Anthro in the news 5/3/10

It was a quiet week for anthropology in the mainstream media, and I have only four items to share. To whet your appetite, three are about food.

• Go ask Alice
The Economist, ever watchful for studies that have to do with…well, economics, picked up on a study of mushroom gathering in Tlaxcala, Mexico. Luis Pacheco-Cobos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and colleagues followed mushroom gatherers from a village in Tlaxcala for two rainy seasons. Researchers recorded the weight of mushrooms collected, their location, and who collected them. Findings show that men and women collected the same weight of mushrooms, but men traveled farther, climbed higher, and used more energy. These findings connect to an ongoing discussion in many disciplines about the supposedly superior spatial skills of males. Results will be published in Evolution and Human Behavior. Blogger’s note: I applaud this new study’s inclusion of efficiency as measured through energy expended and other factors. Could males, who are reputedly “better” at spatial skills than females, also be better at wasting time and energy?

• What’s cooking?
Jody Adams is another anthro student turned chef, suggesting that there is more than something in the water. Adams is a James Beard Award-winning chef and the owner of the renowned restaurant Rialto in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She recently competed in Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” During an interview with the Huff Post, Adams says: When I was studying anthropology at Brown I hadn’t a clue as to what I would be doing today. But I was cooking then and loving it and traveling as much as I could. I guess my path was already set, I just couldn’t see it.”

• Donner Party not gone to the dogs
The Los Angeles Times carried a riposte by Ethan Rarick, author of Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West, to anthropologist Gwen Robbins’ findings that the Donners ate the family dog and not family members. Rarick raises two questions related to Robbins’ analysis of bone fragments from Alder Creek: (1) the tale of the 84 members of the Donner Party includes many more sites than just Alder Creek and (2) desperation cannibalism tends to involve flesh consumption and not processing that would show up on bones. So, Rarick contends, just because cannibalism may not have occurred at Alder Creek does not prove it did not occur at other points in the Donner Party journey. Furthermore, cannibalism would not necessarily show up in bones left along the way. Blogger’s notes: what does the contention about the Donners’ survival diet tell us about ourselves, especially in comparison to members of societies that do not forbid consumption of human bits and pieces?

• The grieving of the chimps
Two new studies of chimpanzees support the idea that chimpanzees, like us, mourn following the death of an individual close to them. Both studies are published in Current Biology.

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