social, economic, and racial boundaries: framing debates about neighborhood character and public space.

Straddling the world of utility and design, streetlights get to the heart of the urban experience: evoking romance, mystery, loneliness, and hope.

Follow @streetlampilluminati on Instagram for updates.

The book is under contract with Angel City Press, and will be out November 2020.

Projects 

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Created in honor of the sculpture’s 10th anniversary, and funded by LACMA and the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program, this illustrated pocket-size book locates 16 different vintage streetlight specimens throughout Los Angeles, meditating on their manufacturers, histories, and unique designs.

With invaluable research assistance by Glen Norman and illustrations by Didi Beck.

  • Read about Urban Light (and the field guide) in the Los Angeles Times

  • Read about Glen Norman’s streetlight photography habit and why LA streetlights matter in Curbed LA

  • Read more about the project on LACMA’s blog, Unframed

Can I have one?
— Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director of LACMA
These are so great!
— Catherine Opie, artist

WHAT IS OUTSIDER?

OUTSIDER is an original zine series conceived about 300 years ago

OUTSIDER is a commentary about the way we live, eat, celebrate, and fundraise

OUTSIDER is a sentimental journey into the philosophical thickets of 18th century print culture

OUTSIDER is hand-stained with single origin, third wave coffee

OUTSIDER includes secret recipes that never before have been published

OUTSIDER is available for purchase at Art Catalogues at LACMA and on Etsy

Gourmet Ghettos: Modern Food Rituals

Gourmet Ghettos: Modern Food Rituals was a multidisciplinary exhibition that explored the linkages between Jewish food rituals and the modern 20th century food movement, headquartered in Berkeley, California. Presented at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life between August 28, 2014 and June 26, 2015, this exhibition of over 150 objects attracted more than 6,000 visitors. I co-curated the exhibition with Dr. Francesco Spagnolo.

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"From Alexander Portnoy's french fry cravings to eat Chinese food on Christmas, from the abominations of Leviticus to the legendary New York City kosher deli, Jewish food rituals combine religion and history, folklore and stereotype. In many ways, food's remarkable powers of expression are encapsulated by the Jewish experience. Gourmet Ghettos considers how food, ritual, identity, and activism intersect in Jewish life. Using objects from around the world, ranging from cookware, tableware, and kitchen textiles to books, manuscripts, paintings and drawings, this exhibition examines Jewish food rituals as meaningful frameworks in which to contextualize today's food movement." 

Read the exhibition catalogue.

Read the review in J-Weekly.

If rituals are the core of Jewish life, then the act of dining is the mantle.
— Carly Nairn, J-Weekly

Homo Gastronomicus

Before lending its name to this website, there was Ye Olde Homo Gastronomicus, a zany British food history blog. Started in 2010, when I was doing research in London with only the vaguest outlines of what my dissertation would look like, I posted old menus, dining club records, handwritten recipes and coffee-stained letters: fragments of an near-extinct food culture with similarities to the present day. Along the way, I made a few discoveries:

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Using much of the material from the blog, I did eventually wrap up the Ph.D., granted by UC Berkeley’s Department of History. If you’re brave, you can read the whole thing. I tackled one of the most universal, misunderstood, and tantalizingly elusive subjects ever, our gustatory sense, or taste.

“Men have been writing about the sense of taste since the beginning of the written word. Diets have changed and nutritional theories have come and gone. Human convictions about taste, however, have remained quite consistent over time; they are characterized by continuity rather than change.
— The Politics of the Palate

The Lost Meals of the Thursday’s Club

In 2011, I found a trove of archival menus belonging to one of the most illustrious dining clubs of all time: the Thursday's Club call'd the Royal Philosophers (they still exist today).  Every Thursday, the men convened for dinner in one of the swank private dining rooms of a prominent London tavern, which was patronized by the likes of Johnson and Boswell and where the food was served on silver plate. There, a hearty commons would be served to them––generous chops of butcher’s meat, fresh fish, heaping servings of boiled fowls with bacon, market greens, butter and cheese, fruit pies and puddings––all washed down with pints of claret and port. These dinners came to be attended by princes and politicians, explorers and Eskimos, scholars and celebrities.

The menu from 1766

The menu from 1766

This resource contains over 7000 different menus, which offer fascinating new insights into the significance of food and communal dining in the 18th century. In July, 2015, I presented some of this research at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery. One day, this database will be a searchable resource that will further our understandings of dining and social networking in urban life.  

Read my article in the 2015 Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery.  

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