Census Data Used To Create BBQ Spice Mixtures For Each NYC Borough [Video]

Hanna Kang-Brown used the population breakdown to decide what flavors went into each of her five rubs.

Self-described interaction designer Hanna Kang-Brown is interested in data representation. Her work focuses on data that can sometimes seem daunting to the average person and creating a physical representation that allows the public to understand the data in a new way. Kang-Brown broke down the data provided by the US Census to create unique barbecue rubs and spice mixes that represents the racial and ethnic diversity of New York City’s five boroughs.

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Kang-Brown wanted to use a different sense, that of taste, to help understand the abundance of numerical data that the Census provides. She assigned each group of people a different spice flavoring – the Polish population was measured in paprika, Chinese people were ground ginger while the Arabic population were represented by sumac. She used figures from the Census to determine the spice ratio of each borough’s mix. In a tasting, Kang-Brown watched as people sampled the spice mix from Staten Island and immediately identified it as such because of the dominance of garlic powder (30%) that represented the Italian population. Her experiment caused people to question their presumptions and stereotypes about race and the flavors that may be associated with them.

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While some were offended that a class of people could be reduced to a spice, Kang-Brown found that an interesting discussion to come out of her rubs.

Eating is our most interactive activity, involving all five senses, and smell is closely linked with our memories. Pairing spices with race, ethnicity and ancestry data allowed people to experience that data more viscerally than a chart or a map could accomplish. It tapped into gut reactions, and best of all, it tasted good. It was amazing to see people of all backgrounds — friends, families, strangers— talking about race, identity and place with ease and pleasure.

Hanna Kang-Brown

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