Celebrity Chefs Storm the Pet Food Aisle

 

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

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

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

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

 

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How to Survive the Imminent Global Kale Shortage

Got Kale? t-shirt available on Amazon

Got Kale? t-shirt available via Amazon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Pizza-nomics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When Food is the Vacation

shop-food-festival

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Great Moments in Bottled Water History

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

Perrier_bottle tall CROP

 

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

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

Aquafina

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

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

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pepsi_green-logo-532x355

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

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

 

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

 

ImWithStupid

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

 

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

 

Conan-OBrien-Water-Tasting-Rays-Stark

 

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

 

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

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Lard Ass? Why, Thank You!

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Man Crowdfunds $65,000 Bowl of Potato Salad

handout

 

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

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

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

 

Posted in cyberculture, funny | 1 Comment

Instant Coffee is Still Big Business. Just not here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You Had Me At Goodbye: Candy at the Cash Register

 

Toys R Us time for a temper tantrum

Toys R Us
a temper tantrum waiting to happen

Best Buy I just need a phone charger

Best Buy
this is not the phone charger aisle

Whole Foods somehow we expected better

Whole Foods
somehow we expected better

 

 

Staples I'm just here for the ink cartridges

Staples
but I’m just here for an ink cartridge

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

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

Bed Bath and Beyond I guess this is the beyond

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Everyone Wants to Walk to the Coffee Shop

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Abbey Road via Apple (Parlophone)/EMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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From Dot-Com to Dot-Whatever

image via Hypographia

image via Hypographia

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s The Pig Idea?

pig

image via oinksters.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Is ‘Orange Is The New Black’ really just a cooking show set in prison?

 

image via Lionsgate Television

image via Lionsgate Television

 

The question was first posed on Digg, further probed on Slate, and is hotly debated in fan sites and viewer forums.
In the first season, Netflix released recipe cards for some of Red’s iconic dishes from the Litchfield Penitentiary. The show’s producers announced the fall publication of Orange Is the New Black: The Cookbook. And this summer the Crazy Pyes dessert truck will be touring through cities in the U.S. and Mexico.
Maybe we already have our answer.

The culinary motif serves as character development.
Flashbacks of a juice fast and a heritage breed turkey at Thanksgiving tell us everything we need to know about Piper’s privileged, pre-prison, boho-Brooklyn lifestyle. It’s a shorthand reveal to the class and cultural differences that we understand will make prison so jarring and traumatic for someone like Piper. We see the flip side in another inmate, Taystee Jefferson, whose nickname comes from her love of a cheap treat dispensed from urban ice cream trucks. Taystee is so comfortable in the prison setting that she sabotages her own parole so that her release is revoked and she can return to Litchfield.

The kitchen is the seat of prison power.
Piper learns early on that it’s not about pleasing the warden or the guards; her fate is really in the hands of  Red, the hard-edged Russian mob-connected inmate who runs the prison’s kitchen. Soon after her arrival Piper crosses Red by criticizing the food. Piper is starved out until she begins to understand the social order and the need to adapt and capitulate in order to survive.

Food is the show’s currency.
In real world prisons, instant ramen noodles are estimated to be an $80 million underground economy as the currency of the incarcerated. At Litchfield Penitentiary, Snickers bars can buy an abortion, a coconut cake can be traded for sexual favors, Krispy Kreme donuts buy the election to the prison’s advisory council, and Alex tries to buy Piper’s forgiveness with cornbread. The prison value of a well-made dessert inspired the cafeteria outburst that inspired the Crazy Pyes truck: hoping to make Piper her ‘prison wife,’ the inmate known as Crazy Eyes throws pie at a rival. When Piper rejects her advances, Crazy Eyes describes the lengths she’d gone to win Piper’s heart with the already-classic breakup line: “I threw my pie for you!”

TV characters have always inspired food-based kinships with  their viewers.
Published decades after Andy of Mayberry went off the air, Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook was a genuine hit, selling 900,000 copies. Jerry Seinfeld raised the profile of the babka and the Sex and the City characters help turn Magnolia Bakery into a global cupcake powerhouse. Unlike those loving culinary tributes Orange is the New Black’s prison food chic pushes the boundaries of good taste, both literally and metaphorically. A former inmate of the Federal Prison Camp in Danbury that’s fictionalized in the series is protesting what she perceives as exploitation of the incarcerated. She’s organizing demonstrations at Crazy Pyes appearances, which you can track through her twitter handle @PrisonGray053, which references the last three digits of her inmate ID number.

You can experience the real thing at a handful of prisons across the country that open their cafeterias and visitor centers to the public (once you’ve passing the metal detector, security clearance, and relinquished contraband and your drivers license) like the  Yelp-reviewed Fife and Drum at the minimum-security Northeast Correctional Center in Concord, MA, and Trenton, NJ’s (In)Mates Inn, with its 14 FourSquare check-ins. You can also book weddings and bar mitzvahs held on the prison grounds and catered by the incarcerated courtesy of the Garden State Correctional Facility in Yardville, NJ.

Or look for one of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary’s Prison Food Weekends.
This year’s popular annual event at the historic prison-turned-museum served up Nutraloaf, the controversial dish that’s dole out as a disciplinary action to rule-breaking inmates in place of regular meals. It’s a food so vile that its constitutionality as a cruel and unusual punishment has been successfully challenged in the supreme courts of nearly a dozen states. Admission included samples of Nutraloaf variations from different regional penal systems, served with recipes and tasting notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s All Play the “Would You Rather” Game

 

bubble_1bubble_2bubble_3

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a party game, a conversation starter, and an internet meme.
It poses a dilemma in the form of a question.
Would you rather give up the internet or lose your sense of taste?
Would you rather sweat mayonnaise or have Cheetos dust permanently stuck to your fingers?

The game can be fantastical or mean-spirited. It can show a path to self-improvement or contain a veritable Sophie’s choice of unbearable options. A good round of “Would You Rather” should make you laugh, and cringe, and think. 
Would you rather speak every language fluently or be able to communicate with animals? 
Would you rather h
ave legs the size of fingers or fingers the size of legs?

The chicken-or-beef version of the game goes a little something like this:

Would you rather consume carcinogenic heavy metal arsenic or a hormone-interrupting anabolic steroid?
The FDA withdrew its approvals for most forms of arsenic-laced chicken feed in 2013, but a new study from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) found the poison still showing up in 55% of supermarket samples and 100% of fast food samples.
The growth-promoting steroids are given to virtually every single conventionally-raised beef and dairy cow—at least in this country. The practice has been banned for years in much of the world.

Would you rather condemn a chicken to a lifetime in a cage of less than a square foot or a cow to be castrated without anesthesia or pain relief?

Would you rather get salmonella from a chicken farmer or E.coli from a beef processor?
It’s perfectly legal for farmers to ship out salmonella-contaminated chicken. E. coli. requires a bit more patience. It’s found in the intestinal tracts of cattle and isn’t usually transferred to the meat until cutting, grinding, and packaging.

Would you rather eat chickens that eat slaughterhouse remains or cows that eat poultry waste?
Factory production of chicken and beef is a continuous system of waste into food into waste into food… A single cow can eat as much as three tons of poultry waste in a year before its waste circulates back to the chickens.

That last one was a trick question.
Since cow and chicken by-products keep circulating  between facilities, when you eat one you’re really eating both.
And here’s another trick question. The trick this time is that neither option is a good answer.
Would you rather eat conventionally-raised chicken or conventionally-raised beef?

 

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

If You Only Get One Fart App

Mr. Nice Hands

Mr. Nice Hands

 

Go on, search for fart app.
You’ll be stunned by what you find (assuming you’re not a 9-year old boy and this is a first for that particular search term). At last count the App Store was offering 1,068. There’s iFart, U-Fart, and Who Farted?? There are motion-detecting fart apps, random fart generators, and apps that let you compose melodies with a farting orchestra. Even Google Glass has its own GlassFart app.

Flatulence humor is universal and timeless. It’s a frequent comedic device in the ancient plays of Aristophanes, and one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is basically an extended fart joke. Modern humorists from Mel Brooks to the South Park guys to Louis C.K. have all mined the comedy gold of wind breaking. With fart app technology, the mobile engineering brain trust is leveraging the applied science of accelerometers, GPS, bluetooth, and digital audio loops to give us the 21st century whoopie cushion. 

Amid the juvenilia of apps like SimonSaysFart, the FartHarmonica, and BunnyFarts (available in StinkyWinky or SmellyMelly editions), one app stands out by creating a teaching moment with the appeal of scatological humor. Fart Code scans the barcode of any food label to identify the farty ingredients within. The app’s fartometer determines the gas-producing potential; benign foods get the all-clear signal, while active ingredients produce fart noises and vibrations emulating the appropriate digestive response ranked on a scale from stinky to toxic. If you are a 9-year old boy, you can share a link to your fart with your social network. The rest of us might just take it as actionable data for menu planning.

 

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Oh, The Things You Can Do with Marshmallows

Imagine a world without marshmallows. 
It would be a world without Moon Pies, Mallomars, or Rocky Road ice cream. No Peeps, no fluffernutters, no more s’mores. Rice Krispies would be strictly a breakfast food, never a treat. Yams would be a lot less candied, and Lucky Charms would be just a bowl of frosted oat bits. Who’d be lucky then? Certainly not us.

For too long we’ve been taking marshmallows for granted.
And we’re not just overlooking them in the kitchen. Marshmallows are good for much more. So much more.

The Marshmallow Pedicure
Who needs cotton balls or those sponge foam toe separators when there are marshmallows about? A marshmallow between each toe makes polishing nails a breeze.

Marshmallow Rx 
Long before it was a candy, marshmallow was a medicine. The gel-like juice of the marshmallow shrub coats and soothes inflamed throats, and improves coughs by encouraging the loosening of mucus. In clinical trials, marshmallow was shown to be more effective than two out of three commonly used cough syrups.
Marshmallow similarly coats the lining of the esophagus and stomach. It shields them from the effects of stomach acid, making it a remedy for acid reflux, heartburn, and ulcers. And you can apply marshmallow salve to your skin to repair stretch marks, heal cold sores, and draw bacteria and fluids out of abscesses.

Marshmallow Candleholder
Protect your birthday cake from the unsightly and inedible trickle of candle wax. Stick the candles in marshmallows first and you’ll avoid picking wax out of frosting later.

No More Leaky Cones
Don’t you hate it when the point of an ice cream cone leaks melty ice cream? Place a marshmallow in the bottom of the cone before you add the ice cream, and you’ll be drip-free.

 

marshmallowbrownsugarSoften Brown Sugar
Brown sugar seems to harden overnight. One day it pours and the next it’s a solid clump. Add a few marshmallows to the opened bag or box and they’ll absorb the excess moisture that causes the granules to clump.

White Floppy Chef Hat

Marshmallow Glue
It’s like culinary duct tape. Melt a few marshmallows and it becomes edible glue for all your baking fixes. It’s what wedding cake bakers use to fix cracks, bond together cake tiers, and keep the little bride and groom cake toppers from tipping over.

Not too shabby for nothing more than sugar and air.

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Will Fast Food Ruin the Bánh Mì ?

image via Willamette Week

image via Willamette Week

 

The buzz on Bánh Mì is that it’s going to be the next big thing in fast food.
The time is right for these French bread-Vietnamese sandwiches, which some believe will become as much a part of the lunchtime vernacular as the sub or the wrap.

French bread was introduced to Vietnam in the late 18th century when the country fell under French colonial rule. Bánh mì (pronounced bun mee) began as the traditional, minimalistic Parisian sandwich of butter and ham or pâté on a baguette. When the French departed in the 1950′s, the Vietnamese kept the baguettes and liberated the bánh mì sandwiches from their colonial origins, replacing the butter with mayonnaise and perking up the meat fillings with native ingredients like fresh and vinegared vegetables, hot peppers, and cilantro.

The new classic bánh mì starts with a Viet-style French baguette. Usually made with some combination of white, wheat, and rice flours, it’s narrow and airy, more crackly crust than anything else. Colonial era holdovers like cold cuts and pâté can still be found, but most are filled with lemongrass-grilled or roasted pork, tofu, or chicken. There are always carrot and radish pickles, sliced jalapeño peppers, cilantro sprigs, fresh cucumbers, and a smear of mayonnaise. A properly-made bánh mì contains elements of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, creamy, and crunchy.

Americans were introduced to bánh mì when Vietnamese refugees arrived in the late 1970’s following the Vietnam War. Small bakeries were producing bánh mì for their communities, where they were first discovered by restaurant workers who appreciated the vivid flavors, startling textures, and low prices. Modern cooks pushed the boundaries of what was already a cultural and culinary mash-up, swapping out the traditional meat fillings for meatballs, bacon, American-style pulled pork, and hot dogs. They’re making breakfast bánh mì and bánh mì sliders, and adding contemporary garnishes like kale, arugula, Sriracha, and aioli.

Much of what you find today is little more than Asian-accented ingredients on a French baguette, which is precisely why the fast food world is showing interest. Today’s bánh mì hints at exoticism while remaining familiar enough not to scare anyone. The Chipotle chain has already stuck its toe in the bánh mì waters with its pan-Asian ShopHouse concept, but the real game-changer came with this week’s announcement that Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco BellKFC, and so much more, is diving in. God help us, the people who peddle waffle tacos and pizza nibbles with ranch dressing dip are giving the Yum! treatment to Vietnamese sandwiches.
The Saigon import turned insider secret could soon be just another fast food fixture, served up on a value menu with a 16 ounce Pepsi and a side of fries.

You can find the real deal in your town with the international bánh mì directory from Battle of the Bánh Mì.

Posted in fast food, food knowledge, food trends | Leave a comment

Detroit: From Food Desert to Food Sovereignty

 

 

movie still, Grown in Detroit

movie still, Grown in Detroit

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Naming and Shaming the Food Brands

 Who’s Behind the Brand?

 

 

The average American supermarket carries nearly 40,000 products.
It sounds like myriad options until you realize that most of them—estimates run as high as 90%—come from fewer than a dozen companies. Acquisitions and consolidation have left us with Unilever-Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, ConAgra-Hebrew National kosher salami, and PepsiCo-Sabra hummus, and all but 15 of the nation’s organic food processors are in the hands of multinational giants.

The melding of brands matters.
When you buy Sweet Leaf organic tea you’re a customer of a company that funds initiatives to block GMO labeling; the parent company of your Morningstar Farms veggie patties is party to the mass destruction of rain forests. Stealth ownership of brands means that your carefully spent grocery dollars are ending up in the hands of the top 10 food and beverage producers who together emit more greenhouse gases than Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway combined. If you care about poverty and hunger, child labor, living wages, women’s rights, and climate change, then you should care about who really owns the brands that are lining the shelves of your supermarket.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign rates the social and environmental policies of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. The top 10 companies are megacorporations whose products are sold virtually everywhere on the planet. Millions of people, most in poor countries, rely on them for employment in agriculture and production. Their policies and business practices shape national economies and influence lifestyles for billions of global citizens. Oxfam evaluates the companies according to seven criteria: corporate transparency, women’s rights, labor practices, farming practices, land use, water use, and pollution. While some companies are doing better than others, overall it’s a fairly bleak portrait of the food system.

Oxfam’s campaign highlights the massive reach and global influence wielded by just 10 companies. If these industry leaders can be prodded to use their power responsibly, they could play a major role in the world-wide fight against hunger, poverty, inequality, and climate change.

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Maya Angelou: A Multi-Hyphenated Life

Author-poet-teacher-filmmaker-actor-activist-cookbook author

Yes, cookbook author.
It’s really not so surprising. Food is art, communication, nourishment, connection. It touches the soul, is a catalyst of social transformation, and encompasses the whole of human history.

Angelou called cooking a natural extension to her autobiography.
Of her early lessons, learned on a wood-burning stove in her grandmother’s kitchen, she said:

It just tells you that somebody’s there before you. The tradition of cooking and serving the breakfast, the main dinner, and even something light in the evening, like yogurt and cornbread, like my grandmother used to do, it tells me that I’ve come from somebody. It didn’t just start with me.

Maya Angelou became a talented home cook who reveled in hearty, substantial dishes like crown roasts, meat pies, and stews. She called fried chicken her favorite comfort food, especially when it was cooked in her mother’s ancient cast iron skillet and served with greens and cornbread. She also had a weakness for Hebrew National hot dogs washed down with an ice-cold Corona. Angelou’s kitchen philosophy is summed up in her 1983 poem The Health-Food Diner:

...No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak)...

Dr. Maya Angelou: a joyful soul; a heroic spirit; a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace; an unapologetic lover of food.

mya_ckbook_cover         cookm

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