In February, 2003, I sat down with Deborah Duchon in her office at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Good Eats fans know her
best as the Nutritional Anthropologist where AB usually
"introduces" her by saying that he's not a nutritional anthropologist,
but you are. She is not a character but an actual expert. She's employed
in the anthropology department at Georgia State University and specializes in,
you guessed it, Nutritional Anthropology.
|Mike Menninger: Ms. Duchon ...
Deborah Duchon: Yes, sir.
MM: ... I am not a journalist ...
MM: ... and I don't purport to be one. I've only done this twice before with
MM: So, I don't know how to be a journalist so I'm just going to ask you questions
DD: You have a journalist here.
MM: [to CC] Are you a journalist?
Cassie Carter: Journalism major.
MM: Okay. You can correct me.
[Tina Evans enters]
DD: [to TE] You want to sit in?
MM: You might learn something new.
TE: I might.
DD: She's watched Good Eats all of once.
DD: Oh, twice. Yeah. [tongue in cheek] These are big fans.
MM: I'll try and not ask too personal questions. I'll start with your background
DD: Probably wonder who's this person and what's she doing there.
MM: What's a nutritional anthropologist ... other than a character on the
DD: I'm not a character.
MM: [standing corrected] No you're not. No you're not.
DD: Actually, that's one of my pet peeves with the show is that Alton mixes
MM: Right. I want to get to that.
CC: Yeah. Everybody always asks about that.
MM: I want to get to that. Well, what can you tell us about Deborah Duchon?
DD: I'm from Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio. I went to Ohio University. And I went into
MM: [at this point I start the chronograph on my watch]
DD: Am I boring you already? [chuckles]
MM: No, I have to turn the tapes over in 45 minutes.
DD: Oh, okay. [laughs] I start talking and he watches his watch. "Uh, oh."
MM: [chuckling] No. No. I want to make sure I get it all.
DD: Um ... what was I saying? Okay. So, I came to school in anthropology. My
CC: [CC's phone goes off with the Good Eats theme] That was my phone. [grabs
DD: [chuckles] You ARE a fan.
CC: Hey, his [MM] does the same thing.
DD: You're kidding.
[they both laugh]
DD: Ok – ay! It's just a show, folks! [still laughing]
MM: You're right.
CC: You're right. It is.
DD: So, anyway. So, I was interested in how people use plants, specifically in
MM: The potato show, right. Walking down a road ... where was that?
DD: Up in Cherokee County somewhere. Somewhere beyond Canton. I don't
MM: Are you going to be in this next season ?
DD: Yeah, we're shooting now. I had a shoot last Thursday
(2.13.2003) as a
MM: What are some things that led you to be interested in botany and food?
DD: Not really. I thought botany must be the most boring topic in the world when
CC: I was in the library earlier going through your dissertation ...
DD: The Hmong?
CC: Yeah. How did you decide to go with the whole ‘black-nightshade' thing?
DD: Right. It was fascinating to me. I knew black-nightshade because, as
MM: I know what you've said on the potato show.
DD: Oh, okay. Well, my research has been a lot with Hmong refugees. The
MM: And how was it since I didn't know the outcome?
DD: Um, well, the next day I went back to their house and they had cooked it
DD: So, I ate a little bit and it was good. Yeah, a full serving, about half a cup.
CC: When I read that I was really shocked.
[DD and CC laugh]
DD: Because what it does, it has two effects. One thing that's interesting about
MM: So once you get it digested, it doesn't affect your nervous system or you
DD: After awhile ...
CC: You build up a tolerance for it.
DD: You build up a tolerance. And what I found is that some Hmong women use it
MM: So the Hmong person who didn't have that growing up and started eating
DD: It would have the same effect we do.
MM: ... same effect as you did. And do they have the reverse
effect in this
DD: I think a lot of refugees and immigrants do. I've heard Chinese people say ...
MM: Back to your growing up: are you a foodie or did you enjoy eating and
DD: Yeah, I loved eating and cooking.
MM: Do you still do that? Do you have a favorite classification of food or style
DD: Oh, gee ... um, I like to grill. I like making sauces.
MM: Do you have any influences in your life, a mother or grandmother or father?
DD: My mother was a really good cook. She still is. My mom's a great cook. She's
MM: Do you experiment with new recipes ...
DD: All the time.
MM: ... because of your research with ethnic foods?
DD: All the time. We like to go to different ethnic ... oh, a couple of months
MM: There's a lot here in Atlanta.
DD: Yeah, there is. We went up and down Buford Highway.
CC: Oh, yeah.
DD: We had breakfast at a Korean place and ended up with a late afternoon
MM: Yeah, that would be a nice tour of Atlanta.
CC: We could do that. Do a culinary tour of Atlanta.
DD: Well, actually, that was how we got the idea. It wasn't my idea. It was
MM: Do you find Atlanta growing more and more with [people from] other
DD: Oh, yeah. When I moved here 30 years ago, there were only 4 Chinese
MM: Do you have a new recent one that you've been to that you like?
DD: Mmm ... I can't really say that I have. The Buford Highway's Farmers market
CC: I live right close to there.
DD: Do you? That's my new toy, the Buford Highway Farmers Market. It has the
CC: Very nice.
DD: What were you saying Tina?
CC: They have a new one over in Union City.
DD: Oh, that's convenient. [laughs]
MM: Doing a little web research, I found that you started something called the
DD: The Wild Foods Forum? That was an outgrowth in my interest in wild foods.
MM: That's fine.
DD: But from that I started doing a lot of freelance writing which is nice: Mother
MM: [to CC] Do you have any other background questions you'd like to ask?
MM: Well, let's move to some of your education. You've already talked about
DD: It's really a thesis.
CC: Thesis. I always say that incorrectly when I don't think about it.
MM: ... you went to Ohio University ...
DD: Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
MM: ... in Athens, Ohio.
DD: And Georgia State.
MM: Well, some people would like to know what a Nutritional Anthropologist
DD: What is Nutritional Anthropology? [stands to get a book by the same title]
MM: And you wrote this?
DD: No, no, no. These are some of the big academicians.
MM: Now there are specific degrees in school for nutritional anthropology?
DD: You have to become an anthropologist and then as a specialty within
CC: What field work did you do beyond what you did for your thesis? Did you do
DD: To get a certificate?
CC: ... to get your certificate?
DD: No, I haven't.
CC: [incredulous] Really! Wow! That just makes me ... yeah!
DD: It's terrible.
CC: It's terrible but you know what? It just gives me hope. [laughs]
DD: It's a new field. And when something's new, they don't have a lot of rules
DD: ... what I don't do. [reading]
"Learning comes from reading and doing."
CC: You can't look at a society without looking at their food and nutrition, I think.
DD: Well, the old male anthropologists before women really got into anthropology
CC: Yeah, that's true.
DD: To them, food was trivial. Children were trivial. Women were trivial. All
DD: So if you look at old anthropology, give me a break. Society is
DD: Some men were interested in food. They talked about what they ate. But it
CC: It wasn't like to the depth that it is now.
MM: How that affects the culture and ...
DD: Right. It's only since the 70's when women got more involved in
Nutritional Anthropology: The study of the role of food in culture.
CC: That's good.
DD: Do you like that?
MM: That'll show up on somebody's search engine.
DD: [gets in real close to the microphone] Do you hear that?
"The role of food in
MM: Are there any schools that specialize in that area, more than others that
DD: No, there are no schools that specialize in it. What you would do if you
MM: If someone came here, like Cassie, would she come to you for nutritional
DD: As I'm not really faculty ... Now she ... [to CC] You could do an internship
CC: That's actually ... I've been thinking about doing that.
[we all chuckle]
DD: Yeah. Because a lot of times if a student is interested in something I
DD: And it's more fun.
CC: Oh, yeah.
DD: But I love working with students, too, so you could sign up with me to do an
CC: I don't know why they wouldn't.
DD: Well, they might already have somebody.
CC: They might.
DD: But I don't know.
CC: I doubt it though, because that's just a new program that they're developing
DD: The French Culinary Institute?
CC: The French Culinary Institute ...
DD: Where's that?
CC: ... in New York ...
CC: ... where Bobby Flay and Jacques Torres and Andrea Immer and all those
DD: Okay. Because I knew they had [it] at the New England Culinary Institute
MM: What do you do day to day here? You said a little bit [about it] here and
DD: Right now I'm working on another project—I've got a lot of projects going.
CC: Yeah, I was going to say turkey.
DD: Yeah, turkey.
CC: It's a good title. They need to put that as a subtitle after [the title] to
DD: Yeah. I'm thinking about making it something like, "The Wild Adventures of
CC: Something that's catchy.
DD: Yeah. They want something sexier and when I publish it's usually academic.
CC: You may have just opened yourself up for ... [unintelligible]
DD: I may have.
[We all chuckle.]
MM: You just went to Taiwan?
CC & DD: Thailand.
MM: Thailand. Excuse me. Is that something you can share, why you go there for
DD: I went there for a conference on ... It was The World Congress on Medicinal
MM: [reading] The Third World Congress on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants for
DD: In Chiang Mai.
MM: And you got a bag.
DD: I got a bag and a lot of stuff. Here's the program from it. [pulls out a huge
CC: Oh my goodness.
MM: So we're sitting here looking at a ... let's see ...
CC: How many pages is that. That's crazy.
MM: ... a 616 page program. Wow.
CC: That's a lot.
DD: It was a lot. It was a whole lot. It was really intense.
MM: Did you enjoy it?
DD: I loved it. It really changed my point of view on a lot of things. And it was
MM: You mentioned books. You're going to write one. Is that [book on your shelf
DD: That's a reader.
MM: Are there any other books that you would recommend?
DD: Not off the top of my head. This is a good one, though. I mean, it kind of
MM: "Anthropology of Food Nutrition" by S. L. Doshi. Okay. And this is other one
DD: Anthropology has a biocultural perspective and what we mean by that is
MM: How foods developed.
DD: Mmm, hmm. And if people are interested in that, they could also go from
MM: Are there any prominent nutritional anthropologists or, someone
DD: No, that's different, ethnography. Ethnography is writing about culture. I
MM: Okay. That's all right. The reason I ask some of these questions is that some
DD: That's wonderful. I'm glad to hear it.
MM: ... who want to read up on it ...
DD: I'm glad to hear it. Well, what I'll do is, I'll get that list and I'll send it to you
MM: Sure. That'd be great.
MM: You're welcome to pop by the message board and you could just post it
MM: Folks there would love for you to pop in and say hi.
DD: Oh, really? Okay.
MM: Well, the nice thing about our group—and I think Cassie can testify to this—is
MM: Holly's here in Atlanta and she was in culinary school but had to, uh ...
DD: Drop out.
CC: Yeah, for a bit.
MM: Stop for a bit and make some money. We're following her life. And Joseph
DD: What's the address again?
DD: I've checked it but I haven't checked it recently and I should have checked
MM: That's all right. And on the home page there's [a link] to the message board
TE: You've got fans?
CC: You have no idea how many people ... when I said I might be able to
DD: [chuckling] Really?
CC: I mean, it was crazy. Because everyone, if they could meet anybody from
DD: Really? Well, that's interesting.
CC: Because you two seem to be the most informative people that, really,
DD: Because the others are characters.
CC: Yeah, exactly.
DD: You and Shirley and they had a couple of people from the CDC.
MM: And a couple of other college experts.
DD: Well, I'm glad the people can tell the difference.
MM: Yes. Well, that's why when we saw your ‘daughter' for the first time, he
CC: The Nutritional Anthropologist in Training, I think is what the subtitle said.
DD: Well, the fourth season just got weird for him and I couldn't be on the show.
CC: What was her name?
DD: I don't know.
MM: Debbie Duchon.
DD: It was Debbie?
CC: Yeah, it was Debbie, wasn't it?
MM: Like she would name her daughter ...
DD: Like I would really name my daughter after myself? [laughs]
CC: It was a cool little segment when he actually had her sitting there and they
DD: But you know, he's created fictional characters and relatives for himself too.
DD: His sister and ...
CC: The brother.
DD: That's right. His evil brother and ...
CC: I have a whole family tree, as well.
DD: Oh, you do?
CC: Yes, he does. It's hilarious. It's absolutely hilarious.
MM: I used deductive reasoning.
DD: That's pretty funny.
CC: Because people will actually ask, "Does he really have a twin brother?"
MM: Oh, when I get that I just say, read the FAQ number ... whatever.
DD: Yeah, so he hasn't done anything to me that he didn't do to himself. But it was
MM: I think I was the first one to inform you because I wrote you ...
DD: I think you were.
MM: ... because I wrote you the first day after it aired I said,
"Hey, can you tell
DD: You were the one. "Tell us about your daughter." I have no daughter! [laughs]
MM: That you know of. [grinning] Wait.
[we all laugh]
DD: I would know. I would know.
MM: Do you have any anthropological influences that have really stuck out in
DD: Oh, Margaret Mead. I think everybody says that. But I used to read Margaret
MM: Not for me but just to know you better.
DD: Um, Gertz and Mary Douglas. I love Mary Douglas. What she writes about
DD: I love Seinfeld, because it's so anthropological.
[CC and MM laugh]
DD: There was one where they were at a party and somebody took one bite out
DD: If it had been sitting on the table that way it was fine. But it was sitting in
CC: [laughing] Like the "5 Second Rule."
DD: Yeah. Exactly, the "5 Second Rule."
CC: If it's on the ground for only 5 seconds ... [laughing]
DD: My brother says, "In my house, it's the 30 second rule."
[CC & MM laugh]
DD: So, I love Mary Douglas for that. I use it a lot of times. For instance, in
CC: Oh, they're not bad.
MM: And they're plentiful.
DD: And they're plentiful.
[something was said about eating bugs]
DD: But the protein in bugs is actually more digestible than the protein from beef.
DD: We probably evolved getting more protein from bugs than from huge animals
CC: It's taboo.
MM: I was thinking of maggots and stuff. But a cockroach ...
DD: Maggots are okay.
MM: I know. But I can picture a maggot better than a cockroach.
CC: I've had chocolate covered crickets before.
DD: Yeah. When I used to teach wild edibles, we would do things like eat
MM: What you're saying is that other cultures would probably do very well on
DD: Oh, do they?
CC: They probably would.
DD: Well, that's what they're doing is they're crossing boundaries.
(Continued on Next Page. Click NEXT below ---->)
Last Edited on 08/27/2010