Friday, May 25, 2012

Surviving the Titanic [Bryan]

So, why didn't the folks in the Titanic just hop on the iceberg? Functional fixedness!
The most famous cognitive obstacle to innovation functional fixedness — an idea first articulated in the 1930s by Karl Duncker in which people tend to fixate on the common use of an object. For example, the people on the Titanic overlooked the possibility that the iceberg could have been their lifeboat.
Newspapers from the time estimated the size of the iceberg to be between 50-100 feet high and 200-400 feet long. Titanic was navigable for awhile and could have pulled aside the iceberg. Many people could have climbed aboard it to find flat places to stay out of the water for the four hours before help arrived. Fixated on the fact that icebergs sink ships, people overlooked the size and shape of the iceberg (plus the fact that it would not sink).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mormon Cuisine

I've been busy lately, but I think I can resume some measure of blogging at this point. I've been meaning to point readers to an article on "Mormon Cuisine" that was published in the NY Times a few months ago. It discusses the history of why we eat like we do (focused on Jello and other convenience foods) and why things are changing (e.g., missionaries gaining a fondest for foreign cuisine in far off locales.)
Mormonism is a young religion, born in the 1830s, leaving little time for food traditions to evolve. Its food doesn’t reflect one particular ethnic identity, or a region other than the Wasatch Front....Food was rarely plentiful in the early years, families were large, and all households tithed at least 10 percent to the church, so women were strongly encouraged to develop cooking and budget-management skills. Being industrious and hardworking is highly prized in Mormon culture (the beehive is a symbol of the church), and for women, cooking provides a real sense of identity and daily purpose.

In the 1960s, Mormon women (like most Americans) enthusiastically embraced inexpensive convenience foods like canned fruit, instant potatoes and, of course, Jell-O. “For some reason, the Utah Mormons took longer to come out of that phase,” said Christy Spackman, 34, a doctoral student in food studies at N.Y.U. 

Ms. Spackman says that in her congregation, in Brooklyn, the tradition of socializing with food and sharing recipes is just as strong as it was when she was growing up in Logan, Utah. Only the recipes have changed. “Now the recipe is more likely to be a grapefruit curd or a new kind of granola bar than a casserole,” she said. Recipes, like one for homemade yogurt, “spread like wildfire” in the community, she said. 

Many Mormon men and some women spend two years abroad working as missionaries — a custom that has given many a lingering taste for kimchi or Camembert. In Brazil, Mrs. Wells discovered a passion for dulce de leche, mangoes and black beans.
 I also loved this description of funeral potatoes.
Funeral potatoes, a rich casserole of grated potatoes, sour cream, cheese and cream-of-something soup, is delivered to the bereaved, and serves as a side dish for ham on Christmas and Easter. It tastes like the inside of a baked potato mashed with plenty of sour cream and Cheddar, and it takes only one savory, fluffy forkful to see why the dish is a classic. (During the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, visitors found these dishes so pervasive that souvenir pins shaped like cubes of green Jell-O and casseroles of funeral potatoes became hot sellers.)
Is it lunch time, yet?