Celebrating American Food | Darra Goldstein

California was still very much a frontier when Mrs. Abby Fisher, a former slave, published a cookbook in San Francisco in 1881 (see page 88). Even into the twentieth century the state maintained a raw-boned feel, with its ranches and Basque boarding houses, so gracefully described in these pages by Frank Bergon. By the close of the twentieth century, however, California had become the site of cutting-edge cuisine, a style of eating by turns healthy and adventurous, which eventually spread throughout the United States. Thanks to California aspirations/inspirations, we now enjoy greater awareness of the foods we eat without having lost our exuberance and deep-rooted desire to experiment. And now there is new cause to celebrate California’s contribution to American food culture. This month Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts opens in Napa, California. A state-of-the-art museum and interpretive center, as well as a generous founding partner of Gastronomica, Copia will offer exhibitions, food and wine classes, and innovative programming in its galleries, gardens, kitchens, and performance spaces. The inaugural exhibition of Forks in the Road: Food, Wine and the American Table examines the place of food and wine in American life today, with sections on American ingenuity, winemaking, and the immigrant experience that contributed so much to the American diet. I can hardly wait until 2003 when Salad Dressing, an exhibition exploring what happens when artists and designers turn foodstuffs, or their images, into garments, opens at Copia. A high-fashion jacket made from a dishrag; a Warhol-inspired Campbell’s soup can dress; slippers made from banana peels—this exhibition promises the best of American inventiveness and whimsy.

Freezo ice cream sign, North Central Street, Knoxville, Tennessee © John Margolies/ESTO 1984

To celebrate Copia’s birth, this, our fourth issue of Gastronomica, looks closely at American food. Here, such women as Abby Fisher, Laurie Colwin, and Julia Child gain their rightful place in the development of American culinary culture; while Carrie Mae Weems and Sandy Skoglund deliver strong visual statements that implicate food in our cultural stereotyping. Public image—self-presentation—has always been important to America’s national consciousness. Just what do the towering ice cream cones of countless roadside stands (so ably documented by John Margolies) tell us about our collective psyche, or about our quirky relationship to food? We indulge in beer and boiled peanuts (as John Martin Taylor shows), only to seek salvation from our over-indulgences—whether through religion (see page 36) or environmental activism (page 56). A deep engagement with food informs American culture, as does a sense of righteousness, for better or worse. This issue of Gastronomica explores some of the most vibrant and troubling aspects of America’s relationship to food. To learn even more about American food, you might plan to visit Copia after November 18. But for now, we offer up this graphic feast.