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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Cilantro Gene Myth (Part I)

Look, if I could consult Alex Brands, General Biology Post-doc/Fellow at Lehigh University, on everything I would, but I can't. Luckily, however, the man has plainly laid it out on the table when it comes to the cilantro hate gene myth. So, he doesn't call it a myth, as such, but he does say that the gene's existence has NOT been proven:

A google groups search confirms that you are not alone, as there are plenty of
testimonials from people to whom cilantro tastes like soap. There is no mention of
this in the Genetics textbooks I checked, and I did a PubMed search of the primary
research literature, but that came up empty. The short answer is: no one knows (if
they do, they haven’t told anyone)

So, Mr. Brands does go on to say the soap gene thing would be a reasonable hypothesis, but that given the current state of science funding in this country it will probably never be proven. So, while it might seem like the post-doc is favoring the idea that there is such a gene, in the end he's unable to find any conclusive evidence that there actually is one. So, what he calls a reasonable hypothesis, I'll call pure conjecture.

Or worse. It seems to me that people want to think there is such a gene. That they're born with a condition that prohibits them from enjoying something, that being born with such a condition makes it not their fault and ok somehow. But I wonder, what's so wrong about not liking everything? I mean, hating cilantro so much makes everything else taste so much better; it's all about juxtaposition. So, really, not liking just one thing (albeit a thing that is f#$&ing everywhere) is a relatively small price to pay for being able to then like everything else more. I HATE cilantro, but I LOVE oysters.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Play in One Act

Someone Who Isn't Erin: Love the blog, but can't get behind hating cilantro.

Erin: Thanks!; I don't care.

SWIE: But, don't you think other people should hate cilantro, want them to hate cilantro?

Erin: No, that's the folks over at (a group I will not be joining in the foreseeable future; although I do find their efforts impressive, their mission is not my own (there's nuance to cilantro hate)).

SWIE: Word. You know, I hear there's a cilantro hate gene...

Erin: Really, I hadn't heard that.

SWIE: Oh yeah, totally. This guy I know was telling me th.. [interrupts]

Erin: I was kidding. I hear that a lot. I'm suspect.

SWIE: Because you're paranoid?

Erin: No, because we've isolated, what, 4 genes? And one of those genes hates cilantro?

SWIE: Huh?.!

In the coming week or so I seek to prove this hypothesis through some research. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I love Netflix! (and cilantro)

If you're anything like me (first of all, God bless you -- it's messy up there, huh?) there are few things as amazing as stumbling across a movie, a book, a philosophy, anything that sort of lays it all out there in a way that not only connects seemingly disparate kinds of things and thoughts, but also does all that in a way that seems true (and you don't know how you feel about this idea of "true" to begin with -- that's sort of what makes it special). Oprah would call that a light bulb moment; I'd call it learning something really cool, feeling a little more clued in to what's really up.

So, in the event the foreshadowing has been inadequate, I had one of those experiences or, rather, the catalyst for one of those experiences watching Half Nelson the other day. The movie itself I really liked, but it's this idea of dialectics that it deals with in explicit and more subversive ways that has me thinking about it still. Before the movie I really wasn't familiar with these dialectics, but was very much attracted to how the protagonist (Mr. Dan Dunne) was teaching history -- not how he was teaching high on crack, which admittedly leads to some practical problems, but that he was teaching through this dialectical lens, if you will. The lessons were dynamic and weird -- I question whether the kids were getting it, but I choose to believe kids are as smart as I think they are, so I'll give them and the movie the benefit of the doubt on that one -- and I wanted to learn more about this philosophy that had gotten idealistic Dunne in such a frenzy, to both good and bad effect (to simplify: good = caring and engaging teacher; bad = self-hating drug addict with terrible personal relationships).

So, I did what any self-respecting office job holder would do and googled dialectics at work. Suddenly I was reading Marx and Hegel and Wikipedia! Now I'm not going to try and explain the whole thing to y'all because 1) I only know what I know about it, which is relatively little and 2) I wouldn't want to condescend to anyone who does actually really get it, especially the linguistic conventions of talking about philosophy. But, to the point, it has to do with conflict, paradox, change, progress, movement and uncertainty. In the context of history (of Half Nelson), we can understand events, changes and history itself as reactions to internal and external conflicts, as struggles between opposing forces: it isn't cause and effect (if a then b). Dialectics doesn't really work for science (or rather the scientific method; Darwin was all about this shit), but, if you ask me, science can teach us how to make an iPhone (debatable), but not how to live our lives.

So, opposites and contradictions have at least three properties: 1) they're interdependent, 2) they interpenetrate and 3) they're in union. A lot of Eastern thought, to be totally Orientalist, relies on this -- hence the beautiful green yin-yang you see, which is probably why I dig it and subconsciously why I found myself consulting the I Ching the day after watching Half Nelson. But, if it's valid, to use a word, it ought to hold up to any part of my life, like, and here it is, my hatred of cilantro. How can dialectics inform my understanding of this hate?

Well, as it turns out, it has totally shed some light. First, there's hate in every love and love in every hate (that's the interpenetration part -- the little white and black dots in the yin-yang). What that really means to me is that nothing is pure, nothing is the real ideal of the thing ever, certainly not in reality. So, I can hate cilantro as much as pure hate is possible (and I do; I hate it more than mean people), but it's only so possible. What's more interesting to me is the interdependence of love and hate. For better or worse, I need cilantro lovers both to define myself, as in opposition to something and for tons of fodder -- I love making fun of those morons. Without cilantro love, cilantro hate couldn't exist, cilantro would just be. It couldn't be loved or hated, or it would have gone extinct from lack of consumption or taken over like a weed or who knows but it certainly wouldn't be like this: the silent culture war instigator that it is.

Then, there's the union of opposites, that the closer you get to the extreme of something the more it is it's opposite. It's like my friend Miki's always saying, hate isn't the opposite of love, indifference is; I think she's right. In my case, it's not so much that I hate cilantro so much that I love it; it's that it's become so much fun to hate it I kind of have a soft spot in my heart for it.

I hate cilantro, but I love it too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cilantro Kills

So, cilantro kills bacteria. That's according to scientists at the University of California Berkeley and the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, if you want to trust Cal-Mex science, which has always been my favorite flavor. More specifically, 11 of 13 isolated cilantro compounds that were studied were demonstrated to have some effectiveness against pathogenic bacteria, especially Salmonella choleraesuis (the thing that causes the thing you get when you have unprotected sex with raw poultry) and, more specifically, one of those compounds, dodecenal, was "particularly effective." This is all according to the New York Times, but I'm sure anyone really interested could find the original journals, if one were into that sort of thing; I'm not into that sort of thing.

Interesting news? Sure. I was even on board with the Times' seemingly objective reporting up until the point it declared "Eat Cilantro," which was actually the title of the snippet, so I guess I really wasn't ever really on board. I know what some of you cilantro lover, bacteria hater-types (poor fools) are thinking: I can eat something I love and kill something I hate? Win-win! Easy Killer. Let's backup for a moment.

First, each year only 40,000 cases of Salmonella are reported and only 600 people die from it*. OK. So, that's kind of a lot, as compared to, you know, rabies' 6 annual deaths, which The Office handled with its usual sensitivity and grace. But, let's not go turning into Salmonella alarmists here; if you really want to avoid the disease, you'll do as the CDC recommends and avoid the following: raw meat, at-all pink meat, hollandaise, tiramisu, cookie dough, cross contamination and pet turtles. If you can find a reason to keep living without these things, I suppose cilantro might as well be a part of the miserable life you'll be left with.

Second, as my cousin the doctor, whom I always refer to as my cousin, the doctor, frequently suggests, we've become positively scared shitless of bacteria, and that, perhaps more than anything, is why we're always so sick. I like the idea that she's right -- because who wants to worry about everything all the time? -- but since she has an MD next to her name, she must be. So, you know, the way I see it, cilantro with its whopping 11 compounds of bacteria fighting, is actually slowly killing not only the bacteria you hate, but also the person you try not to -- you.

Third, many studies have basically shown in countless ways that fruits and vegetables tend to be really good for you. The nuances of these studies I tend to find, well, sort of irrelevant. We should do as Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) suggests, which is to eat food (ie carrots and mushrooms as opposed to vitamins that would seem to carry the "compounds" their originals definitely have in combinations that work and our bodies can accept) and as I would add, we should eat what we like and not what we don't. We should also cultivate palates that enjoy broccoli (which scientists in Estonia have proved kills cancer every time it's consumed) at least as much as, say, creme brulee, or our health will be pretty screwed. We should also probably quit telling each other what to do.

So, you know what? Eat Cilantro or Don't eat cilantro, but just remember every time you take a bite, you might be killing someone.

*The CDC suggests that the estimate might be "thity" or more times greater, whatever that means.

Friday, January 4, 2008

My So-Called Good Memory: to balance the acidity of the tomatoes?

This year I resolve to.... well, all kinds of things; you know, cliche self-improvement-type stuff. But none of these resolutions has anything really to do with cilantro (except the "write in cilantro hate blog more often" one that actually wasn't one until this very moment) so, I won't, you know, write about the New Year, you know, directly. This is, like, a blog I write, not, like, my life, or whatever...

I have a really good memory -- ask anyone, it's true -- which is why I was surprised when I didn't remember a scene from My So-Called Life, a show I have been unabashedly watching the past week, since my friend James (love that guy) got the complete series (ie the first season) boxed set for Christmas. Now (years ago) I've seen every episode of this show at least once, many of them twice (ok, the one with Angela and Jordan making out in the boiler room, Self-Esteem, maybe three times) so, given this excellent (noteworthy for its accuracy but excellent for its serious endurance) memory thing, there shouldn't be, like, entire scenes I don't remember.

Well, in fairness, it's not that I didn't remember the scene, it's that I didn't remember the super explicit cilantro-reference in the scene (recap from

As Patty regales Graham with her encounter with Amber, Graham offers Patty a taste of the food he's cooking, and while she thinks its wonderful, Graham must tell her what she is tasting. Angela enters, Graham offers her a taste and she knows immediately what she is tasting.

"Mmm, cilantro."

Graham then proceeds to explain to Angela why he has added the cilantro. (To balance the acidity of the tomatoes.) Graham's "food" education of Angela is ongoing, as we have seen since the Pilot epidsode:

"Con carne, 'with meat."

The business of tasting Graham's cooking is minor; its foremost purpose is to add verisimilitude and dynamics to an otherwise static scene. But the difference in Patty's and Angela's reactions to Graham's cooking relates to the difference in upbringing they received from their respective fathers. Patty's upbringing has been one of chili fries and diner pie, of enormous turkeys and oregano in the curry sauce. Angela's upbringing has been one of balanced meals, spaghetti reheated by father, cilantro, pasta and lemon hazelnut torts.

I mean, this scene is huge. (that's not me mocking Liberty High-speak). Anyone who ever watched the show, and certainly anyone who watched it not so much through a culinary lens as much as happened to be interested in food or had a father who liked to cook (I did/I do) remembers the frequent kitchen/cooking scenes shared not only between father and daughter, but also, of course, between the food-savvy father and the rest of the family.

What I did not remember (and this is probably because I don't remember the first time I had cilantro or when I knew I hated it -- other than I'm pretty sure it had something to do with Chipotle (the chain restaurant, not the delicious smoked peppers) -- more on this later) was that the very symbol of Angela's dad's foodiness was cilantro. In 1994 if you were cooking with cilantro and could identify its flavor (nice one Angela) you were absolutely in the culinary know.

One piece of evidence is the fact that I remember the scene but don't remember the reference: at 12 I didn't know what cilantro was, at least by name, and certainly didn't hate it, lest I would have, like, you know, commented or something. But then, I wonder if some version of that show (I don't think the ubiquitous plaid, flannel would work today, although Jordan Catalano's work shirts are truly timeless) existed now, would the ingredient be different? Have I just gotten older, food savvier, more full of hate, and that's the difference?; that in fact the ingredient is still slightly esoteric, slightly special, it's very use proof positive of food smarts? I kind of don't think so. I mean, it is everywhere right? Right? Like, by name, it's everywhere. I think the ingredient might have still been cilantro in today's show (The Emperor's Children, the show (GOD HELP ME!)) but it would have a different meaning. Angela's dad wouldn't seem so food savvy to me now; would he to the general population? I wonder. I think, in today's show, the herb would be shiso. Yeah. That's right, I went with shiso. Although he is making some sort of sauce (cilantro to balance the acidity of the tomatoes -- unbelievable), maybe marjoram? I just don't think it would be cilantro, because, most of the population, I would venture to say, has taken it for granted as part of the current food lexicon.

Will I sound like a frightening conservative when I suggest we should go back to a simpler time, years ago, when, oh wait, Clinton was president and the economy was good and cilantro wasn't everywhere? No, I think that would, like, be ok or whatever.