The Terroir of the Shopping Mall Food Court

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Alaskan food court favorite Hot Dog on a Stick

 

Mall dining is much more than a shopper’s pit stop.

There’s an uninspired sameness to mall stores.
Close your eyes and you could be in any mall, anywhere, with the same overstuffed department stores at each end and the predictable mix of national retailers and ear-piercing kiosks. But if you’re looking for a sense of place, you just need to head to the food court. In between the ubiquitous soggy pizza and cinnamon buns you’ll find surprising expressions of regional preferences, and even, dare we say it—terroir.

Terroir, which is usually used to describe wines, is that ineffable sense of place that comes from the sum of the effects of a local environment. It takes in geography and geology, climate and heritage, class and culture. Instead of Mosel Riesling and Loire Valley Muscadet, shopping mall terroir is embodied in regional affinities for grilled subs, bubble tea, and cheese steaks

Terroir is where you find it.
While many restaurant chains are named for localities, they can be surprisingly popular outside of their namesake regions. Boston Market and Uno Chicago Grill are both more beloved in Mid-Atlantic states than in hometown malls, while Moe’s Southwest Grill and Ted’s Montana Grill are Southeast favorites. The Great Lakes embrace Texas Roadhouse in greater numbers than native Texans, while Jersey Mike’s Subs are all but shunned in the Garden State but have become a favorite on the West Coast. California Pizza Kitchen and South Philly Steak & Fries both are true to their names, and everyone everywhere loves A&W All-American Food.

Cupcake and donut bakeries are disproportionately represented in New England malls. Mid-Atlantic shoppers take more bagel and bubble tea breaks than anyone else, and in the Great Lakes they like to sit down with a bowl of soup. Southwesterners like to nosh while they shop with gelato and roasted nuts. They line up for buffets in the Plain States, and a single mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania is home to five separate Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel outlets.

Mall food courts are so much more than Cinnabon and Sbarro. See what you’re missing with Thrillist’s coverage of lesser-known delicacies: REGIONAL FAST-FOOD CHAINS THAT NEED TO BE EVERYWHERE, IMMEDIATELY.

 

 

Posted in fast food, local foods, travel | Leave a comment

Eating Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

 

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Forget that glass of warm milk at bedtime.
It might feel as cozy as a tuck-in from Mom, but it’s doing more harm than good when it comes to falling asleep.

The right foods before bed can contribute to restful sleep. Sleep-friendly foods are rich in tryptophan, the notorious nap-inducer found in Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner. The wrong foods have amino acids that keep the tryptophan from crossing into the brain where it’s converted into the sedatives serotonin and melatonin.
A glass of warm milk is one of those wrong foods.

Ideally you’ll start a good sleep diet hours before bedtime. 
The best begins as soon as you wake up in the morning when a little protein in your breakfast kickstarts your blood sugar levels, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Regular meals throughout the day, each including some more protein, keep things on an even keel and have you reaching less often for afternoon pick-me-ups like coffee and candy, which can have lingering stimulative effects up to 12 hours later.

When nighttime rolls around, a well-chosen bedtime snack can help you get a restful, restorative night’s sleep. According to the sleep specialists at the Mayo Clinic, you want to avoid garlicky, spicy, fatty foods before bed. Here are the three most highly recommended bedtime snacks:

  • Popcorn, preferably air-popped, washed down with cherry juice
  • Oatmeal with sliced banana and just a splash of nonfat milk
  • Low- or nonfat yogurt with a sprinkle of almonds or sesame seeds

The meal of your dreams:
Monastrell Restaurante in southern Spain serves a special “sleep menu” that is purported to cure insomnia. The chef claims knowledge of a secret ingredient prized during the Roman empire for its soporific qualities. Courses include grilled octopus, pumpkin lasagne, turbot with lemon calamari, lemon sponge cake, and olive oil sorbet.

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Why, oh why do companies give the public access to unmoderated, real-time Twitter feeds?

Oops, they did it again. This time it’s Coca-Cola.
The company has pulled its #MakeItHappy brand campaign after it was used to tweet excerpts from Hitler’s Mein Kampf into sweetly innocuous cartoon images of kitty cats and happy hamburgers.

The #MakeItHappy campaign launched with an ad during the Super Bowl. 
Designed to combat the bullying and negative language found on social media, the beverage giant asked Twitter users to forward negative messages tagged with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. An automated algorithm would transform the words into cutesy ASCII cartoons and @CocaCola would retweet the images to its millions of followers with the message We turned the hate you found into something happy.

Coca-Cola, with its 100,ooo+ employees, seems to have launched it unmanned into cyberspace.
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Nobody at the company noticed when the famous ‘Fourteen Words’ slogan of white supremacist movements was turned into a happy little puppy that tweeted out “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”j8hqjk6ljn2sprtonorr  It was, however, noticed by the media pranksters at Gawker who created the Twitter handle @MeinCoke and fed a line-by-line reading of Hitler’s manifesto into the #MakeIt Happy algorithm, and then watched Coca-Cola’s official twitter account as it rendered Hitler’s words into smiling bananas and sunglass-wearing palm trees.

This is hardly the first Twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets: Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef? When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is!

Even Starbucks, a company that parlayed its usually spot-on social engagement to become the best loved online brand, has had its own stumble in cyberspace. The coffee seller created the seasonal hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out holiday greetings with a direct feed to a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum. Before it could be shut down, the unmonitored, uncensored tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup.

Missteps like these are not limited to the food world.
Screen_Shot_2014-11-13_at_9.51.33_PMThe New England Patriots celebrated reaching 1 million Twitter followers by thanking fans with custom digital jerseys—basically a photo of the back of a Patriots uniform with a Twitter handle where the player’s name usually appears. Patriots fans gleefully retweeted the automated images of irreverent and unsavory Twitter screen names until one fan’s hateful, obscenely racist Twitter handle finally shut it all down.

While the Patriots’ stunt was naïve and a bit misguided, what’s Bill Cosby’s excuse? The comedian’s website recently posted a link to a photo meme-generator and the message: Go ahead, meme me! Twitter followers were in no mood for poking fun at Jell-O pudding commercial or his penchant for wearing loud sweaters, and #CosbyMeme was quickly populated by darkly humorous evocations of Cosby’s decades of rape allegations. Who didn’t see that coming?

Twitter can be a powerful tool for brands to interact with their customers, but it also puts power in the hands of the public where it can all too easily backfire. Disgruntled customers and bystanders can shape or even hijack a promotional campaign to disastrous results. When a brand like Coke loses control of its own product’s narrative, things can go downhill in a hurry as the tweets are shared with their millions of Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….

 

 

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

Chef Watson: The Supercomputer that Cooks

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Watson promotional images via Thornberg and Forester

 

A head of lettuce, a can of beans, a single potato, and a few stray onions—it looks like mighty slim pickings to you, but factor in a half a dozen pantry staples and Chef Watson can come up with 3,628,800 menu suggestions.

You might remember Watson from TV’s Jeopardy!
In 2011, IBM’s supercomputer made headlines when it trounced the game show’s most formidable human contestants in a million dollar tournament. The current Watson is smaller, faster, and smarter by a factor of 24. Its natural language processing and computational creativity benefit a wide range of industries, running financial markets, improving retail shopping experiences, and diagnosing cancers in hospital oncology centers. And now Watson is coming out with a cookbook.

It’s much more than a gimmick.
The scientists at IBM Research worked with chefs from New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. They created preparations and combinations that the world has never seen, but that still steer clear of wacky. Most recipes are twists and fusions that borrow from a global kitchen of ingredients and techniques like Portuguese Lobster Rolls, Peruvian Chile-Potato Poutine, Creole Shrimp and Lamb Dumplings, Indonesian Rice Chili con Carne, and Vietnamese Pork and Apple Kebabs.

Could the talented chefs at the ICE have come up with these dishes on their own? Perhaps, given enough time for research and experimentation. But human creativity is defined by the limits of personal experience and biases, known and conventional food associations, and the brain’s finite bandwidth. By contrast, Watson is able to instantly sift through vast amounts of culinary data while simultaneously evaluating the potential of an infinite number of ingredients and combinations in a process known as cognitive computing.

Watson was fed an encyclopedic data diet of recipes, food chemistry, molecular compounds, chemoinformatic flavor profiles, hedonic psychophysical taste models, behavioral psychology, cultural preferences, and nutrition. The ICE chefs originated the creation of each recipe by prompting the system and steering it through its algorithms and analytics. They then sifted through thousands of outputs looking for dishes that were appealing, workable in a home kitchen, and contained an element of surprise through new and unique flavor combinations. And finally, the chefs did something that a computer can only simulate—they tasted their creations.

Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: Recipes for Innovation from IBM & the Institute of Culinary Education will be released on April 14 and can currently be pre-ordered on Amazon.

You can participate in the Watson project by applying to beta test the Chef Watson app that IBM is developing in conjunction with Bon Appétit.

 

Posted in recipes, Science/Technology | 1 Comment

Regulating junk food will make the tobacco battle look like a walk in the park.

via US Department of Health & Human Services

via US Department of Health & Human Services

Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed.

–from  the opening address of the sixty-seventh session of The World Health Organization’s AssemblyGeneva, Switzerland, May 2014.

Tobacco and junk food—here’s how they’re the same:
We all know that both are bad. It’s a universally-accepted truth that tobacco and junk food are implicated among the leading causes of premature death and chronic disease.
Both are incredibly addictive. Last year the American Medical Association officially classified food addiction as a disease. Eating junk food triggers physiological changes and neural responses; in the food -addicted (estimated to be one of us in twenty) the brain’s response is virtually indistinguishable from that of smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice.

Here’s why junk food is more perilous:
Tobacco is sabotage, and every smoker knows it, but food is supposed to be good for us.
Tobacco is a binary choice—to smoke or not to smoke. Eating is not a discretionary activity; food is sustenance. While cigarettes can be avoided, food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. How long do you think abstinence would last if former smokers were offered a pack of cigarettes at every meal?

You can argue that junk food is a choice, but is it really?
There’s no scientific or nutritional standard to separate the junky stuff from the healthy foods. Junk food has no official classification or designation in the food industry, the medical community, or governmental agencies. Some say that if you have to ask it’s probably junk. Or they’ll point to the classic pornography definition that relies on prevailing standards: you know it when you see it. Until there’s an acid test or even basic agreement on a simple definition, we can’t be sure of our choices, and more importantly, there’s no way to regulate it.

It’s not as simple as avoiding the unholy trinity of salt, sugar, and fat.
You can’t just draw a line in the sand. Pixie Stix and Doritos are easy, but most foods–even those with a surfeit of the reviled ingredients–have some redeeming nutritional value. Rarely are calories truly empty. There are also plenty of foods–think of nuts, olives, and dark chocolate–that could qualify as junk food for their salt, sugar, or fat levels but are decidedly healthy. Truly dangerous ingredients and additives like artificial trans fats, nitrites, and food dyes should be banned, but mostly we just need to know what’s in our food; we don’t want to be told what we can eat.

The World Health Organization gets it right when it argues for the highest level of global agreement and collective action in dealing with junk food.
It’s also right that there are lessons to be learned from the world-wide effort to reduce smoking like warning labels, stringent advertising guidelines, and limited access to child-oriented media. Like tobacco, taxes should be hiked on unhealthy food products with the revenue funding healthcare and health education, and agricultural subsidies should be distributed to align with our nutritional goals: cheap broccoli and pricey high-fructose corn syrup.

Where the WHO gets it wrong is comparing junk food to cigarettes. Junk food is so much worse.

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, Health | 1 Comment

Actually, Grandma Isn’t All That Good a Cook

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                              [grandmothers and their cooking- images via Gabriele Galimberti]

 

According to a CNN/Eatocracy poll, Grandma’s cooking is pretty hit-or-miss.
21.5% report ‘wonderful’ food coming out of both of their grandmothers’ kitchens, but most rate at least one of their grandmas in the range of ‘decent’ to ‘yuck.’

Does it even matter?
Nonna, Bubbe, Grammy, Abuela– Grandmother in every language is synonymous with warm and squishy feelings. It’s associated with the soft focussed nostalgia of childhood celebrations, family gatherings, and traditional dishes. So what if Grandma over-cooks and under-salts everything?

Grandma probably doesn’t know from whole grains, goat cheese, and fresh ginger. She started cooking when lettuce meant iceberg, the best coffee came ground in a can, and yogurt was strictly for health nuts. But she also wasn’t cooking with mono- and diglycerides, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, modified food starch, and the multitude of flavorings, preservatives, and texturizers found in today’s food. We call it ‘whole food’ when we cook without processed and refined ingredients; grandmothers just call it food.

Scientists theorize that feeding grandchildren has essentially transformed human evolution.
The grandmother hypothesis looks at the role of grandmothers in the early history of our species. It says that healthy, long-lived grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren, freeing their daughters to produce more children at shorter intervals. This meant that grandmothers with the greatest longevity ended up feeding the most grandchildren. Those descendants, who also carried the longevity gene, went on to enrich the gene pool of our ancestors. Recent simulations run by the Anthropology Department at the University of Utah suggest that 60,000 years of Grandma’s cooking has added 20 years to our lifespans.

With In Her Kitchen, the Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti celebrates the breadth of grandmothers’ cooking. He visited 58 countries, documenting family matriarchs and their traditional meals in a multitude of cultures and contexts. Each is photographed with a symmetrical arrangement of ingredients paired with a second image of the completed dish. Click through the images for a brief biography of each woman as well as recipes for each dish.

All those proud grandmas in their kitchens; you can’t help but smile. Who cares if any of them can really cook?!

 

 

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Holy Cow! Faith-Based Farming

 Joseph Ritter von Führich - The dream of the St. Isidor

Joseph Ritter von Führich – The dream of the St. Isidor, patron saint of farmers

And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise, and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.
                              –Paul Harvey

The modern food movement has found an ally in God.
Organic farmers and faith-based farmers have discovered their shared mission in matters of growing, managing, and even consuming food.

Divine and earthly imperatives intersect at the farm.
That’s where creation, mission, community, land stewardship, and social justice all converge, and and for some, theology and spirituality are thrown into the mix. There are shared concerns for animal welfare, the environment, hunger, and poverty. Religious texts like the Bible and the Koran have as many food references as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and faith-based farmers recognize that Jesus wouldn’t want us factory farming any more than Michael Pollan.

Farming has always been imbued with meaning, both sacred and secular.
Plants grow and bloom on their own, and the human hand of agricultural reinforces the knowledge that we’re not just in the world but also of it. We’re part of something larger that will continue without us, and while we can tame it with knowledge of genetics and soil microbes, we don’t fully own it. You can call it philosophy, karma, or the hand of God; that’s just perspective.

Many faith-based farms welcome visitors.
There are classes, retreats, camps, farm stands, and celebrations where you can nourish body and soul.

Koinonia Farm has been growing Georgia pecans and peanuts as a ‘demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God‘ since 1942. It’s the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity and other ministries for social justice.

You’ll be up even earlier than the chickens during an overnight visit with the monks at South Carolina’s Mepken Abbey. There are 3am prayers and meditation before the workday begins on the mushroom farm.

There’s a goat named Bagel and the organic pickles are kosher at Adamah Farm, housed at a Jewish retreat center in Connecticut. Or you can study Yiddish while helping with the kosher wheat harvest (for Passover matzoh) at the language-immersion farm camp started by a graduate of Adamah’s fellowship program.

The big daddy of faith-based farms has to be Castel Gandolfo. Every Pope since Pius XI has gathered eggs and bottled olive oil as the overseer of its 50 acres. Later this year, Pope Francis will be the first to open its vegetable gardens, chicken coops, and eight-hundred-year-old olive groves to the public.

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The Surprising Names Behind the Brands You Trust

 

 

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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We’re Hungry and We Want It Now

We’re fussy, we’re fickle, we’re inconsistent, and unpredictable.
We say we want healthy but opt for decadence. We chase the new but choose the familiar. We demand quality but reject premium price tags.
Somehow, restaurant operators need to parse all the contradictions and inconsistencies to give us what we really want.

Restaurant Business Online has come out with one of their periodic snapshots.    
They compiled data from numerous business intelligence sources (including Consumer Reports Magazine, Technomic, The National Restaurant Association, and Pizza.com) to capture our ever-changing dining preferences at this singular moment in time.

infographic via Restaurant Business Online

infographic via Restaurant Business Online

 

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Oh, Is It Just You This Evening?

We’re being ridiculous and we know it, but we still feel stigmatized by solo dining. Take a confident, capable, rational adult, plunk him down at a table for one, and residual memories of a middle school cafeteria come back to haunt him.
Everyone’s staring I look like a pathetic friendless loser I’m going to die a lonely virgin.

A scene from the 1984 movie The Lonely Guy dramatizes those fears. Steve Martin, the titular solo diner, requests a table for one. You can hear a pin drop as the restaurant’s service grinds to a halt. Busboys stop clearing, diners’ forks freeze in midair, and out of nowhere a theatrical spotlight bears down on the poor sap as he follows the smarmy maître d’ to his table.

It’s the middle school scar that never fades. 
Contemporary media continues to fuel the insecure with the parade of odd characters on the Tumblr table-for-1 and on Facebook’s heavy-hearted exercise in dining desolation I feel sad when I see an old person eating aloneIkea’s 2014 April Fools offering of the Löne Singleton Dining Table, a mirrored table for one, hewed so close to the stereotype it left many wondering if it was really a put-on.1

One woman who believed other diners saw her as ‘a sad, lonely spinster’ founded the dining companion search service Invite for a Bite. The website SoloDining.com is ‘dedicated to supplying you with the information and tools you need to take charge of this important life-style skill’ and advises you to purchase their $7.95 e-booklet. And then there are forever alone tables, partitioned cubicle-style cafeteria seating that are popping up on American college campuses, especially in the socially awkward milieu of engineering schools.

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In fact dining alone comes with its own distinct pleasures.
You can engage in satisfying eavesdropping and people-watching or immerse yourself completely in the sensory satisfaction of the meal. You can set your own pace, you don’t have to gauge your menu selections to others, and nobody will stick a fork in your dessert. We need to take a page from the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher who, in her iconic Gourmet Magazine essay An Alphabet for Gourmets, captures the bitter and the sweet of solitary dining with A is for Dining Alone… She suggests that ‘snug misanthropic solitude is better than hit-or-miss congeniality.’ In other words, sometimes you can be your own best dining companion.

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The National Kitchen Audit

 

image via NPD Group

image via NPD Group

 

Every three years a massive study reveals what’s in our kitchens.
In 1993, the NPD Group, a market research company, first asked American consumers to tell what’s in their pantries and on their countertops. The published reports have taken us through the era of George Forman grills and South Beach diets to coffee pods and Greek yogurt. And through it all there’s a block of cheddar cheese lurking in everyone’s refrigerator.

Here are the latest findings from the 2014 Kitchen Audit:

Pod-based coffeemakers are now found in 23% of kitchens, up from 9% just three years ago. And they’re using them regularly—80% in the past month, even though 55% of these households held on to their electric drip coffeemakers. Other dedicated appliances like rice cookers, slow cookers, juicers, and waffle makers have also found a place in more kitchens.

You’ll find soda in 54% of kitchens, and home soda makers in 4%; that rises to 10% if there are children under age 6 in the household.

Sriracha hot sauce was barely a blip in previous audits. Now it’s found in 9% of total households, and an impressive 16% of households with a cook under the age of 35. This reflects the influx of new flavors shared by Asian-Americans, the country’s fasting growing ethnic group, plus the much larger Hispanic population, which opened us up to bolder, spicier flavors.

There’s a slew of new pantry staples.
Sea salt, formerly a specialty food item, has officially crossed over into the majority of kitchens. 
Nut products are becoming a standard way of adding meatless protein to diets; hazelnut spreads like Nutella are now in 14% of kitchens (up from 8% in 2011), and nut milks, especially from almonds, reached 10% (up from just 4%).
Of course the reigning king of the high-protein meat alternatives is Greek yogurt. In three short years its market penetration more than tripled, and it can now be found in 29% of all household refrigerators.

Instant and prepared foods are losing ground.
Home cooks are using microwave ovens less frequently. Canned foods are slipping (lima beans and mushrooms dropped out of  20% and 6% of pantries, respectively), and the dry cereal manufacturers are in full panic mode. There’s still a ready-to-eat box of in around 90% of American households, but unless there are small children, we’re just not eating it like we used to.

The biggest surprise revealed in the audit is that we’re cooking.
Consumers- especially millennials- say that they want to be hands-on in the kitchen. They still like convenience (remember all those coffee pods?), but the buzzwords are fresh and customized. Think of bags of pre-washed and trimmed salad greens with homemade dressing or tacos constructed at home with a takeout rotisserie chicken. More people consider themselves good-to-excellent cooks, and 53% of that self-identified group is cooking at least some elements of a meal from scratch- with recipes even- at least once a week.

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The Power of the Cartoon

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A few simple pencil strokes from a talented cartoonist can say more in a glance than most journalists accomplish in dozens of column inches.
The terrorists responsible for yesterday’s horrific attack know this. That’s why, when the gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, they named four prominent cartoonists as they recited their hit list.

Political cartoons can bite without venom.
The best practitioners are literate and to-the-point, but balance the invective with sardonic humor. Tragedy can be limned with irony, brutality with farce, and personalities lampooned with hyperbole and caricature. We laugh and then we think as the commentary hits its mark.

It’s about freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 
The massacre at Charlie Hedbo is an assault on the core elements of a free society. That’s why nous sommes tous Charlie.

Visit the Cartoonists Rights Network International where they’re leading the fight to protect the rights of political cartoonists and the people they give voice to around the globe.

Climate change deniers, politicians, flash mobs, pesticide manufacturers, and many more players and policymakers appear in the satirical graphic novel #foodcrisis. It’s set in the near future of 2025 when North America is hit by a massive collapse of its food system. You can purchase the print edition or read the first three chapters for free online.

 

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Makers and Hackers: Here’s Your Refrigerator

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The FirstBuild co-creation community debuted a really smart refrigerator at CES 2015, the giant, global consumer electronic fest that landed in Las Vegas this week.
FirstBuild‘s industrial designers, scientists, engineers, and fabricators partnered with GE Appliances to reimagine household appliances. The ChillHub is the collaboration’s first community-generated product launch.

The ChillHub refrigerator isn’t just smart; it’s hackable.
It’s got WiFi connectivity, 8 USB ports, and is compatible with a Best Buy-full of other appliances, gadgets, sensors, and control systems like Nest and OneCue. But the real draw is that it’s all open-source. The source code, circuit board, and the mobile app are free and available to anyone that wants to tinker, modify, or customize the fridge. In keeping with the open-source spirit, creators are encouraged to design 3-D printable ChillHub accessories and share the templates with other owners who can download, print, and assemble their own products.

Dozens of different accessory components are currently in various stages of production, some still in the concept phase and others that are already distributed through the FirstBuild website. There are diet trackers, bacteria-killing lights, an egg tray that hard boils your breakfast, and an in-fridge safe to keep medicine out of a child’s reach. Coffee brewers and smoothie makers are big, as are dispensers (milk, beer, soda), butter (softener, stick cap), and anything that makes bad refrigerator smells go away.

Visit FirstBuild.com to see the the ChillHub and its many user-created accessories, from the frivolous to the functional.

 

 

 

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Cannabis Cooking: the new haute cuisine

image via jantoo

image via jantoo

 

Cannabis edibles have emerged as a legitimate culinary pursuit.
Now that recreational and/or medical marijuana is legal in 23 states plus the District of Columbia, marijuana cookery is looking increasingly mainstream. No major food manufacturer or restaurant chain has jumped in yet, but hundreds of small producers are turning out a wide range of products. There are cannabis cookbooks in the works from major publishers, and cannabis cooking classes are taught by well-known and classically-trained chefs.

Chefs and marijuana go together like salt and pepper.
Many (many) restaurant workers and chefs blow off steam after a long shift in the kitchen by smoking a little dope, and naturally they’re adept at feeding their own munchies. Anthony Bourdain, who famously chronicled his own taste for drugs and debauchery, claims “There has been an entire strata of restaurants created by chefs to feed other chefs. These are restaurants created specially for the tastes of the slightly stoned, slightly drunk chef after work.”

The munchies are a well-documented phenomenon.
Generations of stoners, chemotherapy patients, and now a scientific study conducted under rigorous, double-blind controls can all confirm that ingesting weed makes you hungry. Marijuana perks up the taste and hunger receptors in your brain and body. Flavors are heightened on the tongue as happy-making mood compounds course through your body. Traditional munchies leaned toward big flavors that go down easy. You didn’t want to be fussing with little fish bones or seeds or sorting through too much tableware. Outstanding examples of the form cited by many chefs include the cereal milk soft-serve ice cream at Momofuku Milk Bar (a dessert based on the slightly sweet flavor of the milk left at the bottom of a cereal bowl) and the fleet of Kogi Korean taco trucks that circulate through Los Angeles.

In the cannabis kitchen.
Legalization has opened up culinary frontiers. Chefs aren’t just feeding the sugar-salt cravings of stoners; they’re exploring marijuana’s gastronomic potential for sophisticated palates, and they have the freedom and the ingredients to do so. Instead of grinding marijuana leaves, professional kitchens cook with cannabis extracts that reduce the psychoactive cannabinoids into a tincture that can be added to just about anything. Pastry chefs can buy CannaFlour and CannaOil, line cooks slather the flat top with cannabis-infused olive oil and compound butters, and deglaze pans with pot-infused brandy. Everything from pesto to sushi to cold-brewed coffee can be steeped in a few drops of extract.

Ganja goes gourmet.
Chefs and gastronomists are studying the art of matching food to marijuana varietals and pairing weed with wine. Restaurants (even the Michelin-starred) have constructed elaborate cannabis-imbued tasting menus, and the multi-city supper club Sinsemil.la organizes pot-themed, farm-to-table dinners that create “a carefully calibrated experience from start to finish…Sinsemil.la isn’t about getting high — it is about haute cuisine.”
It’s all a far cry from the gritty Alice B. Toklas creations of yore.

For the home cook:
The classic Stoner’s Cookbook is coming out with a new volume focusing on the haute end of high cuisine. You can help bring HERB to the masses through the project’s crowdfunding endeavor.
The indispensable tool of the cannabis kitchen is the pot crock pot, which comes to us from one of MSNBC’s top entrepreneurs of 2014The MB2e from Magical Butter is a botanical extractor that produces cannabis-infused butters, tinctures, and oils suitable for cooking. It’s available on Amazon where it can be found in the sub-category of Specialty Cookware-Butter Warmers.

 

 

 

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3 Friday the 13ths in 2015. We could all use some lucky New Year foods.

 

 

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February, March, and November—each brings us a Friday the 13th.
That’s the greatest number that can possibly fall within a calendar year.

Many New Year’s revelers will try to balance the bad juju with lucky foods.
These are foods that symbolize health, long life, prosperity, fertility, love, and forward progress. Summon your own good luck for the coming year with some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world.

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

images-2Noodles
Cook your noodles carefully. Chinese traditions suggest that the longer the noodles, the longer the life. Uncut, unbroken noodles are eaten as a symbol of longevity at birthday and New Year celebrations. The Chinese new year doesn’t begin until February 19th, but some January 1 noodles can’t hurt.

 

il_340x270.682282337_rqn1Round or ring-shaped foods
The shape represents a year coming full circle. Mexicans eat the ring-shaped rosca de reyes cake, the Dutch eat the donut-like ollie bollen, and in Greece, families bake a lucky coin into the round vassilopita cake. Pomegranates are especially auspicious—a round fruit filled with round seeds.

Fishplaying-cards-dollar-sign-symbol-financial-success-concept-wishing-happy-prosperous-new-year-good-luck-wealth-42501835
Fish makes frequent appearances on New Year’s tables. There’s herring at midnight in Poland, boiled cod in Denmark, and the Germans not only feast on carp, they also put fish scales in their wallets for a successful new year. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest. Chinese tradition dictates that a whole fish should be served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good year, from start to finish.

Grapes
In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year. Are this year’s grapes sweet or sour? The taste gives a clue to the character of each of the coming months. Spanish state television broadcasts the New Year’s chimes and nearly 4 million pounds of grapes (in little 12 grape packets) are sold in the last week of the year.imagesWhat Not to Eat

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

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

fingerscrossed

 

 

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Selling Like Hotcakes? It’s time for a new metaphor.

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IPads, kale chips, Bean boots, Taylor Swift’s new album: these are selling like hotcakes. Pancakes? Not so much.

Pancake sales are tough to pin down.
We visit IHOP, pull Eggos out of the freezer, add oil and water to boxed mixes, and sometimes even sift flour and crack eggs for homemade. In the industry, they look at the total picture and call it the ‘pancake experience.’ And when you add it all together, the pancake experience has been pretty flat for years.

It’s the rare household that makes pancakes from scratch. You’ll find a box of pancake mix in two-thirds of American kitchens, but it’s probably just whiling away the months until its expiration date. Annual household spending on pancake mixes is a mere $1.16, which adds up to a single new box about every three years. The frozen category is the only bright spot in home pancakes.

We still like a good restaurant pancake. We just wish that Chipotle would put them on the menu.
IHOP, with more than 1,500 locations, is the top chain in its category, but customers are increasingly abandoning the whole category. The top five traditional family dining chains (by sales) are IHOP, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, and Bob Evans Restaurants. Every one of them is in the pancake business. Diners have been shifting to the new category of fast-casual restaurants where the top five brands are Panera, Chipotle, Panda Express, Jimmy John’s, and Five Guys. There’s not a pancake in sight at any of them, unless you want to count the scallion pancake-filled orange chicken wrap at Panda Express.

Don’t blame this one on the gluten police.
We flip over carb-heavy fads like ramen and cronuts, and trendy cupcakes, mac and cheese, and craft beers are still going strong, while pancakes are falling behind.
Hotcakes: these days they’re selling like sweetbreads.

 

 

 

 

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Cookbooks for the Hard-to-Shop-For

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photo courtesy of The Three Stooges Cookbook


You’re down to the last few on the holiday shopping list, and this is when it gets tough.
It’s the eccentric family member, the fussy friend, the complicated relationship. Fortunately, there’s a cookbook out there for everyone.

for that special (or not so special) someone
There’s the intimate Eating in Bed Cookbook and the series Cooking in the Nude, although the volume titled Cooking in the Nude: For Barbecue Buffs seems particularly ill-advised. Looking for less romance and more action? Try the unabashedly pragmatic Cook to Bang, subtitled The Lay Cook’s Guide to Getting Laid.

for the quirkily focused
If it’s edible, no doubt there’s a cookbook singularly devoted to it. There’s the Eat-a-bug Cookbook (33 ways to cook grasshoppers, ants, water bugs, spiders, and centipedes) and a few volumes for hardcore fans of Twinkies. The Testicle Cookbook is the English language translation of a Serbian best-seller focused on the beloved, local delicacy. The Natural Harvest cookbook is even harder to swallow. The back-of-the-jacket blurb says it all: Once you overcome any initial hesitation, you will be surprised to learn how wonderful semen is in the kitchen. Semen is an exciting ingredient that can give every dish you make an interesting twist. If you are a passionate cook and are not afraid to experiment with new ingredients – you will love this cook book!

for the celebrity watcher
There’s no dancing but they can cook with stars like Coolio, Regis Philbin, Gwyneth Paltrow, and two of the Real Housewives from the Bravo TV franchise have cookbooks. Notably, both of those have ‘skinny’ in the book title.

for the political junkie (or your strange bedfellows)
Policy wonks can choose to Dine Liberally with the Democrats, Eat Like a Republican, or go bipartisan with Politics and Pot Roast.

for those you want off of next year’s list
Try a copy of Cooking to Kill: The Poison Cook-book, or Dorothea Puente’s Cooking With a Serial KillerCharged with killing nine of her elderly boarding house residents and facing a life sentence, Puente’s recipe collection was published as proof of her innocence. Her defense attorney claimed that Puente would never have fed her boarders so lavishly if she was only going to kill them.

for everyone else
There’s a one-size-fits-all cookbook for the Christmas season billed as ‘The Ultimate Program For Eating Well, Feeling Great, And Living Longer’: What Would Jesus Eat?  

 

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Read It and You’ll Never Buy a Mexican Tomato Again

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This weekend the Los Angles Times wrapped up an explosive 4-part investigative series exposing the horrific conditions at Mexican farm labor camps. Product of Mexico pulls no punches as it takes readers into the worker camps attached to industrial mega-farms that send millions of pounds of tomatoes into the United States.

The workers are recruited from Mexico’s poorest and most discriminated populations of indigenous ethnic groups living in remote regions. They’re trucked to distant farms with the promise of decent housing and a weekly salary of $48 for the duration of a 90-day contract. In fact they are housed in squalid shacks, often with no mattresses, working toilets, or running water. Some are held against their will behind barbed wire fences, and some are trapped by employers who withhold wages for the duration of the 90 days. Others are trapped by debt—to the recruiters who charge them a job placement fee, or to the on-site company store where the captive workers overpay for basics like soap and food.

Fully half of all the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. are the product of these farm camps. But don’t worry; the produce itself is coddled. Immaculate greenhouses and packing facilities adhere to the food safety standards demanded by American customers. There might not be sinks and showers at the camps, but food handlers are treated to nail trimmers and hand sanitizers so that the tomatoes will pass through unblemished.

The list of U.S. customers includes nearly every major produce distributor and restaurant chain. Retailers carrying the tomatoes run the gamut from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, so no matter what kind of shopper you are, you’re likely eating the tomatoes. And until American consumers are willing to use their voices and purchasing power to speak out against the abuses and exploitation, you’ll continue to do so.

Here are some steps you can take on the road to systemic reform:

Visit Fair Trade USA for a list of fair trade certified products and local retailers that carry them. The Fair Trade produce label ensures that farms will meet certain requirements for the treatment of workers, and they are subject to regular inspections and audits to maintain their standing. 
Join your local Fair Trade Campaign that works with schools, hospitals, and other local institutions to broaden the availability of fairly-traded products in your community.
Read the Product of Mexico series. You’ll never buy another Mexican tomato.

 

 

 

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Holiday Weight Gain: The Unwanted, Un-returnable Gift of the Season

image via Shelton Crossfit

image via Shelton Crossfit

 

The holidays are fattening. That’s true.
We pack on the pounds. That’s a myth.

The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper shares his 7 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain with the cast of the Today Show. WebMD gives us 10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain. Greatist ratchets it up with 32 Science-Backed Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.
With a steady stream of media stories like these, it should come as no surprise that we vastly overestimate how fattening the holidays are.

Tales of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated.
A classic study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that we expect to gain at least five pounds. The reality, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds. That’s an average gain of around one pound for the season.

Just one little holiday pound—that doesn’t sound so bad after six weeks of free-flowing eggnog.
It’s only one pound, but most people hang on to it. Weight is on an upward creep throughout most of our lives, from early adulthood to the peak of middle-age spread. We tend to accumulate about two pounds during each of those years, and half of that can be traced to holiday indulgence.

More bad news—you won’t be losing the weight at the gym.
Every January millions of Americans pat their soft little holiday bellies and vow to get fit in the new year. It’s one of the most common resolutions, and health club rosters overflow with well-intentioned new members. Gym owners are all too happy to offer January deals and promotions because they know that the overflowing yoga classes and treadmill lines will be gone before the end of the month. A full 60% of annual gym memberships go unused after the first six weeks of every new year. Our collective failure to keep our fitness resolutions is the easiest money those gym owners see all year.

We don’t fare any better with a January menu of cottage cheese and green tea. 
40% of all New Year’s resolutions relate to diet and weight loss, but women typically revert to old eating habits by January 6th, with men holding out for another week. Men are more weak-willed about cutting out alcohol, usually making it only as far as the first weekend of the new year, while women abstain for two weeks.

With a single new holiday pound every year, the needle on the scale creeps up very slowly. But once it’s there it’s not budging.

 

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Top Food Inventions of 2014

It wasn’t just cronut-inspired pastry hybrids.
2014 brought the doughssant, the doughscuit, and the crookie. You could even call the Taco Bell waffle taco a direct descendent of the trendy pastry mashups. But it’s good to know that the year’s food innovations didn’t stop there. Many addressed the pressing problems of climate change, world hunger, public health, and animal welfare.

Whether you’re a Luddite, a technophile, or something in between, here are some of the  year’s coolest, useful, and tastiest developments that came out of the overlapping spheres of food and technology.

Banana

 

A banana that prevents blindness
Young children in Sub-Saharan Africa eat a lot of bananas. They also go blind at a frightening rate—30% of kids under age 5 are at risk—due to the lack of vitamin A in their diets. Scientists have engineered a souped-up banana, enriched with alpha and beta-carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A. It could prevent 1 million cases of blindness a year.

 

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Electronic tongue
Researchers have developed a device that can scan food for additives, impurities, and even taste. It works like a human tongue with sensors that detect substances and send signals to a computer for analysis, much like the way taste buds transmit flavor messages to the brain. Ultimately it will be used to detect toxins and bacterial contamination at food inspection and processing sites. It’s already in use in Thailand where restaurants earn a Thai Delicious designation when the e-tongue verifies the tastiness of their ingredients.

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Levitating cocktails
A British inventor has come up with a levitron that lets you sip a Bloody Mary out of thin air. Soundwaves lift cocktail droplets out of a glass and suspend them in space. He’s hoping to have a floating rainbow of jelly beans by Easter.

 

 la-dd-eco-friendly-froyo-edible-packaging-20140312Edible wrappers
WikiFood (the company), is making WikiPearls (the product), out of WikiCells (the material). These are all-natural, water-tight, edible shells made from things like dried fruit, coconut, and seaweed. WikiFood casings reduce packaging waste; they provide a protect barrier against contaminants and temperature swings; and they can be enhanced for improved nutrition. They’re a natural for humanitarian food aid, but you can also buy them at Whole Foods filled with Stonyfield yogurt.

 

article-2530195-1A29DF9E00000578-358_634x4243D Printed Food
The futuristic fantasy became a reality in 2014. The Foodini is a home printer that produces pasta and burgers to cook at home, and The ChefJet prints desserts in sugar and chocolate. 3DPrintingIndustry explores the outer limits of printed edibles, like foods that can double as biomedical sensors or electrify your insides with conductive jello. Recipes and other matters of modern gastronomy are discussed at 3Digital Cooks.

The innovations will keep coming.
Food startups are attracting significant venture capital as we look for solutions to society’s ills and explore viable, sustainable alternatives to our current model of industrialized food production. Insect-based foods, customized nutrition, laboratory-grown meat analogs—these are some of the developments we’ll be seeing in 2015 and beyond.

Posted in appliances + gadgets, food trends, Science/Technology | Leave a comment
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