Anthro in the news 4/19/10

The news from anthroland has thinned out a bit these days. Nonetheless we have some noteworthy items for you from tweets to eats. Read on!

• Be careful what you tweet
The US Library of Congress will permanently archive all public tweets starting with March 2006 when Twitter began. Several media have noted the vast opportunities for anthropological research in the Twitter archive in providing insights into people’s (read: tweeters’) perceptions of and reactions to events. Blogger’s note and query: In the wide world of cultural anthropology, tweeters are a tiny, tiny minority…how will analysts discern who are the tweeters and the non-tweeters in any given domain/discussion and what difference this makes in terms of the tweet content and intensity? LOC: great idea and a major challenge to researchers to figure out what to make of all the data.

• Donner family ate the family dog not the family
Those of us living in the DC area survived two snowstorms of unprecedented proportions this year. Some of my colleagues mentioned that they expected the Donner family to arrive at their door (it wasn’t that bad, really). A big news item this week was about new evidence that the Donner family ate their pet dog and did not practice “survival cannibalism.” Gwen Robbins, assistant professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University, is the lead investigator. She told MSNBC news that “there is no evidence for cannibalism.” She and her colleagues are writing a book to be published in 2011 by the University of Oklahoma Press.

• Cilantro hatred
An article in The New York Times examines why many people hate fresh cilantro, or coriander. Julia Child hated it. There is even a “I Hate Cilantro” Facebook page and blog. What’s this all about? Some experts argue that certain people may have a genetic disposition to cilantro, though systematic studies do not yet exist to support this claim. Cultural anthropologist Helen Leach of the University of Otago in New Zealand has traced negative comments about cilantro to English and French gardening books starting around 1600. Her research suggests that cilantro leaves and seeds, which were prominent ingredients in medieval cooking, were targeted by modernizing style snobs. The “new” European cuisine spurned cilantro in favor of new flavors. Could be. These things happen. Blogger’s note: taste/flavor implicates both culture and biology in complicated ways. On a personal note, I was a serious cilantro hater when I was younger–it made me nauseous, even when presented to me in succulent curries in India. Now, no problem, love it. Explain that.

• Anthropology vs. cooking throwdown: both sides win
Is there an emerging pattern here? Rick Bayless, leading edge chef of nouveau Mexican cuisine, studied anthropology at the University of Chicago as a doctoral student. Before completing his degree, he traded in his pen for a sauté pan and never looked back. Washington, DC now has Tim Miller, executive chef at Mie ‘N Yu restaurant in Georgetown. As an undergraduate archaeology student at the University of London, Miller “went on some really cool digs” in the British Virgin Islands. When a student, he supported himself by washing dishes in a local restaurant. By the time he was a senior, he was working 55 hours a week as kitchen manager. When it came time to choose between graduate school and a job, he chose the latter but with a twist. He entered the business world, working for a brokerage firm part-time while also pursuing a culinary degree. The latter led to a move from “the corporate world to kitchen freedom.” After working in two Marriotts in the US, he was hired at Mie ‘N Yu when it opened. The restaurant offers dishes from cultures along the Silk Road from Persia to India and China, so Miller does research on regional cultures and cuisine: “There’s never a dull moment…anthropology and the study of cultures fit into this job.”

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