A Little Culinary Quantum Physics to Answer Some of Life’s Vexing Questions


So much in life is uncertain, unknowable, and uncontrollable. Sometimes we can use a few answers. Maybe these aren’t the kinds of questions that keep us up at night, but there is still something comforting about round numbers.


A keg contains 15½ gallons, or the equivalent of 6.8 cases of beer. That’s 124 red party cups filled to the brim. [KegBooty]




There are 37 scoops in a gallon of ice cream.  [WikiAnswers]




Within their PVC-wrapped tubes, Smarties come in a combination of white, yellow, pink, orange, purple, and green. Each color’s flavor really is slightly different. They are packaged as a roll of 15. [Wikipedia]


Plain or peanut?
A 1 lb bag of peanut M&M’s contains approximately 190 candies; you get 405 M&M’s in a bag of plain.   [ChaCha]



Figure on 7,200 grains in a cup of rice.  [WikiAnswers]




It takes 1½ potatoes to make the Big Grab single serving size of chips. How many chips is that? Let’s just say not enough. [Askville]


If you squeezed every last drop of ketchup out of little foil packets, it would take 41 of them to fill a standard ketchup bottle; realistically, you’ll never wring out every last drop or hit the narrow bottle opening every time, so count on 50 packets. Of course, realistically, who’s going to attempt this?  [CalorieCount]


A box of Cornflakes contains a mere 981 flakes, [WikiAnswers] while the same size box of Cheerios holds almost 5,000 of the little O’s. More importantly, it’s easily enough to make Cheerio necklaces for 50 small children.  [WebAnswers]




And the proverbial two scoops of raisins in Raisin Bran? It begs the obvious question Just how big is said scoop? You have to wonder, is it the same scoop, independent of box size, or does the scoop get larger when the box size increases?

The raisin counts prove to be an average of 221 in the 15 oz. package,  337 raisins in the 20. oz. box, and a stingy double scoop of 321 in the 25.5 oz. size. The scoop-to-box-ratio increases proportionately until you get to the big box, which is strictly for bran flake enthusiasts. [Science Creative Quarterly]


Next time you go grocery shopping, remember that volume estimates are subject to all sorts of perceptual illusions—a fact that marketers never forget. Tall and narrow appears to hold more than short and wide, and tuna cans aren’t flattering to anything but tuna.

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Julia Child’s French Country Home Might Be the Foodiest Airbnb Listing Ever

Julia at La Pitchoune image via the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe

Julia at La Pitchoune
image via the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College


3BR, 4BA, and Oh, that kitchen.
La Pitchoune, the Provencal cottage Julia Child and her husband built in the ’60s, has new owners who plan to turn it into a cooking school and culinary retreat. In the meantime, they’re offering it as a vacation rental on Airbnb. Listed for around $600 a night, it’s described as A space to cook, commune, explore, and walk the footsteps of culinary greats.

OMG Chez Julia.
Child devotees are vibrating with excitement over this: Julia shopped the local markets, drinking the wines and cooking the rustic dishes of the region. She and Paul spent part of every year at La Pitchoune where their dinner party guest lists read like a Who’s Who of the French-American food world. The equivalent of a culinary G8 Summit took place during a 1970 La Pitchoune get-away that serendipitously gathered James Beard, Richard Olney, Judith Jones, Simone Beck, and M. F. K. Fisher, whose seminal table talk, documented in the book Provence, 1970, helped define the modern American food movement, reshaping the cuisine and culture for decades.

It’s Julia’s kitchen, pegboard and all.
The kitchen at La Pitchoune was designed by Julia’s husband, Paul, and modeled on the one in their house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That one is in the Smithsonian, but this one has the same high countertops to accommodate Julia’s six foot two frame, and the same array of kitchen tools on the same pegboard walls on which Paul painted the outlines of the implements. The current owners installed a drop camera fixed on the utensils to ensure that the priceless artifacts are all returned to their rightful positions.

The house is set on a scenic hillside about a half-hour’s drive from the Côte d’Azur, with a stone terrace, swimming pool, and olive trees and rosemary bushes all around. But really, does any of that even matter?



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Dirty Bathroom, Dirty Kitchen




We’ve all been there. Literally.
The dirty restaurant bathroom that makes us wonder about the kitchen. As Anthony Bourdain said in Kitchen Confidential, ‘If the restaurant can’t be bothered to replace the puck in the urinal or keep the toilets and floors clean, then just imagine what their refrigeration and work spaces look like.‘ You can argue that there are different crews with different responsibilities, but Bourdain is not alone; most of us see it as an omen. A poll from Cintas, a provider of restroom supplies to the restaurant industry, found that 79% of respondents would avoid a restaurant if they knew the bathrooms were dirty. 88% of them agreed that the state of the restrooms says something about the kitchen’s hygiene, and 94% said if they personally encountered bathroom nastiness, they wouldn’t return.

There’s spillover in our minds, but there is actually little hard data to support a connection between a dirty bathroom and a dirty kitchen. According to Doug Powell, publisher of the BarfBlog, health inspectors will take note of the general state of a restaurant restroom and include impressions and any obvious violations in the report, but they don’t pull out the swabs and test kits like they do in the kitchen. Correlation or not, when we eat out, we want to know about the table and the throne. While the state of the restroom sometimes makes it into the review on sites like Yelp or Tripadvisor, restaurant bathrooms, like favorite dishes and ambiance, really warrant their own crowdsourced reviews. Since personal preferences can be very personal, there’s no shortage of potty apps out there to help you find the right place at the right time. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Bathroom Scout directs you to more than a million user-reviewed restrooms worldwide.
  • Flush’d won us over with its motto: No one takes this sh*t as seriously as we do.
  • The Charmin-sponsored Sit or Squat has ease of use going for it, dividing all its mapped facilities into two categories: safe to SIT; or maybe you want to SQUAT.
  • Refuge Restroom locates safe and welcoming restroom access for transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals.
  • The Looie is not for everyone, and that’s by design. For $25 a month, the New York City-based app offers its members entry to restrooms housed in restaurants, hotels, and office buildings—all places that normally deny public access. In exchange for admitting its members, the Looie team provides the janitorial services to its partnering establishments.

Cintas, the company behind the poll, gives an annual award for America’s Best Bathroom. Last year’s award went to the town of Minturn, Colorado for a public restroom that resembles a passageway into a Rocky Mountain mine. Past nominees include a distillery’s restroom in a whiskey barrel, a Las Vegas casino men’s room with urinals set into authentic, graffiti-covered sections of the Berlin Wall, and a Presidential porta-potty made for Barack Obama’s inauguration. You can find all the winners and top nominees at America’s Best Restroom Hall of Fame.

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Maine Will Be the Nation’s First and Only Food Sovereign State


via localfoodrules.org

via localfoodrules.org


Maine legislators voted last week to moved forward with a proposed constitutional amendment declaring Mainers have a natural, inherent, and inalienable right to food freedom.
All that’s left is for the voters to ratify it and Maine’s residents will have the right to produce, process, and consume food without government interference in the form of federal health codes, regulations, inspections, and other restrictions. Foraged foods, garden-grown produce, home-cured meats, and goods produced in unlicensed kitchens will be freely bought and sold.

Even if you’re not familiar with the food sovereignty movement, you’ve probably heard some of the complaints about regulatory interference. 
The best known (and most controversial) example is the decades-old squabble over raw milk that pits public safety concerns against individual freedom of choice. The result is a patchwork of conflicting state and federal laws, a booming black market in unpasteurized milk with farmers and dairy coöps selling bottles out of pickup trucks like prohibition-era bootleggers, and the occasional federal sting operation that ends with an armed raid on an Amish dairy barn. And every once in a while you’ll come across a news story of heavy-handed health inspectors shutting down a bake sale and confiscating baked goods from elderly, pie-baking church ladies. In Maine, governmental inspections and regulations make for much more than a quaint human interest story. They can deny a livelihood to the state’s food producers and can threaten the food supply of its residents.

Maine is not like other states.
It’s the nation’s most rural state with the greatest majority of its residents living outside of urbanized areas. Its business landscape is dominated by cottage industries, with small proprietors making up 97% of the state’s employers. Its farms are some of the nation’s smallest, they’re run by women at more than twice the national rate, and its farmers are growing younger in a seriously aging sector. Maine’s farmers are also more likely to engage in direct sales to the surrounding community, with some of the highest participation rates in farm stands, farmers markets, and CSAs.

The heart of Maine’s food sovereignty movement is its objection to the government’s one-size-fits-all approach to regulation.
A small farm typically thrives on diversity, with a range of crops and small flocks and herds of livestock, while the kinds of specialized facilities required to meet state and federal food processing standards are geared toward industrial-sized, single crop producers. The facilities often aren’t accessible to a small and scattered rural population, and a special license or expensive equipment can be burdensome for small producers to maintain on site. These requirements can be a barrier to entry for small businesses, but they also ban the kind of casual commerce and bartering that is a traditional part of rural economies—my side of beef for your load of firewood. Even Maine’s traditional community events like bean suppers and Friday fish fries can fall on the wrong side of the law.

Maine residents have been challenging the nation’s food regulations for years.
16 Maine towns had previously declared a local form of food sovereignty under Maine’s governance system of home rule, which gives municipalities autonomy over local matters. The town ordinances can exempt local producers from state licensing and inspections, but only the state amendment can offer legal protection from federal authorities.

Advocates claim that Maine’s food sovereignty creates fewer health risks than what else is out there.
There are growing concerns about the integrity of our national food system, and criticism of the sometimes arbitrary and wrong-headed nature of health code enforcement. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of six Americans gets sick from food-borne illness, with 3,000 of them dying each year. Mainers have decided to takes their chances with local producers, taking reassurance from the personal nature of the interactions between producer and consumer.


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This Is Your Fish On Drugs

image via Discovery.com

image via Discovery.com


Who needs prescriptions when we have pharmaceutical waste in our fish?
All salmon is heart-healthy because it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, but you can also get a dose of Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering prescription drug, which is found in the flesh of wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest. You might be treating allergies, anxiety, menstrual cramps, and dozens more ailments with the substances contained in a chinook netted in the Puget Sound, whose waters are a cocktail of 81 over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs.

We flush the drugs out of our bodies, through the sewers, and into fish habitats.
We’re a nation of pill poppers. More than half of all Americans are currently taking a prescription drug and 20% of us take three or more different prescriptions daily. Between 30-90% of all those drugs aren’t absorbed and are excreted out through urine, but wastewater treatment plants aren’t often designed to catch them. A 30-state study performed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA found pharmaceuticals in 80% of the ‘clean’ water samples.

Pharmaceutical residue isn’t like other pollutants.
Modern pharmaceuticals are designed to be biologically active even at very low concentrations. Fish and marine animals that swim in contaminated waters are subject to very low level exposure. The drugs don’t have the acute toxicity of oil spills and pesticides, but they’re absorbed into the creatures’ systems where they can have more subtle impact over time.

Exposure to human hormones alters the gender identities of fish.
There are feminized fish and frogs— these are egg-producing males with ovaries that are regularly found in waters laced with the synthetic estrogen found in birth control pills and menopause treatments. Spawning and reproduction are interrupted, and these inter-sex creatures have led to the collapse of wild fish populations everywhere from the Potomac River to the coast of Spain.

Fish also have very human responses to psychiatric drugs.
Residue from the widespread human use of mood-altering medications is changing fish behavior. A shy fish becomes bolder on anti-anxiety drugs, less likely to stay within the safety of the group and more likely to be eaten by a predator. An anti-depressant like Xanax can make fish eat faster, and Prozac can make them sluggish and anti-social.

Drug-induced changes in fish behavior can lead to unexpected ecological consequences as they alter population sizes and the balance and diversity of species in waterways. The drugs are also working their way up the food chain as larger fish and other marine creatures like osprey and otter feed on the drug-exposed species.

We’ve understood the problem for 20 or so years, and we’ve watched it get worse.
Sewage treatment plants still aren’t required to remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater before discharging it into open water. Meanwhile, the massive baby boomer generation is taking a deep dive into prescription drugs to fight age-related ailments like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, creating unheard of levels of pharmaceutical pollution. Hydrologists are predicting even greater toxicity as global warming brings droughts and declining water levels, further concentrating the pollution in freshwater bodies.

Our dependence on pharmaceuticals isn’t likely to wane. 
Nor is the need for clean, fresh water.


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Menu Trends: What You’ll See and What You Won’t

image via Deep South Sweets

image via Deep South Sweets

Menus are making way for upgraded oatmeal and turmeric everything.
Ricotta is the new Greek yogurtAncient grains are bumping sweet potatoes right off the plate. Iced tea is getting a makeover while iced coffee holds its ground.
So says a survey of 1,575 chefs-members of the American Culinary Federation. The National Restaurant Association asked the chefs to comment on a couple of hundred food items and identify the ingredients, influences, dishes, and techniques that are shaking things up on the nation’s menus.

Hot Trends:

  • chef-driven fast casual concepts
  • make it in-house (small-batch condiments, ice cream, pickles, and charcuterie)
  • DIY (brew your own beer, butcher your own meats, mill your own flours)
  • street food influences
  • heirloom apples
  • ancient (and inadvertently gluten-free) grains (teff, amaranth, millet)
  • new ethnic condiments (harissa, peri peri, chimichurri)
  • African flavors
  • regional gravy (red-eye, tasso, black pepper)
  • Southeast Asian cuisines
  • prix fixe brunch menus
  • specialty iced tea (Thai, matcha, Southern sweet tea)
  • grain bowls and porridges
  • native herbs (lovage, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica)
  • sustainable fish varieties

Yesterday’s News:

  • deviled eggs
  • tater tots
  • flatbread appetizers
  • wedge salads
  • vegetables in desserts
  • smoked salt
  • edible insects
  • bone marrow and organ meats
  • foams

There are the new movers and shakers, the trends that are hanging on past their prime, and then there are the perennials. Chefs identified the classic dishes that are enjoying a certain current popularity, but are eternally welcome at the table:

  • fried chicken
  • biscuits
  • barbecue
  • French toast
  • pulled pork
  • comfort foods
  • classic desserts (fruit cobblers, profiteroles)
  • bacon


Posted in food business, food trends, restaurants | 1 Comment

A Definition of ‘Local Food.’ You’re happy to pay more for it, but do you know what it is?



What qualifies as local food? It’s kind of a trick question.
A small, densely populated country like England uses it to designate foods produced within a 31 mile (50 km) radius, although so does large and sparsely populated Canada. France is guided by the combination of geography, geology, and climate that create the identifying characteristics of terroir. The standard is especially difficult to codify in the U.S. where a single ranch in Texas is bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island, while a 30 mile radius in Delaware brings produce from four states beyond its borders.

‘Local’ is like the Supreme Court’s test for pornography: I know it when I see it.
The USDA defines local and regional foods as those produced and distributed within a 400-mile radius, but it’s just a statutory definition that creates eligibility for federal programs that support local food systems. Retailers all have their own definitions: Walmart’s ‘local’ produce is grown in a store’s home state; Safeway (whose brands include Dominick’s, Genuardi’s, Von’s, and Randall’s) classifies local as food produced within an eight hour drive of an individual market; Krogers (subsidiaries are Ralph’s, Fred Meyer, and Fry’s) vaguely interprets local as foods produced in a given state or region of the US; Supervalu (Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, and Lucky) applies a ‘local’ label to food grown in regions that are as broad as four or five states; Whole Foods defines it as produce grown within a day’s drive of its stores. The strictest definition comes from shoppers; according to the 2015 Local Food Consumer Shopping Survey, 96% of consumers define a local food radius as 100 miles from production to point of sale.

Whatever the meaning, we’re willing to pay a premium for the ‘local’ label.
Even as consumers tighten the definition, they’re loosening the pursestrings and expanding the scope. Demand has moved beyond produce to meat and seafood, bread, cheese, and other dairy. The greatest spike in interest is in dry goods like beans and grains, a category that the industry used to believe was least likely to warrant a local premium. Three-quarters of all consumers are willing to pay a higher price (usually stated as 10-25%) for local foods, and nearly half of all shoppers will make a special trip just to find them.

‘Local’ has become shorthand for fresh, high quality, and environmentally friendly.
Consumers also tend to assign feel-good attributes to the local label like better food safety, organic practices, humane treatment of animals, and production by a small, family farm. By contrast, they draw inferences regarding industrial food production, assigning attributes like less healthy, lesser quality, unfair labor practices, poor environmental stewardship, and a slew of unsafe additives. In both cases, some assumptions are valid, some are not, for example fruits and vegetables that are grown outdoors in warmer but distant climates will nearly always be greener than local crops that have to be grown in greenhouses. This doesn’t mean that we should be eating air-freighted raspberries in the dead of winter, but there’s room for some relief from a winter diet of local turnips and cabbage.

Local foods are best when they are part of a broader movement toward sustainability.
The corporate food model separates producers and consumers through a chain of processors, brokers, distributors, shippers, and retailers, while a local model connects producers and consumers in proximate or direct relationships. It creates food systems that are woven into the economic, environmental, and social health of a particular place. Sustainability is baked into the local model because everyone is a stakeholder in the future.



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The World’s First All-Vegan Supermarket Chain Opens its First U.S. Branch

tote bag available at MotiveCo.

tote bag available at MotiveCo.


The world can be a cruel place for vegans.
They’re forced to eat just the sides at dinner parties and are exhausted from carrying the weight of moral superiority. Finally, they have a place to call home. Veganz, the world’s first all-vegan supermarket chain, will be opening later this year in Portland, Oregon.

TopVeganCitiesFINALVeganz fits Portland like a glove.
The city is already home to an all-vegan strip mall, a vegan tattoo parlor, a vegan donut shop, and a vegan colon hydrotherapy clinic (don’t ask). There’s even a vegan strip club where you can enjoy a bowl of lentil soup while the strippers perform, and you’re assured that none are wearing clothing made of fur, leather, feathers, or wool. A vegan supermarket? You have to wonder what took them so long.

The five-year old supermarket chain opened its first store in Berlin. It now has locations throughout Germany and has pushed into Austria and the Czech Republic. In 2016 Veganz stores will open in London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Barcelona, Milan, Copenhagen, and of course Portland.

Since whole, unprocessed, animal-free foods are well represented in mainstream markets, Veganz instead emphasizes the processed side of veganism, filling its shelves with food analogs. There are fake cheeses, fake meats and fish, egg substitutes, dairy-free ice creams and baked goods, and of course plenty of meatless German-style wursts and schnitzels. The chain’s merchandisers are sourcing from 30 countries to assemble this range of products.

Less than 1% of the U.S. population chooses a vegan lifestyle, fewer than 4% follow an exclusively vegetarian diet, but between a third (older consumers) and a half (millennials) of Americans fall somewhere on the flexitarian spectrum. Many are half-time, Michael Pollan-styled vegans following his prescriptive VB6 schedule of meat-free eating just until 6 PM.

I’m sure there are Portland vegans and vegetarians who will be thrilled to have a hometown Veganz.
The store’s analog offerings can satisfy their hunger for the meat-ish foods that are missing from their diets. But most of us, with veg-friendly but flexible diets are not so hard up, and faux and processed meat- and dairy-like substances just won’t cut it. Animal welfare and environmental factors are part of the equation, but most people who eschew a meat-based diet do so for reasons of health and wellness.

We might have different moral comfort zones, but we’re all looking for balance, variety, and satisfaction.




Posted in health + diet, shopping, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

Mouthwatering Words: The New Branding Strategy


Which one of these shapes is a kiki and which is a bouba?
Did you choose the curvy shape as a bouba and the jagged one as a kiki?
Do you think it was an arbitrary choice?
The names are made up with no inherent meaning, but there’s nothing arbitrary about your selections. Upwards of 95% of people make the same choice. They do so in nearly every language on the planet and at ages as young as 2‏½ years.

Names matter.
Even nonsensical names evoke perceptions. When it comes to packaged foods, the name precedes the taste, so good branding appeals to the palate with words. The words need to stimulate perceptions and connections in the shopper’s mind that hint at the deliciousness inside. Think of product names like ‘Twinkies,’ ‘Miracle Whip,’ and ‘Gatorade’— completely meaningless yet somehow evocative.

The latest trend is food names that simulate eating.
Brand strategists have latched onto something called inward wandering brand names. They want names that, when spoken, mimic the act of eating. The names are ‘inward wandering’ because the articulation of them causes muscle movement and mouth activity that starts with the lips and ends with the throat.

How to eat your words.
The ideal inward wandering word would begin with p, b, or m.
A front-of-the-mouth vowel should come next (a, e, i, ā, ē).
The concluding syllable pulls it over the tongue and into the esophagus with a back-of-the-mouth vowel (o, u, ä, ō, ü).

An outward wandering word is just what you think.
It mimics movements of the mouth that simulate spitting or vomiting.
K, h, and g are the best back-of-the-mouth consonants to begin an outward wandering word.
Follow one of them up with a back-to-front vowel and consonant sequence and you’re basically spewing in an abstract fashion.

It sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo, but it works.
Numerous studies have established the ability of an inward wandering brand name to make a product seem more palatable. It works across languages, allowing for differing phonetics and speech mechanics. It’s effective whether you’re reading silently or saying the words aloud. Of course since we’re seeing inward wandering brand names in the marketplace, you can be sure that the technique translates into higher purchase rates and a willingness among consumers to pay higher prices.


Posted in food business, food trends, shopping | 1 Comment

The Political Donations of Restaurant Chains



Is that a ‘blue plate special’ you’re eating? Or could it be a red plate?

In these hyper-partisan times, even restaurants have their own political action committees (PACs).
The companies can’t contribute directly to federal elections so they pool their financial resources in special accounts, combining corporate funds, employee donations, and contributions from vendors, customers, and other stakeholders. Usually the corporate board decides how to distribute it.

The businesses don’t have to list campaign contributions in proxy statements or annual reports. Some, like Chick-Fil-A, are well known for their political leanings, but it’s usually more of a challenge to assess both the political orientation and full extent of their corporate political activities.

Nearly all of the major restaurant chains donate primarily to Republican candidates, committees, and causes. The same is true for the right-leaning National Restaurant Association, the industry’s dominant trade association, as well as most of its 53 state affiliates. Together they represent more than 500,000 restaurant businesses plus supplier companies, faculty and students in hospitality education, and nonprofits like hospitals and health care facilities, schools, prisons, and military food service establishments. With annual spending that’s just south of $100 million, the association maintains 37 in-house lobbyists and supports still more outside lobbyists whose agenda tends to be aimed at blocking legislation favoring paid sick leave, immigration reform, nutrition labeling, and raising the minimum wage.

The reddest of the chains
DineEquity, the parent company of Applebee’s and IHOP, leads the pack contributing 96% of its funding to Republican candidates and causes.
It’s followed by Outback Steakhouses’ parent Bloomin’ Brands and Chick-Fil-A, both at 93%;
Wendy’s and White Castle, each at 91%;
Yum Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) at 90%
Chili’s parent company (Brinker International) at 89%.

Closer to the middle
Dairy Queen goes Republican 72% of the time; 
Panera is at 67% and McDonald’s is at 63%.
While Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, leans 63% toward the GOP, its CEO personally contributes 100% to Democratic candidates and causes;
Dunkin’ Donuts slightly favors Republicans with a 52%/48% split.

Lonely on the left
Of the country’s leading restaurant chains, only Starbucks and Chipotle favor Democratic candidates and causes, Starbucks at 83% and Chipotle at 100%. Unlike their conservative counterparts, neither of these two chains has its own PAC.


Posted in food business, restaurants | 1 Comment

Whether You’re a Big Cheese or a Good Egg, We All Use Food Idioms


We’re spilling the beans on food idioms, those food-derived metaphors, aphorisms, similes, and other figures of speech that lard our language so liberally.
Even when we’re not talking about food, it works its way into our speech. You go to work and bring home the bacon, and if you’re not working for peanuts you’ll be rolling in the dough and can salt some away. When you come home at night, maybe you chew the fat with an old friend who’s one smart cookie, or just curl up like a couch potato and sink your teeth into the cream of the crop on cable TV.


You can put all your eggs in one basket or walk on eggshells, but if you lay an egg with a poor performance, you just might end up wearing egg on your face. But that’s just how the cookie crumbles. High-spirited types are full of beans, tattlers spill the beans, and bean counters can tell us if it all adds up to a hill of bean. 

maxresdefaultFood has worked its way into common slang in every language. When you’re having a good day in France they say you have the peach, while a bad day in Holland has you staring at the sloop like a herring. Lucky Americans are born with silver spoons in their mouths, while Belgians are born with their bums in butter, Spaniards arrive with a loaf of bread under their arms, and Swedes slide in on a shrimp sandwich. A fussy Australian carries on like a pork chop, a lying Russian is hanging noodles on your ears, and when you’re pushy in China they say you’re the first to have the soup.

maxresdefault-2Why food?
Maybe it’s because eating is a universal experience. Maybe it’s the way food reveals so much about a culture. Maybe it’s just because food references are broadly relatable in a way that, say, astronomy or auto parts are not.

Food idioms might not be your cup of tea, but it’s impossible to go cold turkey.
That’s it in a nutshell.

all images via This is Not Grammar
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It takes a half hour of tossing around a football to burn off the calories from just one little pig-in-a-blanket

On Super Bowl Sunday, we’re not so much armchair quarterbacks as snack bowl linebackers. 
For most fans the broadcast is an excuse to eat a full day’s worth of calories– one tortilla chip and chicken wing at a time.

Of course you’re no linebacker bulking up for the big game. But if you were— or a cheerleader, or even just a wildly enthusiastic fan—here’s the Super Bowl-style workout it would take to burn the calories of Super Bowl gluttony.



We’ll consume 27 billion calories just from potato chips. Forget about the carbs; the fat content alone contributes the calories to create four million new pounds of fat on American bodies. To burn off just a small handful of chips with French onion dip you’d have to bicycle back and forth across the Golden Gate Bridge four times.




Who doesn’t love a good pig in a blanket? It takes about a half hour of tossing around a football to burn off each little pastry-wrapped sausage.



You’re looking at a graph of 52 weeks of chicken wing sales. Note the spike? That would be the week leading up to the last Super Bowl. Paint the faces of eight rabid Ravens fans and you’ll burn the calories contained in a single chicken wing that’s been fried and drenched in Buffalo sauce. Unfortunately there aren’t enough football fans on the planet to make up for the 1.23 billion wings that will be eaten this Super Bowl Sunday.

Once the hors d’oeuvre of choice for Grandma’s bridge club,deviled eggs have become a Sunday staple during football season. Jogging the length of the football field 20 times will burn the calories from two stuffed halves of an egg.


football guac


Guacamole has risen through the Super Bowl snack ranks in short order. From a mere 8 million pounds a decade ago, this year we’ll be mashing 79 million pounds of avocados into dip, helped by having San Francisco host this year’s championship. Figure on 10 minutes of climbing stadium stairs to burn a quarter cup of guacamole.



Pizzerias are always the big winners. Super Bowl Sunday is their busiest day of the year by leaps and bounds. One in seven Americans orders take-out and most of it is pizza. If you played the French horn in a marching band for the duration of the game, the exercise would earn you a couple of slices.

superbowl glass

The nation’s beer tab will be more than $10 billion for Super Bowl Sunday. That’s 50 million cases, but it’s still only good enough to rank eighth on the list of beer-drinking holidays, mostly due to the season. The warm weather holidays of 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Fathers Day hold down the top spots. If you do your part with a 12 oz. beer each quarter, you’d have to do ‘the wave’ 2,853 times to burn the calories in those four bottles of beer.

Chips, dips, wings, beer… Sunday is the Super Bowl of gluttony. And you’ll pay for it on Monday when 6 percent of the workforce will call in sick.

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Online Auctions Let You Snag the Ultimate Dinner Party Guest

Pop Culture lats Supper via Adara Tiana

Pop Culture Last Supper via Adara Tiana


Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik

Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik


Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello

Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello


Who’s on your fantasy dinner party guest list?
You know the parlor game: if you could invite anyone, living or dead, who would have at your dinner table? 
As you go around the room and name your names, there are some predictable results. Jesus, Steve Jobs, Marilyn Monroe, and the Dalai Lama are classic choices; J.K. Rowling and Barack Obama are often mentioned as are Warren Buffet (who wouldn’t want some investment advice?), Gandhi (more meat for the rest of us), and Martin Luther King Jr. to say grace. So will someone’s sixth grade teacher and a great grandpa who died in a war. The rest of the table would probably be filled out with intellectuals and sex symbols, favorite writers, athletes, and Hollywood stars.

Online celebrity auction sites can fill the seats of your dream table.
Recent auction winners have supped with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Hugh Jackman, Snoop Dogg, the cast of The Big Bang Theory, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and primatologist Jane Goodall. The celebrities like to participate because the proceeds go to a charity of their choosing, while bidders relish the chance to hobnob with their heroes.

These are the kinds of opportunities that normally are relegated to the well-heeled and well-connected attending pricey galas, but online auctions make them available to anyone willing to pony up the right price. Some of the sites operate with a standard auction model with the spoils awarded to the highest bidder. Others are more raffle-like, collecting thousands of small donations and choosing the winner in a random drawing. The auctions donate from 80-100% of the proceeds to charitable organizations.

Current auctions are offering a salumi-filled cocktail hour with Mario Batali and a bike ride and ice cream date with Bono. For a lowball bid you can have lunch with Judge Judy, whose reserve price has yet to be met.

Check out Charity BuzzPrizeoHollywood Charity Auctionand Omaze where you’ll see ongoing auctions for all kinds of social engagements with sports figures, politicians, artists, rappers, rockers, technology wizards, business leaders, and plenty of Hollywood stars.

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A Most Perfect Recipe





Posted in Entertainment, entertainment | 2 Comments

2015 Was A Pretty Lousy Year for Food Policy


It was (Big) business as usual in 2015.
Big Food, Big Agriculture, Big Chemicals, and Big Soda faced off against public health advocates, and the public was all too often the Big Loser. Here are some of the more notable food policy highs and lows from the past year.


The coveted children’s nutrition seal goes to ….Pasteurized Processed Cheese Product

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics selected Kraft Singles as the first product to earn its new Kids Eat Right nutrition seal. The Academy, representing 75,000 health professionals, advises Congress in developing regulations that shape national food policy. It also counts PepsiCo, Kraft, and ConAgra Foods among its corporate sponsors. In a Daily Show segment, Jon Stewart summed up the announcement by explaining “the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is an academy in the same way this [Kraft Singles] is cheese.”



In his first official act as the newly elected commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Sid Miller declared a statewide ‘amnesty for cupcakes,’ symbolically squaring off against what he calls the federal overreach of school nutrition guidelines. He also reversed a 10-year old ban, returning deep fryers and soda machines to school cafeterias.

In other childhood obesity news, the president of Cinnabon and a former Coca-Cola president were keynote speakers at the annual conference of the School Nutrition Association.

herbicide_spraying_sign-4316-8931Dow and Monsanto doubled down on herbicides this year. Their first generation GMO seeds were bestowed with herbicide-resistant genetic material that allowed crops to survive the bounteous spraying of toxins. Now that weeds have adapted with their own toxin resistance, the agro-giants have newly engineered seeds that are able to tolerate more powerful chemicals and have brewed up companion cocktails combining old and new herbicides. The World Health Organization and the EPA have both voiced concerns about their carcinogenic effects on humans. Expect to see the chemical cocktails on your local garden center shelves in time for spring planting.

The Global Energy Balance Network says 'go ahead, drink up'

The Global Energy Balance Network says ‘go ahead, drink up’

Stunning news came out of an anti-obesity group called the Global Energy Balance Network. The organization burst on the scene this years with an advisory board stocked with respected scientists and physicians all bearing the message that we’ve been wrong about the link between diet and obesity. Despite the 40,000 or so relevant studies that pop up in a quick Google Scholar search, the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, a top exercise scientist with the University of South Carolina, dismissed the link with this statement: “Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on, and there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

The Global Energy Balance Network proved to be nothing more than a front for Coca-Cola, a little detail that was omitted in GEBN materials. Founded entirely on millions in unrestricted funds provided by Coca-Cola, the soda company selected the organization’s leaders, edited its mission statement, and suggested content for its website. Side note: in the last few years Dr. Blair received $3.5 million in research funds from Coca-Cola. Just saying.


Food safety, transparency, and traceability took a hit this year when Congress repealed the country-of-origin-labeling rule on beef and pork. This came as we were still reeling from the news that even Chipotle, with its fresh ingredients and best practices, was vulnerable to a series of foodborne illness disasters. Then we heard about the new strain of E. coli appearing on Chinese pig farms that is more virulent and antibiotic resistant than anything we’ve ever seen, able to shake off even anti-pathogen drugs of last resort.
Slave ship shrimp, anyone?

It’s not all bad news from 2015.
We have a First Lady who continues to push for better school nutrition. The American appetite for fast food is finally waning. Trans fats and food dyes are disappearing from many processed foods. We’re losing our taste for sugared cereals, sodium-heavy canned soups, white bread, margarine, and corn syrup sweetened beverages. Calorie intake dropped for the first time in decades mostly because of improved product labeling and effective public health messaging.

In the new year we’ll continue to butt heads over GMOS and antibiotics, soda taxes and marketer access to child-oriented media. Resources aren’t aligned with our nutritional goals, and corporate interests are too cozy with policy makers. Here’s hoping that in 2016 common sense prevails and the public’s interests are put ahead of profits.


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

There are Good Luck and Bad Luck Foods. Start the New Year Off Right.



What’s on your plate for the new year?
Many New Year’s revelers try to balance the bad juju on its way by starting out the year with a meal of lucky foods.
These are foods that symbolize health, long life, prosperity, fertility, love, and forward progress. Summon your own good luck for the coming year with some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world.images-3

Beans, peas, and lentils
Legumes are symbolic of prosperity in many cultures because they’re thought to resemble coins when they’ve been cooked. They’re often paired with pork, which has its own lucky associations, so the combination makes for a most propitious meal. Italians eat sausages and green lentils just after midnight. Germans usually eat their New Year’s legumes in lentil or split pea soup with sausage. Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed peas cooked with ham, is a tradition in the American south.

Cook your noodles carefully. Chinese traditions suggest that the longer the noodles, the longer the life. Uncut, unbroken noodles are eaten as a symbol of longevity at birthday and New Year celebrations. The Chinese new year doesn’t begin until February 19th, but some January 1 noodles can’t hurt.

tangold2016bootRound or ring-shaped foods

The shape represents a year coming full circle. Mexicans eat the ring-shaped rosca de reyes cake, the Dutch eat the donut-like ollie bollen, and in Greece, families bake a lucky coin into the round vassilopita cake.

Pomegranates are an especially auspicious symbol. Filled with hundreds of seeds with an almost lifelike ability to bleed, they symbolize life and abundance, and in a number of New Year traditions they’re smashed open at midnight. An Islamic legend says that each fruit contains one seed that has descended from paradise.

Fish makes frequent appearances on New Year’s tables. There’s herring at midnight in Poland, boiled cod in Denmark, and the Germans not only feast on carp, they also put fish scales in their wallets for a successful new year. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest. Chinese tradition dictates that a whole fish should be served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good year, from start to finish.images-6

In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year. Are this year’s grapes sweet or sour? The taste gives a clue to the character of each of the coming months. Spanish state television broadcasts the New Year’s chimes and nearly 4 million pounds of grapes (in little 12 grape packets) are sold in the last week of the year.

What Not to Eat:

  • Lobster
    Lobster is considered a poor choice for a new year’s meal because lobsters move backwards and could lead to setbacks, regrets, and dwelling on the past.
  • Chicken
    You don’t want your good luck to fly away.
  • White foods
    The Chinese avoid eggs, cheese, and tofu, because white is the color of death.

And never clean your plate. A little leftover food will usher in a year of plenty and guarantee a stocked pantry.



Posted in diversions, holidays, New Years | 3 Comments

There’s a Little Something Called Responsibility


You made the mess, you clean it up.
That’s what we should be telling producers who package their beverages in plastic bottles.

That’s how it’s done in other countries; across Europe and Canada, food and beverage processors operate under the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility. It means that producers are responsible for the entire life-cycle of their products, especially the reuse, recycling, and disposal of packaging.

The rest of the world has this:


Der Grüne Punkt, German for the Green Dot, is the symbol of national product stewardship systems in 31 countries. The Green Dot on packaging means that the producer takes responsibility for environmental impacts throughout the product’s lifecycle. Before releasing its goods into the marketplace, the manufacturer pays into a recovery organization that complies with UK and EU standards as well as respective national laws. The Green Dot is the world’s most widely used trademark with more than 170,000 participating companies taking responsibility for 460 billion packaged items annually.

The U.S. has this:


Producers get to wash their hands of their handiwork as soon as it leaves the factory. The cost of dealing with the detritus of our consumption falls on municipal governments and taxpayers who fund local infrastructures to deal with the waste.

Naturally, Americans lead the world in creating municipal waste, and food packaging is some of the most problematic. It often combines several different packaging materials to create unrecyclable trash like the plastic-bonded aluminum used in juice pouches (the world can be encircled five times over just by all the Capri Sun pouches that are littered or landfilled in a single year). Food packaging also relies heavily on oil-based plastics—the manufacture, distribution, and disposal of each single-serve water bottle consumes an entire quarter of the bottle’s volume capacity of crude oil, and the average American drinks and disposes of 167 water bottles in a year.

It doesn’t help that recycling rates leveled off a decade ago and have even declined in recent years.
Half of the American population recycles daily, while 13% doesn’t recycle at all. But recycling is not the wished-for magic bullet. What was supposed to be a self-sustaining service has turned into a drain on municipal budgets, and many in the scientific community are questioning whether the resources used in processing waste cancel out the positive environmental benefits of recycling.

Extended Producer Responsibility not only shifts the costs, it shifts the conversation.
By holding manufacturers accountable for the complete life cycle of their products, it incentivizes them to incorporate environmentally friendly design and socially responsible marketing. Instead of focusing efforts on disposal, it motivates them to reimagine production and distribution. It means that consumers and producers both have some skin in the game when it comes to devising and implementing strategies reduce the total environmental impact of waste.

Learn more about the groups behind the Extended Producer Responsibility movement in the U.S.:
The Product Stewardship Institute  promotes legislation and voluntary initiatives to expand state laws that require manufacturers to finance the costs of recycling or safe disposal of dangerous products like pharmaceutical waste, batteries, and electronics.
Upstream pressures consumer goods companies to take responsibility for packaging waste through its Make It Take It campaign.
Waste-producing giants like Keurig, Pepsico, and Coca Cola have kicked in to create the Closed Loop Fund, a social impact fund with $100 million to invest in the development of environmentally responsible products and packaging.



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Evidence is Piling Up: Marijuana Could Be a Weight Loss Aid


image via Cosmopolitan

image via Cosmopolitan


“The prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
                                       American Journal of Epidemiology, Oxford University Press, August, 2011

So concluded researchers from the first large-scale study of marijuana use and obesity. They analyzed data from 50,000 U.S. adults, controlled for participants’ sociodemographic characteristics (age, education, ethnicity, etc.), and found a marked difference in obesity rates: less than 17% among cannabis users versus 25% among nonusers, and the most frequent smokers (3X per week or more) were the slimmest of them all.

The study pretty much turns on its ear everything you thought you knew about the munchies. And there have been others:

  • a 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the American Journal of Medicine shows that pot smokers, on average, have smaller waists and higher levels of ‘good’ cholesterol than non-pot smokers. Again, the biggest winners were the heaviest users.
  • The research journal Obesity published a study this year linking lower body mass index and lower insulin levels, both markers for diabetes, with cannabis use.
  • The British Medical Journal reports that current abstainers who merely have a history of marijuana use are at a lower risk of contracting type 2 diabetes than those with no history of cannabis consumption.

Can you think of a more counterintuitive diet aid than marijuana?

The munchies are a well-documented phenomenon. Rigorous, double-blind, controlled studies only confirm what generations of stoners and chemotherapy patients know: smoking weed makes you hungry. And not regular hungry but craving food of the sweet, salty, or fatty variety. Marijuana perks up the taste and hunger receptors in your brain and body; flavors are heightened on the tongue as happy-making mood compounds course through your body, and your brain craves more, more, more. It’s why even brownies made from a boxed mix will taste so damn good when you’re stoned.

Actually, marijuana isn’t all that far-fetched as a diet aid.

For starters, obesity researchers know that a diet of foods laden with concentrated sugars and refined starches can act on the brain in much the same way. Chronic overeaters are essentially looking to stimulate the same reward centers as marijuana smokers. Basically, cannabis users are less inclined to overindulge in food in that way because they already have their own high.

An easy benefit to understand is the impact of body temperature on weight regulation. Cannabis elevates the body’s core temperature and increases blood flow. The effect on the metabolism is similar to what happens during exercise—metabolic processes speed up and burn off more calories, and continue to do so for an hour or two after smoking—seemingly enough to counteract the munchies and then some. Less is understood about marijuana’s role in regulating the body’s blood sugar levels and insulin, but trial data has many in the medical community convinced that a marijuana derivative will someday be part of the everyday health regimen for people with diabetes.

Marijuana just might be the antidote to the national obesity epidemic. 
Researchers from San Diego State University and Cornell University, publishing in last month’s journal of Health Economics, found that when a state passes a medical marijuana law, the probability of obesity drops by 2 to 6 percent and generates savings in obesity-related medical costs of $58 to $115 per citizen, per year. As compelling as the evidence might be, it’s nearly impossible to fund and conduct research and drug trials as long as marijuana remains an illegal substance on the national level.


Posted in diet, Health, health + diet | 1 Comment

Who Still Buys Calendars? Oh, about 98% of us.


The physical calendar is still king.
We spend our days tethered to digital devices, but the ubiquity of low-tech timekeeping is remarkably untouched by the competition. 98% of homes and 100% of all businesses use at least one printed paper calendar, and day planner books have seen a resurgence as a must-have accessory for millennial women.

This year’s top-selling calendars are the typical mix of boy bands, small animals, inspirational sayings, and zombies.
But we did find a few food-themed calendars with way more personality. They’re quirky, creative, and anything but ordinary—just like the food-loving friends on your holiday list.

Poutine? Spam? They’re not our thing, but there’s one in every crowd.









A few designers are bringing interactivity to calendars. A food photo with its accompanying recipe is printed on each of the pages of A Year of Tempting Plates. The pages are enhanced with augmented reality software; scan with your phone and each month’s recipe appears in a video cooking tutorial. A lower-tech rendition comes from a German tea maker that created a daily calendar using tea leaves that are pressed into 365 date-embossed, wafer thin, brewable shingles. Instead of a page-a-day, it’s a cup-a-day.

agfacalendar1  drinkable-tea-calendar-7



In the grand tradition of Hot Potatoes from the Bavarian Farmers Association, we have the Italian Erotic Carp calendar and the cheese pinup girls from the French Fromages de Terroirs Association.









These page-a-day pet calendars promise nutritionally balanced, veterinarian-approved ‘tandem’ recipes that you and your pet will both enjoy.

Proving that firefighters don’t have a monopoly on calendars, the Sexy Chef is back for a third year. Cheeky and cheesy rather than steamy, in past editions the shamelessly untoned chefs stripped down and oiled up to step into singlets as masked Mexican-style wrestlers and short-shorts for roller disco. The Wrecking Ball promo suggests there’s more of the same for 2016.




Posted in diversions, New Years | 2 Comments

Food Videos are the Reigning Thumb Stoppers of Facebook

image via ReelSEO

image via ReelSEO


Cooking videos have emerged as the killer content on Facebook’s recently added video feature.
They’ve proven capable of stopping thumbs—getting Facebook users to put on the brakes as they scroll through their newsfeeds—winning fans among users and more importantly among marketers and content creators. Month after month, food content has dominated the leaderboard rankings of Facebook’s video creators for as far back as these things have been measured.

Nothing stops thumbs quite like meatballs.
Leading the pack last month, a Buzzfeed clip for Mozzarella-Stuffed Slow Cooker Meatballs was viewed 82.9 million times. With the Crock-Pot people reporting annual sales of about 4.4 million units, there were more viewers of the recipe than there are slow cookers out there in which to make the meatballs.

The most successful videos grab attention quickly, like the all-time champion, a 15-second s’mores dip clip with more than 120 million views. They’re short- less than a minute in duration- and usually feature just the cook’s hands as they add, mix, and shape a series of ingredients. Most prep steps take place off camera, and the whole process is sped up with time-lapse editing. Instructions tend to be represented graphically, since Facebook videos go straight to autoplay without sound, and the visuals are designed to look best on small mobile devices, where most people view their newsfeeds.

Buzzfeed has cracked the code like no other.
Already known for its mastery of the internet’s tone and aesthetic, Buzzfeed has nailed the art of the viral Facebook video. Buzzfeed content generates 2 billion Facebook video views a month, well ahead of every other other creator. The big surprise is the way that food and cooking is single-handedly responsible for that success: 19 out of the 20 most-watched Buzzfeed videos uploaded to Facebook last month were food related.

Buzzfeed posts through its main Facebook channel, through Buzzfeed Food, and now through a new, dedicated channel called Tasty, with the taglines: Food that’ll make you close your eyes, lean back, and whisper “yessss.” Snack-sized videos and recipes you’ll want to try. Other food-oriented video creators have found similar success on Facebook. The Tastemade TV Network picked up nearly 5 million Facebook fans this year after garnering 80 million views for No-bake Strawberry Chocolate Tart, and has just launched the all-dessert Sweeten channel. Between Milk-and-Cookies Shot Glasses and Supersize Ice Cream Sandwich, the lifestyle site PopSugar attracted 40 million Facebook video views. And life-hacker site Tip Hero stormed into the rankings last month with Baked Apple Roses, a surprise megahit generating more than 220 million Facebook video views.

Facebook is giving YouTube a run for the money- except when it comes to actual money.
Unlike YouTube, Facebook isn’t paying video producers for content, and advertising is still in a testing phase. But Facebook offers unparalleled reach and social engagement, and it’s bringing in a new kind of audience that wasn’t explicitly seeking out video content. For now, Facebook’s video producers have to be satisfied with the occasional paid endorsement or product placement and the opportunity to build an online following.


Posted in cyberculture, diversions, recipes | Leave a comment
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