Lectures for a New Year: Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce


Malcolm Gladwell is the author of iconic books including Blink and The Tipping Point. He has a formula for most of his work: find a core assumption about the world that everyone assumes is correct, then prove that the opposite is actually correct. (For example, in Blink one assumption was that rigorous, detailed study of something like a work of art would lead to the best determination of whether it was a forgery; but it turns out that the best forgery detectors in the world actually operate on gut instinct that happens in a flash...or do they? You see how this works.) This Gladwell Inversion makes for really interesting reading (I thought Blink was terrific), and when he tells anecdotes, it's riveting stuff -- the man is a veritable Teachable Moment Machine, full of stories that lead to lessons. To wrap up our week of TED Talks, here's my favorite Gladwell TED presentation.

In this talk from 2004, Gladwell talks about food. Yeah. Food. And it's frickin' amazing. Here is a 17-minute lecture crammed full of stories about the development of various foods (primarily spaghetti sauces, coffees, and mustards) and what that process of food design tells us about ourselves, our diversity as people, and what actually makes us happy. It's all about the work of Howard Moskowitz, a Psychophysicist who worked on tons of important mass-market foods.

Topics: Howard Moskowitz, looking for the perfect Diet Pepsi(s), zesty pickles, the relative merits of Ragu and Prego, a Dead Tomato's Society, the three classes of spaghetti sauces Americans like, the super-diversity of modern sauce, "the mind knows not what the tongue wants," Grey Poupon as an aspirational mustard, and how coffee clusters can make us happier.

For: everyone. Especially people who eat food.

Further Reading

This one's easy: Gladwell published an essay on this topic called The Ketchup Conundrum and it's online for free (as are lots of his articles -- his website is basically its own Long Reads treasure trove). And of course, there's the Gladwell Trifecta: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and Outliers: The Story of Success. If you're really into Gladwell, check out Malcolm Gladwell: Collected.


TED provides an interactive transcript as well as subtitles, downloads with subtitles, and so on.

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Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we'll check it out!