[Note: My goal at the end of this post is to overwhelm you with so many spice benefits for your coffee, that you will most likely tell me to “shut up” in your head, and just go buy the damn spices. So, feel free to skim!]
Recently, Krista and I stopped for Mediterranean food in Seattle at a place called Café Turko. I don’t know if you are a fan of Turkish coffee, but I got hooked back in the end of 2015 while spending some time in San Luis Obispo, CA on a business trip. Now whenever I get Mediterranean my eyeballs start to flutter around the menu franticly looking for the beverage. This last visit though I had an epiphany to a whole new perspective on Turkish coffee, aka Arabic coffee preparation.
I asked the waitress for a Turkish coffee, and she asked the question back: “with or without cardamom?.” Cardamom is just a spice that is traditionally put in Turkish coffee as an addition. So, the question wasn’t really a big one, but my inspiration exploded, why are spices introduced into Arabic coffee in the first place?
Of course, spices make it taste better, but could there be another synergistic health reason that has fallen through the cracks? My anthropological brain and biological brain (or what I like to call them: my Krista and Jake brains) were going off at the same time. I did some research and ends up, there are a whole ton of spices out there to spice up your old “cup of joe.”
If you are a traditional coffee drinker, prepare yourself because you may never be the same…
8 Spices that will change your coffee forever
I got the cardamom in my Turkish coffee, and it tasted great and made me feel great! It was time to hit the research, is cardamom really doing anything beneficial, or am I lost on an imaginative train heading to destination: Placebo.
So, I hit the scholarly articles. Cardamom is the primary spice that is added to most Turkish coffees. There are two cardamom plant species and the seeds of these two plants are used to make two types of cardamom, black cardamom (Amomum s.) and green cardamom (Elettarai c.). The main production regions in the world for cardamom are Guatemala and India, with Sri Lanka, Nepal, Paupa New Guinea and Tanzania taking up the rear.
Cardamom actually has quite a few benefits as well. Cardamom is an antioxidant, gastroprotective against ulcers, cardioprotective by lowering heart stress, preventing blood clots and lowering blood pressure, and antimicrobial (it can actually help protect you from getting cavities). The research is ongoing, so there is some research suggesting that green cardamom could protect you from cancer and black cardamom could be anti-inflammatory used for pain relief. The main constituents that make this happen are Eucalyptol and terpinyl acetate. Don’t worry, I will link my research below!
My first thought: Yes, I’m not crazy! Well, not about cardamom anyway.
Cardamom is an effective beneficial spice that has some medicinal properties!
But I understand people would be weary to try this out if they have never had cardamom. And honestly, it’s hard for me to explain the taste. Wikipedia describes the taste as being: a strong and unique flavor, with black cardamom being more smoky. Which is not much of a description at all. So you might just want to try it yourself or go to a local Mediterranean restaurant and see if they offer it with their Turkish coffee.
Side note: if you are going to make your own Turkish coffee, green cardamom is what is primarily used in Turkish coffee. There are tons of recipes online, so don’t let me stop you from making your coffee, get on that google search!
- Amomum subulatum Roxb: Traditional, phytochemical and Biological activities – An Overview (Research Gate)
- Blood pressure lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of Cardamom (Research Gate)
- Antiulcerogenic activity of Elettaria cardamomum Maton. and Amomum subulatum Roxb. Seeds (Research Gate)
- Gastroprotective effect of cardamom, Elettaria cardamomym Maton. fruits in rats (Science Direct)
- Antimicrobial activity of Amomym subulatum and Elettaria cardamomym against dental caries causing microorganisms (Journal of Ethnobotanical Research)
- In vitro investigation of the potential immunomodulatory and anti-cancer activities of black pepper and cardamom (Journal of Medicinal Food)
Species: Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese cinnamon), C. burmanni (Indonesian cinnamon), C. loureiori (Vietnamese cinnamon), C. verum (Sri Lanka and/or Ceylon cinnamon), C. citriodorum (Malabar cinnamon), C. tamala (Indian Cinnamon)
I’m sure most of you know cinnamon as that tasty bark that they use when making delicious cinnamon rolls or homemade apple pie. But while you probably know that cinnamon is beneficial for you, it might be surprising how beneficial it actually is (I know I was).
Cinnamon is an antioxidant, anti-microbial against bacteria and fungus, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergen, anti-melanin and neuroprotective. Its antimicrobial properties also make it effective against H. pylori, a microbe in the gut that can cause a lot of heartburn-like symptoms, which makes cinnamon gastro protective as well.
The constituent to praise for most of these benefits is cinnamaldehyde, which is what cinnamon is primarily made up of, and what gives it that “cinemy” taste we all love. Unless you’re a weirdo like Krista.
But before we (including me) go buy a ton of cinnamon, there are some important things to take into account when choosing the type of cinnamon to purchase. The most common cinnamon in most people’s kitchen is C. cassia also called Chinese cinnamon, and you guessed it, it is produced in china. The second most common is C. verum which is known to be “true” cinnamon. Chinese cinnamon will most likely taste about the same as “true” cinnamon, but Chinese cinnamon includes a lot more of the constituent called coumarin. Coumarin is known to be able to cause liver and kidney damage in high doses. It’s actually such a big issue that in 2008 the European Union set a max limit on how much coumarin can be naturally occurring in foods. This landed to around a max of 50mg per kilogram of food. But unfortunately in the United States, there is no regulation on how much coumarin foods can legally contain, meaning we have to be extra diligent in how many cinnamon rolls we consume. Because Chinese cinnamon contains a much higher amount of coumarin than “true” cinnamon, it’s best to avoid Chinese cinnamon. A small amount of Chinese cinnamon won’t kill you, but if you have the choice, buy “true” cinnamon before attempting the cinnamon challenge!
Please don’t send me videos of you attempting the cinnamon challenge.
Keeping that in mind, cinnamon is a great spice to add to your coffee, because not only does it taste good, but has a ton of positive benefits, its cheap, and relatively easy to get your hands on compared to other spices.
[Note: If you are going to buy “true” cinnamon, make sure to check that it is the correct species or is labeled as Ceylon, Sri Lanka, or “true” cinnamon before you purchase. Sometimes the companies that sell these spices are not looking out for you, so be a bit particular when choosing your spices]
- Review: Diverse pharmacological properties of Cinnamomum cassia: A review (Research Gate)
- Medicinal properties of ‘true’ cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum): a systematic review (Pub Med)
- Three new compounds from Cinnamomum cassia (Pub Med)
- Cinnamon: a multifaceted medicinal plant (Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine)
- Herbal product comprising cinnamon and coffee for treating diabetes and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (Lens)
3. Anise (Not Star Anise)
True anise is primarily grown in Egypt and around the Mediterranean, but has also been grown in Europe, the Middle East, Mexico, North Africa, India, and Russia. Star anise is grown primarily in china as a true anise substitute or unrelated cousin. True anise seeds taste like a slight liquorish and fennel taste, while star anise is a spicier version. You know, like the black jelly beans you used to eat as a kid.
Honesty alert: I always put the black jelly beans aside.
While the taste might not seem as appealing, some of the benefits from the constituent anethole within anise are worth considering. The promising benefits of anise are that it’s an anti-convulsant (or anti-seizure), can reduce hot flashes for women with menopause, and can reduce dysmenorrhea (cramping that can be extremely painful during menstruation). So ladies, maybe give this spice a shot, especially if you need that coffee boost anyway. As for an anti-convulsant, it’s better to do your research first and consult your doctor before making any changes.
*If you accidently buy star anise, you’re not out of luck. Star Anise has some similar benefits as true anise because it also contains a lot of the constituent anethole.
We’re not done with benefits yet! Some more benefits of Anise include it being: anti-microbial against bacteria and fungus, gastroprotective against ulcers, nausea, and constipation, analgesic (pain reliever), an antioxidant, antiviral, and antidiabetic.
If you don’t mind the taste, the benefits can be a great addition to your coffee. Another note, anise is good with dealing with constipation, and we all know coffee is good for pushing things out of ya. If you need to poop, coffee and anise might be your match made in heaven! Well, if relieving constipation is heaven for you (which it generally is for anyone who is constipated).
- Anticonvulsant and neuroprotective effects of Pimpinella anisum in rat brain (Research Gate)
- Antifungal activity of fluid extract and essential oil from anise fruits (Research Gate)
- Review of pharmacological properties and chemical constituents of Pimpinella anisum (Pub Med)
- Effectiveness of anise oil for treatment of mild to moderate depression in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (Research Gate)
Species: Syzygium aromaticum
Finally, there is only one species! Hopefully your as excited as I am! (Probably not though… but I respect that!)
Cloves are a pretty cool spice. They are produced mostly in Indonesia and Madagascar, and are the dried the flower buds of S. aromaticum. I should also mention: they are hard as nails, so you might need an electric grinder if you don’t plan to buy them in a powdered form! The taste of cloves is pretty pleasant as well: warm, sweet, and aromatic. Sounds much better than a liquorish taste.
The benefits of cloves are diverse. Cloves are an antioxidant, antimicrobial, antinociceptive (blocks the detection of pain), antiviral, anticancer, anthelmintic (anti-parasite), anti-inflammatory, increases testosterone, and is an aphrodisiac. The active constituent that helps produce these benefits is eugenol, and man is it good at what it does.
Cloves are very good at blocking pain, they were actually used as a remedy to treat toothaches before the modern dentist came along. Their anti-parasitic nature also makes them quite interesting, the effects are so strong in fact that cloves are anti-plasmodial (plasmodial being for the genus Plasmodium, the genus of Malaria), making cloves a possible use for helping to fight against Malaria! And if there wasn’t more reasons to want to get your hands on this spice, it also increases testosterone. In a time where low testosterone is on the rise, cloves can help to bring testosterone up to normal levels.
If you are sick, trying to keep healthy, or want to decrease some sort of pain, cloves are a perfect addition to your coffee. Instead of picking up some Advil, I say pick up some cloves and see if that helps with your symptoms.
- Clove (Syzygium aromaticum): a precious spice (Pub Med)
- Eugenol – from the remote Maluku islands to the international market place: a review (MDPI)
Species: Myristica fragans
Nutmeg is primarily grown in Guatemala, but has also been grown in other countries like Indonesia, India, Nepal, and Laos. The seed or should I say the nut, has a nutty/sweet taste to it. I think most of us know what nutmeg is, I’m pretty sure I saw it at a coffee shop I went to last week. But cool enough, nutmeg contains constituents called macelignans that come with a whole ton of benefits.
These benefits include it being an antioxidant (as usual), antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, gastroprotective, neuroprotective, heptatoprotective (liver protective), and skin protective. While nutmeg is similar to a lot of spices above, there are two benefits that stand out to me. First, its neuroprotective qualities are special, which just means that it can help in preserving the structure and function of neurons. The only other spice on this list that has this benefit is cinnamon! Second, you can find nutmeg a lot of places just like cinnamon, making this spice convenient for coffee goers everywhere.
One note about nutmeg though, having way too much nutmeg at once can turn this spice into a mild sedative. I wouldn’t worry too much about this though, because you would have to have probably half of your coffee cup filled with the spice to get any note of the side effect. “Also, it can cause other issues, so don’t try it.”
- Multiple biological properties of macelignan and its pharmacological implications (Research Gate)
- Antioxidant and antimicrobial activity of nutmeg (Research Gate)
Species: Crocus sativius
Saffron comes from the stigma of the flowering plant Crocus sativius. Which is in itself, very interesting. Saffron is grown primarily in Iran and because of the nature of the spice, it takes a lot of labor to cultivate saffron. But to most people, the labor is worth it.
Saffron contains 150 compounds with crocius being the main constituent. These compounds produces many different surprising benefits. The spice is an anticonvulsant, antioxidant, can alleviate PMS symptoms, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, hypolipidemic (lowers cholesterol) and an anti-inflammatory. Its cardioprotective effects are a strong bunch that include being Anti-atherosclerotic (keeps the artery wall from thickening), hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), anti-ischemia (keeps cells from having a shortage of oxygen), and anti-platelet. These cardiprotective properties help to protect from myocardial infarction (Heart attack) and stroke.
But wait, there’s more! Saffron has also been shown to help with Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, mild and medium depression, and has shown some possible clues to helping with schizophrenia.
Hopefully you know why I think you should put this in your coffee. Saffron helps protect us from some of the deadliest conditions currently in the world: heart attacks (myocardial infarction), stroke, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, and medium depression. This spice is an all-out cardioprotective adaptogen, that can be a huge addition to your morning coffee tonic.
*Just so you know, saffron is not a cheap spice, check out amazon if you don’t believe me!
- Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action (Pub Med)
- Clinical applications of saffron (Crocus sativus) and its constituents: a review (Research Gate)
- The effects of Crocus sativus (saffron) and its constituents on nervous system: a review (Research Gate)
Species: Zingiber officinale
Ginger has started to get its name out there for its presence in Asian dishes, but I bet you didn’t think about sticking this spice in your coffee for a boost! Ginger can bring a surprisingly hot and fragrant taste to your coffee. Ginger root is produced mostly in India and China, but is also produced in Nepal, Nigeria, and Thailand.
The benefits of ginger are mostly caused by gingerols and produce a large amount of benefits including being an antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, anti-inflamatory, antidiabetic, anti-obesity, anti-allergenic, renoprotective (Kidney protective), hepatoprotective (Liver protective), painkiller, and gastroprotective which includes helping with nausea.
As you can see, ginger won’t only bring the heat, it also helps people across a broad spectrum of health. So, if you want to spice things up in your morning coffee and get some benefits, get that burn on with some ginger!
8. Vanilla Extract
This is probably my favorite on the list! I love the taste of vanilla in my coffee, luckily it has a ton of benefits so I can have an excuse to use it every day! See what I did there?
Anyway, Vanilla bean is produced mostly in Indonesia and Madagascar, but other areas produce it as well such as: Mexico, Papua New Guinea and China. The taste of vanilla and its benefits is thanks to its main constituent called vanillin. The benefits list is just as long as the others above.
Vanillas benefits include: being an antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer, hypolipidemic, anti-platelet, hepato-protective, anti-inflamatory, antiviral, and a darn good painkiller. But vanilla has one very interesting benefit that I don’t think most people know about, it is anti-sickling. This means that it has the possibility of helping with sickle cell anemia by helping to stop sickling of blood cells.
Honestly, if you don’t put vanilla in your coffee once in a while, you are missing out! And why wouldn’t you after seeing all the benefits that come with it.
- A comprehensive review on vanilla flavor: extraction, isolation and quantification of vanillin and other constituents (Research Gate)
What’s your Flavor?
Putting spices in your coffee = an easy way to get health benefits while getting your caffeine kick and making a tastier cup of coffee. Mixing and matching them you can get a bunch of benefits across a large spectrum that can help you in your daily life.
Actually, right in the middle of writing this post Krista showed me a bottle of pumpkin spice that had cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. This caused me to go look up some other mixtures and found I found Turkish coffee spice mix (includes: Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg) and a Moroccan coffee spice mix (includes: Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla powder, cardamom). So, different spice mixes are a great way to get benefits! Just make sure to check the bottle and sources.
If I have convinced you to start putting spices in your coffee, check out some of the links below to some of the spices that I have picked out that I think are of good quality. Still not convinced? Check out some of the scholarly articles above and look into it for yourself! Let me know in the comments what you put in your coffee, what you think about these spices, and if you have any other spices that you put in your coffee. I’m always looking for new things to try in my daily life!
- Krista and I’s favorite Vanilla
- Saffron – Super expensive
- Green Cardamom
- Ceylon Cinnamon aka “True” Cinnamon
TLDR: the study of humans
(Science) + (humans) = anthropology
Ex. Ecology + humans = ecological anthropology: the study of humans adapting to their environment or changing the environment; or the relationship between a group of humans and their environment.
Ex. Medical + humans = medical anthropology: broadly defined as the study of human interactions in language, biology, culture, past and present to understand which factors affect the health and wellbeing of specific groups of people.
Ex. Neurology + humans = Neuroanthropology: broadly defined as the study of the relationship between culture and the brain (development, adaption, health, etc.).
We could do this all day.
Anthropology is divided into four main categories. These basic categories are what you can choose to study in school, and most professionals will describe themselves broadly in one of these four discipline areas:
Social/Cultural: The study of current, existing cultures
Archaeology: The study of past, pre-existing cultures based on artifacts
Linguistic: The study of language and communication, past and present
Biological/physical: Focused on biological and behavioral aspects of humans past and present (paleontology, primatology, forensic anthropology, etc. – this is where most “science + human =” anthropologies fit)
Again, we could go all day, but we won’t.
. . .
So let’s break it down
I had absolutely no idea what anthropology was, but I was looking for it when I got to college. I knew I wanted to study cultures, but I had no idea what that was. I went to a couple campus events for international business and others for foreign exchange programs, and none of them were what I was looking for. I had already declared a writing major, but I was being pressured by my counselor to pick a minor, which is dumb ‘cus this was the first semester of a four year sentence. But that’s its own rant for later.
So, I picked my gen-eds for the next semester, and one of the options was Ancient Civilizations. I was all about that, so I went for it, and when I finally got to the class, this crazy short guy with a little pudge belly and wild curly hair stood on a stage and talked and talked and talked, and sometimes, he pointed a laser at the class on accident (he was pretty funny, think Jack Sparrow plus Indiana Jones… weird, I know); he told me that archaeology was a part of anthropology and I was like WHAAAAAAAT…even is that?
And then I went to the campus library and googled it because I didn’t have a computer (stop your judging… stop it!). And that’s how I found what I wanted to do, declared my second major, and ensured that I was equally knowledgeable of random facts as I was completely unemployable!
Okay, not that unemployable, I got good grades. And I did a lot of random things on campus. But my counselor assured me that I would not find a job, and my parents urged me to try teaching instead, but I was like nah, because teachers are amazing and I am not (also, I really (REALLY) hate speaking in front of classes; I love tutoring, I hate teaching, and a teacher should love teaching). So, I read all of the super helpful (note: sarcasm) web pages about what an anthropologist does or can do. At the time, that was basically just Wikipedia and the American Anthropological Association, and a couple of other university websites listing what anthropologists do, urging you to get a B.A., but curiously, listing the careers of PhDs.
So, two things:
- You can’t do any actual anthropology with a Bachelor’s degree. You can be an adjunct professor with a Master’s, but you’re going to need that PhD to do any anthropolizing (fyi, that’s not a real word). BUT…
- Globalization happened (is happening?).
So what that means is that having anthropology on your resume/cv with an explanation about how you got your minor in learning about cultures around the world and are a great asset to company X because of your experience in diversity and human connections in a globalized economy is actually becoming a *gasp* desired quality! Which is awesome, because this way I am still a little employable.
Except I’m a self-employed editor and Jake is a researcher, so… it didn’t really matter in the end. But you’d think the world was ending with the amount of times people asked me my major and upon explaining it, their face got that pitying concern with the sad knowing nod and “oh…English and Anthropology…so what are you going to do with that?” and before I could offer any insight about my (possibly over ambitious) future goals, their eyes would widen and they would answer for me, always inevitably involving “work for National Geographic, maybe?” and the rest of the conversation would center around this other individual, generally a stranger or acquaintance I definitely didn’t know well enough to be having this conversation about all of my hopes and dreams with, coming up with potential ways I could be employed in the future, without bothering to understand what the hell anthropology even is, some even going waaaaaay past feasible (for me) into “oh, I know, an ambassador, they do that kind of thing” territory.
Ugh, whatever, ambitious ambassadors, you have my blessing. People are hard to get along with, and no matter how much I tried to kindly explain what exactly I was studying, and that observing people is much more of my strength than actually befriending them (though I do like that too), having entire international relationships sitting on my shoulders is not my idea of future goals (I can’t even deal with a classroom, what the hell lead them to ambassador is beyond me, but it happened. More than once).
I basically learned that “anthropology” is social code for “I like science, but my brain can’t do it well, so I settled” or “I just love people and I think I’m really unique,” depending on who I was (forcibly) talking to.
And that is so far from true. I rocked at A.P. Chemistry, and that’s saying a lot, because our teacher was awful at his job (sorry Brian). Also, I’m pretty generic (not to be confused with basic), so….
. . .
There are a couple reasons that I think/discovered society sees anthropology as… well, a sub-par science. I’ll try not to rant… too long.
1. Science vs. Humanities
With the emergence of our technological age, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs have found the spotlight. These are the programs driving progress, bringing us to a productive future, pushing us to the top of the world. But in the process of the technological revolution, there has been a separation of art and science, a rivalry even. Arts programs around the US were cut and unfunded, closed down, poof gone. And with this shift, there has been a very sad lack of understanding that art and science are not opposing forces, but one in the same, with art being emotional, and science being logical sides of the same coin. Science programs today are void of art and creativity, and we are seeing this as graduates enter the workforce, unable to think creatively or produce new things.
Einstein spoke a lot on the unification of art and science, and there are some beautiful words strung together amidst some variables and equations. The opposite is also true though, art also relies on science. Artists use measurements, angles, anatomy, color, technique, they are not mutually exclusive hemispheres of the brain, and seeing them this way has caused anthropology to fit… nowhere. But I think as we move forward, these ideas will continue to grow together in a technological society that is liberated enough to appreciate art.
(NOTE: I learned this the other day, and I’m sure plenty of people have thought about it, but I had never made the straight connection: they are called liberal arts degrees and disciplines because they are those that can only be utilized and appreciated by a liberated society. Without freedom, a writer cannot publish whatever they want, an artist cannot struggle on the fringes of society, and society alone cannot determine what is good. Therefore, the more liberated we are, the more prosperous and valuable our art is. Makes so much more sense now! But does it also go the other way? The more restricted and less free a society is, the more authentic an artist is?)
P.S. Fabian Oefner gets it.
2. Scientific Method vs. Anthropology
Anthropology doesn’t follow the scientific method because if you enter your research of an entire culture of human beings with a hypothesis, it is easy to manipulate data and fieldwork to prove a hypothesis is true, even if it may be entirely false. Biases are an anthropologist’s worst set back. Because anthropology does not follow the scientific method, which would risk the loss of all observations due to previous biases, it is often referred to as a “soft science” with more data-oriented sciences being deemed “hard science.”
However, this social stigma against observational science is derived from ideas of what anthropology is and how it differs from hard science. In Jake’s lab, they do an equal amount of observational sciences and experiments without hypothesis as I did in fieldwork. However, his results are measurable as “results,” while mine were measurable by data that required a little more creativity to understand and conclusions based on multiple sources and interpretations of data, rather than the straightforward and practically indisputable results of a well done lab report or experimental study that produces data, statistics, and measurable outcomes, not relationships, understanding, and connection to the larger world around us. Because of this, anthropology has come to be seen as unreliable, and in some cases, unnecessary.
3. Thanks Gov’ner
Florida Governor Rick Scott came forward during an interview to say that anthropology is unnecessary. His daughter studied anthropology…. So, Dad of the Year right there. But his ideology further illustrates the misunderstanding of what anthropology actually is – the ability to connect disciplines, and apply them to human interaction so that we can further understand a problem and develop a solution (also, people really don’t like him.
Here we are on a floating space rock; we have entered the proposed Anthropocene (Epoch of Humans), in which our globe is covered with about 8 billion humans, and a political figure head is saying that understanding these unique cultures and interactions of these humans in every aspect of the world is unnecessary?
This is the equivalent of saying “Oh, hey, our world has been overrun by robots, we are now their slaves, but you know, I really think engineering, mechanics, and robotics are overrated, we just don’t really need that many of them.” The only understanding I can really glean from this is that the Senator has no idea what anthropology is, and what it can do, and also that he likes the status quo, and fears that studying human interaction and influence will likely lead to big changes that will disrupt that status quo that he himself profits from. This sentiment is repeated throughout the sciences, and peer-reviewed journal world, so be prepared for the hate.
But actually, anthropological disciplines and uses have been skyrocketing. While a Master’s degree is basically useless in today’s market, other degrees in anthropology are growing a bit more valuable, with the 10-year-growth projection in the industry at a 19% increase by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Businesses are increasingly valuing individuals able to connect with their market. Because technology and social media are great, but they leave something to be desired in the personal-connection department, and our society is literally begging for connection. So we sell it to them. And anthropologists are really good at figuring out what the people want for businesses, a.k.a. corporate anthropology.
Okay, so that was a pretty bleak picture, but jobs in user experience research, market research, P.R., journalism, preparing for international meetings and events, and other international-based positions are looking for words like culture, and language skills, and connection, and network, on resumes to fill these empty seats, skills you get in, you guessed it, anthropology!
Also, Jake’s mom reminded us that the Baby-Boomers should start retiring soon, and then even more of these jobs will be open and waiting!
4. Specialists vs. Anthropologists
In a lot of research, anthropologists are combining and connecting information from multiple disciplines. They often call upon specialists to explain or provide data on larger specialized concepts. These specialists are taking their “hard” science and applying it to humanity, making their position that of an anthropologist, but they are often separated, by society and title, so that when an anthropologist publishes results, the data from the specialist is separated as “hard science” used to support the “soft science” of the anthropologist. Which not only takes away all of the hard work of both parties, but continues to disregard anthropology altogether. It credits the specialist only.
Which brings us to the other side of this situation, which is when an anthropologist publishes connections he or she made through research and literature review, only to be told that the conclusions are inadequate because there is no “hard” evidence. Again, this only credits the specialists providing the initial research and completely disregards the work of the anthropologist to understand correlations, patterns, observations, and other forms of data, while maintaining an open and unbiased perspective and understanding that correlation does not equal causation.
Sometimes, a specialist will be doing anthropology in their own research, applying their “hard” science to people, but he or she will avoid referencing their work as anthropological, for whatever reason. This leaves a lot of well-done anthropological research misclassified as its specialty science. Which also means that anthropologists (or, let’s be real, anthro students) have to be really good at finding research in other fields.
One time, I had to leaf through a biology and anatomy journal to find an article about social views of plastic surgery in China. But that’s okay, because I also learned a lot about how much I hate biology and anatomy journals! Just kidding, they’re not awful, but really, how many ways are there to draw a foot? (Jake says infinite…. Ugh, I googled it and I think he’s right. Stupid anatomy).
5. Complex (racist/ethnocentric and relatively recent) History
While anthropology isn’t really new, it is not a traditional science that was dappled with in the middle ages, because, well, there wasn’t really a need for it. Who cared why a culture on the other side of the planet held contests to see who could jump higher? Or that a small group of people somewhere really far away were mutating a plant on accident. Or that 20 miles south of your village lived a pack of hippogryphs.
No one. No one cared.
Because no one would ever see them, hear them, or smell them. Unless there was a big adventurous journey involved, or someone was eaten by said hippogryphs.
Cultural differences simply didn’t matter until humans started to trade on a global scale and the age of exploration commenced (also known as the age of my-way-is-better-than-yours). This means that anthropology’s history is not as long as say chemistry, and the little quips along the way (like alchemy) happened relatively recently, and racism was a bias embedded in anthropologists during this time.
Not that that is okay!
But, while today we can read the chemistry of alchemists and laugh and say “wow, they were so silly with their magic and elements to gold and philosopher’s stones,” because we assume that today we know more than they did then, when we read older anthropology, it feels more like: “oh…wow…that’s really racist… and stereotypical…this is really uncomfortable… wow, he just said all women are stupid, okay…oh, and everyone who isn’t white is stupid…oh wow this sucks…I’m just going to stop reading now.”
And this history of modernism in anthropology and the idea that an anthropologist can find a solid Truth is how a lot of society sees anthropology – that my opinion as an anthropologist will determine solid facts about your culture. However, through the post-modern era of the literature, which was also rough, that ideology has changed to a perspective of finding multiple truths (note the lower case t) that are not absolute, but based on observational and experiential data.
You can read about the history of anthropological schools of thought on the internet, in a class, or maybe I’ll write about it sometime, but for now, just know that anthropology has evolved into a much more complex understanding of human interaction and societies as a whole.
. . .
The understanding now is much more intricate, and for me, I understand it best like this:
In my brain, I have my own experiences that I have gone through. My brain stores these experiences for the future, to protect me against dangers, to find food again, to learn about the world and use the information later to my survival advantage. All of my judgements and understandings of the world are based on what I have experienced as a person – we are made to be judgmental, it’s how we survived and evolved in harsh environments, and how we are now able to experience both generational and social learning. But if I see another culture through this, I will superimpose all of my thoughts, opinions, and carefully experienced judgements onto my observations, which will flaw my understanding of my own observations.
So, I have a switch. If I am trying to perceive something as an anthropologist, I first have to flip this switch. I have to turn off all of my judgements, all of my perceptions, assumptions, thoughts, all of it. Off. And then I can see an observation more clearly. However, I must first be aware of my biases, experiences, and judgements and how I got them before I could turn them off.
So, this could easily dwindle into a conversation about philosophy and suffering, and even religion if you will, but, basically, we all suffer in many different ways, and we have to come to terms with our suffering and its repercussions on our mind and body (and probably soul) before we can even begin to comprehend or observe the sufferings and enlightenments of others. This may sound a bit preachy, but there is a reason phrases like “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes” are so prominent in so many cultures.
I would also argue an amendment to this phrase, to fit modern anthropology, so that it goes more like: Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, and after you have done this, still do not judge this man, only understand how his shoes are different than your shoes, and why you may each be suited to different paths and decisions because of this.
But, to do this, you have to understand your own shoes.
This is why most anthropologists would travel somewhere far away, to look at a culture that is extremely different from their own, as an outsider, because they would have no prior knowledge or biases of these people. This allows them to compare a completely unseen shoe without any prior knowledge, to their own cultures.
BUT, that seems a bit… wrong now, because, again, globalization and the internet have given us access to just about the entire globe. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, and that internet users are a very select population, but it is really hard to find a shoe you’ve never heard of before, that you’ve had NO interaction with or reference to. Even the most remote areas are getting recorded on Google Maps, and allegedly running off modern tourism with arrows (can you blame them?).
This idea of anthropology only working with such “unique” cultures also operates under the idea that far away cultures are strange and isolated and that makes them interesting. To me, the idea of going so far away to look at a strange place is now irrelevant. You can’t do it without making those people look stranger to your audience, and that is not what the world needs, nor the goal of anthropology.
I had an amazing professor who explained that the purpose of anthropology is to step out of your world and into a new one, to build connection, and overall, to deliver a message back to your own culture that makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange, creating an equality of perspectives that allows a pure connection of understanding.
So instead of a culture of my-way-is-better-that-yours, we begin to ask why do I even do X, and oh, that’s an interesting other way to do X, why do they do X that way?
Since we’re already talking about shoes, here’s an equally entrancing metaphor: why do [American] brides even wear a fancy white dress (generally) on their wedding day?
But check out some interesting other ways brides dress on their wedding day:
(NOTE: I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the fashion in this video, or how often traditional dress is worn in each country; especially because it seems that at the end of most K-dramas, “the girl” is wearing a short cute white dress that I personally associate more with “prom” than “wedding,” not a Hanbok (also, Eat Your Kimchi explain more realistically), BUT my friend recently married a Korean man and they had a traditional ceremony with his family, in which she did have a custom-made Hanbok given to her by his mom, so, there’s that.)
What I’m saying is that I really don’t think we have to go to faraway places, to study a “primitive” people and compare them to our current understanding of our own civilization. I think this is an old notion of anthropology, a stigma we still have to shake academically and socially. I think we can comment on our own cultures, on those we are somewhat familiar with, as long as we understand our biases, acknowledge them, and do our best to put them away and interpret around them. I think that is actually the most important part of anthropology and why it is so significant: we need connection and understanding in our world.
I think the Governor was right in that the travel-faraway-and-study-an-unknown-group-of-people kind of anthropology is becoming exceedingly unnecessary. We don’t need Indiana Jones or Lara Croft anymore (while we are all secretly hoping to be that awesome, statistics show that exactly 0% of us will ever get there…that’s a lie, no one has bothered with statistics about that specifically, *sigh* I suppose in that case, we can still hope/criticize their lack of anthropolizing (still not a word)).
We need people to understand the differences in the ever growing smaller groups of people. We need more people to be culture translators without agendas. We need people to go between groups, mediate understanding, find reason, and dispel ignorance. And these people are anthropologists, and they should be distributed through every industry, and represent different cultures (not just western ones). That is why we need anthropology.
So understanding yourself, where you came from, why you think the way you do, and asking these questions of others, is basically anthropology.
And we think everyone should be trying to think a little bit like this every day.
. . .
Really. Everyone should do this. Everyday.
Because at the center of racism, behind the history, and classism, and hatred, is ignorance. And behind every war and disagreement is misunderstanding and lack of compromise is also ignorance. Trying to understand why someone would do something, why they would value something different, is, I think, a human right, because otherwise, you operate under the assumptions of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, saying your culture is in the right in all things and others are wrong simply because you do not acknowledge or understand the differences.
Ignorance is not bliss, it is destruction.
But to educate ignorance, we have to set down our pride and establish an understanding of it. And this understanding, from my experience, goes both ways. We have to ask questions, all the time, even when they may be a little uncomfortable, an open mind goes a long way. However, I do believe it is also our individual responsibility to claim our own ignorance. Curiosity and ignorance are not the same thing, and there are many ways to ask questions and learn today, especially with the internet. We also have to be patient and offer answers to ignorant questions, not blame or attack or anger. Just truth, our truth. The questions we ask, we also have to feel comfortable answering from our own truths. In this way, we can trade understandings, safely; we can see each other’s shoes.
So every day, just for a couple minutes, I challenge you (and myself) to try and think about why you think something the way you do, or do something they way you do, or what habits you’ve formed throughout you life because of interactions or expectations you’ve had and formed over time. What experience made you who you are, good and bad. And slowly, as you find more answers, ask these questions of others in your life.
It is hard. Jake and I do it to each other all the time, and sometimes the other person has answers about you that you’re not ready to hear yet, or they call you out for applying your judgements when you’re already having a bad day, and just wanted to vent. But just starting to think like an anthropologist can begin connecting the world in more than economics and (hopefully) climate change efforts.
. . .
So what ideas do you have about anthropology as an art or science, as a part of society; do you think it’s necessary? What observations have you noticed about yourself? What patterns have you seen in your own culture and what do you think they mean?
Let us know in the comments!