Is There Really Always Room for Jell-O?

 

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Maybe not so much.
With five straight years of sharply declining sales, the media are having a field day with punny headlines:
Jello-O Sales Just Can’t Seem to Solidify (San Jose Mercury News); Jell-O Can’t Stop Slippery Sales Slide (ABC News); Jell-O Losing Its Jiggle? (WCVB Boston); and J-E-L-L-O needing H-E-L-P (Illinois Herald-Review).

By all rights we should be living in a golden age of Jell-O.
It’s a most modest indulgence, inexpensive and fat-free. It has a nostalgic earnestness, evoking memories of tonsillectomies and Mom’s bridge club, but it can also play the irony card as an amusingly kitschy party dish, all retro-cool atop a Mid Century Modern chrome and glass table. It has a versatility that’s well-suited to our unstructured, small plates style of dining—it can be a cocktail, a salad, or a dessert.

It’s kitchen magic that can be a liquid, a solid or somewhere in between, which should appeal to fans of the modernist style of molecular gastronomy. It’s tailor-made for the DIY homesteader—you can use it as finger paint or hair dye; as a powder it will deodorize the cat’s litter box, and as a paste it’s a household cleanser. It even has off-label uses like Jell-O shots and Jell-O wrestling, and provides timeless entertainment to office pranksters who never fail to be amused by gelatin-encased staplers and cell phones. Plus, it wiggles.
So why is Greek yogurt kicking its flubbery butt?

Consumers are unwilling to forgive the nutritional transgressions of Jell-O.
We give a pass to bacon with its salt and fat and shady nitrates and nitrites; we are charmed by the sugar and white flour-dipped nostalgia of cupcakes; yet we judge Jell-O so harshly. It’s a wiggly, jiggly, gaudy mass of refined sugars, artificial colors, and flavor additives and we just don’t trust it.
The next punny headline you read just might be R.I.P. to J-E-L-L-O.

Posted in diet, food business, food trends | Leave a comment

It’s Official—PBR is Over. Here’s Proof.

image via The Trademark Blog @ SchwimmerLegal.com

image via The Trademark Blog @ SchwimmerLegal.com

 

If you were born much before 1980, Pabst Blue Ribbon is–
an unremarkable, 170-year old beer; a blue collar favorite that all but disappeared in the 1980′s flood of status imports like Heineken, Molson, and Beck’s. 
If you were born any later–
you know it affectionately as PBR; a no-frills heritage brand that’s become the unbearably hip quaff of choice for young urbanites. Once embraced for its anti-establishment, downscale chic, PBR has achieved mainstream success.

All signs point to peak PBR.
In a scholarly study titled What Makes Things Cool? published by The University of Chicago Press, co-author Dr. Margaret Campbell of the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business (who coined the phrase ‘peak PBR’) traces Pabst Blue Ribbon’s popularity to a calculated association with the nonconformist counterculturalism of hipsters. She asserts that mainstream acceptance robs the brand of its appeal, first driving out the hipsters, and eventually the second wave of adapters will follow. Evidence of a first wave retreat comes from the merchant number-crunchers at Locu who mapped hipster migration patterns and correlated those to frequency of PBR’s appearance on area menus. The PBR strongholds are no longer the hipster hoods; instead the maps light up around college campuses where the drinkers are younger and less edgy—more frat boys than bicycle messengers.

Of course anyone who pays attention to these things already knows that there’s very little left of the brand’s early, scruffy authenticity.
Four years ago, food industry magnate Dean Metropoulos bought Pabst Brewing and granted control to his two sons, then best known for buying Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner’s former Los Angeles mansion (Daren) and appearing as the self-designated ‘youngest tycoon in the world’ on an MTV reality series (Evan). The brothers promptly moved the headquarters from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, jacked up prices, and shed most of the company’s management team.

The most stunning change was firing the advertising and marketing agency that had engineered the PBR comeback. 
The brand’s resurrection is now the stuff of legend. The agency orchestrated a stealthy campaign that the New York Times dubbed The Marketing of No Marketing with none of the traditional trappings of beer promotions—no Super Bowl spots, NASCAR banners, busty barmaids, or celebrities. In their place were small-scale sponsored events aimed at an alternative crowd—bike polo tournaments, art gallery openings, film screenings, and indie book releases; the sponsorship always seemed like an afterthought with no signs or trinket giveaways or glad-handing executives in from Pabst’s corporate offices.

Since 2010, promotions have moved beyond the shaggy dive bar crowd.
There are splashy new sponsorship deals with car races and music festivals, and the company is none too shy about self-promotional signage and banners, and there are always plenty of key ring and beer cozy giveaways. Logo-emblazoned tee shirts can now be found everywhere from Urban Outfitters to Sears, and the merchandising group has
 licensed some very unhipsterish new items like polyester cowboy hats, golf bags, and surfer gear, some of which made it into the celebrity swag bags at this year’s Country Music Association Awards.

Trouble seems to be brewing for PBR as hipsters flee.
Growth has stalled, despite a robust PBR infrastructure built by pioneering urban dwellers. Never a good sign, PBR hater sites have sprung up, while the parody industry has fired off video clips and spoofs coming from The Simpsons, filmmaker David Lynch, and a whole channel of unknowns who mock the PBR mystique on Funny or Die.

Is there hope for PBR now that its coolness quotient has plummeted?
Not according to Refinery 29, the arbiter of all things hip, with a recently titled post PBR is Officially Over.
And if you still need further proof of its demise, look to the Metropoulos boys who are already planning the second coming of Ballantine.

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food business, food trends | Leave a comment

From Food Blogger to Cookbook Author

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

It’s the brass ring, the golden ticket, and the winning lottery numbers all rolled into one.    
Not every food blogger wants a cookbook deal, but it’s always a win when a publisher comes calling.

It’s been a long and lonely slog.
Sometimes blogging can seem so pointless. Even when readership is significant and loyal, it’s just one more blog among the thousands. At some point every blogger wonders if anyone would notice if they just packed it in. There are plenty of bloggers out there that are ready to take your place in readers’ mailboxes and news feeds. Would you even be missed?

A book deal screams, Don’t stop!    
It validates all the bathrobe-clad hours at the keyboard. Readers don’t just like you—they want more. And a cookbook deal—that means that your recipes are coming to life in readers’ kitchens. Somehow, your blog has convinced a publisher that the public is even willing to shell out good money for your culinary musings. Go ahead and pinch yourself.

Here are the latest winners of the blog-to-cookbook sweepstakes.
They all come from longtime bloggers with 2014 release dates.

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Thug Kitchen explodes the myth of the mild-mannered vegan with a kick to your narrow dietary minded ass. The cookbook irreverently blends a penchant for profanity (motto: eat like you give a f**k) with recipes like lime-cauliflower tacos and pumpkin chili. 

 

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The Kitchn began life as the food blog from Apartment Therapy, a home decorating and lifestyle blog, but has gone on to attract its own audience of 14 million visitors a month. Appropriately, The Kitchn Cookbook is equally devoted to recipes and to something the authors re calling a handbook to a happy kitchen.

 

100DaysRealFoodLogoThere’s a popular notion that you can achieve just about anything if you give it 100 days of effort. Sites like 100 Day Challenge and Give It 100 share tales of people learning a musical instrument, climbing Everest, hitting home runs, and becoming debt-free, all from three months of practice, discipline, and accountability. Now we have the 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook , which tells the story (with recipes) of one family that took a three-month pledge that transformed their relationship with food by giving up white flour, white sugar, and anything packaged and processed with more than five ingredients.

The Skinnytaste Cookbook- Light on Calories, Big on Flavor

 

When The Skinny Taste began in 2006, the blog’s creator was experimenting with dishes that would help her lose a few pre-wedding pounds. Fans of the site rave about its appealing, low-fat riffs on typically high-fat dishes like pizza and cheesy baked pastas, and rigorous recipe testing that guarantees success in home kitchens. This fall’s cookbook is mostly new recipes plus a few favorites from the blog.

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Not everyone waits for a publisher. The creator of The Yellow Table blog went the self-publishing route, funding her dinner party cookbook through an over-subscribed Kickstarter campaign—$16,000 beyond her $50,000 goal. She documented the entire process of creating the Yellow Table Cookbook through a five-month blog series called The Cookbook Diaries.

And vice versa 
Check out Delicious Days’ list of food writers and cookbook authors who followed up a publishing career by starting a food blog.

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Top 10 Food Scenes: not just the usual suspects.

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What defines a great food scene?
Is it a cluster of big name chefs and world-class restaurateurs? A distinct regional cuisine? The diverse offerings of authentic ethnic enclaves?

The definition is changing.
We still have our celebrated food meccas like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco with countless options and Michelin stars, but America’s towns and small cities are proving that you don’t need vast offerings and high-end restaurants. Instead, what they have is communities of concerned farmers and talented food artisans, passionate and discerning food lovers, and a deep-rooted, indigenous food culture that adds authenticity and meaning to the experience.

These communities give rise to clusters of second tier restaurants. The cooking can be just as refined and inventive as anything you’ll find in their better-known, big-city counterparts, but they’re the kind of restaurants that are opened by independent chef-owners rather than investor consortiums. There’s no publicist garnering national press and pushing these restaurants onto top 10 lists. You don’t go there to add a notch to your foodie belt; you go there to eat well.

Sperling’s BestPlaces, a research firm that produces city rankings, crunched the numbers to come up with a list of America’s Top Cities for Foodies
The list ignores the ratings and emphasizes the food culture by counting up specialty food markets, cookware shops, wine bars, craft breweries, and farm markets, and the ratio of local ownership to chain franchised food outletsIt leveled the playing field for small cities by leaning heavily on density data rather than sheer volume. By Sperling’s measure the ten best ‘foodie’ cultures are found in:

1.Santa Rosa/Napa, California
2.Portland, Oregon
3.Burlington, Vermont
4.Portland, Maine
5.San Francisco, California
6.Providence, Rhode Island
7.Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts
8.Seattle, Washington
9.Santa Fe, New Mexico
10.Santa Barbara, California

 

 

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Plenty of Giga-Bites at Supper Clubs for Tech Luminaries

 

secret handshake (members only)  via Pragmatic Obots Unite

secret handshake (members only) via Pragmatic Obots Unite

 

The tech elite meet to eat at power supper clubs.
Last week’s inaugural gathering of the Silicon Alley Supper Club drew tech influencers from the New York offices of Google, CNN, Studio Industries, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Mashable, Kottke.org, It’s On Me, Krux, Food + Tech Connect, Tech Cocktail, ThriveMenu, and Blue Apron. It joins the ecommerce-oriented CEO Supper Club and the ultra-exclusive outings held by the west coast’s Silicon Valley Supper Club.

They’re the latest in a long line of exclusive and often secret societies favored by each era’s masters of the universe.
From Freemasons and Opus Dei to college fraternities and the TED conferences, like-minded individuals of similar calibre have always gathered for social discourse, mentorship, philanthropy, or to conduct their business in darkened back rooms and exert a mysterious influence on our culture. In the case of the tech leaders’ supper clubs, they also gather to eat.

Think Skull and Bones without the ivy, or Bilderberg without the conspiracy theories.
These are tech events without an online presence. There are no Facebook pages for these clubs. You can’t make your reservations through Open Table and you won’t find mentions in the attendees’ Twitter feeds. Most hush-hush of the new-school supper clubs is the Silicon Valley group. It’s a who’s who of Palo Alto’s power elite where Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Apple SVP Jony Ive, PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, and SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg have all been seated around a single table. These should be headline-making assemblages, and they’ve been holding them about once a month for years, yet there’s no social media trail.

The new supper clubs are unique among secret societies in their singular devotion to good eating.
There’s synergy and symmetry between food and technology. They’re the twin cultural pillars of the New York and Bay Area communities where so many startups are incubate. They’re the twin preoccupations of today’s diverse and well-educated workforce, and the signature perk of employment in the tech sector.
Even Alice Waters tweets.

The supper clubs have convened in venues both posh and homey.
Food met technology at The Silicon Alley kickoff where Los Angeles and New York chefs collaborated on a dumpling and crudo event held in the offices of
  The Daily Meal, and the Silicon Valley group has gathered in a parking lot filled with food trucks, had drinks in the dugout and dinner in the locker room of AT&T Park, and trekked up to Wine Country for a blowout dinner at The French Laundry. 

You can grumble about the elitism of the supper clubs, or envy their privileged access to prized tables and chefs, but these are our leaders, visionaries, and innovators. They should be eating well. 

 

 

 

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Am I Getting Old or is Supermarket Music Getting Better?

image via Northrup Cener at Iniversity of Minnesota

image via Northrup Center at the University of Minnesota

 

The standard easy listening mix of Kenny Rogers and vintage Doobie Brothers always felt like I was being held hostage in a dentist’s waiting room. But not lately. While no one’s going to mistake the deli counter for a DJ booth, the music has gotten decidedly hipper. A recent shopping trip yielded a little Major Lazer, a Warpaint track, and a David Bowie remix tucked between the Whitney Houston and post-Aja Steely Dan.
Who do they think is shopping in my neighborhood supermarket?

Background music can define the experience and influence purchases.
A slow tempo will slow down your trek through the aisles, and if it’s classical you’ll end up spending more. French music gives a boost to the wine department and loud music brings shoppers to the checkout lanes. When a store plays the wrong mix of tunes, customers will over-estimate the amount of time they’ve spent on shopping. But of course right or wrong depends on who’s listening.

There are four generations all pushing shopping carts through the same aisles.
The Millennials, born between 1982 and the early 2000′s, are now reaching the age of paychecks and shopping lists. 
They follow the solidly adult Gen Xers, born between 1961 and 1981, the middle-aged Baby Boomers, and the retired seniors known as the Silent Generation.

As an added twist, life stages are not as linear as they used to be.
Life stage and generation used to be pretty much the same thing. Milestones like marriage and buying a first home were fairly constant events that marketers could count on. Today you’ll find new parents in their 40′s and young adults still living at home long after the traditional age of household formation. Juice boxes and jars of prune juice, diapers and denture cream—they’re all commingling in shopping carts. There are spending differences between age groups, but they matter less than they used to.

Supermarkets brand themselves with their playlists. 
They know that store atmospherics matter, especially when it comes to differentiating themselves from the competition. Music is a fast, cheap, and flexible way for a store to distinguish its environment. But it’s a delicate balance: with so many generations in the shopping mix, the stores are challenged to find the right music mix. The trick is to appeal to one age group without alienating the other three.

My neighborhood supermarket has clearly put the Millennial Generation in its crosshairs.
I live in the big college town of Boston, with BU dorms just down the block from the market, so that comes as no surprise. How about you? Listen up. You’ll learn who’s shopping in your supermarket.

 

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Dining on Mars: The Reviews are In

Marstripadvisor

A NASA crew of simulated Mars-dwellers returned to Earth last week and they were pretty sick of the food.

This was the second of four planned HI-SEAS missions, an acronym for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. The space agency sent six volunteers to live for four months inside a mock Mars base camp atop the Mauna Loa volcano. It’s an isolated location at an elevation of approximately 8,200 feet above sea level with a Mars-like terrain, less the 3.711 m/s² gravity. The crew spent 120 days inside the 1,000 square foot geodesic dome exiting once each week in simulated spacesuits.

The missions are designed by NASA’s Human Research Program seeking insight into the quality of life issues that will keep astronauts happy and healthy on extended missions in space. Not surprisingly, food is a primary focus of the simulations.

Some surprising ingredients fill the HI-SEAS pantry.
To make the cut, foods need to be compact, shelf-stable, and require minimal water in preparation. Of course there was Tang and the expected space-food pouches of freeze-dried processed meals, but the crew also brought along things like pepperoni, crystallized ginger, dried shitake mushrooms, miso paste, polenta, truffle oil, and anchovies, all in the same form you’d find in an earth-bound kitchen.

Textured vegetable protein loaf again?
The HI-SEAS crews have learned a lot about menu fatigue. Eggs and cheese come in crystal or powdered form, and fruits and vegetables are sliced, diced, and freeze-dried. Most of their protein comes from meat analogs created out of soy, gluten, and multi-purpose textured vegetable protein, with names like chickenish and baconish.

The crews of both missions had a nearly universally complaint: textural monotony.
There are no chips to dip or carrot sticks to munch on, no juicy burgers or spare ribs to gnaw. Frying is forbidden and crumbs are discouraged in the dome where equipment and instruments can become filmed with grease or clogged with debris. Combined with all the preserved and processed ingredients, it adds up to 4 months with no crispy, crunchy, crackly, crustiness.

Food bloggers in space
The crew members of HI-SEAS2 share recipes, food pics, kitchen tours, and more on the HI-SEAS.org website.
The next simulated mission, HI-SEAS3, takes off in October and will run for eight months.

Posted in diversions, Science/Technology, Travel | Leave a comment

Show Me the Labels!

Quotation-Plato-food-knowledge-soul-Meetville-Quotes-48653

 

It’s been four years since the passage of the national menu labeling law. Where are the labels?

The law calls for the FDA to mandate calorie labels at “restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations.”
It seems straightforward enough. At the time of its passage the 
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg even hailed its simplicity and ease of implementation. But four years later the agency is still tinkering with the rules and dithering about the date by which restaurants must comply.

Lobbyists for the food service industry dedicated themselves to obstructing the law by nitpicking the language of a single phrase restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations.”
The bowling alley lobby (who knew?) successfully argued for an exclusion by focusing on the phrase “retail food establishment.” They can serve a full menu but they claim to be in the entertainment business. Ditto for the movie theater operators’ lobby, and places like Chuck E. Cheese and Dave and Busters. The pizza chains concede that they’re in the retail food business, but establishments? Their lobbyists argue for an exclusion from onsite menu labeling because so much of the business is takeout and delivery. The true establishment, they claim, is the customer’s home. Retailers like Target, Costco, and BJ’s want to wriggle out of compliance because of the verbiage “20 or more locations.” The retailers themselves have the requisite number of locations, but the in-store restaurants are often independent, and operated by small business owners.
Convenience stores, supermarkets, vending machine operators, and airlines have all found their own loopholes in the language.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the nation’s chain restaurants.
Earlier this week, the nutrition watchdogs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest announced the 2014 Xtreme Eating Awards—its annual survey of chain restaurants’ latest permutations of fat, calories, salt, and sugar. A few years ago, a 1,500 calorie entrée would elicit gasps from the judges; this year every single nominee topped 2,000 calories and a handful weighed in at more than 3,000. The ultimate ‘winner’ came from the perennial overachiever The Cheesecake Factory whose Bruléed French Toast is a gut-busting plate of sugar, butter, syrup, and custard-soaked bread clocking in with a full day’s worth of sodium, 3 days’ worth of sugar, and enough saturated fat to carry its eater through an entire workweek. It’s the rare dish where the side of bacon is the healthiest item on the plate.

It’s not like it’s named The Lo-Fat Cottage Cheese Factory.
Caveat emptor, right? No one goes there expecting health food. You could argue that chains like The Cheesecake Factory are just giving us what we want, and we’re a willing public with a taste for fats.

But is this really what we want?
Restaurants aren’t just delivering amped-up comfort food; they’re pushing ever harder at the boundaries of our taste and serving the results in eye-popping portions. Look at the dish that appears on The Cheescake Factory menu as Bow-Tie Pasta, Chicken, Mushrooms, Tomato, Pancetta, Peas and Caramelized Onions in a Roasted Garlic-Parmesan Cream Sauce. It sounds hearty, soothing, even indulgent with a bit of creamy garlic sauce, but you’d never guess that you’d have to eat five entrée-sized boxes of Stouffer’s frozen Classics Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo- each topped with a pat of butter!-to achieve the calorie and saturated fat equivalent. We shouldn’t have to guess.

This is a broken social contract. 
The Cheesecake Factory has every right to pile on the salt, fat, and sugar, and nobody is twisting our arms to eat there. But the abysmal nutritional standards and gargantuan portions are served up in the midst of America’s ever-worsening obesity crisis, and the food service industry is fighting tooth and nail to obstruct the stalled federal menu-labeling mandate. You can say that it’s beyond the scope of corporate responsibility to provide a solution to society’s ills, but corporate citizenship be damned; this is unconscionable.

Posted in food policy, health + diet, restaurants | Leave a comment

Celebrity Chefs Storm the Pet Food Aisle

 

fancy-feast-broths

 

Those new Fancy Feast Broths don’t look half bad.
Then again, they come from a chef who’s cooked in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, French Laundry, and El Bulli.
If you prefer you can feed your dog Pup Casserole from a five-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef nominee or take a course in kibble from a Le Cordon Bleu-trained culinary instructor. Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais is behind the stove at Purina, Rachael Ray has her Delish line of dog and cat food, and Thomas Keller sells Bouchon Bakery dog biscuits enriched with foie gras and chicken stock.
It’s the era of the pet food celebrity chef.

doggyicecreamWe’ve projected our foodie-isms onto our pets.
Pet food now comes in locally-sourced, seasonal, kosher, halal, organic, vegan, and slow food varieties. Specialty bakeries peddle treats like bacon macaroons and peanut butter pupcakes, while food trucks with punny names like Poochi Sushi and Mobile Muttballs roll through neighborhoods and downtown streets drawing four-legged foodies with cat meows and cow moos played over PA systems. Celebrity chefs for dogs—why not?

Chef-owned pets: a rarified breed.
What self-respecting cook can bring themselves to serve any old canned slop to a beloved pet when there’s a nice osso buco bubbling away on the stove? The Culinary Canine: Great Chefs Cook for Their Dogs – And So Can You! asked 30 top chefs to share recipes of their dogs’ favorite dishes. New York restaurateur/Iron Chef Anita Lo has a pair of Shih Tzus that sup on bluefish filet with roasted yams, peas, and bacon. The Today Show’s ‘Chef Harry’ Schwartz soothes his dog’s irritable bowel syndrome with oatmeal-’truffled’ pan-browned pork medallions. Bay Area Zagat favorite Alan Carlson serves his mixed-breed brined and smoked chickens and 72-hour braised short ribs; and a delicate small plate of poached chicken with blueberries is just right for the tiny Chihuahua owned by San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Dominique Crenn .

Let’s not forget that this is not really about our pets.
Chef-branded pet foods play into our own culinary sensibilities and fascination with celebrities. The fact is that dogs and cats have a mere fraction of our taste buds and very different sensory receptors. They’ll eat pretty much anything, from a pizza crust discarded on a filthy sidewalk to the used Tidy Cat in a litter box.  

 

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How to Survive the Imminent Global Kale Shortage

Got Kale? t-shirt available on Amazon

Got Kale? t-shirt available via Amazon

 

This time the threat of a kale famine is real.
Back in April we heard about a kale-specific, spray-resistant superbug. The devastating pest was rumored to have piggybacked on a Whole Foods delivery where it spread from Berkeley backyards to the rooftop farms of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We only relaxed when we noticed that the news broke on April 1st—it proved to be merely a clever April Fools Day prank from the editors over at BonAppétit.com.

Now we have top agricultural suppliers reporting that they’re running out of kale seeds, and it’s no joke. Seed breeders are tapped out and need about ninety days to replenish their stocks. The shortage will be felt first by farmers who will go three months with no new kale seedlings, and then this fall it will start to ripple through the food supply.

We have only ourselves to blame. 
A few short years ago, Pizza Hut was the single largest consumer of kale in the U.S., and they weren’t even serving it; it was treated as an inedible garnish used to decorate their salad bars. Today kale is on the menu of any restaurant worth its hand-harvested fleur de sel, and food manufacturers are tossing it into soups, chips, soft drinks, and even popsicles. In 2013, kale became so ubiquitous in the trendy quarters of Brooklyn that the New York Times proposed it as the borough’s official vegetable, and 257 sets of parents brought a bouncing baby boy named Kale home from the hospital. 

Kale is a true ‘superfood.’
It’s a low calorie, nutrient dense, brain-boosting, heart healthy, do-no-wrong vegetable. But it’s not the only one; it just seems to be the one with the best PR. The coming scarcity has food media and agri-prognosticators prowling farmers markets and produce aisles for another long-neglected root or tuber or leafy green that can be plucked from obscurity and readied for its close-up.

Grist is pulling for kelp.
Kelp is an extraordinary source of a iodine, an essential nutrient that’s missing from most every other food, and seaweed farms don’t use up resources like land or fresh  water.

NBC’s Today Show recently plugged amaranth. 
The health food crowd already knows that the seeds make for a potent grain; less well known are amaranth greens which are rich in iron, protein, and calcium.

Modern Farmer thinks we can learn to love prickly pear cactus.
It already grows like a weed in arid regions of the west and southwest and is loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Early studies also suggest that it can cure hangovers and may be an effective treatment for diabetes.

Zagat asks “Are Carrots the New Kale?”
Its many aggregated reviews point to a growing fan base among chefs and diners alike.

Prevention Magazine has high hopes for kalettes.
It’s a new hybrid vegetable that’s a cross between brussels sprouts and kale, and you’ll be seeing it everywhere by this winter. The combination takes kale’s potency down a notch, but there’s still plenty of powerful nutrition in the kalettes, and the little frilly little sprouts are more cook-friendly than big, unruly heads of kale.

There’s plenty of room at the table for another kale-like superfood.
The kale apocalypse is coming, but America’s next vegetable sweetheart is out there somewhere.

 

Posted in food knowledge, food trends | Leave a comment

Pizza-nomics

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There are three prices every true New Yorker tracks: rent, subway fare, and the price of a slice of pizza.
Rents are famously crazy, but pizza and subway rides are stabilized by an economic axiom known as the New York Pizza PrincipleThrough a strange and delicate interplay of metropolitan financial markets, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

Comparing apples and oranges seems easy next to pizza and subway rides.
To an outsider, the relationship might seem arbitrary, but not to a New Yorker. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

This economic law has held with remarkable precision since 1964, when either one could be had for 15 cents.
Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since. The parallel is all the more uncanny when you consider the intervening decades of transportation and street food turbulence. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system, and pizza parlors have battled low-carb diets, the gluten-free craze, and a food truck invasion. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to the ingredient costs of flour, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.

The Pizza Principle suggests that New York City residents should be bracing for a fare hike from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
According to Zagat’s Pizza Week survey, the average regional price of a slice is $2.96 while a single ride on the subway is lagging at just $2.50. Similar pizza price 
inflation has preceded every single subway fare adjustment since these things have been tracked.

New Yorkers looking for a bargain can use Cheazza, an app that hunts down cheap slices around town.

Wherever you are, he number-crunching app Pizza Slice Price lets you compare prices of slices, topping, and whole pies so you can find the best deal. 

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When Food is the Vacation

shop-food-festival

 

Let’s cut to the chase.
Sure, you can sit on a beach or breathe in the clean mountain air. You can tromp through museums and national parks, or get your thrills at a theme park. But you know that what you really look forward to on your vacation is the food.

What if the food is the vacation? 
Food and wine festivals are in season. Late summer and fall are prime time for culinary tourism. You can partake of local delicacies, attend a demonstration or masterclass, or rub shoulders with a celebrity chef. There are farm dinners, winemakers’ dinners, and festivals of food trucks. And it all takes place in the company of like-minded food lovers.

Delicious destinations:
There’s a celebration of Maine lobsterpersimmons in Indiana, Sheboygan bratwurst, and chiles in Santa Fe. Any region, any tastes: the toughest part is choosing. To help you decide:

Food Reference is a comprehensive list of events, expos, agricultural fairs, and food and beverage festivals, searchable by date, nation, or U.S. state. It currently lists 8,400 events in 128 countries.

The Big, World-Wide List of Festivals focuses on beer, wine, and spirits.

Eventbrite.com curates a listing of smaller food-related events like classes, workshops, lectures, tasting, and films, many geared toward food industry professionals.

For stay-cationersLocal Wine Events can find something closer to home.

 

 

 

Posted in diversions, Travel | Leave a comment

Great Moments in Bottled Water History

Some of us are old enough to think of bottled water as a recent phenomenon. We remember a time when water was something drunk straight from the tap, and we marvel at the $12 billion that’s now spent annually on this country’s bottled water habit. Here are some special moments from the decades-long journey, courtesy of the bottled water industry.

Perrier_bottle tall CROP

 

It’s the little green bottle that conquered America. So chic, so French, Perrier was introduced to this country in 1976, ushering in the modern era of bottled water.

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Evian, another French spring water, comes to the U.S. in 1978, marketed as a luxury brand with a premium price tag. The ah ha moment with the name comes soon after.

Aquafina

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Truly a Great Moment in Bottled Water History, PepsiCo begins a national rollout of Aquafina in 1994. Labeled with snow-capped mountains and the tagline Pure Water, Perfect Taste,” the bottles are filled with regular tap water that’s been filtered and purified. Aquafina goes on to become America’s top-selling brand of bottled water.

More of that American exceptionalism is on display as The Coca-Cola Company offers up Dasani, its own brand of processed tap water to compete with rival PepsiCo.

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pepsi_green-logo-532x355

Coca-Cola campaigns to reduce what it calls “tap water incidence.” In 2000, the company launches the H20No website (since removed) instructing restaurants workers in the art of upselling bottled beverages, and tried again in 2010 with a program called Cap the Tap.

In 2001, PepsiCo names a new division president of U.S. Beverages. She promises Wall Street that “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.”

 

brighthouse-concorse-mapAn undeniably Great Moment in Bottled Water History took place on September 15, 2007. It was also a big day for the 45,000 fans of University of Central Florida football who were attending the first home game in the school’s long-awaited and just completed stadium. Under the clear skies and 90°+ temperatures of a central Florida autumn, 78 people were treated for heat-related illnesses, 18 requiring hospitalization, as over-heated fans learned that their new $54 million stadium had been built without a single drinking water fountain.

 

ImWithStupid

After 4 billion or so years on Earth, water is finally declared ‘organic’ in 2011. Never mind that water is an inherently inorganic substance—it’s not alive and never was—Welsh bottler Llanllyr even claims extra purity because not only are their fields certified organic, but nuns have lived above the source for centuries. 

 

bolt-980x462PepsiCo tags water as the enemy in 2012′s brand-integrated mobile game, Bolt!. Treacherous water droplets hinder the progress of Olympic star Usain Bolt as he maneuvers through the popular game. Only Gatorade can help him win the race.

 

Conan-OBrien-Water-Tasting-Rays-Stark

 

In June, 2014, Los Angeles restaurant worker Mark Riese becomes the first ‘water sommelier’ on national television when he’s a guest on Conan O’Brian’s late night talk show.

 

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer market for bottled water. We buy 31 gallons for every person in America; that means we drink more bottled water than beer, milk, or fruit drinks—more than every other beverage except soda. We continue to make history.

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Lard Ass? Why, Thank You!

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

Saturated fat is back.
2014 will be the third consecutive year that Americans purchased more butter than margarine. We’re up to an average of 23 sticks of butter a year—a 40 year high but still a far cry from the 72-stick average of America in the 1920′s.

Butter’s decline can be traced to wartime shortages in the 1940′s. Margarine stepped into the void, bolstered by patriotism and specious advertising. It had already surpassed butter when the 1970′s brought a new barrage of health claims and anti-butter propaganda that bolstered margarine’s reputation and guaranteed its reign for four more decades.

Today we have a complete reversal in both nutritional science and consumer preferences.
The myth of fat-clogged arteries has been exploded, and Americans have a ferocious appetite for natural foods. Margarine has regained its pre-war identity as a cheap, generally disreputable product of inferior quality and flavor, and butter is back on top. But butter is not the only great fat that’s been misunderstood.

The health and dining trends that gave a boost to butter have also set the stage for a lard comeback.
Lard has spent decades in the culinary cellar. All animal fats got a bad rap, but lard was especially vilified. We recoiled from its fat profile, flinging epithets like lard ass and tub of lard. In fact, by any estimation, lard is a healthier fat than butter. It’s lower in saturated fat (40% to butter’s 60%), and it’s higher in the monounsaturated fats that seem to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL), and raise the good (HDL).

Lard’s flavor is completely neutral–not even a hint of pig–but oh, what it can do for food.
Deep fry with lard and your potatoes will be airy with a golden shatter; fried chicken emerges with a crunch that belies its perfectly moist interior. Lard-cooked beans and vegetables caress your mouth like velvet; tortillas are wondrously supple. Lard brings a surprising lightness to baked goods. Cookies have a crisp delicacy, and its contribution to the structure and texture of pie crusts is legendary.

Sometimes the right food arrives on the scene at just the right time. It’s looking like this is lard’s moment. 

 

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Posted in food knowledge, food trends, health + diet | Leave a comment

Man Crowdfunds $65,000 Bowl of Potato Salad

handout

 

No, you weren’t redirected to The Onion.
A few days ago, a Columbus, Ohio man launched a Kickstarter campaign with a modest $10 funding goal. He described the project simply as “I’m making potato salad. Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.” At $65,274 and counting, let’s just say that he can make any kind he damn well pleases.

Are you wondering why no one has tried this before?
Kickstarter potato salad couldn’t have happened without a recent rules change. Kickstarter streamlined the approval process with its new Launch Now option, and it eliminated a ban on ‘fund my life’ projects, although the site retains the right to shut down any active campaign it later deems unsuitable. And yes, this transition has opened the floodgates with dozens of newly launched, no-frills campaigns for things like a $20 batch of coleslaw, $12 bacon cupcakes, and a $3 pancake that’s sent through the mail.

Of course not everyone can expect to achieve potato salad levels of success.
That campaign had the good fortune to launch during the lull of a holiday weekend when a slow news day garnered it a little media attention, thousands of Facebook shares, and its own Twitter hashtag. It also happens to be a clever skewering of the Kickstarter sensibility that brought us projects like the world’s largest jockstrap, hand-knitted beards, and Grilled Cheese Jesus. The joke’s not on the thousands of people who have signed on to fund potato salad; they’re funding it so they can be in on the joke.

 

Posted in cyberculture, funny | 1 Comment

Instant Coffee is Still Big Business. Just not here.

 

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[Nescafé ads of the world  l-r:  India, Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Russia, China, Turkey]

Speed and convenience rule the day.
We love one-click online shopping, ATMs, and microwave popcorn. We want our videos to stream, our deliveries shipped overnight, and communications capped at 140 characters. But we’re willing to wait for a cup of coffee, because we know it’s worth it.

Instant coffee is still big business, but most of that business has shifted to traditional tea-drinking nations where they don’t really know from coffee.
Only 7% of Americans regularly drink instant coffee; in France it’s 4%, and in Italy it’s a mere 1%. Contrast that with countries like England, India, and China where the vast majority of coffee- as much as 90% in some areas- is made with powders, concentrates, and freeze-dried crumbles reconstituted in boiling water.

The instant coffee strongholds are concentrated in Africa, Asia, and Britain—places with deeply embedded tea cultures. They all have highly developed aesthetics and intricate social structures associated with tea drinking. Standards are exacting and  brewing technique is perfected over a lifetime.

Instant coffee first appeared in these tea cultures when it traveled the globe in the ration packs of US troops during World War Two. It was fairly nasty stuff—bitter and stale and made from cheap, low quality robusta beans rather than the more desirable arabica variety—but what did they know? It was modern and glamorous and exotic, and all you needed was a kettle and a cup. 

Instant coffee never prevailed in the U.S.
We invented it and we foisted it on the rest of the world, but few of us will touch the stuff. Our coffee traditions are deeply resonant—the grinding, the brewing, the taste, and aroma—and can be every bit as ritualized as tea ceremonies are in other countries. We demand speed and convenience from single-serve coffee makers and a Starbucks on every corner, but our connoisseurship has been rising steadily for decades, moving us further from the quality compromise of instant coffee. In other words, we know better. 

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You Had Me At Goodbye: Candy at the Cash Register

 

Toys R Us time for a temper tantrum

Toys R Us
a temper tantrum waiting to happen

Best Buy I just need a phone charger

Best Buy
this is not the phone charger aisle

Whole Foods somehow we expected better

Whole Foods
somehow we expected better

 

 

Staples I'm just here for the ink cartridges

Staples
but I’m just here for an ink cartridge

Trader Joes the checkout lines are long but there's always lots to see

Trader Joe’s
the checkout lines are long but there’s always lots to see

Bed Bath and Beyond I guess this is the beyond

Bed Bath and Beyond
I guess this is what they mean by ‘beyond’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the most valuable real estate in the whole damn store.
It’s just a few square feet by the cash registers, but every single customer is eventually funneled through the checkout lanes, and its merchandise is reachable by even the littlest of shoppers. Candy has always been a top seller for supermarkets, but in recent years it’s moved to the front of the store at specialty retailers like Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Babies R Us, and Sports Authority.

Most shoppers assiduously avoid the candy aisle.
Just 25% will even go there, and when they do, they linger for fewer than 30 seconds. But good intentions and self-restraint are no match for the extended captivity of the checkout lanes where 58% of shoppers buy candy at least once a month. We’re not talking about the chewing gum and mints that 63% pick up on a regular basis, but real candy like Kit Kat bars and Twizzlers and M&Ms.

Cigarettes are out; candy is in.
Retailers are going tobacco-free, following the lead of stores like Target and CVS, and where they’re not, municipal governments are imposing their own sales bans. Stores have leapt to 
fill the void left by cigarettes with expanded offerings of soda, chips, and especially candy. In the process we’ve traded one threat to public health for another.

The New England Journal of Medicine addresses the insidious nature of sugar consumption in the article Candy at the Cash Register — A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease. The authors takes retailers to task for the way they harness sophisticated marketing techniques to deliberately bypass our cognitive controls and steer us toward unhealthy impulse purchases. The authors contend that it’s not the candy itself, but its placement at cash registers that creates the risk factor, and argue that that moving candy to other store locations should be mandated as a service to public health. They say it’s just like safety requirements for window guards or balcony railings—we know it’s dangerous to go right to the edge, but sometimes we wander a little too close and need to be protected from our own limited capacities. 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in candy, health + diet, shopping | Leave a comment

Everyone Wants to Walk to the Coffee Shop

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Abbey Road via Apple (Parlophone)/EMI

Urbanologists call it The Great Inversion.
The last half century was spent fleeing the blight and density of cities. Now we want to go back. The jacuzzi-tubbed four-bedroom suburban spread doesn’t signal the success it once did. These days you’re a nobody if you can’t walk out the front door and get a latté.

It’s a cultural shift built on coffee.
77% of Americans say that walkability is a hugely important factor when they decide where to live. Most say that they would choose a small home with nearby amenities over a larger home where they have to drive everywhere. And the favored amenity isn’t schools, churches, parks, or movie theaters; it’s a café that’s within walking distance.

A premium coffee vendor is no small thing to a neighborhood.
It signals that a neighborhood has 
arrived, that it has economic vitality and cultural momentum that can continue to snowball into something greater. Realtors and civic associations even refer to this type of upswing as the ‘Starbucks Effect.’ And we’re not just talking about fuzzy, quality of life issues; there is usually a real increase in property values when a neighborhood acquires food-related amenities.

Walk Score rates the walkability of any home or business. It calculates a score from 0–100 for any address— 100 is a Walker’s Paradise and 0 is totally Car Dependent. The algorithm assigns points based on the nearby amenities, as well as factors like cul de sacs (not a walk-friendly feature) and block lengths (shorter is better). A car-free lifestyle becomes possible with a score upward of 80. A study conducted by CEOs for Cities uses Walk Scores to quantify the Starbucks Effect: it estimates that each point adds $3,000 to a home’s sales price.

What’s your Walk Score?
If you’ve ever lived in a highly walkable neighborhood, you already know what a beautiful thing it is. Walkable communities are happier, healthier, safer, cleaner, and greener.

See the Walk Scores of some well-known residences:
The Obama’s former Chicago home has a middling Walk Score of 71. The move to the White House got them into a home with the very robust score of 97.
The Brady Bunch ranch house had a Walk Score of 74; very respectable for the San Fernando Valley.
Monica’s lower Manhattan apartment on Friends scores an unbeatable 100 points.

 

 

Posted in coffee, community, home | Leave a comment

From Dot-Com to Dot-Whatever

image via Hypographia

image via Hypographia

 

The internet is too big to be contained by .com, .net, .org, and .gov.
The organization in charge of internet addresses is pushing a major expansion in domain name suffixes. Brands can now apply to own their own domain suffixes like .pepsi or .nike, and there will be keyword suffixes like .dating, .travel, and .football

For years we’ve been making do with just 22 suffixes, plus a few dozen country-specific ones like .uk  and .fr for Britain and France, but the floodgates have been thrown open. According to NetNames, thousands of new suffixes have been applied for, with nearly every large company in the U.S. and western Europe planning to transition within the next three years. There’s already a new universe of domains using Cyrillic, Arabic, and Chinese characters, and fierce competition has risen as Google, Amazon, and other online giants vie for prized suffixes like .book, .store, .app, and .cloud.

Côtes du Rhône, Napa Valley Chardonnay, Chateau d’Arsac-Margaux: to wine lovers, these names speak volumes.
The wine industry is very particular when it comes to labels—there are varietal names, vineyard names, winery estate names, and geographical appellations. They define grape varieties and winemaking practices, topography, climate, soil, traditional methods, and sourcing of ingredients. French wine labeling relies on a classification system that dates back to 1411. The evolving standards for American wine regions are newer but no less critical to the industry’s integrity and economic success. The requirements link each bottle to a particular location where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, all of which speak to specific characteristics, production standards, and the quality of the product.

The new suffixes pit domaines against domains. 
On both sides of the Atlantic, winemakers are fighting to keep out new domain name suffixes 
and vow to boycott them if they’re issued. They fear that the new domain names will open the door to misrepresentation, fraud, and counterfeiting. Think of Champagne versus the world of lesser sparkling wines: everything from pruning to vineyard yields to the degree of pressing to release dates has been codified. The Champagne label has been legally protected for centuries, extending into more than 70 countries and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. But those legal protections don’t extend to internet governance, so pretty much anyone with the requisite $185,000 purchase price can go out and register the domain name suffix and affix it to any old bottle of fizzy plonk. 

The names and reputations of the world’s great wine regions and varietals might be priceless, but unscrupulous cyber-squatters will no doubt test the limits.
They’re lining up to buy the most illustrious and treasured of the appellations. They expect to ‘flip’ them for profit to legitimate wine industry constituents, or hold them and extort usage fees. 

What’s in a domaine name?
History, terroir, reputation, quality.
What’s not in a domain name?
Transparency, accountability, oversight, legal protection, global international agreement.

Learn about the new domains from the issuing agency: the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, cyberculture | Leave a comment

What’s The Pig Idea?

pig

image via oinksters.com

 

Before garbage disposals and Hefty trash bags; before street cleaners, incinerators, sanitation departments, and curb-side composting; we had pigs. 

Pigs are the original recycle bins, turning food waste into food.
Throughout history, rural families fed food scraps to the household pig, and villagers saved theirs for the local hog farmer. Even a city like New York had herds of free-roaming, designated trash pigs that cleaned the streets through most of the 19th century.
Now we’re hearing a new call to bring back the pigs.

Trash pigs can keep food waste out of landfills.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, we toss nearly as much food as we eat. Food now takes up more space in landfills than paper or plastic, and the gases released as food decomposes account for 16% of the methane emissions in the U.S.

Pigs are contributing to global hunger.
Pigs are currently fed crops that are fit for humans like wheat, corn, and soy, while at the same time a billion people go hungry every day. The United Nations estimates that by substituting food waste for just one-third of the grain in livestock feed, we would free up enough food to completely eliminate hunger on the planet.

Trash to swill to feed is a winning proposition on all sides.
Laws vary from state to state, but federal regulations require that recycled food discards containing meat or other animal products be boiled to prevent swine flu and other food-borne illnesses. Since restaurants, supermarkets, and households all currently pay for waste disposal, we all benefit when processors take it off our hands for free. After its heat treatment, the processor makes a profit selling the clean waste to farmers, who are happy to pay less than they would for commercial feed. The meat itself is as safe and palatable as grain-fed, and in countries like Japan and Korea where similar systems are already in place, it’s even marketed at a premium as eco-pork, in recognition of the waste and greenhouse gas emissions it avoids.

There are already success stories in this country.
Rutgers University, with the third largest student dining operation in the country, has been diverting more than a ton of cafeteria discards a day to local farms for 15 years. Rhode Island is reviving its ambitious food-scrap collection program involving in-ground bins installed along driveways where local farmers make weekly curbside pickups. Even the MGM Grand Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip—no stranger to waste and excess—feeds 3,000 North Las Vegas hogs with the overflow of crab legs and prime rib from its casino buffet.

The United Nations is leading a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of food waste issues and facilitating cooperation across society’s producing and consuming sectors. Learn about why we create so much waste, why it matters for the planet, and what you can do to combat it at the UN-sponsored website: Think.Eat.Save.

 

Posted in food policy, sustainability | Leave a comment
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