On Tuesday night, students, Tufts alumni and members of the community packed into Cohen Auditorium to hear a live recording of popular food podcast “The Sporkful” (2010 – present), created by Tufts alumnus Dan Pashman (A’99). He is also the author of the 2014 book “Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious” and hosts the Cooking Channel webseries “You’re Eating It Wrong” (2014 – present).
No experience, no problem: the origins of “The Sporkful”
Though he may now be well-known for his skills in the kitchen, a culinary career was not always in the cards for Pashman.
“I had never done anything in food before [I started ‘The Sporkful’], beyond waiting tables at Pizzeria Uno’s in Porter Square when I was at Tufts and later at Legal Sea Foods in Park Place [in Boston],” Pashman told the Daily in an email. “But I loved to eat.”
As an undergraduate, Pashman was involved in Tufts’ student-run radio station, WMFO, hosting a show called “After Hours with G Money and The Pash Man.” After graduating, Pashman continued to work in radio.
“I worked in news radio and news talk radio for many years, and for a variety of reasons, [but the] shows I worked on kept getting canceled,” he said.
Despite his lack of formal culinary experience, Pashman believed he had a unique way of looking at food — one that could work well in a podcast format.
“I started The Sporkful podcast independently, as a side project, in 2010,” he said. “I thought I had an idea for a way to talk about food that was really different — [which was] to obsess over the minutiae of eating everyday foods. The second episode [of ‘The Sporkful’] I spent 20 minutes talking about ice cubes — ideal surface-area-to-volume ratio, how fast you want them to melt, best and worst shapes, etc.”
“The Sporkful” now airs on WNYC and features a variety of famous guests, including Amy Sedaris, Rachel Maddow and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
According to WNYC’s website, “Each [episode of ‘The Sporkful’] covers a very specific issue, whether it’s the ideal shape for tortilla chips, best practices in butter-to-pancake application or barriers to structural integrity in sandwich engineering. We like to say, ‘It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters.'”
Live from Tufts
After a performance from all-male a cappella group the Beelzebubs, Pashman spoke with his advisor at Tufts, Robert Devigne, a professor in the Department of Political Science professor. They kept their conversation light, discussing, among other things, cherry picking foods from a shared snack mix at a party, pot luck dinners and how certain philosophers would feel about these practices.
Devigne included personal elements like how Pashman mixed up two philosophers on his midterm in Devigne’s class. The philosophical approach to food in a social context was a creative and interdisciplinary discussion which the crowd loved.
Devigne concluded that Rousseau would insist on a general agreement, in which the group chose between social harmony and cherry picking. If anyone violated this general will, the others would have the right to make the party member, who made the egregious mistake of cherry picking, spit up what they ate. John Stuart Mill would say that anyone at the party could eat what they desired as long as they weren’t harming anyone else. When asked what would happen if other members of the party don’t like the food being cherry picked (i.e. pretzels), Devigne responded by saying that they probably shouldn’t enter the social contract and have the right to emigrate, which was met with laughs from the audience. Devigne did mention a few philosophers, however, who wouldn’t have a problem with cherry picking. Friedrich Nietzsche of “God is dead” fame, he argued, would believe that all traditional manner of eating would eventually cease to exist and wouldn’t be bothered.
After an energetic performance by Tufts Bhangra, Pashman spoke to DJ Rekha, a DJ, musician and producer who put Bhangra music on the map in North America. They spoke about Diwali — “the festival of lights” — a Hindu festival that celebrates the fall harvest. Rekha and two members of Tufts Bhangra, Nayanika Kotagiri, a junior, and Suraj Shah, a sophomore, shared their favorite memories of Diwali. They mentioned spending time with family, great homemade traditional food, celebrating with friends and Rekha recalled playing poker with her family. This portion of the podcast provided a cultural approach to food. Rekha described her favorite dishes, including chicken and rice, and how she enjoyed both traditional Punjabi food and American staples like Chef Boyardee. She also spoke on the difficulties of having her values and goals differ from those of her parents, who weren’t particularly happy when she decided to become a DJ. The combination of Rekha’s dry, sarcastic sense of humor and Pashman’s animated character made for a different dynamic than his and Devigne’s, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
Before the last segment, Tufts’ Jewish acapella group, Shir Appeal, performed. Subsequently, Pashman spoke with comedian Myq Kaplan on a variety of topics, keeping the audience in constant laughter. Apparently, Kaplan changed his name to “Myq” when Prince changed his to “O(+>” and, after the latter was met with legal disputes, Kaplan decided to stick with it. That vignette pretty much encompasses the comedian’s personality. His quirky attitude jelled seamlessly with Pashman’s, and there was never a dull moment between the two. They argued about the definition of water: Pashman believes that carbonated water isn’t really water, while Kaplan thinks that that’s “unreasonable” (he refrained from using “crazy”). Pashman believes anything other than H2O can only be considered water if the additions were added naturally. It’s doubtful anyone in the audience has ever thought this hard about water, but they somhow made it an interesting ten-minute conversation. They went on to talk about Kaplan’s veganism and the ideal procedure for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Pashman and Kaplan engaged with each other naturally, ending the show on a high note.