Discover more from Search Engine with PJ Vogt
Why don't we eat people?
A question from a four-year-old.
Happy Friday Searchers,
Look, we answer the questions you ask. This was the question we got this week. I have nothing to explain, defend, or apologize for.
Sorry, we’re already off to a bad start.
This week’s episode
This week, a question from a four-year-old tips us into an investigation of one of our most fundamental taboos: cannibalism. With help from New Yorker food critic Hannah Goldfield and writer Kelefa Sanneh.
Once you’ve listened to the episode, listen to this short audio clip. Otto’s parents relayed the information in the episode to him. Here’s an audio clip of him explaining it back.
Search Engine with PJ Vogt is a listener-supported project. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Links for the delicious, non-human food we mentioned on the show
Again, these are NOT PAID ENDORSEMENTS, we have just decided that it’s fun to recommend things. The thinking here is two-fold.
One, is that a way you could think of the the show’s purpose, is that it’s supposed to be interesting and collect a bunch of attention. It just feels nice sometimes to direct that attention towards things we love which feel under-discovered in the world. Maybe that’s a tiny business, maybe that’s a habit, like taking a cold shower in the morning. It just feels good to tell you about nice things we’ve found.
Beyond that, the recommendation section means that we can put a little more show after our final ad break, so that we don’t have to interrupt the story as much. We don’t like interrupting the story at all!
Anyway. Our recommendations this week were the delicious vinegars of Tart Vinegar:
And the sublime pastries of Otway, here in Brooklyn. Look at those beauties:
If you end up in either place, please tell them Search Engine sent you. We’re trying to pivot to become cannibalism-curious food influencers.
Some show arcana for fellow radio genre nerds
With this week’s episode, we tried something a little different. In narrative audio, or podcasting, there’s a lot of different ways you can tell a story.
Oftentimes Search Engine episodes are structured in a form called a written-through two-way. A two-way is just a conversation between two people, like what you’d hear on Fresh Air or WTF. We call a two-way “written through” if the interview is periodically interrupted with writing. Last week, the story of the Wall Street Bull was told in that form.
There’s another form that Radiolab popularized, which they call a “brain dump.” The reporter absorbs a bunch of information and “brain-dumps” it to a host, or two hosts. The reporter typically works with an editor beforehand to try to organize and structure how they’ll tell the story. The hosts go into the conversation not knowing the plan and their questions may push the conversation in surprising directions. We used to do this a lot at Reply All except we called it a “dump” because we enjoyed being juvenile.
Today, Search Engine did a dump-style story. We haven’t done one of those yet, although we have another very fun one coming up.
I like a dump story, I made them for years. But the downside of the dump is that as a form, it’s not very hospitable to writing. Radio writing can offer a kind of control and ability to move between tones and feelings that I adore. And I think written stories offer a different pacing which I feel more drawn to in this season of my life.
I guess like anything artistic, it’s good to mix stuff up so you never feel like you’re in a cell of your own making. One day Search Engine will release its flute album.
Our goal this week was to tell some cannibalism stories but in a way that wasn’t too graphic. We wanted to stay light and float between ideas, which I think dumps are great for. Hence our choice. And our choice of Kelefa as a co-pilot, since he’s both funny and fun to talk to, but also has a mind that has about 17 million ideas in it.
My hope is that by giving you all this information, you don’t feel like I’m the waiter at the restaurant over-explaining where the grapes in the wine were born when you just want to have a glass of wine.
I don’t know. I think about radio a lot. If you have questions about radio form stuff, ask in the comments and I’ll try to jump in.
Future goodies for paid subscribers
We have some ideas we’re cooking up for our paid subscribers in 2024. Thanks to the people who came to our Q3 board meeting and offered their suggestions. We mention this in the episode, but the next thing we’re trying is in-person events. Someday we want to figure out the live version of Search Engine, but for now, we’re going to start small with a happy hour in NYC. More details about that soon.
The theory we’re testing here is that one of the benefits a podcast can offer its listeners is community. Community with other people who enjoy the show. If you’d like to sign up to be a paid subscriber, here’s where to do it.
A limitation I sometimes notice about the podcasting experience is that we make stories and put them on the internet for you (an audience), but there are very few opportunities for you, the audience, to meet each other, or even see each other.
So we want to see what it would be like to begin to remedy that.
Somebody mentioned to me that they appreciate how much research goes into our show. This week, our lead researcher was Shaan Merchant, who has been helping out over here. He gave editorial notes on the episode too. Thanks Shaan.
The show is often broadcast in my literal voice, but the ideas in the show represent a group of us thinking hard and working together. Thanks for listening, and for reading again this week.