Archive for the 'Tongue- in- Cheek' Category

Pine Nuts: A Proposal

This paper recognizes the inherent deliciousness and nutritiousness of pine nuts. Their deliciousness and nutritiousness is recognized both by the flavor they impart in dishes, and by their nutritional profile. Acknowledging these two qualities, I will seek to incorporate pine nuts into every feasible dish, until my supply runs out. I then propose to purchase more of them.


When I visited my mom up north earlier this month (or at the end of January, to be more correct), we made scrumptious butternut squash, goat cheese, and sage ravioli (whole wheat pasta).  In my previously successful ravioli-making endeavors, I served such ravioli with a garlicy tomato sauce; I found the flavors of the tomatoes to be an interesting complement to the flavor of the squash.  My mother doubted this combination, however, and suggested we find another sauce to use.

Flipping through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I came accross a recipe for a “rustic pine nut sauce.”  Pine nuts are mild in flavor, with a slight buttery texture.  I often toast them and put them with pasta or on top of pizza.  Nevertheless, I had yet to make a sauce out of them.

My variation on the sauce involved roughly chopping one cup of pine nuts, toasting them in olive oil and garlic with an equal portion of bread crumbs, adding spinach, a half a cup of dry white wine, and a touch of water. I then simmered all this until the liquid had been absorbed; finally, I sprinkled a very liberal amount of parmesan cheese over the top.

The sauce was delicious. It went nicely with the scrumptious ravioli, but in fact, we found that it was scrum-diddly-umptious all on its own.  I finished the leftovers.  I was lucky that the pine nut has such an impressive nutritional profile, through which I was able to glean an astounding number of vital nutrients, including Lucine.


Following the success of my rustic pine nut sauce adaptation, I propose to add pine nuts to every feasible dish.  By the term “feasible dish” I mean including, but not limited to: pasta, pizza, omelets, ice cream, granola, soup, bread, cupcakes, cookies, sandwhiches, chili, casseroles, rice and beans, enchiladas, Trader Joe’s Frozen Burritos*, sautéed vegetables, dried fruit, GORP, oatmeal, crackers and cheese, tuna, roast chicken, pancakes, and french toast.  In short, anything edible.

I predict that, with the addition of pine nuts, the flavor and nutritional value of each of these dishes will be vastly improved.  The exceptions to this prediction, that will prove the rule, are Trader Joe’s Frozen Burritos (whose perfection cannot be improved upon) and french toast (commonly held by all to be the Best Breakfast in the Universe).  These dishes, however, already far surpass any other food in deliciousness and nutritiousness; thus, I find them to be the rare cases in which adding pine nuts would serve no benefit.


I will chop, grind, smush, and smash pine nuts in order to incorporate them into my proposed dishes.  I will toast them occasionally, and sometimes I will throw them in whole and raw.  By utilizing a range of methods I will provide dishes with a variety of textures and aesthetic qualities.  It is further predicted that the method might influence the overall appeal of the final dish; thus, I may find it necessary to adjust my methods as time progresses, based on cumulating results.

When my supply of pine nuts is diminished or eliminated, I will refresh them with new supplies purchased at the grocery store.


In conclusion, this proposal seeks to incorporate pine nuts into every feasible dish.  Their deliciousness and nutritiousness will improve the flavor and health quality of any dish to which they are an addition.  The exceptions here are dishes whose perfection cannot be improved upon; thus, pine nuts will not be added.  It is based on my history of delicious pine nut dishes that I make such predictions, and it is this background that makes me most suitable to continue such an experiment.

The End.


“Help Support Our Graduate Students”

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a time warp.  I’ve been at this school for 6 years now, and I still have about 5 to go (hopefully just 5) until I’m actually “done.”  Granted, I have a degree to show for the first 4 years, and will qualify for a second degree at the end of this year… but it’s a little weird to think that I’ve lived in this place my entire adult life. Yes, I know I’m young. But still, it’s significant to me.

As a result of my being an alumna of this fine institution, I receive all of the usual alumni mail, keeping me up-to-date on the comings and goings while I am so very far away. 3 miles away, in fact. I get the shiny magazine telling me how great the U’s wide variety of academic and extracurricular programs are, the fliers and postcards with pictures of successful students on them (asking me to give the school money), and the forms for the alumni association telling me that my free one-year trial membership is about to expire.

Oh, and my department’s Alumni Newsletter.

This is the document which graced my mailbox this afternoon.  At first, I saw the “Department of Anthropology” letterhead and a wave of panic went through me. Isn’t most communication done over email? What would be so important that they would *mail* me something?!

And then I saw the department chair’s photograph heading up the first column. Oh hi, —-. Class was great today, thanks.

“From the Desk of the Chair” was the heading, and the letter was addressed to “Alumni and Friends.”  I skimmed through the news, noticing blurbs about my professors and fellow students and a lot of other people I’ve never heard of.  And oh hey! That’s my name listed under “student awards”! Cool.

Flip to the back, and there’s one of my undergrad students (the one who emailed me “thanks” last semester)– he’s doing a senior thesis project this year. Way cool.

Finally, the note I was anticipating with great angst: “Help Support Our Graduate Students.” The Department has conveniently included an envelope and postcard should I wish to donate to the Graduate Student Funding pool.

See, having earned a B.A. in Anthropology (and Spanish, and Latin American Studies) from this fine institution, they assume that I am now raking in the big bucks doing… something.

Someday, my friends, someday. After all, I’m in this racket for the big bucks (ahem. not.).

I conveniently put the newsletter, postcard, and envelope on the fridge, should my two cohortmates/ roommates feel generous.

Ice Cream

Walking home from school today along the Panamerican Highway, my friends and I heard a familiar tune.  The nostalgic tinkle of the ice cream truck blared out behind us.  We all perked up, half-expecting, half-hoping to see a white conversion van with technicolor apliqués depicting different frozen treats plastered on its side.

Instead, we saw a beat-up old gray (metal-colored) sedan with a megaphone attached to the top using rusty wires.

I don’t think that vehicle had air-conditioning; I wonder if if had ice cream?

Oh, Guatemala.

Teosinte vs. Maize: Scientific Debate


One question has perplexed scholars of plant domestication for decades: Is teosinte more or less delicious than maize (attributed to Sherouse 2008: Anthro 101 exam)? Teosinte is commonly held to be the wild ancestor of domesticated maize (Flannery 1986). It is genetically identical to maize, and was likely ground into flour by early agriculturalists in Mesoamerica (Smith 1998). However, some dissident scholars (for example MacNeish 1964, Manglesdorf 1947, 1974)* suggest that maize was instead domesticated from an ancient pod corn. I argue that, if teosinte was so delicious, to the extent that it was eaten as flour, why would agriculturalists go to the trouble of creating maize? Maize is a pain in the ass, quite frankly: it doesn’t seed itself (thus cannot survive in the wild), leaches nitrogen out of the soil (thus is frequently grown with nitrogen fixers such as beans; can you say “extra work?”), and now genetically modified maize is polluting wild teosinte populations (for example, outside of Oaxaca, Mexico). Why bother?? It would be likely that maize was domesticated from ancient pod corn, not teosinte, because teosinte was delicious enough as it was, and the pod corn was not at all delicious.


It follows that, if teosinte is in fact less delicious than maize, maize was likely domesticated as a way to improve the relative flavor of its wild relative (that being teosinte). If teosinte is more delicious than maize, maize was more likely domesticated from wild pod corn, now extinct, as a way to improve the pod corn’s flavor.


In order to test the relative deliciousness of teosinte and maize, I sampled both wild teosinte and domestic maize, found on a Guatemalan hillside (San Mateo Ixtatan, Huehuetenango, to be exact). Unfortunately, wild pod corn is now extinct, eliminating the possibility for empirically testing its deliciousness against that of domestic maize. We must therefore extrapolate the relative deliciousness of teosinte to maize and assume that a positive result (teosinte = way more delicious than maize) indicates that maize was domesticated from pod corn.


I present here empirical evidence of the relative deliciousness of teosinte and maize.

sampling teosinte

Sampling teosinte.

definitely not delicious

Definitely NOT delicious.

Sampling Maize

Sampling maize.




Maize is decidedly more delicious than wild teosinte. Thus, it is likely that maize was domesticated from teosinte, making teosinte it’s wild ancestor, in order to make teosinte more delicious and improve its flavor. As an added bonus, there are now hundreds of varieties of maize grown throughout the Americas, each with its own unique flavor and culinary attributes. Each, of course, is likely more delicious than teosinte (and some varieties may even be more delicious than other varieties!); there are so many varieties that it will take many more years of travel in Mesoamerica to sample them all. Bravo, early agriculturalists! Job well done!

Acknowledgments and Apologies:
Many thanks to Mr. Sherouse, for posing the guiding question of this paper as a multiple-choice option on an Anthropology 101 exam. You have lit the fires of curiosity in the brains of freshmen anthropology students everywhere!
Apologies to all others for my terrible sense of humor. The citations are (mostly) real, the debate over maize ancestry is/ was real, the exaggerations about relative deliciousness of ancient plants are not.
Flannery (1986) Guilá Naquitz: Archaic Foraging and Early Agriculture in Oaxaca, Mexico. Academic Press, Inc. Pp 3-28.
MacNeish, Richard S. (1964) “The Origins of New World Civilization.” Scientific American. 211: 29-37.
Smith, Bruce. (1998 ) The Emergence of Agriculture. Scientific American Press. Pp 144- 181.

Research Proposal: Trash Day


When I exited the highway at the sprawl preceding the residential area of my hometown this weekend, one thing was immediately apparent. It was “Spring Cleaning Trash Day.” Why else would the citizens of my fair town commence to piling up perfectly good pieces of furniture, tools, clothing, and household miscellanea on the curbs in front of their homes? And why else would otherwise respectable people spend hours careening around town in minivans and pickup trucks, picking up other peoples’ trash? My project seeks to analyze the interactions between social strata in my otherwise homogeneous town, as evidenced in the the performances of tossing and scavenging that take place on Spring Cleaning Trash Day.


I grew up in a small town in the suburbs of Chicago, IL. It’s a nice place. Really. I wouldn’t ever move back there, nor would I want to raise my [strictly hypothetical, future] children in a place like it, but it was a nice place to grow up.

It’s pretty homogeneous. Or at least, very segregated. Very, very segregated. I think we had maybe three non-white students in the honors classes at my high school. I couldn’t tell you about the other classes, because they kept us pretty well divided from non-honors classes after freshman year (not being snobby, just telling you why I can’t describe the rest of the school).

When my family first moved here, I was 5 years old. Our street had a mix of house sizes and economic classes. Our house was pretty big for our street (four bedrooms, three baths– we had three kids in the family, at least off and on), but by the time I was 10 the other houses had been bought up and torn down. The re-builds were very large, about 5 bedrooms in each house. Mostly young families moved in with kids under the age of 3 and more on the way. Everyone had at least two cars.

In the past 5 years or so, there has been further economic segregation, a reflection of several social processes. Poorer families either moved out or moved up the ladder with rising property taxes (and values). Wealthier, younger families moved in. Sprawl… sprawled. Minimalls abounded, complete with Chipotles, Starbucks, and gourmet grocery shops. On this one hand, you have the homogenization of “the middle class.”

There was also an increase in low-income housing, Hispanic grocery marts, and enrollment in English as a Second Language courses.  Many people are recent arrivals in the United States, both legally and otherwise. On this other hand, you have the arrival of a new, ethnically and culturally different lower economic class. Tension builds.

Spring Cleaning Trash Day is a day when the city (er… Village) allows its fair citizens to throw out an unlimited amount of trash. Anything and everything may be placed on the curb for pickup by the Village’s trash collectors, at no extra cost. Perfectly functioning furniture, games, televisions, kitchen appliances, toilets, and yes, even the kitchen sink gets tossed to the curb. As I type, this paraphernalia of the middle class is sitting in the rain and getting soggy.


I propose to analyze the interactions between the relatively homogeneous middle class trash-tossers, and the “otherized” lower economic class trash-scavengers, as evidenced on Spring Cleaning Trash Day. Who are the people throwing out entire dining room sets? How long have they lived in the town? Why do they choose to place their items on the curb, rather than deliver them to the Salvation Army, hold a garage sale, or give them to a friend? What is their motivation for throwing them out in the first place? Where do they think they will end up?

Who are the trash scavengers? Where do they come from, what languages do they speak, where do they work, live, and go to school? How do they feel about picking up the trash left out by the tossers? What will they do with a single faucet broken off of a kitchen sink? A broken plastic rake?

Keeping in mind that identity as we conceptualize it is a nebulous assemblage (c.f. Puar 2008), through what interactions are the ‘identities’ of the middle-class trash tossers and the lower-class trash scavengers performed? Do the trash tossers become trash scavengers? Do the trash scavengers become trash tossers?


In order to study the interactions taking place on Spring Cleaning Trash Day, I will move home. And by move “home” I mean… really. Home. I.e.; my parents’ house. Because there’s no way I could afford to live in this town otherwise. Unless I were able to receive a $150,000-per-year research grant, which I don’t think exists. At least, not in Anthropology. For a graduate student.

I will conduct participant-observation, tossing my own trash and scavenging other peoples’ trash. I will interview other trash tossers and trash scavengers. I will interview village officials and the village’s garbage collectors. I will inventory the trash getting tossed, scavenged, and left behind on the heap.

Maybe after grad school. I would consider doing this project sooner, but I don’t think I could handle living here again just yet. Just not enough distance to feign “objectivity”… though it might make a really interesting native anthropology project 🙂 Any other takers? You could live with my parents while you do research!

McCain Girls

Apparently, these women are sincere. Highly entertaining nevertheless.

Guitar Thief

This is the gist of a story I heard on NPR this morning, with a few of my own embellishments…



Police are on the lookout today for a shoplifter in Lewiston, Maine. A man and two accomplices stole a guitar from a music store. The man shoved the guitar in his pants while he thought no one was looking, but security cameras caught him on film.

As the man was leaving the store, the clerk asked, “Is that a guitar in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?” To which the man replied, “I’m just happy to see you.”

The clerk thanked him and wished him a nice day.