Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
When Nicole Chung’s father died, she was still writing the story of her family and her adoption — the memoir was due to her editor just one day after she found out he was dead. Here she explores how both the book and the loss of her father pulled at the threads of their family, loosening some and tightening others. There’s something sinuously meta about this piece; she’s writing a story about writing a story that’s taking place while she’s, um, writing it. And also something remarkable about the gentleness and honesty with which she navigates that looping narrative.
Someone recently asked me how my dad’s funeral went, and I said, “It was beautiful. My mother was really happy with how it went. And my sister was there with me, which was so kind of her.” The person nodded, looking a little confused. Isn’t that obvious? their expression seemed to say. Of course your sister was there. “Oh,” I said, “no. She didn’t have to be there. We don’t have the same dad. Ah, but we do have the same parents.” They just kept looking at me, like, Sorry, you’ll have to give me a bit more.
It’s not easy to make statistical method scandalous, but Stephanie E. Lee achieves it with her story about Brian Wansink. Wansink is a rockstar of social science (if such a thing exists), head of the prestigious Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. He’s published dozens, if not hundreds, of studies in peer-reviewed journals, many of them headline-worthy. Turns out it’s not that hard to do newsworthy science, if you start with the headline and trim the data until they fit.
In 2012, Wansink, Payne, and Just published one of their most famous studies, which revealed an easy way of nudging kids into healthy eating choices. By decorating apples with stickers of Elmo from Sesame Street, they claimed, elementary school students could be swayed to pick the fruit over cookies at lunchtime. But back in September 2008, when Payne was looking over the data soon after it had been collected, he found no strong apples-and-Elmo link — at least not yet. “I have attached some initial results of the kid study to this message for your report,” Payne wrote to his collaborators. “Do not despair. It looks like stickers on fruit may work (with a bit more wizardry).”
Take May Eaton’s piece on baking behind bars with a grain of salt (no pun intended); in the prison experience she describes, contraband means stolen meats and bartered bananas. A missing stapler isn’t stolen for use as a weapon, just mis- or mischievously placed in a waste bin. Prisoners fabricate Faberge-like eggs as gifts.
That’s not to invalidate what she has to say about the persistence of the need to make, to create, even when freedom is limited in the most severe ways; her essay is both interesting and inspiring. But after you read Eaton, balance it out with Jerry Metcalfe’s first-person account of the life prison normalizes for most people held inside.
I still didn’t understand how a handful of ingredients could be turned into a pie that looked and tasted almost as good as one you’d find on the other side of the fence. The prisoner tapped his nose, reluctant to divulge a trade secret, before ego got the better of him. First, he explained, he had stripped the insulating cable on his hi-fi, using the exposed wire to “defibrillate” a can floating in a tub of water, instantly transforming condensed milk into dulce de leche. Pour the caramel over some crushed biscuits and top with mashed banana and you had banoffee pie.