Census Spices
Census Spices offers a new medium--the taste of spices--for understanding the US Census. The project creates a conversational space around Census design and how it shapes what we know about who we are and where we are from. By pairing food with neighborhood data, the spice mixes provide a shared sensory experience in which to talk about the places we come from and live, the ways in which we identify ourselves and others and the ways in which that is determined for us by the Census Bureau. Ingredients are selected based on a study of spices used in ethnic cuisines, supported by data collected from a recipe API. The census data integrates ancestry, ethnicity and race data sets. An essay published on NPR can be found here.

Census SpiceTasting from Hanna Kang-Brown on Vimeo.

I have made spice mixes for the 5 boroughs of NYC and the city as a whole from the 2010 Census and 2011 American Community Survey ancestry data. I've also made 1980 spice mixes for the same areas to get a taste of the change in demographics as well as Census reporting.

I used the Yummly API, Processing to process API data and analyze data, Terminal and Linux, a kitchen scale and spent many hours at Kalustyan's buying spices.

Much academic research and reading was done to understand the census, its history and design. I referred to this article constantly: Lee, Sharon M. 1993. "Racial Classifications in the U.S. Census: 1890-1990." Ethnic and Racial Studies 16 (1):75-94. Josh Begley's work, RaceBox.org, was a useful visual of the census forms from 1790 to the present. Ann Morning was invaluable to helping me understand and research the census. I visited these sites quite frequently for data and deciphering: OMB and American Fact Finder.

Data Analysis
I was lucky enough to partner with sociologist and researcher Jacob Kang-Brown for analysis and many provocative discussions about the best way to compile Census data for this project. He provided expert guidance regarding the data set and a summary of the process can be found here.

Other thoughts
I could see the spices being exhibited in a gallery, at a restaurant through a partnership or in specialty food shops and outdoor markets such as the Smorgasborg and the Brooklyn Flea. I would love to make this widely available for people to try at home and with their friends and experience new conversations and understandings of the Census, ethnicity and race and food.

I'll continue to work on making more spice mixes (such as different cities and exploring race as a whole i.e. "Latino"), honing my methodology, and analyzing and cleaning up data from the Yummly API to see what new insights it can lead to. I'd like to learn Python to do better text analysis. I'm particularly interested in getting access to raw input data to get at ways in which people identify themselves before it is recoded by the Census. That's the data we don't see and doesn't show up in publicly accessible databases.

This project builds one earlier work done called American Rubs. You can find more info here.

Many thanks to my chief collaborator, Jacob Kang-Brown. My trusted advisors gave me valuable critique and constant guidance: Jer Thorp, Marina Zurkow, Georgia Krantz, Danny Rosen. To my community and friends for making the blind tastings and coding challenges possible, especially Ann Chen, Francine Molina, Sarah Hallacher, Jeewon Kim, Mimi Yin. And to the lovely expert consultants on the Census and spices who were more than happy to help when I reached out to them: Ann Morning, Sociologist at NYU and Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boite a Epice.

Skils: Conceptual Thinking, Research, Data Visualization, Data Representation, Usability Testing, Tasting and Making, Graphic Design, Video, Interviewing, Synthesis, Iterative Design