And You Thought Tofurkey was as Weird as Thanksgiving Could Get

Just when we’re recovering from the fall onslaught of pumpkin spice flavored everything, here come the Thanksgiving flavors.

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Have the saddest Thanksgiving ever with the poultry version of everyone’s favorite block of porky luncheon meat.

 

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You won’t end up with a sink full of dirty dishes when you serve Thanksgiving dinner in a cone. Seasonal flavors from Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw ice cream shop include sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, hazelnut rosemary stuffing, and goat cheese pumpkin pie. The entrée scoop features fried turkey skin brittle in a base of turkey fat caramel.

medium_image-54662ffb4170701480030400-coalescedYou can replicate the entire feast in potato chips. Boulder Canyon Foods has a lineup that includes cranberry, stuffing, turkey and gravy, and pumpkin pie, all in chip form.

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New York’s Zucker Bakery doesn’t stop at a little pumpkin glaze for their Thanksgiving donuts. Try sweet potato with marshmallow or spiced pumpkin filled with gravy.

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Pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts make their annual appearance. Pumpkin appears too, if only as a trace (<2%) ingredient.

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Thanksgiving beverage pairing hasn’t been the same since the Jones Soda Company discontinued its legendary holiday pack. The assortment varied from year-to-war, but think green bean casserole, buttered mashed potato, and Turkey & Gravy, all rendered in sugary carbonation. There are readily available alternatives like Pinnacle‘s pumpkin pie vodka and the sweet potato lager from Fullsteam BreweryOr you can always order up another round of pumpkin spice lattés.

 

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Are You a Music-Nerd-Slash-Foodie?

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If you’re a music-nerd/foodie, it’s your golden age.
Restaurants are adding music directors who create musical pairings for the night’s list of menu specials, and British Airways now partners inflight meals with its Sound Bites music matching menu. There are pop ups like Covers, a kind of tribute band for the restaurant world, serving the signature dishes of well-known chefs, each paired with a cover version of a well known song. The bands and food booths are both headliners at festivals like San Francisco’s Outside Lands, Charleston’s Southern Ground, South Africa’s Delicious, and Maryland’s Sweet Life.

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We all know that a good meal is about more than just the plate of food in front of you. It’s also about the pleasure you take in the people you’re with, the buzz in the room, the atmosphere, and the ambiance. Music adds another sensory component, and the right music will complement the meal and elevate the whole dining experience.

Create your own soundtracks with these resources:

Supper is like a cookbook with mood music.
It’s a website and a Spotify app that combines recipes with enough harmonious tracks to carry you from cooking through dining. Well-known chefs, restaurateurs, and musicians collaborate on the selections like shrimp with tomato fricasee paired with Massive Attack and John Coltrane, and black rice-stuffed baby squash accompanied by Solange, Leonard Cohen, and Scissor Sisters. Are playlists becoming the new wine list?

The Recipe Project sings for its supper. 
It’s a book, a CD, an app, and a video, with contributions from top chefs, food writers, and musicians. It’s smart, with interviews and essays exploring the relationship between food and music. And it’s silly, with sing-along recipes set word-for-word to music. There’s a heavy metal octopus salad with black-eyed peas from Michael Symon, Chris Cosentino’s Beastie Boys-esque offal and eggs, and the classic rock of Tom Colicchio’s creamless creamed corn. Bonus tracks: David Chang shares a playlist he calls ‘Songs to Lose Customers by’.

Turntable Kitchen calls their service ‘a curated food and music discovery experience.’
A subscription to their Pairings Boxes brings monthly shipments, each with recipes, spices and other ingredients used in the recipes, a digital mixtape of new music, and a limited-edition vinyl album pressed by their own record label.

Mood magazine is a food and music quarterly organized around the notion that ‘not many things can beat a good record and a delicious meal.’
A recent relocation from Brussels to New York has served to beef up the US-focussed content, while still gathering stories from around the globe. The latest issue looks at Brooklyn’s fried chicken scene, visits a South African café owned by a local indie rock star, and travels to food and music festivals in Norway and Illinois.

The creator behind Musical Pairing has devised a mathematical system that’s supposed to identify the perfect song for every dish.
The system assigns a numerical value to a meal based on ingredients, flavor profile, and cooking method. It also looks at music, assigning a value based on instrumentation, tempo, beat, and genre. The supposition is that when the Food Pairing Number (FPN) is equal to the Musical Pairing Number (MPN), you’ve got your match.

 

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Detroit, Michigan: The New Back Forty

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There aren’t enough jobs, enough people, or enough tax revenue, but one thing Detroit has plenty of is vacant land.
The city is barely standing after decades of a free-falling economy, fruitless renewal efforts, and a local government that was feckless at best and more often corrupt. Two-thirds of Detroit’s residents streamed toward the exits, leaving 40 square miles of abandoned buildings and empty lots—a space equal to the entire city of Boston—that arson, bulldozers, and nature are transforming into a massive urban prairie.

Most people look to Detroit and see a ruined space prowled by looters and packs of wild dogs; some see a field of dreams.
Visionary citizens and a progressive administration are rehabbing and reshaping the city. To them it’s not blight but unplanned green space, and a prime test case for large-scale urban farming. Detroit has become the nation’s hub for advocates of urban agriculture and the shrinking cities movement that reimagines distressed, post-industrial cities as smaller metro cores surrounded by green belts of food production.

In April 2013, Detroit passed a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance that changed the way the city is zoned.
Urban zones traditionally fall into one of five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial, and special zones (school, hospital, airport, etc.). Zoning establishes dedicated land uses; the local government can regulate the activity but it also offers legal protections. Detroit’s ordinance established agriculture as an urban planning priority. It gave formal legal status to an array of land uses including community gardens, rainwater catches, and aquaculture, and permits even small, backyard gardeners to sell homegrown produce from their own farm stands.

The ordinance has been embraced by a public and private cross-section of the city.
Citizen groups like Be Black and Green and My Jewish Detroit have helped to establish the nearly 2,000 gardens flourishing in the city’s ethnic enclaves. More than 1,000 citizens volunteered at a spring planting day launching Hantz Farm, the world’s largest urban farm. The school district has converted one of the city’s many abandoned public schools into 27 acres of gardens to provide produce to its school cafeterias. Even the automakers have joined in with projects like the Cadillac Urban Gardens which has recycled and repurposed hundreds of steel shipping crates into raised-bed planters.

Detroit’s food activists are aiming for a food sovereign city.
That’s a lofty goal of 51% or more of the fresh foods consumed in Detroit to be grown by Detroiters within the city limits. It’s especially gutsy when you consider that just a few years ago Detroit was the poster child for urban food deserts, with fully half of its residents living without reasonable access to fresh groceries. Empty lot by empty lot, the city is transitioning there.

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A Device that Distills Coca-Cola into Clean Drinking Water

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The Real Thing is a Dutch art installation that challenges us to think about priorities within our consumerist culture.
The multidisciplinary artist Helmut Smits sought to make a statement about “a world in which drinking water can be harder to come by than Coca-Cola.” With input from the Synthetic Organic Chemistry group of the University of Amsterdam, he created a reverse osmosis filtration system that turns a bottle of Coke into a purified bottle of clean water.

Coca-Cola is everywhere.
The company likes to brag that it operates in more countries than the United Nations (200 to the UN’s 192). Coca-Cola’s network of bottlers is the world’s largest and most widespread production and distribution system. It’s estimated that 95% of the world’s population can identify an unlabeled Coke bottle just by its iconic (and patented) contoured shape.

Coca-Cola’s reach extends to even the dustiest little towns in the most remote regions of every continent. The residents might not have access to potable water, but they have Coke. They have Coke in drought-stricken regions of India, even though the production of a liter bottle of Coca-Cola can use up to nine liters of clean drinking water. They have Coke in impoverished regions of Africa, where Coca-Cola is the beverage of choice because it’s priced below the cost of clean water.

Coca-Cola has been trying to spruce up its image, championing various sustainability and community-building initiatives.
Critics see the effort as window dressing; a fleeting social commitment of convenience while billions continue to flow to advertising in developing countries.
The Real Thing installation reminds us that residents of the world’s poorest nations need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.

 

 

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Made With Conviction

image via The Justice Institutes

image via The Justice Institute

 

Forget about license plates.
Prison labor has been used to make everything from IKEA furniture to Victoria’s Secret lingerie. And of course there’s the inmate agricultural worker. We have an image of chain gangs working the fields under the watchful eye of guards on horseback—stereotypical but also historical truth. Mechanization put an end to most large-scale prison farms, but draconian immigration laws have created a new labor market for prisoners in the civilian agriculture and food-processing sectors, and prison-made foods are now a supermarket staple.

There’s a prison connection to much of what you eat.
Convicts have baked Sara Lee cakes and packed bags of Starbucks coffee beans. They make Louisiana hot sauce, lunchbox apple juice packs, and produce mozzarella for the world’s largest pizza supplier. Prisoners have even gone artisanal: they grow chardonnay and cabernet franc grapes for award-winning wine bottlers, produce raw milk goat cheeses for high-end cheese shops, and raise the tilapia sold at Whole Foods Markets.

The National Correctional Industries Association, which oversees partnerships between prisons and private companies, praises the prison-to-table movement for enabling inmates “to acquire marketable skills to increase their potential for successful rehabilitation and meaningful employment upon release.” Critics call it a thinly veiled return to slavery that displaces civilian workers while it exploits the poor and people of color who are disproportionately represented in prison populations.

Correctional institutions and their corporate partners are well-compensated through these arrangements.
The businesses are often paying pennies on the dollar of prevailing wages. They’re not paying benefits and aren’t held to the standards of civilian employers. Up to 80% of the wages can then be kept by the prison to cover the costs of incarceration. A full day’s labor might put a few dollars into a prisoner’s account, but the state can withhold those amounts for fines, court costs, and victim restitution.

What’s wrong with this picture?
Corporate responsibility, racism, social justice, corruption, immigration reform- take your pick.
But what do we make of cage-free egg producers who use prison labor?

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Fast Food in the Age of Transparency

 

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It’s not as nasty as you think. That’s the message of McDonald’s latest ad campaign.

McDonald’s knows it has a serious image problem. Obesity, pink slime, Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me—the decades of exposés, headlines, and scandals have taken their toll. Since they can’t advertise their food as fresh, or healthy, or natural, or environmentally friendly, the company decided to go with It’s really not that bad.

McDonald’s has gone on a transparency drive called Our Food. Your Questions. They’ve produced video vignettes and infographics that explain the production process behind some of their most mystifying menu items like McRibs and McNuggets to show how something not found in nature can end up on your lunch tray. They’ve hired a host from TV’s Mythbusters to debunk some of the more persistent rumors, like the viral video of an ancient burger, so packed with preservatives that it refused to rot.

At the heart of the campaign is the online forum where customers can get real-time answers to their questions.
It’s where you’ll learn that their beef contains growth hormones but no worms, and that NOT ALL of McDonald’s salads are more fattening than their burgers. Special attention is given to questions about the notorious ‘yoga mat’ chemical. Yes, the rubbery additive is baked into most of their buns and rolls, but the spokesperson gives us a new way to think about the link to yoga mats: it’s like sprinkling ice on sidewalks in the winter; you don’t go around saying that you season your food with a de-icer, now do you?

Our perceptions may be malleable, but McDonald’s is McDonald’s is McDonald’s.
The problem with McDonald’s form of transparency is its toothlessness. The food remains fundamentally unhealthy, employees aren’t paid a living wage, and suppliers practice inhumane and unsustainable forms of agriculture. The hamburger meat continues to be pumped full of antibiotics to combat the filth of the crowded factory farming feedlots, and the eggs come from chickens that lived out their lives in locked battery cages.

This new openness might make McDonald’s appear less sinister, but consumer confidence and trust won’t be rebuilt until the company commits to taking a stand for healthy, sustainable foods. Companies like Starbucks, Panera, and Chipotle are winning the fast food wars not because they’re more transparent, but because they’ve taken a hard look at the quality and origins of the ingredients they use and have forged genuine change. As the nation’s biggest fast food chain and one of the world’s largest purveyors of raw materials, McDonald’s is in a position to make a real difference in how food is grown and the way the world eats.

Posted in fast food, food business, food safety | 2 Comments

You probably encountered a dozen pig by-products before you even left your house this morning

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

 

Your world is awash in pig parts.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig by-products make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin derived from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt, garlic salt and spice blends. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig by-products. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

We have a right to know.
Do you keep kosher or follow the rules of halal? Are you vegan or vegetarian? Or are you just, like any sane person, interested in knowing the substances and ingredients that you consume and are exposed to in daily living?

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 19,000 entries.

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Why Feminists have Demonized Michael Pollan

 

image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers

image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers

 

Food is, without a doubt, a feminist issue.
Of course it’s inherently a human issue, but women have uniquely complicated—too often tortured, even—relationships with food. And now the DIY ethos is adding a new wrinkle to the gendered dynamics of mealtime.

Women, especially young women in their 20’s and 30’s, are embracing a new kind of domesticity. The 21st century preoccupations of backyard chicken-keeping, artisan food businesses, and grassroots food activism are dominated by female practitioners. While men still rule in professional kitchens making up 93% of executive chefs, women spend three times as many hours in home kitchens as the men in their lives, making 93% of food purchases and cooking 78% of dinners.

Feminists versus Femivores
This new breed of crack homemakers is disparagingly labeled as femivores. They’re seen as opting out of feminist causes to focus on canning local peaches and raising gluten-free children. These are the passionate, educated, progressive-minded women who, in an earlier era, would have been marching on Washington and pushing against the glass ceiling at work. Instead, they’re organizing cookie swaps and campaigning to legalize raw milk.

Michael Pollan is the feminists’ whipping boy.
The publication of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is considered a turning point for feminism. A manifesto for the new age of homesteading, it’s the touchstone for new domestics, giving social legitimacy to tomato-canning, bread-baking, and stay-at-home motherhood. Since the burden of homemaking has, for time immemorial, fallen to women, feminists charge Pollan with giving rise to a new form of enforced domesticity that’s as insidious and as detrimental to the economic lives of women as the social constructs of the 1950’s.

Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pigas a Salon headline asked, or is it the more nuanced Femivore’s Dilemma, put forth by The New York Times? The debate rages on in the femisphere. 
Here are some of the best blogs that explore food politics through a feminist lens: 
The Feminist Kitchen
The F Words (food & feminism)
Sistah Vegan
New Domesticity

 

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Just in Time for Halloween: More Good News About Chocolate

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Forget the fruit rollups and goldfish crackers. Chocolate is the healthy Halloween treat.
The list of health benefits from chocolate keeps getting longer.

Ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and cocoa contain more antioxidants than such good-for-you foods as green tea and blueberries. Antioxidants work by neutralizing unstable molecules that can trigger changes in the structure of normally healthy cells. Antioxidants in chocolate can lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. They can decrease complications in pregnant women, reduce the risk of stroke, cancer, and heart disease, and mitigate the brain’s response to pain.

The good news just keeps getting better.
Food scientists have recently developed a cocoa-processing method that retains more flavenols. Flavenols are a class of antioxidant that increases blood flow to the brain. The improved flow seems to have the most impact on the mathematical parts of the brain: drinking two cups of cocoa a day has been found to significantly improve fluency with basic computational problems as well as complex math problems, and test subjects report less mental exhaustion. Flavenols also slow the decline of memory and protect the brain from other age-related deteriorations.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat chocolate.
Just because it’s a wonder food, you don’t want to indulge indiscriminately.

The darker the chocolate, the better
Dark chocolate is much richer in antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa (most quality chocolates are labeled with this information) the greater the health benefits.

Avoid the high calorie extras
Caramel, marshmallow, nonpareils— not a lot of antioxidants; stick with plain, dark chocolate, or maybe chocolate with fruit or nuts.

Skip the milk
Milk consumed with chocolate interferes with the antioxidants. It’s a shame. They do taste good together.

Eat moderately
Always sound advice. Especially with a high-calorie food like chocolate where health benefits can be quickly outweighed by over-indulgence.

 

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A City Guide to Affordable Gastronomy

The Wallet Hub Map of Food Affordability in 150 Metro Markets 

 

A roof over your head and food on your plate.
Those are the big ones in everyone’s budget. Housing and food add up to nearly half of most Americans’ annual spending.

Housing values are closely scrutinized; food values not so much.
There are endless real estate rankings and ratings—we know about New York condo prices and San Francisco rent; we know which cities are affordable for retirees and where to move to after college. Even though food is often the next largest chunk of the budget, there’s been scant research into where to go for the good food values.

The sweet spot for a food scene is where quality meets affordability.
Wallet Hub
, a social platform for financial decision making, evaluated the 150 most populous U.S. cities to find the most and least economical food scenes in the country. Data was culled from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and analyzed using 18 weighted metrics indicating diversity, accessibility, quality, and affordability of food in each city. They counted grocers, butchers, cheese shops, and coffee roasters and compared prices across regions. Well-ranked cities have farmers markets, CSAs, food trucks, and maybe a food festival or two. They also have plenty of healthy options, a range of ethnic cuisines, food delivery, and a decent ratio of full-service to fast food restaurants.

Some of the rankings are what you’d expect. For all its bounty, high prices sink New York City to #143 (where it’s sandwiched between Port St. Lucie, Florida and Anchorage, Alaska), and places like Omaha, Nebraska and Fort Wayne, Indiana don’t have too much going on food-wise, but man are they cheap. Coffee, craft beer, and inexpensive ethnic restaurants spring up wherever you find large student populations, giving a ratings boost to big college towns like Madison, Wisconsin (#3) and Austin, Texas (#8). San Francisco is tops for restaurants and diversity but gets dinged for some of the highest prices in the country, knocking it down to #15.

There are also plenty of surprises.
Tourist meccas like Honolulu, Hawaii and Orlando, Florida are inexplicably dense with specialty grocers. Portland, Oregon is perched within the winery and brewery belt of the Pacific Northwest, yet it has some of the highest beer and wine prices in the country. Detroit is in dire need of ice cream parlor. Salt Lake City, even with its caffeine-free Mormon population, has more coffee shops per capita than Jacksonville, Florida and El Paso, Texas. And can someone please tell me why Fayetteville, North Carolina and Henderson, Nevada are two of the nation’s most expensive food towns?

Visit WalletHub’s 2014’s Best and Worst Foodie Cities for your Wallet to get a full picture of the eating landscape, and to learn why we should all pack it in and move to Grand Rapids.

 

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Ebola: Can You Get it from Food?

 

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Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The internet is churning with misinformation and fear-mongering about the Ebola virus.
One theory making the rounds is that the food supply could be an entry point for the spread of the virus in this country. Newsweek bolstered the speculation with an inflammatory cover story: A Back Door For Ebola. Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a U.S. Epidemic. 

The World Health Organization classifies Ebola as a foodborne disease.
The official U.S. position, voiced by both the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General, is that you can’t get it from food. The truth comes down to your diet.

Researchers haven’t absolutely pinned it down but there’s general agreement that the virus probably originated with African bats.
Bats are notoriously adept at hosting parasites and pathogens and spreading diseases to other animals. The really nasty viruses like SARS, Ebola, and Marburg all happen to be of the zoonotic variety, meaning they can be passed between animals and humans.

Bats and their animal neighbors in the wild are a common food source in the Ebola zone.
Hunting, butchering, cooking, and eating infected animals creates contact with blood, organs, and bodily fluids—the known paths of transmission. But no African meat, raw or processed, bush or otherwise, is allowed to enter the U.S. The FDA bans it from every country on the African continent, and the CDC, the Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have policing authority, with each violation carrying a $250,000 fine. That’s not to say that it’s not here; illegal, smuggled bushmeat has always found its way into immigrant communities whose residents hunger for a taste of home.

From the global perspective of the World Health Organization, Ebola is indeed a foodborne disease. But the Surgeon General and the CDC are also correct—it’s not a foodborne disease in this country because bushmeat isn’t a part of our food supply. With all due respect to the culture and traditions of our nation’s African immigrants, it’s unimaginable that members of their communities are continuing the risky practice in the midst of this ongoing health crisis. But to many West Africans, bushmeat is more than just a tradition; it’s an essential form of sustenance in regions where other sources of animal protein are scarce or prohibitively expensive. And that’s a situation that just continues to worsen as the Ebola epidemic sickens farmers, and quarantines disrupt food trade.

 

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Wake Up and Smell the Rat Meat: Stop Buying Chinese Food Imports!

 

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It wasn’t easy choosing a headline. 
I could have gone with the noodles infested with maggots or the baby food with more lead than a gallon of old gasoline. Then there’s the used cooking oil reclaimed from sewers and the shrimp that are raised on a diet of pig feces. I wanted a headline that will make you ask why we still import food from China.
I’m thinking that rat meat sold as lamb could do the trick.

China hit a new record this year: in the first three quarters of 2014 more of its food production was deemed unfit for human consumption than fit.
In recent months we’ve seen 11,000 cases of norovirus among schoolchildren served smoothies and fruit salad made with diseased frozen strawberries, and American restaurants frying with Chinese-made ‘vegetable’ oil that was actually extracted from the fat of animals like cats and foxes. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Burger King were all ensnared in a massive tainted meat scam that involved expired meats that were ‘freshened’ with bleach and relabeled for shipping.

If you think that you’re not eating Chinese food imports because you don’t frequent fast food outlets, think again. They make up 80% of America’s tilapia, 51% of cod, 49% of apple juice, 34% of processed mushrooms, 27% of garlic, and 16% of frozen spinach. Reading labels is not enough: American food companies are generally required to label only where their products are packaged or processed, not where the ingredients come from. A Swanson frozen dinner or a can of Campbell’s soup can contain 20 different ingredients from 20 different countries with no mention of this on the label. When you open a can of Bumble Bee tuna or Dole fruit, or pour your child a glass of Mott’s apple juice, you’re likely eating foods from China. All-American brands like Kraft, Lay’s, Pepsi, and General Mills all buy from Chinese growers and producers that harvest and process with lower labor costs than almost anywhere else.

Many more food violations see the light of day because of Wu Heng, the Upton Sinclair of China. 
Gelatin made from leather scraps, melamine in milk, pork that’s chemically transformed into beef—these are some of the scandals that first came to our attention through Wu Heng’s muckraking website Zhi Chu Chuang Wai. The name translates to Throw it Out the Window, a reference to an incident in which then-president Theodore Roosevelt tossed a sausage out of a White House window after reading Sinclair’s The Jungle, chronicling the horrors of the U.S. meatpacking industry. Wu and his staff of volunteers have identified and documented nearly 4,000 separate incidents of substandard, unsanitary, and unsafe food production, mostly deliberate, and most fueled by greed, ignorance, and corruption.

It’s gotten so bad that wealthier and savvier Chinese citizens are shunning their own local foods. 
They’ve sent food imports from the U.S. soaring to new heights by shopping at large grocery stores, like Walmart or the French chain Carrefour that offer foreign brands and a greater guarantee of quality control over domestic products. 

Can somebody tell me why the U.S. still imports food from China?

Posted in food business, food knowledge, food safety | Leave a comment

Restaurant Slang — Learn to Speak Their Language

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Restaurant people are truly a different breed.
They look different, with their own clothes and tattoos. They keep their own hours, heading to work when most of us are heading home, and going out when we’re going to sleep. The industry has its own rites and rituals, its own rules, and its own language.

Dining room jargon–

BOH: Back Of the House; the kitchen, walk-in, or any other area where you don’t deal with customers; BOH also refers to the people who work there. FOH: Front Of the House is the bar, the dining room, or anywhere else the staff deals with customers, as well as the people who work those areas.

[ _ ]-Top: describes the table’s seating– a 4-top seats four; a 2-top seats two but is better known as aDeuce, and a Hi-top is a tall table like you’d find in a bar area.

Covers: the count of meals served; multiply the tops by the Turns (the number of seatings at a single table) and you’ll get the total covers.

What they call us–

Diners are called Campers when they linger too long at the table, or Cupcakes when they’re flirting with staff. If it’s an open kitchen there are probably a few other coded descriptors.

PPX is an Extraordinary Person–it might be written on the ticket to signal VIP treatment. It’s not just for celebrities and high rollers; someone might write NPR on a ticket to tell the staff that Nice People Are Rewarded too.

There are numerous unprintable phrases to describe a bad tipper; some of the kinder ones are Stiff andFlea.

Kitchen jargon–

After you place your order, the kitchen might print out Dupes; these are duplicate tickets frequently printed in multiples on color-coded paper to signify courses. The dupes are hung on the Rail or theBoard where they’re considered On Deck.

If your server has checked the Low Board they know the Count of a particular menu item; if it’s 86’edyou’re out of luck. In a hurry? The cooks will be told it’s On the Fly, and they’ll Fire the dish immediately.

When multiple cooks are working different components of a single dish they’ll call 3 Out or 5 Out to signal to the others that they’ll be ready to plate their items in the stated number of minutes. All Daycounts the number of dishes that the cook is readying at that particular time, as in ‘I’ve got 2 lamb and 3 risotto all day.’

Cooked orders go from the Line to the Pass, a long counter surface where they’re plated and picked up by servers. If the kitchen is In the Weeds with too many dupes, the orders won’t be Coming On Up as quickly as they should. Conversely, if the waitstaff is Slammed the orders can sit there Dying on the Pass.

Learn to speak their language and who knows—the next time you’re at your deuce in the FOH, you just might find yourself comped like a real PPX.

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The Small-Batch Experts at PepsiCo Are Crafting Your Next Artisanal Cola

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[shareable, instagram-ready photo via Caleb’s Kola]

PepsiCo, the mega-giant, multi-national food and beverage corporation has just launched Caleb’s Kola.
Maybe ‘launched’ isn’t the right word. As the PepsiCo folks like to say: We’re a passionate group of kola lovers who came together to craft a unique kola from scratch using a few simple ingredients. We love it. We hope you will too.
Sure, just another food startup from a couple of hip food artisans with a rowdy tumbler website and the hashtag #HonorInCraft on its twitter feed. And one that seems to have focus-grouped the hell out of that k in ‘kola.’

Although they’ve sent us an engraved invitation to snarkiness, we’re not going to RSVP just yet.
It’s too easy; the cultural appropriation and pandering is just too brazen. The desperation is too visible in the carefully constructed social media presence. PepsiCo isn’t the only one doing it: Domino’s is baking up artisan pizzas; Tostitos peddles artisan chips; and Sargento shreds cheese into artisan blends. PepsiCo is just the biggest and baddest of the corporate opportunists who are raiding the hipster-artisan oeuvre.

Craft soda is like the low-hanging fruit of the fast-growing, wildly lucrative market for ‘real’ food.
Unlike the organic designation, craft and artisanal have no legal definitions. Even Webster’s says only that it calls for ‘a manually skilled worker.’ PepsiCo is free to slap the label on its new beverage and market the heck out of the notion of a kinder, gentler company.

Corporate lip service is a lot easier and cheaper than actual craft practices.
Authentically artisanal food is based in craft, community, tradition, and innovation. It’s inherently ethical and sustainable, relying on passion and commitment to guarantee longevity. While PepsiCo is not bad, as corporate citizens go, it’s still in the business of selling carbonated sugar water, and never lets social responsibility get in the way of profitability.

Small artisanal businesses all struggle with the sustainable movement’s underpinnings as they grow into large and successful enterprises, while Caleb’s Kola is off to a false start because of the dubious record of its parent company. PepsiCo’s spoken strategy is ‘performance with a purpose,’ but privately the company fights mightily to derail government efforts to tax sugary drinks and label genetically modified ingredients. It runs afoul of the law in its marketing of unhealthy products to young children, and has at best a mixed record for environmental advocacy, drawing frequent criticism for its plastic packaging, water usage, pesticides, and carbon emissions.

PepsiCo is hoping some of the good will towards Caleb’s Kola will rub off on them.
They’ve larded the new brand with fair trade sugar, retro-styled glass bottles, and the sheen of civic virtue. But the millennial consumers they’re aiming for have a talent for spotting inauthenticity. It’s just as likely that the taint of industrialized production and hypocrisy will rub off on Caleb’s Kola. That’s when you’ll really see some snark.

 

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Madison Avenue Makes Way for a Girl


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The Morton Salt Girl beat back the Keebler Elf, the Energizer Bunny, Mr. Clean, and the Jolly Green Giant to take her place among the most celebrated icons of advertising.
They were all vying to be this year’s inductee to the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame. The winner was announced in conjunction with Advertising Week, the industry’s annual, New York-based celebration of ads and agencies.

The Morton Salt Girl was the odds-on favorite in this year’s contest.
The umbrella-toting miss is celebrating her hundredth anniversary this year and she wasn’t shy about playing the nostalgia card for publicity. She teamed up with another century-old icon for the double centennial celebration of Morton Salt Girl Day at Wrigley Field, and has been strutting her stuff from coast to coast for 100 Parties.100 Cities.100 Days

Little Salt Girl; big social media maven.
A few years ago the Walk of Fame selection process shifted from the advertising community to a public vote, landing squarely in the Morton Salt Girl’s wheelhouse. Her classic pose was endlessly repinned on Pinterest pages and copied for an Instagram look-alike competition. Her timeless yet constantly evolving image was profiled in a sentimental YouTube documentary.  And she furiously worked to get out the vote on Facebook and Twitter, imploring her fans with the campaign slogan Make it rain! Make it pour! Vote Morton Salt Girl and raise her score! The elf, the bunny, and the bald man didn’t stand a chance.

The Morton Salt Girl broke through the glass ceiling to join her male counterparts on the Walk of Fame.
Just one other woman has made it—the weirdly enthusiastic Flo of Progressive Insurance got the nod in 2012. Certainly nobody expected to see a young girl rise from the old boys’ network of the food sector, with its long list of male inductees that includes esteemed heavyweights like Mr. Peanut, Colonel Sanders, Orville Redenbacher, Tony the Tiger, Juan Valdez, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

The Morton Salt Girl (and yes, that is her only name) has increased brand awareness, generated revenue, and withstood the test of time. Now she’ll have a permanent place on New York’s sidewalks. You can visit her along with the other iconic figures of branding at the Advertising Walk of Fame on Madison Avenue between 42nd and 50th Street.

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Covert Coffee: The CIA Starbucks and More

ultra top secret mug available at Zazzle.com

ultra top secret mug available at Zazzle.com

 

The Washington Post spilled the beans on National Coffee Day with a profile of a Starbucks that’s secreted away within the CIA’s Langley, Virginia headquarters.
You won’t find it on the coffee company’s store locator and your GPS will come up empty. It’s known simply as Store Number 1, or familiarly as the Stealthy Starbucks.

The Post reports that it looks like every other Starbucks with its framed coffee posters and comfy armchairs. It sells the same lattés and iced lemon poundcake as every other Starbucks, and the same soft rock soundtrack floats in the background. It’s one of the busiest locations in the chain—nobody’s popping in and out of the highly secured facility to pick up something at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Security prevails at Store Number 1.
Noses aren’t buried in Facebook feeds since personal cellphones are a security risk. Rewards cards are also out since the data could be leaked. And even though baristas go through extensive background checks and are sworn to secrecy (they can only say I work for Starbucks in a federal building), they can’t ask for their customers’ names.

Of course it’s unlikely that a barista could really blow a secret agent’s cover.
Starbucks’ name butchery is legendary: the cashier scrawls it on a cup, the barista calls it out, and with figures crossed you go to pick up a beverage that might or might not be yours. It’s as if your name went a few rounds with AutoCorrect: Amanda becomes Tammy, Andrew becomes Stanley, and God help you if your name is Gaelic in origin, has more than two syllables, or rhymes with any part of the female anatomy.

Starbucks also operates a handful of covert cafés in New York City.
While many university campuses, hospitals, and office buildings have Starbucks outlets that aren’t technically open to the public, most won’t exactly refuse a paying customer. There a a few locked-down exceptions like the Starbucks in the New York Stock Exchange and one that serves the regional offices of MI6. CIA-level clearances are fitting for cafés that rub up against national security interests and sensitive global markets. But some of the tightest security and most limited access—even the Washington Post couldn’t talk their way into this one—is found at 1740 Broadway, where the Starbucks serves the New York headquarters of Victoria’s Secret.

 

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He’ll Look at Your Kitchen and Guess Your Weight

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[Image by Frank H. Nowell via University of Washington Libraries]

Brian Wansink is on a mission to change the way we eat.
As the director of the famed Cornell Food and Brand Lab he’s given the world the 100-calorie snack pack and the Ig Noble Award-winning Bottomless Soup Bowl Experiment. He’s scrutinized centuries of Last Supper paintings to track the evolution of portion sizes, and knows just how many more people will order mac and cheese if you add the descriptor ‘creamy.’ Wansink is pretty much the foremost authority on why we make so many bad food choices, and he’s concluded that most people basically have no idea how much they’re putting in their mouths or why.

Your tastebuds and appetite aren’t calling the shots.
Of the 220 or so food-related choices you face in an average day, Wansink has found that maybe 15 of them lead to conscious, active decision-making based on health, hunger, and taste. The vast majority are of the mindless variety—when you help yourself to seconds because the bowl is right there or take a gulp of orange juice because you saw the carton when you opened the refrigerator. Your kitchen is leading you—even tricking you—into mindless eating.

There are fat kitchens and skinny kitchens.
Wansink’s research determined that easy access to certain foods predicts the weight trajectory of a kitchen’s denizens. Occupants weigh nine pounds more than the norm when a box of cookies or bag of potato chips is sitting on the counter. A visible box of cereal correlates to an extra 21 pounds. Soda is the most dangerous countertop fixture—even when it’s diet soda—associated with 25 extra pounds, while a filled fruit bowl predicts that the occupant will weigh eight pounds less than the norm.

You too can have a skinny kitchen:

  • Wrap your ice cream in foil.
    Put the cookies on the highest shelf or the lowest. Turn the pantry into a coat closet and the coat closet into a pantry. Do whatever you have to do so that you’re thinking before you indulge, and even working for it.
  • Add color.
    You eat more in a white kitchen. You also serve yourself more on white plates. The contrast works against you, encouraging you to fill the negative space.
  • Skip the candles.
    You linger at the table when the lights are low. Dim lights lead to second helpings.
  • Think small.
    You’re probably going to eat 90% of whatever is on your plate, so make it a smaller plate. And while you’re at it, a smaller serving spoon can cut serving size by 14% regardless of the plate size.
  • Rearrange your food.
    Mindless Eating 101: if you see it, you’ll eat it. You’re three times more likely to eat the first food you see in the cupboard than the fifth; the same goes for the top shelf of the refrigerator versus the crisper.
  • Check the door swing.
    You’ll cook more vegetables if you give them the path of least resistance. Your refrigerator should open toward the sink where you’ll wash and prep them. It’s about a $40 repair job if you’re swinging the wrong way.

In a perfect world, we would all eat mindfully. In the real world, something like 90% of us are mindlessly ruled by environmental food triggers. In his recently published Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday LifeWansink doesn’t try to fight those tendencies, but helps us understand and manipulate eating environments so that, even when it’s mindless, we’ll eat less and enjoy it more.

Posted in diet, health + diet, home | Leave a comment

Groundbreaking Immersive Journalism Project Takes You to an Iowa Family Farm

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Each day this week, the Des Moines Register is releasing a new chapter of its innovative series Harvest of Change.
The project examines the reshaping and reimagining of Iowa farms and farm families as they respond to sweeping changes in American life. Their stories are told through a fascinating blend of print journalism, 360-degree video, and the emerging technology of virtual reality.

The series is getting a lot of attention for its use of new tools of the journalistic trade.
One of the series’ chapters is being hailed as a first-of-its-kind virtual reality news report. It tells the story of a sixth-generation Iowa farming family that’s challenged to maintain its traditions while adapting to the globalized world of agribusiness. It incorporates spiraling video that records sound and images in all directions, and uses the technology of Oculus VR, a computerized gaming platform that puts you into a simulated 3-D version of fields, grain silos, and cows.

You need an Occulus Rift virtual reality headset to achieve the immersive 3-D experience, but it’s impressive just with a plain old laptop and their plug-in app. The virtual tour roams the 1888 farmhouse, barns, fields, and various workshops. You can pause to interact with family members and farm animals, listen in on conversations, poke around inside of machinery engines, or click through to 3-D infographics and explorative video.

The whiz-bang effects are fun and fascinating, but it’s the very human stories that make the series so compelling.
The series examines five change agents that are remaking rural America—aging, culture, immigration, technology, and globalization. Each day views a topic through the lens of a different farming family. There’s an aging father and son, a same-sex couple, and a Laotian immigrant. Their stories bring to life the broad themes of change: a graying urbanite who’s returned to his rural roots and ancestral home; a conventional farmer whose miller refuses to process his genetically-modified corn; and a rookie farmer with a commitment to chemical-free practices but whose crops are crowded out by weeds.

I’m guessing you’re not a regular reader of the Des Moines Register.
It’s a pretty safe bet these days when even an influential, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper has an annual readership that adds up to about 20 minutes worth of traffic on Buzzfeed. And yet the Register has undertaken this risky, ambitious, and technology-driven endeavor. The parallel that runs between newspaper journalism and agriculture, the storyteller and the story, is itself one of the more powerful narratives of sweeping demographic and economic change told through Harvest of Change.

 

 

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Is Hot Honey the New Sriracha?

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Can you remember your first Sriracha?
Remember the way a tiny hit of heat and sweet perked up whatever it was that you were eating?
You started slow—a squirt in the stir fry, a dab added to marinades. Then you branched out: a few drops in dips and dressings, a steady squeeze into scrambled eggs, a swipe of the basting brush on meats headed for the grill. Was there nothing that couldn’t be improved by this marvelous elixir?

Chili-infused honey takes you back to that wondrous moment.
Like all great condiments hot honey is a utility player. Squeeze it on vegetables, drizzle it over noodles, mix it into dressings, dips, and sauces. It’s a no-brainer on biscuits and cornbread, and a revelation on pizza and cured meats.

Like Sriracha, hot honey has a craveable sweet-spicy balance.
Hot honey tends to be the tamer of the two, unless it’s made from a blazing-hot chili pepper, and it doesn’t have Sriracha’s garlic punch. But honey has greater depth of flavor than Sriracha’s added sugar, and the addition of vinegar both moderates the sweetness and contributes to its complexity.

Both condiments are all-American culinary hybrids.
Most of us saw our first red rooster bottle of Sriracha in an ethnic restaurant. Probably Thai or Vietnamese, but it could have just as easily been Chinese or Mexican. The sauce is clearly in the Asian camp, but of indeterminate provenance, and Sriracha’s creator, a Los Angeles-based Vietnamese immigrant born to Chinese parents, likes it that way, even printing the bottle’s label in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish. Hot honey is also a polyglot mutt, inspired by a Brazilian condiment used on Italian pizza, and then reborn in Brooklyn artisan kitchens.

Hot sauce is the rare food that crosses geography, cultures, and demographics.
A one-two punch of sweet-hot only broadens the appeal, and the blockbuster potential of chili-infused honey has a few condiment makers scrambling for market position. Mike’s Hot Honey is the grandaddy of the category with a four year company history and an addictive elixir in a recognizably honey-style squeeze bottle. MixedMades’ Bees Knees is the upstart. They’ve been bottling their version for less than a year, but have captured a sizable share of the fledgling market with distinctive packaging and a premium price. Then there’s the wildcard. A primetime network viewing audience watched sixteen-year old Henry Miller win television’s Shark Tank with his spicy honey line called Henry’s Humdingers. He ended up turning down the Sharks’ offer ($300,000 for a 75% stake in the company), and is struggling to fulfill orders, but it was an auspicious launch.

A smidgen turns into a dollop, a smear becomes a slather.
Hot honey could soon be keeping company with salt and pepper at every meal.

 

 

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Whole Foods Has Seen its Future and it Looks Like Every Other Supermarket

 

Whole Foods Store Then...

An early Whole Foods Market

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Whole Foods today

Back in July, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey waxed nostalgic in an interview with a Washington Post reporter. Published under the title When We Were Small, Mackey shared memories of the early days of his first market:

It was this old, three-story Victorian house, very charming. On the first floor, we had some cash registers in the front, two of them, and we had a little bulk food area. In another room, we had produce, and in the next room, we had a little dairy cooler and a little frozen food section.

Mackey was 25 years old and living in a little apartment above the shop. He had a girlfriend, a bicycle, and a handful of employees. His biggest worries were the $10,000 he owed his parents and avoiding the embarrassment of failing in front of his friends and family.

Forgive him his sentimentality. These days he heads a natural food empire of nearly 400 locations with more than 80,000 employees. The whole world was watching as his publicly traded company was named this year’s worst performer in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

For a while Whole Foods could do no wrong.
Natural and organic foods were just taking off and there seemed to be no end to the urban and affluent neighborhoods that could use a high-end grocer. Whole Foods was the only game in town—supermarkets didn’t even stock organic milk back then—and when they weren’t, they would buy up the competition, opening new stores and acquiring smaller natural food grocers by the dozen. Venture capital replaced the friends and family funding, and then Wall Street took them public in 1992, and the stock reached one high after another.

It was the era of Whole Paycheck.
The nickname was well-deserved. Whole Foods could practically mint money through premium pricing because there was no one else selling the same foods. A typical grocery chain has a net profit of about 1%; for years Whole Foods was banking close to 5%. Those days are over.

The competition has caught up. Whole Foods’ success spawned imitators in the premium sector and every mainstream supermarket chain now carries organic produce and natural foods. Trader Joe’s is giving them a good run, and Wal-Mart is killing them on price. Whole Foods is squeezed in every direction, slowing sales growth and narrowing profit margins. Their financial statements are starting to look a lot like those of every other supermarket. Absent a unique niche in the marketplace, many are wondering if Whole Foods’ woes are (dare we say it?) organic.

Now that their business model is indistinguishable, Whole Foods is tackling its recent challenges in the same manner as the traditional supermarkets.
Whole Foods is gearing up for its first-ever national ad campaign which will tout its programs like GMO product labeling and animal welfare ratings in hopes of steering the conversation away from pricing and toward quality and value. They’re adding online ordering and home delivery services to more markets. And they’re launching a customer loyalty program with a mobile app and rewards card, a concept that the company has resisted for decades. One thing that Whole Foods won’t engage in is a price war.

The new message is what Whole Foods staffers are calling ‘value and values.’
While they’re looking more and more like a conventional supermarket operation, the company is hoping that socially responsible business practices combined with value-added programs will distinguish them from the Safeways and Krogers of the world—at least enough to justify premium pricing.

 

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