Food Trend Predictions for 2014: Do Androids Dream of Electric Burritos?
Potato, Egg and Cheese from Burritobox
It's just five years to the year 2019, the year in which the 1982 film Blade Runner is set, and more than a few element of Ridley Scott's futuristic Los Angeles are already in place: blimps with electronic signs, ramen-yas of every level of quality, and (almost) laboratory-grown hamburgers - and, of course, a despoiled natural environment and disturbingly high rates of unemployment and poverty for such a major city.
Whether androids that look like Rutger Hauer will serve us Korean tacos (and whether we'll get those tacos via flying car), it's worth considering the immediate future of food in L.A.: not by way of a straightforward forecast, however, but by considering a different but equally dark vision of the future of food in Los Angeles, Anthony Bourdain's 2012 graphic novel Get Jiro!, a satirical fantasy about what would happen if the foodies took over.
cover of Get Jiro!
Writing with Joel Rose and with art by Langdon Foss and Jose Villarrubia, Bourdain presents a city of walls in which citizens in the innermost ring live relatively well, surrounded by increasingly miserable rings of the working-class and poor, who are surrounded in turn by a world of depleted farmland and oceans almost empty of fish.
Within this Los Angeles, chefs rule, interest in every pursuit besides food and sex having withered away. Get Jiro! tells the story of how the titular character, an ex-Yakuza sushi chef, tries to run his humble restaurant (tucked, naturally, into a corner mall), but falls afoul of the two chef-gangs that run the city when they hear of his talents and try to recruit him. There ensues a massive bloodbath in which everyone loses except Jiro - and except the reader who is treated to fight sequences that are equal parts Shaw Brothers, John Woo and Stephen Chow (creator of The God of Cookery, in which chefs fling ingredients at one another kung fu-style) and to delightful caricatures of foodies so obsessed with local, organic or rare ingredients that they'll literally kill for them.
Only in a culinary underground, run by a French friend of Jiro's, does food still serve as a source of uncomplicated pleasure rather than an unhealthy fixation - and this underground operates in a fugitive fashion, subject to raids by the chef gangs. Bourdain delights in skewering his own colleagues and, indeed, his own fans: The chefs in Get Jiro! are animated by greed and the thirst for power, and their customers are so besotted with their cooking that they'll literally mug someone for a reservation.
But the book's most powerful conceit is to invert the idea, touted by many chef-pundits including Dan Barber and Alice Waters, that a future run by "the foodies" would be better - more sustainable and community-oriented, more in keeping with the earth's natural rhythms, more delicious. Greed and lust still ruin everything.
Dystopias like Blade Runner and Get Jiro! are less predictions of the future than mirrors we can hold up to the present, which might make us more self-conscious about the way we live today.
But Get Jiro! is growing closer by the year. Just like Ridley Scott's rendition of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Los Angeles arguably boasts the greatest diversity of quality food in the country, and there are celebrity chefs whose empires of high-end restaurants qualify them for gang leader status. It may well be the best place to eat in the country, and one of the most food-obsessed.
And yet inequalities of access are powerful forces in Los Angeles. The fact that much of L.A.'s good food can be had cheaply, does nothing to make the facts of economic injustice more palatable. Thankfully other, better, things are also arriving: Not all good food is expensive, and chefs such as Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos serve food of a quality and sincerity that one could find in the culinary underground of Get Jiro!, and the Burritobox, a new burrito vending machine, has brought the future to us.
In 2014, watch for L.A.'s coffee scene to continue blossoming, especially downtown, for L.A. son Roy Choi to open his new restaurant Pot and, perhaps, to arm his Kogi truck fleet for the Jiro-style turf wars of the hard, dystopian years ahead.
Of course, we'll be able to get burritos delivered to the battle-lines by drones. And send us your own predictions, good and bad, for the next twelve months of eating in our fair city.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Ben tweets at @benwurgaft, conducts research on lab-grown meat at MIT, and writes at East Side L.A. cafes. His work can be found in Gastronomica, Meatpaper and other publications.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.