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?

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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

Store front 1

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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Is It PawPaw Time Already?

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                            This is a pawpaw →

 

It’s a delicious fruit with a flavor best described as mango-meets-banana.
It’s native to North America, a tropical fruit that grows in a temperate zone, and is found in 26 of the United States.

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The pawpaw is the official state fruit of Ohio.

 

 

09-pawpaw1←It’s celebrated in festivals

It has its own song→Paw Paw Patch

and a lovable mascot ↓

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So why have you never had one?

It’s because farmers can’t figure out pawpaw harvesting9-2152710-bun171213paw1_t460
They ripen unpredictably and at varying rates even on a single tree. And when the fruit is ready it just drops to the ground.

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and they don’t travel well
Pawpaws bruise easily and rot within the first 72 hours after picking.

Pawpaw Flowers - 4

 

and because pawpaw blossoms smell like wet carpet
Backyard gardeners aren’t too keen on growing them either.

 

Pawpaw is an autumn delicacy that is both fleeting and elusive. And you know you really want to try one. Here’s some help with tracking it down:

NealWppsNeal Peterson is the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of the pawpaw. He has cultivated and patented numerous pawpaw varietals and on his website he shares a list of sapling nurseries and fruit retailers the sell them.

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Ohio food artisans are selling a taste of the pawpaw with products like pawpaw jam, mead, and beer. Or visit Logan, Ohio for a pawpaw facial at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls.

Explore the pawpaw resources available through Kentucky State University, home to the world’s one and only full-time pawpaw research program. It also hosts a very active Facebook community of pawpaw lovers.

Of course you can always strap on the Bean boots and go pawpaw foraging in one of the woodland pawpaw ranges in the U.S

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Slow Money: It’s Like Slow Food for your Wallet

currency cover art from 'Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money'

currency cover art from ‘Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money’

 

The Wall Street Journal says of Slow Money: ‘Forget conventional 401(k)s; think goat cheese and fennel.’
Bloomberg Businessweek calls it one of the ‘big ideas that will change small business and entrepreneurship,’ and Time Magazine says it has the potential to ‘remake America’s food industry.’.’

Investments you can sink your teeth into. 
Slow Money is a movement that organizes investors and donors to steer capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. It’s guided by the same principles as the Slow Food movement. Slow Food promotes traditional cooking with local ingredients as a response to the unhealthy and unsustainable fast food lifestyle and the globalized, industrialized state of our food supply. Slow Money offers a similar alternative to the fast money of our global financial markets. It asserts that our current paths, both agricultural and fiduciary, are irresponsible, unhealthy, and ultimately unsustainable.

You don’t need a big bank account to join the Slow Money movement.

  • Kickstarter and Indiegogo have both had great success applying a crowdsourced funding platform to food-related projects. They pool money in increments as small as a few dollars and patronage is usually rewarded in the form of project mementos or perks— a $10 pledge might entitle you to a snack bag from an organic nut roaster, or $200 to a pickle maker could get you a weekend brining workshop.
  • Kiva Zip is a crowd-sourced platform for 0% interest peer-to-peer lending. Lenders can browse individual loan profiles to choose a borrower—both food producers and sellers—approve the payback schedule, and even have direct conversations with borrowers. Loans are pooled from amounts as small as $5 PayPal transactions, and while there is risk involved, borrowers and business plans are vetted for credit-worthiness and are overseen and endorsed by trustees.
  • Credibles crosses crowdfunding with the CSA model of prepayment for the next harvest.
    If an individual were to make a direct investment in an egg farm or a jam maker, payment in-kind would bring them more eggs and marmalade than they would know what to do with. Credibles creates a single fund from the contributions of multiple investors, with buy-ins starting at $50. The loans it makes to small and artisanal producers are repaid in-kind—a farm returns crops, a restaurant returns meals, a small-batch ice cream maker returns pints of rocky road—but since an investor is buying into the shared pool, repayment comes from the collective pool of businesses in the form of edible credits, ‘credibles,’ that can be redeemed for a wide assortment of products.
  • Gatheroundis like TED Talks for the Slow Money crowd. Each live online event features a conversation with a thought leader from the food world plus presentations from several early stage food entrepreneurs who are seeking funding. A $25 donation logs you in, and at the end of the session you direct Gatheround to send those dollars in the form of a three-year, interest-free loan to the entrepreneur of your choice. When the loan is paid back, your tax-deductible $25 will continue to cycle through future Slow Money projects.

SlowMoney.org mobilizes investors at a grassroots level through its network of regional chapters and local investment clubs. 
Since 2010, Slow Money affiliates have funneled more than $38 million to over 350 small food enterprises around the United States. Visit the Slow Money website to learn about local gatherings, and join the emerging network of investors who are working to improve the health of local food systems and the economy.
Put your money where your mouth is. Literally.

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Cafés Go From Free WiFi to WiFi-free

nowifisign

 

Coffee and conversation. What a concept.
Cafés were among the first to flip the switch on free wifi. Now some pioneering coffeehouses are pulling the plug.

Blame the coffee shop squatters.
For the price of a small coffee they monopolize a café table for hours on end. They commandeer electrical outlets with multiple chargers and tangled trails of power cords, connect to the free WiFi, and settle in for the workday. Why not? The bathrooms are clean, the downloads are fast, and somebody left behind today’s newspaper with an empty crossword puzzle. They can nurse the cool dregs of a single cup of coffee for the better part of a day.

What once lured customers has become a drain on the bottom line.
The squatters monopolize precious seating space, too often crowding out paying customers. With fewer free tables, turnover rates and food tabs are lower as customers who might linger over a sandwich or a pastry choose to just grab a quick cup of coffee.

The impact is cultural as well as economic.
Customers are put off by the office-like atmosphere with its silent sea of laptop screens and the occasional one-sided cell phone business call. The squatters will look up from their keyboards to glare with open hostility at small children, and have been known to shush energetic conversationalists.

Cafés have struggled to strike a balance.
Some change their network passwords every few hours giving access only with a fresh purchase. Others cover electrical outlets, shut down routers during peak business hours, or shrink the size of café tables to tiny cups-only pedestals. Extreme measures were taken at one Vancouver pop-up that created its own electromagnetic dead zone by wrapping the café in a giant metal cage that channeled a signal-blocking static electrical field. Most coffee shop owners are just wondering when Sony will start selling its newly-developed electrical outlets that can limit access with time-sensitive user authentication.

What’s fair and reasonable? According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 32% of Americans think that a person who has purchased coffee should be able to use the shop’s free wifi for as long as they want. 38% think that 30 to 60 minutes after they finish their drink is reasonable. Only 18% think you should use it only for as long as you’re drinking.

Proving it’s not just for Luddites, Eater has a list of 17 wifi-free cafes in tech-loving San Francisco.

 

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There’s a Whole Lot of Ranch Dressing Out There

 

Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design

Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design

 

If you’re looking for a Philly cheesesteak you’re more likely to find one at the Jersey Shore than in Philadelphia.
Try New York for a Maine lobster. Or Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or New Jersey—it appears on more menus in more restaurants in each of those states than in its native Maine.

Co. Design, the design blog from Fast Company Magazine, teamed up with the food industry data collectors at Food Genius to create a map of each state’s most distinctive foods. Populations are mobile, supermarkets are national, and the same chain restaurants dot the landscape wherever you go. Their map looks at the ways in which new and traditional local cultures, economies, availability, trends, and convenience leave distinctive food fingerprints all around the nation.

The foods that made the cut might not be the most prevalent in each state, but they are the most uniquely loved.
Co. Design wanted to measure the relative popularity of each state’s food choices, to find what is distinctive and unique about those choices when compared with the rest of the country. That meant that they had to level the influence of ubiquitous and cookie-cutter fast food and chain restaurants. So no matter how popular and dominant the chains are, the multitude of Waffle Houses, McDonald’s, and Olive Gardens were just counted once for each state.

Here are some of their findings:

As a nation, we love our peppers, which seven states own as their most distinctive ingredient. New Mexico is alone in claiming the green chile, found on the menus of 51% of all the restaurants in the state but only in 2% of restaurant dishes in the rest of the country. The jalapeño is king pepper in Colorado and Texas, Ohio likes its banana peppers, and Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia favor the milder green bell variety.

While lobster is shipped far from its native waters, most coastal states are showing love for their local catches. Haddock stays in Maine and New Hampshire, crab cakes still rule in Maryland, crawfish in Louisiana, grouper in Florida, Walleye in Minnesota, and prawns top the western states on the mainland while Hawaii has its ahi.

America is awash in ranch dressing. It’s the most beloved regional treat in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama, Kentucky, Vermont, and West Virginia, and Nebraskans included it in their generic preference for what they simply call ‘dip’.

On the Co. Design website you’ll find an interactive version of the map that lets you explore the top 5 dishes and menu terms for each state.

A Gallup-Well-Being poll from earlier this year ranked all 50 states based on their residents’ emotional and physical health and healthy behaviors. Do you care to guess how the ranch dressing states fared?

 

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Seeking Perfection: One-Dish Restaurants

Some restaurants try to have a little something for everyone.
They aim for a wide audience by giving the people what they want. It’s the Cheesecake Factory with its exhaustive, globe-trotting, genre-straddling menu, or the new small plates dining that gives a nod to every passing trend. All that variety can please a crowd while stretching a kitchen thin. At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the tyranny of tasting menus. The inviolable procession of courses doesn’t presume to appeal widely, and even the most receptive diners will find misses among the hits.

The growing ranks of one-dish restaurants  go their own way, expanding on the greatness of a single, much-loved dish.
The most successful single-subject restaurants focus on a dish with mass appeal, often a classic comfort food like macaroni and cheese or meatballs. There might be multiple variations and a few side dishes and embellishments to spice things up, but the main attraction is where it’s at, and it’s probably safe to say that most customers of Potatopia aren’t there for the side salad.

All those eggs are in just one basket.
A one-dish restaurant needs to achieve excellence through its specialization. That single dish better be flawlessly prepared because there’s nothing else for the kitchen to hide behind.
Here are some of the restaurants that are 
singing just one note, and some of them are even making beautiful music:

There’s luscious coconut pudding, butterscotch pudding, chocolate pudding, and tapioca at New York’s Puddin’. They probably make a pretty good rice pudding too, but wouldn’t you rather go a few blocks further downtown to the rice pudding specialists at the single-dish Rice to Riches?

Meatballs are universally and perennially loved; the kind of homey humble dish that is rarely stylish but always in style. They’re at home in soup, on a sandwich, atop pasta, or stuffed in rice paper, grape leaves, or dumpling wrappers. They’re practically tailor-made for the one-dish concept. That must be why we need a national ranking of the best all-meatball restaurants.

Macaroni and cheese is another dish that never seems to fall out of favor or fashion. Some restaurants try to reinvent it with luxe and modern ingredients, but the best are those that barely tweak the classic recipe. Maybe that’s why so many of the mac and cheese specialists aim for distinction through an establishment’s name, resulting in places like S’Mac, Mac AttackElbowsMac & Cheese 101, Mac Daddy’s, and the nostalgic HomeroomClose cousin grilled cheese has inspired more than its share of punnily-named one-dish cafés. There’s Ms. Cheezious, C’est Cheese, Meltdown, and the Star Wars-themed grilled cheese truck The Grillenium Falcon.

Southerners and Midwesterners are always shocked to learn that casseroles are much maligned in coastal culinary circles. They’re a mainstay in much of the country where they even have their own nickname of ‘hot dish,’ a generic term that includes everything from tuna-noodle to tamale pie. Wherever the casserole is held in high regard you’re likely to find the all-hot dish establishments like Illinois’ mini chain Johnny Casserole and Georgia’s Casseroles. Minnesotans can choose between the traditional (Hot Dish) and the contemporary (Haute Dish).

There’s a hummusiya or all-hummus restaurant in Philadelphia and a risotteria or all-risotta restaurant in New York. It’s cold cereal only at Cereality, hot cereal straight through to dinner time at Oatmeals, and San Francisco’s The Mill serves nothing but toast, where its rarefied all-toast format became an instant parable and parody of the city’s latest crop of shallow, callow tech millionaires with their overheated consumerism.

One-hit wonders? One-trick ponies?
Some of the one-dish restaurants will certainly die off, but a strong concept that’s well executed can live on. And the next wave is already on the horizon: look for two-dish restaurants like Tom + Chee (tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches), BubbleDogs (hot dogs and champagne), and Burger & Lobster, whose name needs no explanation but it could use a rationale.

 

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Food Rules to Get You Through the Winter

rules

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan crammed a world of food choices into those seven words. During the summer months of stone fruits and heritage tomatoes we’re all believers. But Labor Day has come and gone, the farmers markets will soon pack up their tents, and Pollanesque choices will start to dwindle. What will we eat then?

Pollan compiled a list of rules to back up his simple edict.
A mention of the project on his blog resulted in literally thousands of reader-submitted suggestions. He culled and compiled to create the easy-to-digest principles and instructions of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

It’s no easy feat to navigate the landscape of modern food.
We want our food to be nutritionally sound with no trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or growth hormone. The sodium should be low and the carbs complex. We want our food growers and manufacturers to trade fairly with their vendors and pay a living wage to their employees. They should conserve energy, limit emissions, and recycle. And somewhere in there we also want our food to taste good.

Ultimately, Michael Pollan settled on 64 food rules.
It’s mostly common sense guidance: Avoid foods you see advertised on television (#11); Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk (#36).
So go aheadEat your colors (#25); treat treats as treats (#60); and best of all, break the rules once in a while (#64).

Posted in blogging, diet, sustainability | 2 Comments

Is There Really Always Room for Jell-O?

 

jellowiggle

 

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.

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