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As 2008 nears end, I’ve set up an ambitious plan to conclude the year with my top 10 reasons to love hating cilantro. Today: The Esoteric Company

With my favorite shows now off the air on HBO (Sopranos, Six Feet Under) or in off-season (Big Love), I’ve found the need to dig deep into the realm of shows I didn’t watch when they originally aired but can easily score for free online, on-demand.

The Grey’s Anatomy period was a sad, but short, experiment in this genre: Emergency, patient has an explosive lodged in his arm and Dr. Meredith Grey must hold it place or everyone will die!–but there have been more rewarding examples. Friday Night Lights was pure joy and Arrested Development requires no further lauding than it’s already received–that show’s hilarious. But the O.C., co-starring Peter Gallager and his eyebrows (to off-quote Sarah Vowell) is a current guilty favorite. Like any self-respecting O.C. viewer, I watch not for Ryan and Marisa, but for Seth Cohen and his delicious adolescent, but preternatural brand of sarcasm.

No matter how stupid any episode’s given plot, no matter how much the writers insist on giving pretty but retarded at acting Mischa Barton lines, Seth Cohen gets you through and keeps you coming back.

But of course there are other characters on The O.C., like the requisite parents in any high school primetime soap, and less requisite ones like the parents of the requisite parents–enter Caleb Nichol, father to Seth Cohen’s mother, WASPY but witty Kirsten.


A mere 24 episodes into the first season–dammit I just learned Caleb dies in the second season, beware, the internet will tell you everything!–I can tell you that Caleb’s deep distaste for cilantro has come up in not one but two episodes. In both cases, this hate arises as Kirsten scrambles to prepare one kind of high-society party or other for her difficult tycoon of a dad. “No no, dad can’t take cilantro” she warns the cooks and caterers as if this pickiness were the very proof anyone watching needed that Caleb really is a powerful, particular man. “He’ll notice even the slightest amount,” she continues.

In 2003 when the show first aired, the season in question, season 1, stretched to May of ’04, cilantro had considerably less notoriety. The two leading blogs in cilantro hate, this one and that other one didn’t even exist! People weren’t as into food yet, though they were getting there, and I think this choice of herb (also suprisingly referenced in My So-Called Life) was meant to show just how classy yet have-it-his-way Caleb was, may he rest in peace (Though I really suspect one of the writers hates cilantro, but that’s neither here nor there).

Well, if Newport Beach’s richest, most powerful man is in my club of hate, I can’t quite say why, but I tell you I’m thrilled to have him, may he rest in peace. There’s a kind of existential allegiance in those moments, when you realize that fictional or not, there are people you have deep, deep connections to (in this case hating cilantro but it could be something less meaningful I suppose) that you never would have known about, had it not randomly come up.

I like to think there will be a time in my life when someone, perhaps a real life Orange County real estate mogul, perhaps a holy rollin’ Republican evangalist, and I will share a special bond when we realize, over passed canapes, that we share at least one thing, and because of that one thing, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, a spoken or unspoken understanding and connection otherwise lost will have been shared.

But until this person rears his hummer-driving head, it’s me, Caleb Nichol and the countless unknown of you out there…

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Look, if I could consult Alex Brands, General Biology Post-doc/Fellow at Lehigh University, on everything I would, but I can’t. Luckily, however, the man has plainly laid it out on the table when it comes to the cilantro hate gene myth. So, he doesn’t call it a myth, as such, but he does say that the gene’s existence has NOT been proven:

A google groups search confirms that you are not alone, as there are plenty of
testimonials from people to whom cilantro tastes like soap. There is no mention of
this in the Genetics textbooks I checked, and I did a PubMed search of the primary
research literature, but that came up empty. The short answer is: no one knows (if
they do, they haven’t told anyone)

So, Mr. Brands does go on to say the soap gene thing would be a reasonable hypothesis, but that given the current state of science funding in this country it will probably never be proven. So, while it might seem like the post-doc is favoring the idea that there is such a gene, in the end he’s unable to find any conclusive evidence that there actually is one. So, what he calls a reasonable hypothesis, I’ll call pure conjecture.

Or worse. It seems to me that people want to think there is such a gene. That they’re born with a condition that prohibits them from enjoying something, that being born with such a condition makes it not their fault and ok somehow. But I wonder, what’s so wrong about not liking everything? I mean, hating cilantro so much makes everything else taste so much better; it’s all about juxtaposition. So, really, not liking just one thing (albeit a thing that is f#$&ing everywhere) is a relatively small price to pay for being able to then like everything else more. I HATE cilantro, but I LOVE oysters.

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Someone Who Isn’t Erin: Love the blog, but can’t get behind hating cilantro.

Erin: Thanks!; I don’t care.

SWIE: But, don’t you think other people should hate cilantro, want them to hate cilantro?

Erin: No, that’s the folks over at ihatecilantro.com (a group I will not be joining in the foreseeable future; although I do find their efforts impressive, their mission is not my own (there’s nuance to cilantro hate)).

SWIE: Word. You know, I hear there’s a cilantro hate gene…

Erin: Really, I hadn’t heard that.

SWIE: Oh yeah, totally. This guy I know was telling me th.. [interrupts]

Erin: I was kidding. I hear that a lot. I’m suspect.

SWIE: Because you’re paranoid?

Erin: No, because we’ve isolated, what, 4 genes? And one of those genes hates cilantro?

SWIE: Huh?.!

In the coming week or so I seek to prove this hypothesis through some research. Stay tuned.


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