If You Only Get One Fart App

Mr. Nice Hands

Mr. Nice Hands

 

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

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

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

 

Posted in diversions, food knowledge, phone applications | Leave a comment

Oh, The Things You Can Do with Marshmallows

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

White Floppy Chef Hat

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

Not too shabby for nothing more than sugar and air.

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Will Fast Food Ruin the Bánh Mì ?

image via Willamette Week

image via Willamette Week

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Detroit: From Food Desert to Food Sovereignty

 

 

movie still, Grown in Detroit

movie still, Grown in Detroit

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Naming and Shaming the Food Brands

 Who’s Behind the Brand?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Maya Angelou: A Multi-Hyphenated Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mya_ckbook_cover         cookm

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Skincare Company Launches First-Ever Drinkable Sunscreen

 

image via It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

image via It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Just in time for summer, Colorado-based Osmosis Skin Care is promoting its drinkable sunscreen.
Take a few swigs of its UV Neutralizer Harmonized Water and in an hour your skin will radiate sun-blocking waves that neutralize 97% of the sun’s UV rays, or so goes the company’s claim.
Is it too good to be true?

osmosis-skincares-uv-cancelling-water-therapy

 

Well I’m no doctor, but…
The ingredients are listed as distilled water and the company’s proprietary blend of ‘multiple vibrational frequencies.’ According to Osmosis Skin Care, they’ve identified the precise vibrational frequencies—basically radio waves—that neutralize ultraviolet radiation. They infuse hundreds of thousands of vibrations into distilled water, and then they bottle it up. When you drink the solution, the vibrations are shared with the body’s own fluids at a cellular level and then the vibrations are emitted through your skin where they repel sunlight. Got that?

Each 2 milliliter dose lasts for 4 hours before you have to chug some more, and a 100-ml bottle of UV Neutralizer Harmonized Water retails for $30. Since it’s marketed as a cosmetic, the FDA hasn’t reviewed the product, although some of the other products in the Osmosis line have received approval in Kenya.

Harmonized waters might be hard to swallow, but you can eat your way to sun protection.
There’s no shortage of legitimate, peer-reviewed clinical studies documenting the skin-protecting qualities of a carotenoid-rich diet. Carotenoids are members of a family of nutrients that contribute sun blocking pigments to plants and animals. When carotenoids are in the foods we eat, the pigments are deposited in our skin where they prevent sunburn and the kind of oxidative stress that leads to skin cancer. It’s a measurable level that a dietician can assess with a laser scan of your skin.

Carotenoids are why frogs are green and flamingos are pink. They put the yellow in egg yolks and turn a cooked lobster red. Dark chocolate and green tea are good sources of dietary carotenoids, as are most deeply colored fruits and vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, and dark green leafy greens, and the colorful flesh of salmon and trout.

A thorough explanation of dietary carotenoids along with the carotenoid content of dozens of foods can be found at the online at the Micronutrient Information Center at the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University.

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Your Next Nosh: The Best New Treats from the Sweets & Snacks Expo

image via The National Confectioners Association

image via The National Confectioners Association

 

There were plenty of smiles when the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo wrapped up earlier this week.
It’s not just that they’d spent a few days in a real life, sugar-sprinkled Candyland; even better was the industry report. Candy is more than dandy. Sales grew to an all-time record $33.6 billion in 2013, and the forecast for this year, with Halloween, the year’s biggest candy holiday, falling on a weekend night, is even sweeter.
For all the talk of healthy eating, it’s our enduring love of candy that rules the day.

The industry likes to talk about the four S’s: snacking, sharing, simplicity, and sustainability, and they were clearly driving this year’s trends.
Many of the old familiar candy bars are shrinking down to poppable, shareable bite sized bits. Scaled-down Milky Ways, Kit Kats, Twizzlers, and Airheads all come as bags of Bites; there are Starburst, Reese’s, and York Peppermint Patty Minis, Sour Punch Punchies, and tiny marshmallow Peeps, hoping to find a life after Easter. Inexplicably, Hershey’s went in the other direction introducing a full-sized Krackel bar, better known as a perennial member of the assorted miniatures bag. Sustainability shows up in a slew of all-natural, fair trade, GMO-free, and organic labels. Some heritage brands are reformulating to rid themselves of gelatin and other animal byproducts to earn the vegan label. There are new chocolate-covered fruits and grains from Dove and Hershey-owned Brookside Chocolates, as well as limited edition and seasonal offerings that purport to tap into the farm-to-table movement.

With thousands of new treats to choose from, experts say it’s likely that just a handful of new products will ever make it to the big time as national brands with $100 million or so in sales. A panel of judges from the National Confectioners Association, which sponsors the annual Expo, weighed in with their six top picks for the show’s most promising and innovative products, and the event’s attendees voted for the people’s choice award winner. 

 

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doodle_egg_package                Jelly-Belly-Draft-Beer-Jelly-Beans-133429-im2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sour-Farts-Logo

 

top row l-r:  Chocolate Traveler’s Tabasco Dark Spicy Chocolate Wedges, Ripple Brand Collective Dark Chocolate Bark Thins with Toasted Coconut and Almonds
second row l-r: Chocolate Doodle Egg, Jelly Belly Draft Beer Flavored Jelly Beans
third row l-r: Project 7 Coconut Lime Sugar Free Gum, York Peppermint Patty minis- the people’s choice top vote-getter
bottom row: Farts Candy- judged Best in Show  (with apologies. I don’t pick ‘em)

 

 

 

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Is Junk Food the New Tobacco?

via US Department of Health & Human Services

image via US Department of Health & Human Services

 

Junk food is the new tobacco: that’s the takeaway from The World Health Organization’s Assembly that’s taking place right now in Geneva. The U.N.’s Olivier De Schutter opened the summit with this statement:

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.

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

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 diet, food policy, Health, snack foods | Leave a comment

You’ll Be Gone Long Before These Foods

This is not about Twinkies.
Or Christmas fruitcake, circa 2004. Or leftovers that wear out their welcome.

Forget what you think you know about spoilage, shelf-life, and expiration dates.
This is a list of foods that never go bad. You don’t toss them when you clean out the pantry, remodel your kitchen, or move to another city.
You’ll be long gone, but that box of brown sugar will live on.

The sweeteners

 

White, brown, or powdered, sugar never goes bad. Bacteria can’t feed on sugar, so it will never spoil. Corn syrup is also a keeper, but we’re not fans of the stuff. Honey, with its own antibacterial properties, has been famous for its longevity ever since centuries-old honey pots were unearthed from ancient Egyptian tombs, and found to be perfectly edible. Maple syrup has a surprisingly limited shelf life of just a year or so, but who knew you could freeze maple syrup indefinitely?!

 

The carbs

Unless you’re wild about gravy, that tin of cornstarch could be the last one you’ll ever buy, since it never goes bad. All of the white rice varieties, like jasmine, arborio, and basmati, will keep forever; the higher oil content of brown rice makes those varieties prone to spoilage. Wild rice is another food that will outlast you, even though it’s not a rice at all, but is an edible grass.

 

The condiments

Vanilla_powder__53960__42943_zoom

Salt—kosher, iodized, from the sea, or chiseled from mines—it never goes bad. Its resistance to bacterial growth makes it handy as a preservative for other foods. Like salt, vinegar is also used to extend the shelf life of other foods, and is, in a pure state without added flavorings, eternally self-preserving. Vanilla (the extract, not the beans) doesn’t just last forever; it actually improves with age. The cheaper, artificial extract is no bargain when you consider the cost to replace it every few years when its flavor fades. Spring for the good stuff and your grandchildren will still be baking with it.

Heat, light, moisture, air, and pests; these are the enemies. Keep them away from your pantry, and you can keep these foods forever.

When in doubt, check with the keep it or toss it query bar at Still Tasty.

 

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

Would Jesus Tip More than 20%?

tipsforjesus

 

Tips for Jesus struck again, this time in Philadelphia.
After drinks ($150) and dinner ($250) a diner left a $2,000 tip for the bartender and $5,000 to the server. Those latest tips bring Jesus’ total extravagance to nearly $150,000.

An anonymous diner or group of diners has been tipping for Jesus since last fall, leaving absurdly generous tips at restaurants and bars in more than a dozen cities in the United States and Mexico. Each receipt has been stamped with the Instagram handle @tipsforjesus, where photos of the tips and the ecstatic recipients are posted.

The tech-savvy Samaritan is rumored to be former PayPal VP Jack Selby and a few friends from his inner circle. While maintaining their anonymity, the group has released public statements and given a few interviews explaining their mission. Despite the insignia and the extensive coverage by religious press organizations, they prefer to keep some distance between Tips for Jesus and traditional Christian philanthropy, calling theirs ‘agnostic’ giving.

The Tips for Jesus crew is hoping  to inspire an army of munificent copycat tippers. They try to create an internet sensation with each new episode, harnessing the power of social media through the 75,000 followers of their Instagram account. And it’s exactly the kind of off-kilter, feel-good story that the internet likes to run with.

The problem is, as an act of charity, this kind of giving falls flat.
With the gap between rich and poor ever widening, plunking down the occasional out-sized tip isn’t especially effective or even moral. It smacks of hubris and privilege, more like the drunken lark of an entitled frat boy than genuine altruism. And while n
o one would argue that restaurant servers aren’t worthy of largesse, the Tips for Jesus recipients aren’t exactly hash slingers working the midnight shift at Denny’s. Whatever their true identities, the Tippers definitely dine like tech millionaires of a recent vintage, and the Instagram photos show receipts for high-end sushi bars, craft cocktail lounges, and  blow-outs at clubby steakhouses—the kinds of places where a server makes a solidly middle class living and is more likely to use a tip windfall to buy a big screen TV than to pay an overdue electric bill. 

Not that I think they should stop.
Tips for Jesus is probably not destined for long-term sustainability, but it’s bringing attention to charitable giving and packaging it for a new generation of givers. Some of them just might take their philanthropic impulses and find their way to more conventional forms of charity. In the meantime, it’s fulfilling the fantasy of everyone who’s ever waited on tables.

 

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The Curious Popularity of Tomato Juice on Airplanes

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Tomato juice rules the skies.
The terrestrial market is all about orange, apple, and cranberry, but when that beverage cart rolls through the airplane aisle, tomato juice reigns supreme. About a quarter of the passengers on most flights will choose it, and a quarter of them say they never, ever drink it on land.

Over the years there’ve been many attempts to explain this curious phenomenon.
It’s been theorized that airline passengers choose tomato juice for its nutritional profile; it’s more filling than most soft drinks and it’s loaded with vitamin C, giving it a prophylactic effect against the germ-laden recycled air of an airplane cabin. Others hypothesize that the sense of dislocation and limbo of air travel can embolden us to deviate from routine behaviors, or just make us more susceptible to the domino effect when the guy in 12D orders a glass.
Finally, science has given us the answer.

It’s a matter of physics.
Lufthansa Airlines commissioned a study by 
The Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics that revealed the ways in which the sense of taste loses its bearings in an airline cabin. Airplanes deliberately maintain low humidity levels to prevent corrosion in the fuselage, so even before a plane takes off, the the nostrils dry out, impairing the sense of smell. As the plane begins to ascend, the changing air pressure numbs the taste buds, and by the time a cruising altitude is reached, more than a third of them are missing in action. Fruit flavors will taste about the same but salt, sugar, herbs, and acids are all muted.

To most people’s taste, tomato juice improves at higher altitudes.
While still grounded, test subjects in the Lufthansa study overwhelmingly reported undesirable attributes when they tasted tomato juice. ‘Musty’, ‘earthy’, and ‘sour smelling’ were common descriptors. But when altitudes above 10,000 feet were simulated, those same respondents described the same juice as ‘sweet’, ‘refreshing’, and ‘pleasantly fruity in its aroma.’ Ginger ale is another tart beverage that appeals to cotton-mouthed fliers, while cola and lemon-lime soft drinks lose the acid tang that makes them so popular at sea level. Tea suffers most because the low air pressure reduces the boiling point of water and flavors aren’t properly extracted.

See the high altitude effect for yourself. Order a tomato juice the next time you’re strapped in at 30,000 feet and the beverage cart rolls your way. At least until free soft drinks go the way of checked bags, blankets, and lunch trays.

Posted in food knowledge, Travel | Leave a comment

States Vote to Ban Gays from Restaurants

restaurantsign

Mississippi is the latest state to pass its version of ‘turn away the gays’ legislation.
Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which goes into effect this July, allows restaurants to ban customers whose lives don’t align with the owners’ religious values. While the broadly written law doesn’t specifically mention gays and lesbians, it’s widely understood, in this heavily conservative Christian state, that it’s a license to discriminate against gays in the name of religion.

Where civil rights fit in
The Civil Rights Act protects us from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or national origin, and there are other laws that prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, or disability. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act prohibits discrimination of sexual orientation in the workplace, but otherwise there are no federal laws that protect the civil rights of gays and lesbians. 

Civil rights of restaurant owners
Restaurants are privately-owned businesses, which guarantees certain rights to their owners. They have to comply with federal laws banning recognized forms of discrimination because they provide what the law calls a ‘public accommodation,’ but it gives them a lot of latitude as long as they don’t step on the rights of a protected class. That means that a restaurant can refuse to serve anyone who wears a pro-Israel t-shirt as long as they don’t ban Jews, or they can have a policy that bans sagging pants if they otherwise serve young black men. Unlike blacks and Jews, gays and lesbians don’t constitute a protected class. It doesn’t matter what they wear; they can just be sent packing. 

Most states don’t have laws protecting gays and lesbians against discrimination by restaurants and other public accommodations, but Mississippi’s RFRA goes a step further by explicitly codifying the bigotry. It protects restaurants and their owners from lawsuits if they refuse service to gays, and it permits hate speech against individuals and their lifestyle. It even adds a provision that’s like a children’s version of the Act, forbidding schools to discipline students for expressing anti-gay views either verbally or through written assignments.

LGBT activists wonder: Is this the making of a new Jim Crow-style era?
Along with Mississippi, Republican lawmakers in Idaho, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arizona, Hawaii, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Kansas have recently introduced their own so-called ‘religious freedom’ bills giving citizens the right to segregate their businesses against LGBT Americans. All of these RFRA bills popped up in just the last four months, suggesting a concerted, national effort by the religious right to push back against the movement toward expanded rights for same-sex couples. A total of 31 states have already taken a stand against what they call a ‘substantial burden’ placed on their citizens’ religious practices.

 

RFRA1

 

 

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Where There’s Smoke There’s…. Ice Cream?

ln2icecream

 

Liquid nitrogen ice cream has moved out of the modernist chef’s kitchen and into mall kiosks and neighborhood scoop shops.
You’ll find it in a bunch of new-fangled old-fashioned ice cream parlors with names like Chill’N, Sub Zero, and Nitrogenie. The fad is moving into high gear this summer with hundreds of new franchisees, so if you haven’t seen it yet, sit tight for a few months and you will.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is where a high school chemistry lab crosses paths with performance art and dessert.
Mixers are tricked out with gas tanks that instantly freeze the ice cream base. Steamy clouds billow about the mixing bowl as the -320°F gas hits the liquid ingredients. Oohs and aahs ensue, and in a few seconds when the vapors subside the ice cream is ready.

It’s not just schtick. 
Traditional ice cream makers use a two-step freezing processing: there’s a quick super-cooling blast freeze and then the semi-solid product is sent to a commercial freezer to harden. It’s this second step, when the water content freezes into ice crystals, that puts the ice in ice cream. The quick freeze of liquid nitrogen inhibits the formation of ice crystals. It makes the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is free of emulsifiers and stabilizers.
Additives like guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan are familiar to you if you’ve ever read the side of a commercially produced ice cream carton. These are added to improve ice cream’s structure and keep the growth rate of ice crystals to an acceptable level. And the oily extracts like monoglycerides, diglycerides, and polysorbate 80 are there to add smoothness. 

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is made on the spot and meant to be eaten on the spot.
You see exactly what goes into it and usually it’s nothing more than milk, cream, and flavorings, with each serving made to order.

Kids, don’t try this at home.
Liquid nitrogen is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and with proper handling it’s perfectly safe to eat. The ice cream makers like to remind us that it’s a natural element that makes up 75% of the air we breathe. But it’s also used for cattle branding and to freeze off warts. Stick your finger in it and it will freeze and crack off; eat some that’s not fully vaporized and your stomach can explode. Liquid nitrogen ice cream is one of those foods that’s best left to the professionals.

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Seed Rebels Adopt the Language of the Internet

OSSILOGO-featured

A group of scientists and food activists is changing the rules that govern seeds.
They’re using the open source software development model to create seeds that can be planted for food.

Software is called open source when the source code is right there for anyone to install, learn from, or customize. It’s built and maintained by volunteer programmers and you don’t have to pay a royalty or fee to the license holder. You use open source software everyday if your internet browser is set to Mozilla Firefox or your mobile devices run on the Android operating system.

Seeds were always open source; we just didn’t know it.
For thousands of years farmers and backyard gardeners have experimented with seeds, breeding and adapting them to suit their tastes and needs. At the end of each season they’d share their experience and experiments with the community through seed swaps and exchanges.

Modern agriculture has turned this ancient model on its head. Through genetic engineering, companies like Monsanto and DuPont are able to insert a single new gene into the cell of a plant and claim ownership of all future seeds from the line. Seeds these days are intellectual property. They’re patented like inventions and a grower needs permission from the patent holder to plant them. And the GMO seed industry is playing hardball with its patents. The companies employ a small army of ‘seed police’ operating in rural America, threatening small farmers, shop owners, and community co-ops with patent infringement lawsuits. They’ve gone after farmers for violating patents by saving seeds from a harvest for replanting the next season, and have even sued inadvertent growers when the wind was proven to carry seeds from one farmer’s field to another. They’ve successfully argued patent enforcement all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Open Source Seed Initiative‘s rallying cry is Free the Seeds. 
The group aims to restore the practice of open sharing among growers by keeping certain seeds in the public domain. The free seed movement asserts that genetic engineers are falsely claiming dominion over something that embodies millennia of natural evolution and centuries of innovation contributed by farmers and natural seed breeders. And more critically, seed patents are a threat to the food security of future generations. In this time of climate change we need to preserve biodiversity in agriculture and encourage farmers to adapt and evolve along with the changing agro-ecosystem. Patents limit diversity and concentrate ownership in just a few hands. A single crop failure could be a disaster of unprecedented scale.

The Open Source Seed Initiative has just released the first set of open source seeds—36 varieties of 14 different herb, grain, and vegetable crops. Each packet is printed with the OSSI Pledge that the seeds and their derivatives will be used in a free and unrestricted manner. You can order a home gardener’s seed set of 14 organic vegetable varieties for $25. Proceeds go to the OSSI fund for Open Source Breeding.

 

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Young Men Are Digging the Dirt

image via Giddy Limits

image via Giddy Limits

 

← This is the average American gardener.
She’s over 45 years old and there is a 79% chance that she’s college educated. She spends an average of five hours a week and $70 a year on her hobby, mostly at garden centers. She almost certainly grows tomatoes.

 

This is the new American gardener. 

image via Williamsburg News

image via Williamsburg News

 

 

 

 

He’s between 18 and 34. He’s not puttering in his own backyard but in the yard of his rental or maybe a community garden. In fact he’s not puttering at all because he’s busy taking on the industrialized food system.

These new gardeners and have little in common with the ladies in floppy sun hats. They plant more intensively in much smaller spaces (96 square feet versus the typical old-school garden of 600 square feet) and spend lavishly (an average of $440), plunking down more in hardware stores than other gardeners. They pass on herbicides, pesticides, and ornamental plantings and have created a boom market for hot peppers and beer hops.

Gardening rates have exploded in the past five years with participation up from 36 million households in 2008 to 42 million in 2013.
Five million of those new gardeners came from the 18-34 year old age group, with young men (6 million) quickly gaining on young women (7 million), and most of those are first-time gardeners. Fully 35% of all households in America are now growing food at home or in a community garden. Garden purchases are a top priority for discretionary spending, ranking third after Christmas and weight loss-related purchases; they’re in second place if you throw in the $7 billion spent on garden gnomes and other decorative accessories.

Read more about recent trends in the National Gardening Association’s Garden to Table report on the last five years of food gardening America.
The Art of Manliness enumerates 7 Reasons to Become a Gentleman Gardener.
Read some true life tales of gardening lads who blog:
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This Man Has Eaten at 6,300 Different Chinese Restaurants Across America

image via LA Times

image via LA Times–and yes, he prefers a fork

 

Meet David Chan. 
He’s a 65-year-old lawyer and accountant, a native of Los Angeles, and a third-generation American who doesn’t speak Chinese. He’s probably eaten at more American Chinese restaurants than anyone else on the planet. 

He didn’t plan for it to happen.
Mr. Chan sees himself as more of a cultural historian than a foodie. As an undergraduate at UCLA in the 1960′s, a single class in ethnic studies inspired him to explore his heritage, and he embarked on his own gastronomic roots tour after graduation. Sometime in the 1980′s he realized he’d been to every single Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles and that achievement urged him on to further challenges. His dining became more deliberate, reaching 300 restaurant meals a year and taking him to Chinese restaurants in all 50 states.

An avid collector (before Chinese restaurants there were record albums and stamps) and, as befits a CPA, a highly organized and methodical man, Mr. Chan catalogs menus and documents each experience on detailed spreadsheets, including childhood meals that he retraced from a time when Chinese food could only be found in metropolitan Chinatowns. The subsequent spreadsheet entries track more than just a series of meals; they reveal much about the migration patterns and evolution of a half-century of Chinese-American life.

It’s a collection of memories and experiences that are unmatched anywhere.
Fortunately for us, Mr. Chan is generous in sharing his passion and insights. He blogs as Chandavkl and contributes to Menuism as the resident Chinese Restaurant Expert. His Twitter account gives a look at his prodigious dining habits and the stream is frequently trolled by restaurant critics and travel writers searching for recommendations. He also shares general guidelines for choosing excellent and authentic restaurants:

  • The best Chinese restaurants are almost always influenced by Hong Kong-style cooking.
  • You don’t need a Chinatown to find authentic cuisine—look to the suburbs.
  • Vietnamese-Chinese restaurants or Thai-Chinese restaurants are fine, but avoid Japanese-Chinese which Chan says ‘mix like oil and water.’
  • Never eat at a restaurant that’s been open for more than two decades; by then they’ve lost their edge and are lagging behind newcomers

David Chan calls Koi Palace the best Chinese restaurant in America and he’s not alone in that estimation.
True to his guidelines, Koi Palace is a Hong Kong-style restaurant and it’s located in a suburban strip mall outside of San Francisco. You won’t find sushi or other pan-Asian dishes on the menu. But what of its opening in 1996? In 2012 Chan added 5 years to what was then his 15-year rule in order to keep the 16-year old Koi Palace on top of his best restaurant listings.

The next Koi Palace could be out there waiting to be discovered by David Chan.
What happens in 2016 is anyone’s guess, but there are still another 40,000 or so Chinese restaurants across America that he has yet to visit. 

 

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Even a Genius Can’t Figure Out What’s Next in Food

Blackboard with mathematics sketches - vector illustration

 

If you track enough consumer behavior you should be able to spot the trends.
Spot the trends and you can own the future. That’s why Big Data is a big deal.
But what if you collect all the data, crunch all the numbers, and still come up empty?
That’s what happened to Food Genius.

Food Genius provides Big Data to Big Food.
They’ve attracted millions in start-up capital and have built a gold-plated client list that includes Kraft, Applebee’s, Arby’s, and Safeway supermarkets. The company currently tracks 50 million menu items from over 87,000 unique menus at more than 350,000 restaurant locations. The Food Geniuses work their quantitative magic to provide ‘industry analysis and actionable insights.’ In other words, they’ll spot the trends before they pop.

But what if there are no new trends to spot?
Food Genius has been aggregating menu data and working their algorithms since 2012 and they’ve seen nothing but big flat lines across their graphs. Gluten-free and farm-to-table already have a few years under their belts. Cupcakes and craft beer are just a part of the landscape. The next big thing? The Geniuses can only shrug.

Kale? Cronuts? Artisanal toast? 
They’re barely moving the needle. Food Genius blows up our widely accepted notions of trends. They don’t start on one of the coasts and then migrate to the middle of the country. That rarely happens. Our sense of trends is mostly an illusion, fueled by foodie conceit and an over-heated food press. The data they amassed says that different foods get popular at different times in different places. Fluctuations are small and localized, and overall eating patterns are basically static with only minor shifts over very long periods of time.

This was not what Food Genius expected to find.
The company was hired to keep its clients ahead of the curve. The Genius reports were expected to be predictive, allowing food and beverage purveyors the time to get innovative products and menus in place before nascent trends took hold. 

Food Genius has essentially shifted gears.
There’s still plenty of gold in all the data they mined, and it’s proven valuable in the sales and marketing functions rather than product development. Instead of the big picture of national fads and trends, the company offers detailed insights on a market-by-market, menu-by-menu basis. It’s just more granular than they expected, more gold dust than the hoped-for nuggets. More like food intelligence than food genius.

 

 

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The Bumpy Road to Nutrition Labeling for Alcohol

Beer_Nutrition_Facts_Pint1_POP
image via Wear Your Beer

 

Think about it– everything has a label.
Every box, bag, can, and bottle; if it’s meant to be be consumed it’s required to have a a rundown of ingredients and calories, fats and carbs. Everything but alcohol. For years labels weren’t even allowed.

For an explanation, you have to go all the way back to Prohibition.

The Food and Drug Administration was already in place regulating what we eat and drink, but Congress, recognizing the tax potential, assigned oversight of the newly legal alcoholic beverages to the Treasury Department under the auspices of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and passed the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935, which is still in force.

The TTB holds beer, wine, and liquor manufacturers to very different labeling standards than other food and beverage makers.
TTB standards have never included the nutrition facts you see everywhere else. Beer makers were actually forbidden from putting alcohol content information on their labels, finally suing for the right to do so in 1987. There are some arcane legal distinctions that put labels on the food content of things like low-alcohol wine, light and gluten-free beer, and hard cider, but you’d have a tough time hunting down the carbohydrates in Chardonnay or the sugar content of Jim Beam.

Between the obesity epidemic and rampant food intolerances, consumers shouldn’t be kept in the dark.
Fortunately we’re finally moving toward greater transparency, helped along by the Affordable Care Act, which requires most multi-outlet restaurants and food and beverage retailers to post calorie information for all menu items, including alcoholic beverages. Last May, the TTB lifted its mind-boggling ban on nutrition labels and adopted an interim policy of voluntary disclosures in advertising and on packaging for beer, wine, and spirits. Mandatory labeling can’t be far behind.

For now we have to satisfy ourselves with the rather sketchy information provided by the government’s National Nutrition Database for Standard Reference. It’s a humorously arbitrary, semi-useful assortment of nutrition facts offering vague profiles of wine (simply ‘red’ or ‘white’), generic averages of beer (‘regular’ or ‘light’), but gives a detailed analysis of three different recipes for a whiskey sour and includes one mysterious entry for ‘tequila sunrise, canned.’

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food policy | Leave a comment

Me, Myself, and I: Table for One

INB-table-plate-FPO

 

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. It’s the mark of the loner, the weirder, the social outcast.
              Everyone’s staring I look like a pathetic friendless loser I’m going to die a lonely virgin.

It’s a displaced dishonor that just won’t die.
Newspapers and magazines regularly run features on the how-to’s of this unnatural state. It’s treated as the extreme sport of food and drink, calling for nerve, verve, practice, and pep talks. It doesn’t help that there are restaurateurs who still grumble Here comes lost revenue for the 2-top, and there there are servers that will treat you as if you have a communicable disease.
ikea-singleton-table-w724

 

The internet pokes fun while fueling the insecure with the parade of odd characters on the Tumblr table-for-1I feel sad when I see an old person eating alone is Facebook’s heavy-hearted exercise in dining desolation that has attracted 749,000 likes. And Ikea’s April Fools offering of the Löne Singleton Dining Table, a mirrored table for one, hewed close enough to the stereotype to leave many wondering if it was really a put-on.


alonetablesOne woman who believed other diners saw her as ‘a sad, lonely spinster’ founded the dining companion search service Invite for a BiteThe 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 as further proof that middle school scars will never fade, there are forever alone tables. The partitioned cafeteria seating from Japan has been popping up on American college campuses, especially in the socially awkward milieu of engineering schools.

We all know the joys of the communal dining experience, but eating 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.

Eenmaal is a recurrent pop-up restaurant in Amsterdam that aims to take the shame out of dining alone. The dining room is filled exclusively with tables for one and the wine list is stocked with half bottles. There are no couples, no families, no chattering groups of friends to prey on a solo diner’s insecurities. 

The great food writer M.F.K. Fisher, in her iconic Gourmet Magazine essay An Alphabet for Gourmets, captured the bitter and the sweet of solitary dining with A is for Dining Alone…

I still wished, in what was almost a theoretical way, that I was not cut off from the world’s trenchermen by what I had written for and about them. But, and there was no cavil here, I felt firmly as I do this very minute, that snug misanthropic solitude is better than hit-or-miss congeniality. If One could not be with me,“feasting in silent sympathy,” then I was my best companion….

 

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