AC's core publishing program: a steady collection of recipes and dispatches, delivered to your inbox, from our collaborators near and far.
Digest 10
July 2021
Five years ago this month, I married a music journalist. I'd always been at least vaguely interested in music, enough to seek out new bands or Shazam whatever was playing on KCRW late at night while I was trying to write seminar papers in grad school. But when I met my now-husband Todd in Berlin in 2014, I realized I basically knew nothing. I wanted to impress him, though, so between dates, I tried to give myself an internet crash course in electronic music—his field of specialty—so that I wouldn't reveal myself to be a total dweeb who didn't know the difference between house and techno.

Since then, I've learned a lot about music of all kinds, mostly by osmosis—through the constantly changing and frequently surprising tunes that emerge from our home speakers, courtesy of Todd. We cook, eat, clean, and play with our toddler to the sounds of jazz, dancehall, reggaeton, City Pop, hip-hop, and occasionally the female-fronted synth-pop that I most love. I usually find myself either tuning it out or bopping along, and sometimes I realize I'm chopping onions rather manically because Todd's snuck in some metal.

It's thanks in part to Todd—and his enviable Rolodex of music writers—that this issue of Digest has come together around the theme of sound and food. Riffing on the recent publication of Snacky Tunes, which investigates chefs' relationships to music, veteran critic Sasha Frere-Jones writes about the intersections of food and music in his own life, a subject also taken up by writer and cheesemonger Martin Johnson, who has spent years tracking the music pumped into boutique food shops in New York City.

Journalist Geeta Dayal digs into Moog's Musical Eatery, a cookbook published by the late Shirleigh Moog, wife of legendary synthesizer inventor Bob Moog; it's a fascinating historical artifact that also functions as a primer on how to feed a crowd of luminaries on a modest budget. Inspired by one of my all-time favorite things on the internet, an illustrated look into Prince's refrigerator, writer / DJ / curator Jeff "Chairman" Mao talks with musician and caterer Piya Malik about what's in her fridge—which had me frantically googling where I could pick up some Maggi's Hot & Sweet Ketchup. Finally, in a video and accompanying text titled sending a message to you, artist Adee Roberson offers a moving meditation on childhood and family, one that feels especially resonant as many of us slowly emerge from the pandemic fog of isolation, finally able to make memories over food and good music with loved ones once again.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 09
April 2021
As I worked with the Active Cultures team to finalize this issue, which is all about the entanglements of food and text, I was reminded of a project I especially loved from the 57th Carnegie International in 2018. Artists Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin had found records at the Carnegie containing information about 10,632 rejected artworks from the early years of the International, which had once been an open competition. No images of the works remained, only basic data—artist's name, title, year. The titles were spare and evocative, all the more so when assembled into an absurdly long alphabetized list filled with repetitions and small amusements, such as Fruit and Other Things (the eventual title of the project), which set the imagination to work. The list alone, reproduced in a take-away booklet, was a poetic gesture of recovery, but Clayton and Rubin took it a step further: they contracted teams of calligraphers to work in the gallery for the run of the show, painting titles from the list, one by one, onto sheets of heavy paper, restoring not just the missing, rejected originals, but also a sense of the unappreciated labor that had produced them. They displayed the resulting text paintings briefly, then gave them to visitors for free. (I snagged one that says, cryptically: "A Musician.")

Fruit and Other Things played with historical erasure by supplanting image with text and simultaneously transmuting text into image. Where the original works articulated shape and form through color, line, and fracture, their text-based simulacra offer merely a suggestion of subject matter, demanding that we fill in the rest.

Text as a prompt to dream, imagine, transport ourselves back in time—that's exactly the terrain explored in Ozoz Sokoh's essay for Digest, on her evolving internet archive Feast Afrique. Sokoh writes about a particularly problematic colonial book in the collection, and how its recipe for Jollof rice, one of the earliest she's found, invites us not only to prepare this confounding version of a dish central to the West African diaspora, but also to consider how recipes reflect their (sometimes very ugly) historical circumstances, in ways that are impossible to reconcile.

Gabrielle Davenport, co-owner (with her sister Danielle) of the bookstore BEM | books & more, also writes in the context of the African diaspora, exploring her relationship to Ntozake Shange's 1998 memoir-cookbook if i can cook/you know god can. Davenport, like Shange, touches on spirituality and metaphysics—subjects taken head on by artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed, who generously shares her ongoing research on faith and ingestion across time, continents, and traditions. Rasheed's expansive writing demonstrates the ability of text to conjure what has been forgotten or left unknown, or even to become, alchemically, the very thing that it describes, much like the roux that jumps off the virtual page of Davenport's essay, tickling my nose and making my mouth water.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 08
February 2021
I found myself captivated recently by an essay about the melancholic songs written and sung by haenyeo, women divers who, without any breathing equipment, harvest octopus, abalone, urchins, clams, and seaweed from the waters around and beyond Korea's Jeju Island. Most haenyeo today are over sixty, and as they age and diminish in number, their songs, which record more than a century of economic and personal hardship, are at risk of disappearing with them.

The story of the haenyeo is yet one more reminder that culture, especially when it belongs to the marginalized, has to be intentionally passed on and held dear to stay vital. Preservation and continuity are the themes of this issue of Digest, which asks how we can hold on to, re-enliven, reinvent, and share cultural heritage, even across the spatial and temporal expanses and traumas of diaspora. Curator Niama Safia Sandy writes beautifully of Zina Saro-Wiwa's recent installation in Times Square, which beamed videos of the people of Ogoniland, who have weathered decades of postcolonial environmental devastation, eating Nigerian fare with gusto. Chef and writer Reina Gascon-Lopez brings equal passion to her recipe for Pigeon Pea Salad, an untraditional take on a legume that typically features in heartier stews and braises from all over the world, including Gascon-Lopez's native Puerto Rico.

A return to roots was also what motivated artist Eden Batki to travel to Hungary in 2019, a trip that didn't turn out as she'd planned, but that eventually inspired the meal delivery service she's been running in LA for several months now. And finally Clarence Kwan—whose phenomenal artist's book Chinese Protest Recipes just arrived on my doorstep—writes about experiencing the glow of Chinese restaurants from his computer screen, full of longing for and anxiety about Chinatowns everywhere, hit by the twinned pandemics of COVID and anti-Asian racism.

The feeling of elsewhere that courses through this issue has filled me, too, with longing for the noise of a restaurant during dinner rush, the joy of cooking for friends, trips back home (in both the childhood and ancestral senses). Nothing could be a panacea for all that we're missing right now, but I still hope Digest brings you a measure of warmth, like steam rising from bowls of plantain porridge or green pea soup set before you, just waiting for you to dig in.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 07
November 2020
This past summer, in the rural Ohio town where I live, we were invaded by fungi. Everywhere we went, we stumbled on white and brown caps in various stages of growth, in spots where the day before there had been nothing but dirt or grass. What might have been quite magical in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way was instead, for us, a hellscape of terror for the simple fact that we have a young toddler who gets acquainted with objects by popping them in his mouth. His newfound mobility directly coincided with an explosion of mushrooms all over our town, requiring me, in the role of paranoid mother, to quickly become a reluctant amateur mycologist.

After contending with mushrooms every day for months, I was bemused to see the publication of a new book on John Cage and his mycological adventures, and delighted that Jonathan Griffin proposed writing about it for this issue of Digest. (My mushroom fears were vindicated in reading that Cage, despite his incredible expertise, had once had to have his stomach pumped.) Cage's obsession inspired us to seek out other contributions focused on a single ingredient—African rice, in a passionately informative essay by Amethyst Ganaway; honey (and the life of bees) in a poem by Veronique d'Entremont; and saffron, as chronicled in an 18th-century volume from the collection of Ben Kinmont.

In her poem, d'Entremont evocatively describes how a drop of honey touches many mouths before coming to our own. Her observation reminded me that the ingredients we forage, farm, cultivate, buy, prepare, and eat similarly connect us—intimately and in ways that we only barely realize—to other people, to history, and to nature. It's easy to ignore that profound connectedness when most people (myself included) consume food about as indiscriminately as my toddler. But that endless chain of interdependence, like everything else precarious and meaningful in our world, demands thoughtful care if we want to create a healthier and more just world. Those are the values I desperately hope will guide us, all of us, as we enter into 2021.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 06
September 2020
Leftovers are easy and virtuous; that's why I've always loved them, categorically. The hard work of prepping and cooking is mostly done; the task of reviving limp, fridge-cold food often feels like a fun challenge (if sometimes a little too much like being on an episode of Chopped); and it's deeply satisfying to make the most of what you have. If all else fails, you can just stick an egg on whatever you've concocted, dab it with hot sauce, and it'll be delicious—maybe even better than the original meal.

Lately I've been wondering how I can apply that kind of resourceful nose-to-tail thinking to research and writing. Perhaps it's the pandemic effect: rather than casting about for the next, possibly infeasible thing, I've become more interested in deepening what I'm already invested in, mining past work for paths not taken and digressions worthy of attention. As Laura Fried and I were pulling together this issue, we found ourselves reaching out to people about their recent projects to ask how we could use Digest to extend them further, to sop up every last bit. These projects, we've realized, are virtually inexhaustible, but here we feature especially compelling snippets by artists Carmen Argote and Shana Lutker, poet Tommy Pico, and art historian Shana Klein—each of whom has generously given us a peek at process, sharing thoughts, notes, stories, and images that offer access to the work behind the work. It makes me happy, because nothing this good should go to waste.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 05
July 2020
This issue of Digest coalesced around the notion of community, inspired by events that have touched many different corners of our intersecting realities in recent months. Community is a word and a concept I try to use judiciously, as it so often turns quite squishy when defined in context, and routinely functions as a tool of privilege and exclusion as much as one of inclusion and love. But there's no better way, in this case, to encapsulate what links these contributions: community as a set of relations that brings together people with a shared affinity to take care of each other.

In "Red," Niama Safia Sandy writes about her personal and familial connections to sorrel, a drink she learned to make from her mother, with ties that criss-cross the Black Atlantic. Food as legacy and memoir also runs through our interview with Danielle Elizabeth Stevens, who speaks lovingly about her grandmother's impact on her approach to food as she details what moved her to start the initiative #WeStillGottaEat, which offers free healthy meals to Black Angelenos. That spirit of radical generosity also informs the work of late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose "Untitled" (Fortune Cookie Corner) manifested this spring and summer in an exhibition comprising hundreds of piles of cookies around the globe; Kavior Moon reports from one of those sites, at the LA restaurant Porridge + Puffs, where fortunes that invoke home-building especially resonate. And finally, Jonathan Griffin remembers Tina Girouard, an artist indelibly associated with the restaurant FOOD, an essential spot for the 1970s Downtown New York scene, who died in April.

Even though loss is a fundamental element of these four stories, the sense of community that each contributor articulates is, perhaps uncoincidentally, a hopeful one. When we gather together, we do so in order to improve the present and to imagine an even better future. That task that feels particularly difficult when so much remains uncertain, but, for the exact same reason, it's as crucial as ever.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 04
June 2020
We started working on this issue before the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. Before thousands upon thousands of Americans took to the streets, demanding justice for the many Black folx who have been killed at the hands of police. Before shakeups at major media outlets, including those in the food world, in response to leadership's outright racism and the more insidious workplace cultures of complacency and complicity they created and encouraged.

Before the events of the last few weeks, we knew we wanted this issue of Digest to be the first of many dedicated to the role of food in honoring, preserving, and furthering the culture, stories, and history of Black and Brown people. This work has been done in recent decades by dozens of Black and Brown chefs and writers, many of whom, until now, have received little credit or applause for their efforts. If you don't know the work of Edna Lewis, Michael W. Twitty, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, Leah Chase, Thérèse Nelson, Jessica B. Harris, and Osayi Endolyn, just to name a very few, now's a good time to get familiar.

Led by AC Program Coordinator and Adjunct Assistant Curator Bianca Morán, who shares a moving reflection on her grandmother's cooking, we offer here a meditation on family photo albums by independent writer, curator, and artist Essence Harden, and an illustrated recipe by photographer and filmmaker Rikkí Wright. These offerings contribute, in ways personal and profound, to the much larger, ongoing project of preserving culture by keeping it alive. They mobilize writing, cooking, and remembering as acts of resistance and survival, in Rikkí Wright's words, and we hope they bring you joy, too.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 03
February 2020
The 1974 dinner party happening Soup & Tart is on a shortlist of outrageous avant-garde events I wish I'd been alive to see. Orchestrated by French artist Jean Dupuy at the alternative New York art space aptly named The Kitchen, Soup & Tart was a four-hour-long feast of bread, soup, apple tarts, and wine, punctuated by short performances from a who's who of the downtown scene: Laurie Anderson, Joan Jonas, Nam June Paik, Richard Serra, and Hannah Wilke, among many others. A New York Times critic in attendance wrote that the event "could certainly be complained about, but there were enough nice things to make one almost forget the discomfort and the longueurs." Among those nice things was the food, which was unequivocally satisfying.

As AC prepares to re-stage Soup & Tart in LA next month with a whole new cast of characters, we've gathered recipes from four AC friends—all of whom, save for Mina Stone, will be participating—to whet your appetite. If you visit AC's website, you'll get an added treat in the form of archival images from the original happening, thanks to the research prowess of Soup & Tart: Los Angeles curator Sarah Cooper. You'll find more details about the restaging in the Director's note below, but if you can't be there in person, you can at least settle into a warm bowl of soup and a buttery grilled cheese from afar.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 02
December 2019
It's the end of the decade that gave us the Cronut™, The Great British Bake Off, and, of late, what must be history's most maligned banana. Here are a few final treats, all of them—by pure serendipity—clustered around the themes of celebration and transformation. Curator Joshua O'Driscoll writes about a medieval manuscript that illustrates a popular French allegory involving romance, knights, and the murder of a regal pet bird that becomes an excuse for an elaborate feast. (In reading it I couldn't help but think of the episode of Planet Money in which the hosts make a peacock pie from a 17th-century Dutch recipe. Not for the faint of heart, though apparently quite tasty.) Bringing us back to the present, chef, critic, and all-around culinary superstar Angela Dimayuga shares her evocative menu for the dinner that fêted the launch of Anicka Yi's new line of fragrances, Biography, last month. And finally, curator Sarah Cooper digs into a project by Ben Kinmont that's all about self-(re)invention and the metamorphosing of aesthetic categories. She unearths, in the process, a tantalizing though yet-unfulfilled prophecy once made by the French anarchist Félix Fénéon: "some day museums will have departments devoted to pastry work." Here's hoping that vision manifests in the decade to come.

—Andrea Gyorody

Digest 01
November 2019
Food writing is particularly prone to punning and general wordplay—something very strongly in evidence in the three small bites (see?) below, and of course in the pithy name of this nascent newsletter, which is both a round-up and an invitation. An invitation to what, exactly? To follow along from wherever you are in the goings-on of Active Cultures, but also to re-think, continually, your relationship to cooking and eating and food itself, that most fundamental aspect of the everyday: of culture, of family, of shared and personal histories, of local and global consequence alike.

This inaugural issue's contributions from Spiral Theory Test Kitchen, Cooking Sections, and Dorothy Iannone—excerpted below and published in full on the AC website—manage to touch on those notions in ways big and small, with flavors all their own. Whether you actually roast yourself a darling duck or lovingly sew animal hearts back together before you dry-rub and cure them, I'd bet, after consuming what Digest has to offer, you'll take a longer look at your next meal before you eat it. Treat this missive and the ones that follow as prompts to play with your food, and to consider it deeply.

—Andrea Gyorody