This story is over 5 years old.

How to Eat Climate Change

Considering all of the recent talk about global warming, it’s time to start considering what will happen when the freeways collapse and the Pacific Ocean starts to boil and the La Brea tarpits open up again. What will we eat in LA?
Illustration by James Braithwaite

If images of polar bears floating helplessly adrift on melting ice caps don't do it for you, how about this one: me (I have a funny mustache), wearing nothing but black Jockey boxer briefs, slumped over a cutting board in a tiled craftsman-era kitchen, dripping sweat from the exertion of chopping an onion.

The hottest part of summer in Los Angeles is early fall, our annual reminder that we are all totally insane for choosing to live in a paved-over desert that happens to be near the Pacific Ocean. Cooking is not an option. Eating is not an attractive option. This year, the drought is epic, record-breaking. The dog days of summer have LA looking more and more like a CGI backdrop to a Tom Cruise apocalypse movie.


It's time to start considering what will happen when the freeways collapse and the Pacific Ocean starts to boil and the La Brea tarpits open up again, a gaping hot pitch-black orifice first consuming Chris Burden sculptures at LACMA but spreading quickly to swallow our favorite restaurants whole: to the east, Republique and Tom Bergin's and then all of Larchmont; and to the west, Lawry's and Matsuhisa and then all of La Cienaga's Restaurant Row.

What will we eat? What would Tom Cruise do?

My guess is that when the Pacific Ocean starts to boil over, Tom Cruise will be in the bar area at Gjelina on Abbot-Kinney, waiting for a late-night table, which is good, because he'll be able to beat the crowd to the doorway and out onto the street. (Tom is in good shape and has been really blasting his quads/upper body during intense after-hours sessions at Equinox in preparation for a new action role.) From there it's a quick dash for Tom down to the widening river formerly known as Venice Boulevard, where Tom will hop in a paddleboat floating on the roiling waters overflowing from the Marina and Venice Canals, and the current will carry him east.

As he prepares wild quinoa fritters over a tire fire, Tom Cruise takes a moment to ruminate: The world is coming to an end.

Tom doesn't usually like to go east of the 405 (I am making this all up) but it's cool, because he had a late lunch and a green juice earlier in the day, and there's still some foraging to be done on this part of town.


From Venice, it's a short paddle north to the Santa Monica airport and Typhoon restaurant, the geographical high point in the area familiar to Tom from private plane excursions to wine country. Plus, a friend emailed Tom a couple weeks ago that the guy who mentored Nobu has been doing an omakase menu upstairs at Typhoon on Monday nights, so maybe he will be able to score some of the last of the great fish flown in from Japan here. But the real score is the kelp floating in from Catalina's underwater forests, which Tom will gather and trail behind his little dingy like a living, edible wake he can snack on during his journey farther north toward the highground of the Hollywood Hills.

His watery course is illuminated only by a burnt sienna sky above the silhouetted hills, behind which massive fires blaze, and in the darkness Tom's vessel soon runs aground on a concrete rubble island at interchange of the 405 and 10. This proves fortuitous. Because here he'll be able to score bunches of wild purslane, a nutrient-rich succulent which we characterize as an invasive weed but which florishes in arid climates and spreads like a cover over LA's sidewalks and freeway meridians. Tom thinks its crunchy leaves taste like a spicy, mellow cactus—although he's not sure what he means by that. "Delicious," he says aloud, to nobody, in the pre-dawn darkness. (Tom has always had a bit of trouble coming up with useful ways to describe food.)


Tom soon encounters a hermit outside a gated community near Coldwater Canyon, who teaches him how to identify and harvest wild desert quinoa.

Purslane is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Feeling much restored by this meal, Tom is un-tempted to investigate rumors that Father's Office has set up a post-apocalyptic pop-up burger shop in the Helms Bakery in nearby Culver City, where the last of the city's untainted ground beef is being grilled into the world-famous Father's Office burgers. (Like many LA food people, Tom rolls his eyes at the whole "no substitutions" thing at Father's Office. He thinks their burger is a touch overrated, the scene a little bro-y, and besides, he likes catsup on his burger. For what it's worth, it seems safe to presume that Tom far prefers the burger experience at Pie'n Burger in Pasadena or maybe Apple Pan on this side of town.)

Purslane-fed Tom Cruise hitches a ride on a commercial cruiser, the captain of which recognizes him as a Tom Cruise impersonator and takes him to the high-ground of Mulholland Drive, a crest overlooking the San Fernando Valley, where the captain drops him and wishes him well and Tom is once again traveling alone. Gazing north into the Valley, Tom sees fires stretching out to the horizon and says a quick prayer for the many dying, but he journeys on, charting his path east along Mulholland. Now proceeding by foot, Tom soon encounters a hermit outside a gated community near Coldwater Canyon, who teaches him how to identify and harvest wild desert quinoa, which grows abundantly in the affluent enclaves in the Western Hollywood Hills that Tom has, from time to time over the course of his career, called home.

As he prepares wild quinoa fritters over a tire fire where Laurel Canyon meets Mulholland, Tom takes a moment to ruminate: The world is coming to an end. He knows what that's like from all the big-budget action movies he's starred in. But he doesn't feel compelled to try to save it. He's staying cool, level-headed. It must be all the great, nutrient-rich kelp, purslane, and wild quinoa diet this adventure has provided to him. He's feeling solid, and decides to journey on.

In fact, Tom's feeling so good that he continues to the east side of town, known to him only from literature, toward the hills of eastern Hollywood in the distance, where all the dopest post-apocalyptic pop-ups are said to be happening.

There, in the low-slung hills of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Mount Washington, and Highland Park—now a cluster of small island restaurants—Tom finds a burgeoning scene of young chefs doing their take on "post-apocalyptic California cuisine." On a barge of shipping pallets grafted together by old jumper cables, Kris Yenbamroong from Night+Market is floating around Silver Lake, serving foraged quinoa larb, a blood-bug soup sprinkled with El Chinito chicharróns found floating near Dodger Stadium, and fish sauce-seasoned purslane with Catalina kelp som tum. In an old garage on an island in the Franklin Hills, Jessica Koslow from SQIRL is preserving and fermenting produce looted from the city's grocery stores and baking delicious grain muffins. The Bludso's team is smoking the last remaining meat in an old ranger station in Elysian Park. Soon, there is banana wine to be found—but really good banana wine. Jonathan Gold is said to be tootling around the San Gabriel Valley in one of the last few motorboats, sampling each and every of the new flavors of climate change, and reporting his findings via ham radio to New York. Manhattanites plan food tourism trips to the Southland's blasted, boiling landscape to sample the city's best foraged dishes, for which Los Angeles has become famous, and Tom Cruise enjoys all of this new food and he is the happiest he's ever, ever been…