How To Navigate Our Collective Food Anxiety

image via Marie Saba

image via Marie Saba


Are hot dogs really as bad for you as cigarettes?
Will coffee send you to an early grave? Is gluten fogging your brain or is it dairy?
There are 40,000 items in the supermarket, but it sometimes feels like there’s nothing safe to eat.

Eat this! Don’t eat that!
There’s a steady barrage of nutritional advice and medical headlines, and they usually contradict earlier messages. We’ve seen good foods gone bad— think of tuna and margarine. Dietary no-no’s like coffee, red wine, eggs, and chocolate are the new health foods, but toasted bread is carcinogenic. Yes to sugar, no to soy. Or is it yes to soy? We’re counseled to eat more fatty acids, except whoops, gotta watch the Omega-6s. I forget, are we eating butter this week?

food-allergyFood avoidance has become a way of life.
We read labels for the un-ingredients, more interested in what’s not in food than what’s in it. The packaged foods industry reports that 52% of consumers are avoiding specific ingredients, up from 26% in less than a decade. Those afflicted with allergies, sensitivities or specific health problems are in the minority. The rest of us are opting out of certain foods and ingredients as a lifestyle choice. And those packaged food marketers love the trend; they get to charge a clean label premium to a larger share of the market than is medically or nutritionally justified. Take gluten-free products: less than one per cent of the population needs to avoid gluten but more than 29 per cent chooses to avoid iteven though it’s estimated that a gluten-free diet can double the cost of groceries (and ironically, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness show that the number one stressor for celiac patients is not the disease itself but the cost of the diet).

We agonize over food in ways that would mystify earlier generations who only worried about getting enough.
It’s been called the gastronomic equivalent of having too much time on our hands, and the abundance has allowed our thoughts to run amok, turning one of our most basic pleasures into a significant source of anxiety. When fear crosses into phobia, it even gets its own clinical diagnosis: Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, also known as Selective Eating Disorder, appears in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Additives, dyes, GMOs, hormones…they give us good reasons to seek out dietary advice.
Recognize that solid, evidence-based advice seldom deals in absolutes. It’s constantly updated and revised as it accounts for the evolving, nuanced landscape of diets and populations. On the flipside are the food marketers, alarmist media, and health gurus whose unambiguous claims are too often ill-informed and lacking context. They escalate our fears and lead us into the kind of avoidance and deprivation that may be unnecessary and unsound, and will certainly be less enjoyable.

As the late, great Julia Child used to say:
“If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.”


Posted in diet, health + diet | Leave a comment

An ISIS Attack on our Food Supply: It’s not an IF but a WHEN




For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do.
—Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at his farewell news conference, December 3, 2004

Poison is available, so poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah. 
—militant identified as ‘Abu Salman the Frenchman’ speaking in an ISIS recruiting video released November 15, 2015


The US made big plans to draw a protective shield around our food supply in the the wake of 9-11. 
Food security joined priority sectors like communications, energy, transportation, and emergency health services as a focus of the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. Early 2002 saw the quick passage of the Bioterrorism Act, intended to create pathways for cooperation and oversight between the government, private industry, and public agencies like water departments and the FDA. But after more than a decade of Presidential directives, Senate hearings, and Congressional reports, we remain as vulnerable as ever to the nightmare scenario of food terrorism.

The problem is that food counterterrorism happens at the intersection of geography and bureaucracy.
Geographic hurdles exist because domestic food production takes place over vast, sprawling areas which are impossible to protect effectively. Oversight becomes even more complicated in a globalized world economy in which food and food ingredients are imported from countries where health and safety standards are low or non-existent. Then there are the bureaucratic tangles and inefficiencies. Food monitoring activities are far-flung and fragmented: there’s the oversight of federal agencies like the USDA, FDA, Department of Defense, and Homeland Security; and in many segments of agriculture and manufacturing, there are parallel systems of self-regulation and voluntary compliance on the part of the private sector. Lines of responsibility are blurred, communications between unrelated entities are scattershot, and there is no one with the authority or accountability to take charge.

The public has also dropped the ball.
One of our deepest fears following the 9-11 attacks was that terrorists would poison our food. But we’ve been lulled into complacency by the relative domestic quiet of the intervening years, and lost our post-9-11 sense of urgency to effect change. Also, direct attacks on the food supply are rare. The vast majority of deliberate contaminations take place at the end of the food supply chain—the rat poison in a husband’s dinner or tranquilizers in the city council’s coffee pot. Occasionally we see tampering at the retail grocery or restaurant level, but these tend to be mostly thrill crimes, or crimes of retribution. Rarer still are politically motivated acts, like the 1984 salmonella attack directed at voters that sickened nearly a thousand Oregon residents, or the poisoning death in London of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210 in his tea.

All that tells us is that it hasn’t happened yet.
Food is easily the least protected element of our nation’s critical infrastructure. Some might argue that despite its vulnerability, we have little to fear because the world has never seen a large-scale act of warfare on a food supply. But then again, the world had never seen anything like 9-11 or the ISIS attacks on Paris.


Posted in agriculture, food safety | Leave a comment

A Celebrity, an Internet Billionaire, and a Unicorn Walk Into the Room

via AndNowUKnow produce industry news

via AndNowUKnow produce industry news


It sounds like the opening of a bad joke. Instead, it’s a scene that’s playing out behind the scenes in the meal kit delivery business.

The celebrity
Beyoncé’s got one. So do Cindy Crawford and Gwyneth Paltrow. TV chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Adam Richman, and a slew of lesser-known alums from shows like Top Chef, The Chew, and Chopped are lending their names and talents to meal kit services. The real stunner is cookbook author and food activist Mark Bittman, who recently stepped down from the plummiest of gigs as a lead food columnist for The New York Times to devote himself to The Purple Carrot, a plant-based meal kit company.

The billionaire
Technology-focused venture capital and private equity investment firms like Accel Partners, Lowercase Capital, and Bessemer Venture Partners have found success by buying into the startup sector of the moment. After getting in early on companies like Uber, LinkedIn, Skype, and Pinterest, they’re pulling out their checkbooks for a piece of the subscription meal business.

The unicorn
Blue Apron and Hello Fresh have already reached unicorn status, and Plated isn’t too far behind. So-called unicorns are the rare startups that, based on fundraising, are valued in the private markets at more than $1 billion. Within the subscription meal kit sector, the designation is hardly the stuff of myth.

What’s in the box (or bag, or basket, or cooler, or crate)?
Menus and pricing structures vary, but all of the meal kit delivery services bring pre-planned menus, prepped and portioned ingredients, and step-by-step instructions. A shipment could bring little screw-top jars filled with pre-measured quantities of vinegar, olive oil, harissa, and crème fraîche. Tiny bags will each contain a teaspoon or two of dried herbs and ground spices, or maybe a clove of peeled garlic or a few sprigs of fresh herbs; larger bags hold greens and grains and pan-ready meats and fish. You”ll do some chopping and sautéing, maybe stuff a squash or mix up a spice rub, but you won’t have to search for recipes, run to the supermarket, or buy an entire jar of black sesame seeds or pomegranate molasses because one recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons.

Meal kits hit the sweet spot for dinner at home on a weeknight.
The goal is a meal that’s better than heat-and-eat prepared food, healthier than takeout, more convenient than scratch cooking, and less expensive than restaurant dining. They’re competing with takeout and fast casual restaurants, the prepared foods available in supermarkets, and the booming category of home-delivered groceries and restaurant meals, which has spawned a few of its own unicorns like Instacart and Delivery Hero.

It’s a niche business with plenty of subdivisions.
You can recreate favorite restaurant dishes at home (Din, Plated, ChefDay!); improve your nutrition (Lighter); whip up a superfood smoothie a day (The Greenblender), eat like a Southerner (PeachDish ) or like you live in New England (Just Add Cooking). There are meal kits for vegans and vegetarians, carnivores, pescatarians, and omnivores. You can follow a gluten-free or Paleo diet, ban all GMOs from your kitchen, or keep kosher.

So many meal kit companies! Billion dollar valuations! Still, most of us don’t know anyone who uses them. 
So far the meal kit business is serving mostly young urbanites, but the market is plenty big: Blue Apron alone ships 3 million meals a month. Millennials already spend more on food outside the home than any other generation, and if they continue their spending patterns as they mature into higher income brackets, they’ll be dropping an additional $6 billion yearly into foodservice.

As a group, the under-40 crowd cares more than their elders about what they eat, where it comes from, and members have a healthy disdain for processed foods. They have broad, adventurous palates and were raised on a steady diet of TV cooking shows. Meal kit delivery services tap into all of that plus there’s an appealing technology component with most transactions taking place through mobile apps. For now, capital continues to flow freely to startups, and every day seems to brings a new meal kit service catering to young would-be cooks who aren’t quite ready to take off their training wheels.



Posted in cook + dine, food trends, home delivery | Leave a comment

A Little Thanksgiving Humor (courtesy of Eater)


The Thanksgiving issue of Gout Magazine via

plus back issues, in case you missed them:


Gout Magazine Winter2015


Gout Magazine Summer 2015


Posted in diversions, funny, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

First You Laugh, Then You Cringe: The Krispy Kreme Children’s Hospital is Real



Dr. Donut via Adventure Time/Cartoon Network

Paging Dr. Donut to the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children’s Specialty Clinic at the University of North Carolina.
Universities have made some boneheaded choices when it comes to selling property naming rights. The University of New Mexico has the WisePies Pizza and Salad basketball arena and Florida Atlantic University cut a stadium deal with an operator of prisons and detention centers (later rescinded when students protested its corporate history of corruption and human rights violations). Then there are the bathrooms. For the smalltime philanthropist, or just a donor with a sense of humor, these too are up for grabs. You can find individually named stalls at Dixie State College of Utah; a named men’s room at Harvard Law School; and library urinals at the University of Pennsylvania complete with plaques that read “The relief you are now experiencing is made possible by a gift from Michael Zinman.” 

The renaming of UNC’s Children’s Specialty Clinic is distinctly different.
It’s not like slapping a corporate name on a stadium. This mashup of children’s healthcare and sugary deep-fried pastries arrives in the midst of an epidemic of pediatric metabolic syndrome, and it does so in North Carolina, ranked 5th worst in the US for childhood obesity. The university drew immediate flak from doctors and nutritionists, beginning with members of UNC’s own faculty:

Shame on my colleagues for not finding a way to accept funds without providing free advertisement for junk food. What is interesting about this is if we named this the Winston-Salem [cigarette] clinic, it would outrage America and maybe even the same for the Coca-Cola Clinic, but Krispy Kremes are equally horrible for our health — they are high sugar, high fat, refined carbohydrate junk food primed to add to the child obesity problem plaguing North Carolina.

 —Barry Popkin, MD, W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor/Director, UNC Chapel Hill’s Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity

The clinic responded to the criticism by explaining that it isn’t named for the Krispy Kreme Corporation, or even the sugary treat, but that it’s an homage to a non-profit organization that holds an annual foot race raising money for sick children that just happens to have the trademarked name in the race title. The eponymous Krispy Kreme Challenge is a grotesquely ludicrous feat of athleticism that bills itself as a “test of physical fitness and gastrointestinal fortitude”—the first to run five miles with a midpoint snack of a dozen donuts is the winner. So they say.

The public health advocates at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are circulating a petition on calling out the university for its flagrant hypocrisy and conflict of interest and urging UNC not put the Krispy Kreme name on its children’s clinic.
The petition appeals directly to the administrators and faculty leadership of the health facility:

…you undoubtedly see firsthand the impact of poor diet on children’s health on a daily basis. Putting a doughnut brand on a medical institution that serves children undermines your organization’s credibility, parents’ efforts to facilitate healthy eating by their kids, and children’s health.
Food marketing affects children’s food choices, their diets, and health, resulting in long-term health impacts. Kids don’t need encouragement to eat sweets—particularly from their healthcare providers.
Please act now to ensure that the children’s clinic is not sullied by the Krispy Kreme name.

The CSPI petition is just a thousand or so signers shy of its goal. Help put it over the top by adding your name at
There’s got to be a better way to honor the generosity and  good work of a North Carolina nonprofit without sending such an inappropriate message to children.


Posted in community, health + diet | Leave a comment

In Meat We Trust. But We Shouldn’t.


photo via Meat America

photo via Meat America


Which is more dangerous—the processed meats that cause cancer or the industry that spins the evidence to get you to eat more of them?

This week the World Health Organization, the public health arm of the United Nations, finally came out and said something that we’ve pretty much known all along: processed meat is really, really bad for you. A daily portion of just 50 grams- that’s a single hot dog or two slices of bacon- increases the risk of colon or rectal cancer by 18 percent.

Processed meats cause cancer. Period.
It’s unequivocal. Salted, preserved, smoked, cured, and  fermented meats can kill you. The WHO isn’t pussyfooting around with talk of possible carcinogens or a link with cancer; they’re saying it outright—processed meats give you cancer. These foods are now officially Class 1 Carcinogens, a classification that includes plutonium, arsenic, asbestos, and tobacco.

The meat industry responded with a shrug. Cancer? That old thing again?
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), an industry lobby representing members who pack and process 95% of U.S. beef, pork, veal, and lamb products (and most of the turkey too) downplayed the risks in its official response, characterizing the WHO report as “alarmist overreach.” After all, carcinogens are merely “theoretical hazards.” They go on to say that if we want to avoid all carcinogens we’d never drink coffee, sit in the sun, or even breathe the air around us. It’s not like everyone who eats hot dogs will get cancer.

Carcinogens do not cause cancer at all times, under all circumstances. Some may only be carcinogenic if a person is exposed in a certain way (for example, swallowing it as opposed to touching it). Some may only cause cancer in people who have a certain genetic makeup. Some of these agents may lead to cancer after only a very small exposure, while others might require intense exposure over many years….Even if a substance or exposure is known or suspected to cause cancer, this does not necessarily mean that it can or should be avoided….

—NAMI press release, October 26, 2015

Richard Lyng former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture former president of the American Meat Institute charter member of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame

Richard Lyng
former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
and former president of the American Meat Institute lobby
Honored in 2009 as a charter member of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame


The meat industry has a long history of weakening or preventing dietary health initiatives.
Its lobby is a powerful political force, both in the legislative and the regulatory arena. The USDA has an unusually cozy relationship with meat lobbyists because the agency is tasked with both regulating and promoting the industry, and these conflicting interests play out every time the government develops dietary guidelines. This is a sector that, by NAMI estimates, contributes approximately $894 billion to the U.S. economyearning it enormous access and influence on Capitol Hill. When tensions play out with the Department of Agriculture, the results generally wind up favoring the industry.

Over the years, the meat lobby has successfully influenced lawmakers and regulators to contradict scientific evidence, government data, and even their own committee recommendations, impelling them to rewrite major initiatives and amend legislation shaping everything from the food pyramid to the implementation of salmonella testing in our food safety system. A familiar pattern emerges whenever a drop in consumption is recommended: attack the scientific methodology backing the recommendations. NAMI employs that time-tested tactic in its latest defense of processed meat. After chiding us for our silly fear of cancer-causing agents, this latest press release trots out old cancer studies that failed to establish causality, proof that, in the words of researchers at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, “Cancer is a complex disease that even the best and brightest minds don’t fully understand.” NAMI also reminds us that “Numerous published studies show that those who choose a vegan diet are at increased risk of mental decline due to lack of B12, iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis and age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia).”

strike-out-billboard-1images billboards pulled out each spring for placement at hot dog hotbeds like MLB ballparks by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Carcinogenicity of processed meat
has been ringing alarm bells for decades with evidence rolling in from studies performed at Harvard’s School of Public Health, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the National Institutes of Health, and dozens more domestic and global research facilities. Researchers have linked processed meats to colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and childhood leukemia, with risks increased by as much as 67 percent. Public health organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund have proclaimed hot dogs “unfit for human consumption” and would like to see an outright ban, and others have called for graphic warning labels like those for cigarettes.

The problem with processing.
There’s plenty of salt and saturated fat in hot dogs, salami, pastrami, and other processed meat products but it’s the nitrites that’ll kill you. Sodium nitrite is a salty preservative that’s added to develop flavor, keep the meat’s pink color, and inhibit bacterial growth. And the premium and organic meats that are labelled ‘no-added-nitrates’ or ‘naturally cured’? Brands like Applegate and Niman Ranch get around nitrite labeling with a little additive sleight-of-hand plus some arcane labeling loopholes courtesy of the FDA. They pour on the celery juice, which happens to be loaded with naturally occurring nitrate, then they add a naturally-derived bacterial culture that converts the harmless nitrate into harmful nitrite.

Alas, nitrite is nitrite. It makes no difference if it’s added directly or formed later, synthetic or naturally-derived. Take any kind of nitrite, add any kind of meat and heat, and it’s going to form cancer-causing compounds. When the Journal of Food Protection looked at popular hot dog brands, it found that the natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite that conventional hot dogs contained.

The USDA has been trying to rid the meat industry of nitrites since the 1970’s.
Naturally NAMI (then known as just AMI, the American Meat Institute) has always lobbied strenuously against restrictions or even additional labeling requirements, and trotted out its favorite tactic with the publication of the evidence-denying sodium nitrite Fact Sheet. In it, NAMI dismisses much of the research as “old myths” and the work of vegans and animal rights activists. It refers to sodium nitrite as “an essential public health tool,” and points to a 2005 animal study suggesting therapeutic uses for nitrites in the treatment of heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and leg vascular problems.

Most experts say that the occasional hot dog or BLT isn’t going to kill you. The choice is yours. And if there is honest and accurate labeling, you can make an informed choice. But if the meat lobby has its way, you’ll never get the chance.



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

Write an Essay and Win a Food Cart, a Restaurant, a Country Inn

Second prize is a set of steak knives (David Mamet-Glengarry Glen Ross)

Second prize is a set of steak knives (David Mamet-Glengarry Glen Ross)


Last year the owner of the historic Center Lovell Inn in Maine held an essay contest to find the next owner.
Each of more than 7,000 would-be innkeepers sent in a check for $125 and a personal response to the question ‘Why would I like to own and operate a country inn?’ It was a pinch-me-it’s-so-good opportunity for the contestants who were vying for an elegant, 200 year-old mansion with seven guest rooms, 10 staff members, and a bustling bistro doing 100 covers a night in the high season. It also netted the retiring owner—who had acquired the business 22 years earlier through a similar competition—more than $900,000 in entry fees, an amount roughly equal to the  property’s appraised value.

The win an inn story is now the stuff of legend.
A pittance and 200 words made a dream come true for a Brooklyn couple who were running a restaurant in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the feel-good story went on to make national headlines. Since then, dozens of copycat contests have popped up, giving essayists a crack at inns, restaurants, bars, bakeries, food trucks, and even one movie theater. Many of the property owners have sought out Bil Mosca, the former owner of the Center Lovell Inn who thought up the first iteration of the essay contest back in the 90’s and now makes a living as a contest consultant.

The transfer of the Center Lovell Inn was PR gold, but not everyone strikes it rich.
Some of the recent contests, lacking history and a compelling backstory, have found it difficult to reach the critical mass of entrants that’s necessary for the total of the nominal fees to rival a conventional sale. The Maine inn was awarded unencumbered, and the prize included $20,000 in first year operating costs for a smooth transition. In other contests where the entry fees fell short of the owners’ goals, the winners have found themselves responsible for transfer taxes, title fees, and outstanding debts and liens against the property.

Still, if you’ve ever fantasized about running a quaint bed and breakfast or a restaurant in a tropical paradise, the current crop of essay contests are a chance to make it a reality.

The Alsatian-born chef-owner of Der Essen Platz is retiring and his very popular and highly-rated (4.5 stars on Yelp; #1 in its Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri town on Tripadvisor) German-Continental restaurant is running an essay contest. Knowledge of schnitzel, klopses, sauerbrauten, and strudel are helpful, but if you need me to translate the restaurant’s name it’s probably not for you.

You can work the land on the 35 acre Rock Creek Farm in Virginia or make chèvre at the Humble Hearts Goat Farm and Creamery in Alabama. High Meadows Vineyard Inn in Virginia and the Deerfield Valley Inn in Vermont are looking for their new innkeepers in the bed and breakfast category that always seems to have properties up for grabs.

Tropical resort fantasies can be fulfilled by sending $175 and 300 captivating words to the owners of Outback Jack’s Beach Bar N Grillean open-air bar-restaurant in the Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica. If you prefer your beaches cool and fog-shrouded, northern California’s Mendo Bistro has been a labor of love on Fort Bragg’s Main Street for nearly 20 years. The chef-owner is devoting more time to teaching culinary students at a local college; convince him of your suitability in an essay and he’ll hand over the keys to this popular and profitable establishment.

Win Your Dream Life is the mother of all essay contests.
At stake is the $10 million Inn at Villa Bianca, a fully operational Connecticut hotel, restaurant, events venue, and catering complex. The 14 room inn sits on nine manicured acres complete with a wedding chapel, banquet halls, three ballrooms, a stand-alone Italian restaurant, and a fleet of limousines. It’s a turn-key operation with a move-in ready owner’s residence and $100,000 in cash to keep things running smoothly.


It’s the opportunity that all of you creative writing majors have been waiting for.


Posted in diversions, food business | Leave a comment

How One Tweet Landed Arby’s the Top Spot in Social Media



In 2012 Josh Martin, Arby’s Manager of Social Media asked this question:

presented to The Social Media Alliance of Chattanooga

from a presentation to the Social Media Alliance of Chattanooga


Arby’s was then losing the battle for the coveted millennial customer.
It had recently retired the slogan Give In To Your Grown-Up Tastes whose words proved all too prophetic. Arby’s had truly become the restaurant chain of grown-up tastes. It had lost relevance and even recognition among younger diners and was patronized by the oldest customer base in all of fast food. The company had no social media department until Martin joined in 2010, a mere 40,000 Facebook followers, and zero presence on Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Linkedin, and YouTube.

On January 26, 2014 one tweet changed everything.arbys 40731_54_news_hub_35119_656x500Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams showed up at the Grammy Awards wearing an oversized hat that bore a striking resemblance to the Arby’s logo. It was a high profile appearance; Williams was a nominee, a presenter, a performer, and went on to take home awards in two major categories (Best Solo Performance and Best Music Video). Arby’s Martin, who was watching the show, seized the moment tweeting Hey @Pharrell can we have our hat back?  and Williams tweeted back Y’all tryna start a roast beef?
This little exchange was a big deal. Really.

A media sensation was born.
Arby’s extended the dialogue for weeks, offering a winning bid of $44,000 for the hat in a charity auction, and then exhibiting it at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. as an artifact of social media history. They grabbed headlines every step of the way including exclusives with the Washington Post and the Today Show. By the time the hat landed in Washington, the story had appeared in more than 1,400 publications and Arby’s Facebook fanbase had gone from 40,000 to 2.5 million and its Twitter following grew to more than 200,000 from a pre-hat level of fewer than 3,000. At its peak, the story garnered more than 120 million media impressions in a single day.

By the end of 2014 Arby’s was widely hailed as the king of social media.
The Wall Street Journal recognized Arby’s tweets to Pharrell Williams as the second best pop culture moment of the year, lagging only the phenomenon of the celebrity selfie. Variety Magazine said that if Academy Awards were given for marketing then Arby’s would surely take home a statuette, and the Shorty Awards, which kind of are the Oscars for short form promotional content, cited the Grammy tweets as 2014’s Best Real-Time Response and gave top honors to Arby’s social media team as Best in Food & Beverage.

Most importantly, Arby’s social media success has had a positive impact on the brand’s bottom line. The company is on a tear, opening 60 new stores this year and remodeling dozens of older ones. Same-store sales are up more than 8% for the year and some newly introduced menu items are the most successful in the chain’s history. And it’s doing this at a time when the rest of the fast food industry is slowing down as it loses sales and market share to fast-casual brands like Chipotle, Panera, and Five Guys.

Clearly social media is a powerful tool for restaurants and food brands. That’s why when something goes wrong, things can go downhill in a hurry. Read on to see what happens when good tweets go bad.


Posted in fast food, food business, social media | Leave a comment

Trader Joe’s Claims There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Pumpkin


I beg to differ.



Pumpkin Ice Cream…Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s (sandwich cookies)…Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter…Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels…Mini Pumpkin Tea Scones…Pumpkin Spice Coffee (pods)…Pumpkin Spice Coffee (ground)…Pumpkin Waffles (frozen)…Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps…Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies…Pumpkin Pie (frozen)…Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend…


…Pumpkin Pie (frozen)…Mini Pumpkin Pies (frozen)…Pumpkin Biscotti…Pumpkin Macarons (frozen)…Pumpkin Rolls With Pumpkin Spice Icing (in a tube, bake at home)…Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls (pumpkin ice cream ginger cookie sandwiches)…Pumpkin Seed Brittle…Pumpkin Body Butter…Pumpkin Tortilla Chips…Pumpkin Salsa…

via the Coupon Project

via the Coupon Project

Pumpkin Seed Pita Crisps…Greek Style Pumpkin Yogurt…Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce…Assorted Belgian Chocolate Pumpkins…Pumpkin Bread and Muffin Baking Mix  (also available gluten free)…Pumpkin Cornbread Mix…Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix (also available gluten free)….Pumpkin Panettone…Raw Pumpkin Seeds…Pumpkin Flavored Dog Treats…


via Serious Eats

…Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds…Organic Pumpkin Purée (canned)…Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli…Pumpkin Bagels…Pumpkin Butter…Pumpkin Spice Cake…Pumpkin-y Pumpkin Bites…Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins…Pumpkin Pie Mochi Ice Cream…Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latté Mix…Pumpkin Spice Rooibos Tea…Pumpkin Croissants (frozen)…


…KBC Pumpkin Ale…Pumpkin Bread Pudding (frozen)…Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread…Pumpkin Cheesecake…Organic Pumpkin Toaster Pastries…Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal…Pumpkin Bar Baking Mix…Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix…Joe’s Pumpkin O’s (breakfast cereal)…Pumpkin Spice Granola…This Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar… (breakfast bars)…

At least there’s one issue we can all agree on: there’s too much pumpkin at Trader Joe’s!



Trumpkin and more via John Kettman




Posted in funny, Halloween, shopping | Leave a comment

Egg Yolk Color is the Spray-On Tan of the Chicken World



You know the good eggs. They’re all-natural and cage-free, freshly plucked from the nest of a chicken with a protein rich diet free of GMOs, pesticides, and antibiotics. You schlep to the farmers market and pay a pretty penny for them, and when you get them home and crack them open you ooh and ahh over the gorgeous, richly colored yolks.

What puts the sunny in sunny side up?
Yolk color depends on a hen’s diet. The pigments in feed are deposited in the egg yolks so a hen that eats yellow corn will lay eggs with deeper yellow yolks than a hen that eats white corn. Most eaters believe that a darker yolk correlates with a more protein-packed egg, but in fact all it really tells you is what the chicken was eating.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits to cage-free eggs.
A pasture-raised hen’s diet is denser in nutrients from fresh vegetation and insects, and it lays eggs with higher levels of healthy fatty acids and antioxidants. Since there are more naturally occurring pigments in these foraged foods, free-ranging hens lay eggs that yield deep orange yolks, and while the color isn’t caused by the nutrients, it is indicative of their presence.

Like a dissolute party girl with the healthy glow of a faux suntan, conventional egg producers manipulate yolk colors to dress up the eggs of battery cage chickens.
Artificial colors aren’t permitted, but conventional chicken feed routinely contains the extracts of pigment-imparting additives derived from orange peels, red peppers, annatto seeds, carrots, marigold leaves, and algae. The leading line of poultry pigment comes from DSM– aka the European Monsanto- which touts the precision delivery and unique beadlet technology of its CAROPHYLL® range of carotenoid additives. Egg producers choose their desired shade of egg yolk using an industry standard egg yolk color identifier similar to the paint chip fan decks you find at the hardware store. While the eggs of pastured hens will show seasonal variations as the foraged diet changes throughout the year, conventional egg producers tinker with additive levels to maintain year round consistency. Kind of like wearing bronzer in the dead of winter.

another DSM product

the industry standard egg yolk color fan, another DSM product



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

If Food Waste Were a Country It Would Be the World’s 3rd Largest Polluter


via Just Hospitality

via Just Hospitality


Only China and the United States spew out more greenhouse gases than those coming from the conjectural land of food waste.
If it were a country, the value of all the food would put it in in the top 20 of the world’s economic powers.
If the populations of China, India, and Europe all lived there, they could be easily sustained by the squandered nutrition.

The planet’s top food wasters are right here in the U.S.
In a single month, the average American household tosses out 20 pounds of perfectly good food for each family member. While food waste in the developing world tends to occur in the supply chain (from issues like inadequate refrigeration or transportation) most of America’s food waste takes place at the consumer level. Last year we threw out about $180 billion worth of food—nearly 40% of what we produced and 10 times more per capita than our counterparts in other parts of the world.

Why do we waste so much?
We buy too much. We shop aspirationally and impulsively and buy the wrong things. We want only the most pristine, unblemished vegetables and fruits. We’re arbitrary about freshness, allowing some foods to go bad and discarding others while they’re still sound. And we do it because we can afford to. Over the last 30 years we’ve halved our household expenditures on food from 12% of the total to 6%; in the same period food waste went from 10% to 20% of the nation’s garbage.

The scale of the problem is massive; the fixes are all small steps.
Last week the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the nation’s first-ever food waste reduction goal. Together they launched a consumer education campaign, new food donation guidelines, and newly established partnerships within the private and public sectors aimed at a realistically achievable 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.

Food waste reduction can be compared to the national campaign against littering that was tackled through PSAs and other citizen actions back in the 1960’s and ’70s.
Previously, people thought nothing of rolling down a window and tossing trash onto highways. The campaign sparked a national dialogue, shining a light on the problem, stigmatizing the behavior, and eventually created a new national ethic of environmentalism. This time, we need to connect the dots between hunger, sustainability, and waste, sensitizing America and the world to the epic tragedy of food waste.




Posted in sustainability | Leave a comment

Pope Francis and Wine: His Cup Runneth Over

Pope Francis enjoys a taste during communion in St. Peter's Basilica via

Pope Francis enjoys a taste during communion in St. Peter’s Basilica via


Vatican City consumes more wine per capita than anywhere else in the world—and its number one citizen is no slouch.
The Pope’s paternal grandfather was a winemaker near Asti in Piedmont, Italy, and as a child he grew up drinking bottles shipped to Argentina from the family vineyard. As the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, he loves a good wine metaphor (he compares a heart that isn’t luminous to bad wine, while grandparents are likened to a fine vintage) and extolls its celebratory virtues (“Imagine drinking tea at the end of a celebration. No, it’s not good! There is no party without wine!”).

The meek may inherit the earth but Pope Francis preaches that “The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love.”
He’s not talking about altar wines used in the celebration of the Eucharist “There’s very little sacramental wine that’s good,” according to the Rev. E. Frank Henriques, an Episcopal priest who is the author of The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine, but there’s no reason it can’t be. Roman Catholic canon law governs the making of sacramental wine, and pretty much the only requirements are that it be unadulterated and naturally fermented from pure, fresh grapes. It can be red or white, dry or sweet, and even fortified. Basically any naturally produced wine fits the bill, but most churches rely on a handful of bulk winemakers who label their product for ceremonial use after its purity has been formally pronounced by a bishop of the vineyard’s diocese.

Pope Francis is known to take pleasure in off-the-altar wines. Earlier this year a Vatican gathering of wine producers, oenologists, wine journalists, sommeliers, and representatives of Italy’s gourmet associations awarded him a diploma as an honorary sommelier, honoring his elevation of wine “not just in relation to its Christian symbolism but also to its hedonistic aspect.” And he so thoroughly enjoyed his namesake Cabernet FRANCis, a gift from Napa Valley’s Trinitas Cellars, that his cardinals had to relinquish their own gift bottles to beef up the Pope’s supply of the limited commemorative bottling.

Wines of the Papal visit
While in Washington, Pope Francis will be served a 1986 Harbor Mission Del Sol made from California Mission grapes that were originally planted in the Sierra foothills by Franciscan friars. America’s oldest (143 years) sacramental winery, upstate New York’s O-Neh-Da Vineyard, is supplying wines for the New York leg. So far there’s no word yet on vintages or varietals to be served when the Pope lands in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, but there will be no fewer than 10 specially brewed beer (some made with holy water) to greet the pontiff, Philly style.


image via Philadelphia Brewing Company

image via Philadelphia Brewing Company

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

A Blessing and a Curse: The Supertaster Gene


Extra tastebuds on your tongue? You could be a supertaster.


Most of us are born with around 10,000 taste buds on our tongues; many more and you’re a supertaster.

Supertasters perceive far more subtle and nuanced flavors than the rest of us. It’s a genetic trait, like being endowed with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision. It’s found in about 15% of the population, and the ranks include countless wine connoisseurs (wine writer Robert Parker famously insured his own supertasting taste buds for a million dollars) and a disproportionate number of chefs. But it’s a mixed blessing. Assertive flavors present more vividly— salt is saltier and sugar is sweeter. A bitter beer can be off-putting. Hot peppers can be punishing. Hardly a garden of gustatory delights

Supertasters tend to prefer orange juice to grapefruit, green beans to broccoli, spinach to kale. They have a penchant for creamy, fatty foods but as a group are thinner than the general population. Supertasting is found in more women than men, and more Asians and African-Americans than Caucasians. Supertasters are likely to be known as picky eaters as children, but many of them will grow up to be good cooks, mastering techniques that will mute unpalatable tastes.

It’s all in the tongue.
There are two genetically determined traits that distinguish supertasters’ tongues. One is the greater number of taste buds densely packed into each square inch of the tongue’s surface. This gives greater sensory capacity, leading to more precise sensing of flavors. The second trait is the perception of a particular chemical compound (6-n-propylthiouracil known as PROP). Vegetables like  brussels sprouts and kale are loaded with it, and most people get a slightly bitter taste from the dark greens. About a quarter of the population sense none of the bitterness, and supertasters are overwhelmed by it.

Does this sound like you? There are a few tests to determine if you possess either of the attributes of a supertaster.

Bland, vile, or somewhere in between? Test your sensitivity to the bitterness compound. The Supertaster Test Kit contains two sets of PROP-infused strips and a detailed test guide.

For an easy home test, swab a little food coloring on your tongue and check the number and concentration of taste buds.

Take this quick and easy quiz about food preferences to see if you could be a supertaster.




Posted in diversions, food knowledge | Leave a comment

Tofu: A Textural Conundrum

vegan caketopper via Zazzle

vegan caketopper via Zazzle


Has anyone ever said I wish this tasted more like tofu?
Tofu is basically a waterlogged sponge of nothingness that has always had an uphill battle to win favor with flavor-driven American palates. We appreciate texture, but in a secondary role, balancing and completing a dish. When we are wowed by a texture, it tends to be crispy-crunchy or fat-based and creamy — the textures associated with European-style luxury foods.

Tofu originated in China where texture plays a more significant role, even trumping flavor in certain delicacies.
Some of the most prized ingredients in Chinese cooking are texturally challenging to Western palates. There’s the mucousy, jelly-like texture of dried sharks’ fin and bird’s nest soup, and the gelatinous crunch of ingredients like sea cucumber, beef tendon, and jellyfish. These foods are all basically flavor-neutral, but the unfamiliar (and thus objectionable) consistency can be a turn-off.

Don’t make the mistake of lumping tofu in with that group.
Share your true feelings with some tofu-loving friends and they’ll tsk tsk poor you who has never prepared it properly. They’ll insist that you just haven’t had the one magical dish that will open your eyes and taste buds to tofu’s glories. In fact there’s some truth to that. Tofu is a shape-shifting chameleon that can be silken and custardy in one form and firmly meaty in another. If you don’t care for one consistency there’s plenty more to try. It can be spooned like pudding, cooked in crumbles like ground beef, or fried up creamy and crunchy like eggplant. It can be dried into leathery skins or puffed up crisply like a tater tot.

There are good reasons to learn to love tofu.
Tofu is gluten-free, sugar-free, and low in fat and calories. It’s a complete source of protein and essential amino acids and is loaded with iron, calcium, and B-vitamins. It’s cheap, long-lasting, and can make your Meatless Mondays a heartier affair. Which brings us back to poor you who has never had it properly prepared. Know that you’re not alone. There are resources dedicated to bringing palatability to the tofu-averse:
Serious Eats has A Guide to Tofu Types and What to Do With Them.
May’s Machete offers the pragmatically titled How To Make Tofu (So It Doesn’t Suck).
The food scientists at Food Hacks teach you How to Prep Tofu Properly: A Beginner’s Guide for Tofu Haters.
Changing the Texture of Tofu from Vegan Cooking with Love will teach you just that. 


Posted in cook + dine, food knowledge | Leave a comment

Who’s Eating Supermarket Sushi? Apparently Everyone.



Supermarket sushi is a $750 million industry.
It’s a third of all sushi sales in dollars, but since it’s the cheap stuff, it’s more like half of all the sushi we eat. There’s another $75 million in sales at drug stores, dollar stores, convenience markets, and gas stations (that’s right, gas station sushi is a thing), and it all adds up to a pre-made, pre-packaged sushi majority.

At the more rarified end of sushi, there’s attention to every detail of taste, temperature, texture, and timing. A good chef even plates the sushi precisely to accommodate right- or left-handed chopstick users. At a more relaxed and informal operation, the chef may not bow to every tradition of authentic sushi, but there should still be artful construction and a passion for freshness.

A supermarket, even the most well-intentioned, just can’t compete. There are too few qualified sushi chefs, too many health code restrictions, and endless compromises to the demands of scale and convenience. Even when it’s pretty good, supermarket sushi always falls way short of the mark. Here’s why:

It sits in a refrigerated case.
Nothing ruins more sushi than cold rice. Proper sushi rice should be just shy of body temperature when it meets up with a cool piece of fish. At a legally mandated 41°, each distinct, gently-warmed grain cools and congeals into a single. solid mass.

It’s not the same fish.
A supermarket might carry quality fish, but it won’t have the kind of relationship with its wholesalers that a decent sushi bar has with its suppliers who specialize in sushi grade. Supermarkets also have pressure to maintain inventory so that it’s always yellowtail season in the sushi case, regardless of the seasonal variations in origins and condition.

Condiments matter too.
Any place that’s serious about its sushi is serious about the condiments. Ideally, the wasabi is grated from a fresh root, the ginger is pickled in-house, and the soy sauce is specifically paired, if not custom blended, to complement the fish. Along with generic foil packets of soy sauce, most supermarkets use sweetened and artificially-colored ginger that mimics the petal pink of a true slow-cure, and the wasabi is a mass-produced paste that’s typically concocted from a powdered blend of horseradish, mustard, tapioca starch, and something to color it wasabi green.

Still, you could do a lot worse than supermarket sushi.
It’s a relatively healthy choice, especially if you steer clear of tempura and mayo squiggles. It’s also a relatively safe choice, responsible for less food-borne illness than most other prepared foods. And it can be pretty good, even if it’s not the real deal.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Just Try Paying a Bank in Crème Brûlée

image via Saveur

image via Saveur


2015 is the year that crowdfunding will eclipse venture capital as a funding source for entrepreneurs.
Crowdfunding was once a space dominated by technology startups, do-gooders, and indie filmmakers, but food trucks and small artisan food producers quickly moved in. It’s been steadily climbing up the industry ladder and is now a dominant funding source for every kind of enterprise from the scruffiest popup to the loftiest end of fine dining.

Restaurants have always been an iffy proposition with a 60% failure rate in the first three years of business, and banks and other traditional lenders have generally steered clear. Would-be restaurateurs often turn to friends and family members to help with seed money or else resort to raiding retirement savings and home equity, and maxing out credit cards. But in the crowdfunded world of startups, with an overall failure rate of 90%, restaurants look like a good bet.

Crowdfunding takes one of two structures:
Early crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter adopted a rewards-based model. Participants aren’t lenders or investors but patrons. They pool money in increments as small as a few dollars and hand it over with no expectation of a financial payback. Instead, patronage is usually rewarded in the form of project mementos or perks— a $10 pledge to an organic nut roaster might net you a snack bag, or $200 to a pickle maker could get you a weekend brining workshop. Restaurants tend to reward patrons with fringe benefits like priority reservations, an invitation to the opening night party, or a year of free collateral, no interest, and no financial payback
The newer crowdfunding model uses a more conventional equity-based mechanism in which investors receive ownership shares (or debt instruments) in the enterprise. It’s been slower to get off the ground because early offerings were in breach of various securities laws. It’s since been sorted out with new federal legislation, certain regulatory exemptions, and SEC oversight, and the space is evolving rapidly with about $2.5 billion under management in equity crowdfunding portals.

Crowdfunding is more than just an injection of capital.
It creates a pre-opening base of customers that largely self-identifies as ‘foodies’ and has a vested interest in the success of the restaurant. They tend to mobilize as brand evangelists, sharing on social media and bringing friends in to dine at ‘their’ restaurant. Crowdfunding has found some of its most enthusiastic investors and loyal customers in smaller cities where diners can be looking to fill a specific need in the community like a vegan option or a gluten-free bakery.

Put your money where your mouth is.
Crowdmapped  lists 12 of the best crowdfunding platforms that specialize in food enterprises.
The National Restaurant Association’s Trendmapper reports on the health of and outlook for the restaurant industry.
Posted in food business, restaurants | Leave a comment

I Coulda Been a Contender — The Catchphrase of the ‘Next Chipotle’

The hunt for the ‘next Chipotle’ is well documented (I got 21,500,000 results from a Google search). 
And why shouldn’t restaurants aspire to attain that status? Chipotle tapped into the zeitgeist with a fast-casual model emphasizing freshness, quality, customizability, and the mantra ‘food with integrity.’ It’s a company that does good with enlightened employment practices and a commitment to sourcing humanely and sustainably-raised products. And it’s a company that does well–$1,000 invested in the company 10 years ago would now be worth more than $15 million. Crazy but true.

Thanks to Starbucks and Chipotle, customization is the new standard.  
Today’s restaurant customers expect to control portion size and toppings, bowl or bun. They need gluten-free and vegan choices, optional toppings and drizzles, and a specific number of pumps of caramel in their lattés. Even old line fast food is jumping on the customization bandwagon as McDonald’s experiments with a build-your-own-burger menu and Pizza Hut rolls out a pizza builder. The ‘next Chipotle’ will undoubtedly follow suit.

It can’t just be about the food.  
A meal at Chipotle is solid but unspectacular. What’s truly masterful is the way the company combines an unremarkable product with a socially conscious business model to forge a connection between the brand and its audience. The ‘next Chipotle’ would be well advised to seek a similarly integrated approach to cause marketing.

Here are the contenders, the startups, and the up-and-comers. Industry watchers believe that the ‘next Chipotle’ could be lurking in this list. 

The healthier options:
Protein Bar is all about being the healthy alternative. The menu is paleo-friendly and has never met a superfood that it couldn’t wrap in a whole wheat and flax seed tortilla. Kale, quinoa, Greek yogurt, and agave all appear in the signature Protein Bar-ritos; add an avocado and green tea smoothie and you’re still safely below the typical Chipotle calorie count. Even more austere is the meat-, dairy, egg-free Veggie Grill. They call it a ‘veggie positive’ experience. The company is on an expansion tear but has yet to prove that the format can succeed away from the west coast.

lyfe-kitchen-officeThe pedigree:
LYFE Kitchen covers all the bases with its ambitions. It was founded by an alumni group of McDonald’s senior executives with a menu created by a pair of celebrity chefs. Their motto is ‘Something for everyone, from carnivores to vegans’, and indeed every contemporary food trend is represented: there’s pizza, pasta, barbecue, fish tacos, a grass-fed burger, Thai curry, and a quinoa bowl. There’s a genuine commitment to mindful, principled business practices that comes through in every choice from sourcing local ingredients to LEED certified restaurant construction and living herb walls.


The buzz:

Piada is getting a lot of love from insiders winning a slew of industry awards for its concept and branding. It’s also caught the eye of an investment partner with a history of picking winners like PF Changs and Restoration Hardware. The menu looks like an Italian-accented Chipotle with flatbread wraps standing in for burritos and follows the same formula of a simple menu with a few, freshly-made-to-order entreés.


The lifestyle brand:

If the secret sauce is building a connection with the public, then Sweetgreen will rise to the top of the fast casual heap. The chain sells make-your-own bowls of grains and salads, and while the food gets high marks, nothing’s on the menu that doesn’t align with the founders’ values and forward their agenda. That means every element is hip and wholesome; it has to be sustainable, healthy, based in authentic relationships, and it has to make a positive difference in the community. They’ve already won the hearts of Silicon Valley tech investors who are facilitating coast-to-coast expansion.

The heir apparent:

ShopHouse is Chipotle’s Asian spin-off. It’s got the familiar production line with fresh, local, mostly organic ingredients, and naturally raised meats, but this time they’re going into noodle bowls and Vietnamese sandwiches. ShopHouse also gets to rub shoulders with the parent company’s brand equity and ‘food with integrity’ ethos, and to piggyback on existing supplier relations and cross-promotional marketing. Could Chipotle be the ‘next Chipotle’? Who better to duplicate its success?



Posted in food business, restaurants, trends | 1 Comment

Paid Placeholders, Virtual Queues, and Other Ways to Hack a Restaurant Line




Just another day outside of Dominique Ansel Bakery, home of the cronut.






Yep, they’re still lining up for cronuts.
The line is out there every morning snaking down the Soho sidewalk before the 8am bakery opening. It’s not just New York and it’s not just a mania for pastry hybrids. They’re lining up for old school barbecue in Austin, Korean fried chicken in D.C., and the latest ramen bar in Chicago.

The problem is, it’s not just hype and tourists clogging our sidewalks. Restaurants of every stripe are happily embracing the queue. It keeps down the administrative costs of doing business—there’s no salaried reservationist, reservation no-shows, or cut off the top going to a service like OpenTable. Plus a line out front is good for business. It’s like a flesh and blood Yelp review signaling quality and popularity.

You hate waiting in line (and who doesn’t?).
You can stick to restaurants that take reservations, at the risk of missing out on transcendent sushi and the best pizza in town. You can go out before the lines form and force feed yourself a Florida-style 5:30 dinner. You can brave prime time but eat before you go to keep your blood sugar from plummeting before you’re seated. Or you can avail yourself of one of these solutions to the frustrating time suck of restaurant lines.

Pay someone else to wait, so you don’t have to.
CFxlvYdUkAEb_hd13 year-old Desmond (left) is heading back to junior high so his Austin-based business BBQ Fast Pass will be on hiatus til the next school vacation. He spent his summer as a line-sitter for hire in a folding chair outside of Franklin Barbecue, a local legend known for its succulent brisket and 5 hour waits. Taskrabbit, in Austin and more than a dozen other cities, connects you with locals that you can contract with to do your waiting for a negotiable fee. Rent a Friend claims to have more than 530,000 registered service providers worldwide. The company specializes in fake wedding dates and other stand-ins, but line waiting is among the service options. Los Angeles’ Line Angels enables ‘influencers, doers, and go-getters to make the most of their time’. New York City has the similarly pitched Same Old Line Dudes with two fee schedules—one for cronuts and one for all other lines.

Take a virtual number.
According to QLess (company motto: Queue less. Live more) we spend two years of our lives waiting in lines. The mobile wait management system is making a dent in all that lost time. It allows you to take your place in line, online, merging your spot with the in-person waiting list at the hostess stand. While others are cooling their heels at the restaurant, you’re going about your business while QLess gives real time estimates and alerts. If your table is ready before you are, just give someone a virtual ‘cut.’ A running tab on the website tallies the total time savings restored to QLess users; at last check it was 1,185 years, 304 days, 18 hours, 9 minutes.

Go off-peak.
Google recently added a new feature to its search bar. Tap on the restaurant’s name in the search result and the tool displays its busiest times.

fdfdb007a5ab3d6c2c71f065a250b126Get it to go.
Hangry was just added to the Oxford Dictionary, a clear sign that waiting for a table is incompatible with contemporary culture where gratification is supposed to be just a few keystrokes away. Impatience and tech savvy join forces in the many ordering, takeout, delivery, and payment apps that let you breeze by all the analog suckers standing in line. Users appreciate the streamlined process, and the restaurants like them too. According to a MasterCard survey, customers will spend as much as 30% more when they order dinner using a cash-free mobile app. It’s a crowded field with hundreds of apps vying for different market segments. There’s Tapingo, a campus food app for college studentsthe no-smartphone-required, all-text Zinglethe coast-to-coast 600-city coverage of Seamless; and Caviar, with its stable of Michelin-starred restaurant partners.

Is it worth the wait?
Yahoo Travel
lists the top ten longest restaurant lines around the country. Huffington Post shares 19 Cult Food Destinations Worth Enduring An Insanely Long Wait In Line.


Posted in restaurants, Science/Technology, trends | Leave a comment

In the inimitable words of Oliver Wendall Douglas: Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

There really is an Agritopia® . It's outside of Phoenix and it really is trademarked.

There really is an Agritopia® . It’s outside of Phoenix and it really is trademarked.


Golf course condos are passé. The new status symbol is a farm view.
A new kind of residential development is bringing 24/7 farm-to-table living to the suburbs. Called agrihoods, they’re suburban subdivisions built with a working farm as the central feature, in the same way that other developments are clustered around a golf course, or pool, or clubhouse. A few dozen of these planned suburban communities are up and running, and the Urban Land Institute is currently tracking the progress of hundreds more in various stages of development.

The agrihood concept isn’t new but we’re seeing a new breed.
They’re not the hippie-dippy back-to-the-land communes of earlier eras, and they’re more than just a handful of lots being sold off so that a family can keeps its farm. What’s different this time around is the arrival of large corporate developers who are creating massive projects with thousands of housing units on a single tract. They’re anchored by professionally managed, for-profit farms that engage in large scale food production. They’re rich in amenities that give residents the benefits of farm living with none of the chores. And they are a mixed bag. Some are committed to responsible development practices and the preservation of open land; others are sprinkling a little fairy dust of sustainability to push just so much suburban sprawl through local zoning authorities.

The logo'ed plastic cups and bottled water of a Willowsford gathering

The logo’ed plastic cups and bottled water of a Willowsford gathering

More style than substance: Willowsford
300 acres are farmed inside the walls of this gated community in Loudon County, Virginia. Residents of the 2,130 homes can join a CSA or visit their own farm stand, and according to the developer’s brochure, they can also enjoy home grown produce in “The Grange… a gracious gathering space designed in the fashion of an elegant countryside manor… with periodic visits by local and celebrity chefs who use ingredients picked fresh from Willowsford Farm to create pop-up restaurant menus.”

seo responds to the proposed construction of 5,000 new homes.

Green-washing’ the billion dollar agrihood: Lake Pickett South
The Florida developer’s website describes the development as “an idyllic setting that is steeped in nostalgia and mindful of nature…inspired by the rural lifestyle of yesteryear, enabling people to forge a relationship with the land and each other…” That’s some high-fallutin’ language for a plan to create the region’s largest cluster of car-dependent residents on environmentally sensitive land.


The Cannery connects to one of the nation's most well-developed biking infrastructures

The Cannery connects to one of the nation’s most well-developed biking infrastructures


Big isn’t necessarily bad: The Cannery.
You can’t plunk down just any project in Davis, California, a college town that’s known for leading environmental stewardship. The Cannery began with low-impact land use by reclaiming an abandoned tomato packing plant. Each of its almost 600 residences will be electric car-ready, generate its own solar energy, and be planted with fruit and nut trees. All will be within 300 feet of the city’s network of bicycle paths, and the campus and downtown can both be reached within five minutes. The developer deeded the farmland to the city, which will run it with an educational focus.


Open space, bucolic views, and farm fresh food. You might not save the planet, but it’s a beautiful day in the agrihood.



Posted in agriculture, community, home | Leave a comment

Saving the Dive Bars: Give them landmark status

Charles Bukowski, patron saint of dive bars

Charles Bukowski, patron saint of dive bars


Does the bathroom have a working lock? Is it stocked with toilet paper?
Are there more wine options than red or white? Are there growlers? More than one kind of bitters? Is anyone wearing a bow tie?
If you could answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, it’s not a dive bar.

A dive bar doesn’t serve drinks with fresh herbs, it doesn’t have free wifi, and it definitely doesn’t have the words ‘dive bar’ in its name. What it does have are flinty bartenders and cheap drinks. Its walls exude the decades-old vestiges of smoke and beer; so do the seedy midday regulars who slide down the bar to make way for an after-work cross section of construction workers and executives. It’s also a dying breed.

The death of the dive bar is a familiar story to residents of our increasingly gentrified cities.
Dive bars are neighborhood relics occupying shabby spaces that scream ‘deferred maintenance,’ while commercial rents climb and shiny condo towers rise around them. Eventually they fall victim to a hot real estate market and the disappearance of gritty and grizzled neighborhood denizens, the daily daytime drinkers who are a bar’s purest expression of its divey-ness.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
No gastropub, cocktail lounge, or new-fangled speakeasy can take its place. A dive bar is part of a city’s unsanitized, unhomogenized past. The new urbanism tends to erase and eliminate the very things that give a city its character. When a dive bar closes, a neighborhood loses a little piece of its soul.

In rapidly gentrifying cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, local preservationists hope to safeguard dive bars through landmark designations.
They argue that a city’s legacy businesses should be seen as the metaphorical cousins of architectural landmarks, equally worthy of preservation because of their cultural and historical significance. A landmark designation will usually entitle the businesses and their landlords to preservation funds, special financing, and favorable tax status, which is a tough sell to cash-strapped city governments.

Some residents, city officials, and landmark commissions look at a dive bar and see a sketchy, rundown watering hole that stands in the way of change and progress. Others see a living, breathing emblem of a city’s heritage, and one that can continue to contribute to the intangible but invaluable character of its cultural fabric.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, community | Leave a comment
Web Analytics