woman in early 20s wearing cooking apron poses in front of pink background

Learning about cultures through anthropology, food and journalism

Mixing anthropology, culinary arts and journalism is a recipe for success.

Specialized Journalism (Arts and Culture) (MA) student Olivia Dansky is proving it through her thesis project and personal experiences. Her desire to explore dishes and their relationships to historical culture events and contemporary social issues spurs from her unique educational background. 

Graduating from Washington University in St. Louis in 2018 with a degree in anthropology and a minor in marketing and writing, Dansky took a leave of absence her junior year to earn her diplôme de cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu in London.

“I've always really loved cooking and I was oscillating between history or English and then anthropology,” she said. “I loved the writing component to all three of those majors but I really liked how anthropology studied people and cultures.”

A year after graduation, Dansky started working for Dotdash Meredith, America's largest digital and print publisher, with brands including PEOPLE, Better Homes & Gardens, Allrecipes, and Real Simple. She started out as a test kitchen fellow and helped develop reader recipe submissions to submit for publication. 

She now lives in L.A. with her labradoodle Louis, named after St Louis, Mo., where she met her fiancé Jeff, and freelances as a recipe tester and developer for food publications. Her print and digital recipes have appeared in EatingWell, AllRecipes, Southern Living and Food & Wine, among other publications. 

women in early 20s wearing sunglasses poses with labradoodle puppy.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Dansky

Why did you choose your graduate studies in journalism at USC Annenberg? 

I always loved to write. Some people are really good at math and science, and some people are better at writing, and I've always been better at the writing component of things. It came naturally and then I really enjoyed my editorial internship at Sauce Magazine. After college, I graduated and moved to New York for a year where I worked at a food-focused public relations agency called Baltz & Company. I thought there would be a little more writing with that job, but that really wasn't the case. Even when I moved to Birmingham, AL., and started working for Dotdash Meredith I was developing recipes, but I didn't really have that many opportunities to write articles. 

I thought that going to graduate school could be a really great way for me to work on my writing skills, which I hadn't really worked on since I graduated in 2018, and to explore more of the journalism side of the food industry. USC Annenberg is one of the best journalism programs in the country. So it was just very fortuitous that my fiancé and I were moving to Los Angeles.

If you had to pick one dish that would describe you, what would it be?

Oh my gosh, that's a hard question. I mean, I don't know if it would describe me, but one of my favorite things to eat ever is oatmeal. I really love oats because you can make them however you want. You can make them savory or sweet and they can really go with whatever base you want. 

I loved testing for Food & Wine magazine. A lot of the recipes that show up in print for that magazine specifically are submitted by outside chefs. My job was to clean them up and make them a little easier for the home cook to manage. It was really cool because I got to work with ingredients and techniques that I'm not familiar with. I also developed a recipe for Real Simple a while back for a raspberry and honey marshmallow that was very fun to create. 

My thesis is going to be on porridge. I really want to look at porridges from across the globe and use my love for anthropology to study the people and cultures that have developed their own recipes. I'm hoping to speak with chefs from restaurants that I love, in cities that I've lived in, about their different porridges that they specialize in and some of the history behind the dishes.

How did culinary school prepare you for graduate school?

I'm very used to being on my feet all day long because in the test kitchen I was always standing or walking. This was the same for culinary school. So, it was a big adjustment for me to have to sit down during class time. Culinary school was a lot more dangerous, I came away with a few scratches and burns. Thankfully, that won’t be part of my educational experience anymore. But, I did learn how to work in a fast-paced environment and gained project management skills. 

What do you hope to do after you complete your graduate degree program? Is there a cookbook in your future?

That's the dream! I think it could be very cool. In my ideal world, I could be a freelance recipe tester and also write articles for publications like Bon Appétit or Eater. That way I could still be in the kitchen, but I would also be able to write. It would be very cool if I could write a book, but I think that is a far-off goal.