The Dirty Details: Food Imports from China

Can somebody tell me why we still import food from China?

Recent food scandals include:

  • contamination by a phosphorescent bacteria that causes pork to glow in the dark an eerie, iridescent blue
  • watermelons that explode like landmines from the application of growth hormones to increase melon size
  • industrial resins added to rice that makes eating three bowls of it equivalent to ingesting an entire plastic bag
  • processed animal skins added to milk to boost its protein content
  • foods processed with used cooking oil scavenged from sewer drains

The United States is awash in tainted, toxic, parasite-riddled, putrefying food imports from China—we know that they’re filthy and contaminated, but we’re still letting them in.

China is the world’s biggest polluter and a country that lacks widespread modern sanitation, with 55% of the country emptying raw sewage into its waterways. It’s also the world’s largest producer of farmed fish, which means that 60% of all the world’s seafood is raised in waters teeming with feces and industrial pollutants.

Chinese producers continue to use pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, fungicides, hormones, and other additives banned in most other countries, and its standards for allowable chemical residue levels fall far short of everyone else’s.

Does the United States really let this stuff in?
Don’t we have laws, and regulations, and the Food and Drug Administration to protect us?

This year, 24 million shipments subject to FDA regulation will pass through our ports, and the FDA expects to visually inspect less than 2% of the food imports, and a tiny fraction of those will be sent on for laboratory analysis. More than 98% of food imports are allowed to stock our nation’s supermarket without even a cursory glance. from a safety inspector.

Do you think that you’re not buying Chinese food imports? Think again.
Reading labels is not enough: American food companies are generally required to label only where their products are packaged or processed, not where the ingredients come from. A Swanson frozen dinner or a can of Campbell’s soup can contain 20 different ingredients from 20 different countries with no mention of this on the label. When you open a can of Bumble Bee tuna or Dole fruit, or pour your child a glass of Mott’s apple juice, you’re likely eating foods from China. All-American brands like Kraft, Lay’s, Pepsi, and General Mills all buy from Chinese growers and producers that harvest and process with lower labor costs than almost anywhere else.

For more information on where your food comes from, read A Decade of Dangerous Food Imports from China, a report from Food & Water Watch, a public interest organization that monitors the practices and policies of food and water systems world-wide, and advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and drinking water.

The Food and Drug Administration releases a monthly Inspection Refusal Report of goods that are determined to be out of compliance with the The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and refused admission at the port of entry.


Posted in food policy, food safety, health + diet | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Forks or Fingers?

image via Design Boom

You keep your elbows off the table, your napkin in your lap, and always use the proper fork. You pass to the left, spoon soup away from yourself, and at the end of a meal you park your utensils at the 4 o’clock edge of your plate. You’re a real etiquette stud.

Still, there are foods that can slip up even the best of us. It could be a dish like steamed artichoke that requires complicated technique, or a food that’s awkward and contrary, like peas that can’t be coaxed onto a fork. You’d love to get in there with your fingers, but you worry that it’s frowned upon in polite company.

The fork or finger divide can be based in practicality (no fingers in the mashed potatoes, for obvious reasons) or evolve as custom (a french fry is always a french fry, but forks or fingers are dictated by circumstances); and of course what’s de rigeur in one culture can be the height of barbarity in another. Here’s a guide to American-style etiquette for the most controversial foods.

Artichokes: eat the leaves with your fingers; use your fork for the heart.

Asparagus: if the stalks are firm and unsauced, fingers are fine; floppy or saucy, use a fork.

Bacon: like asparagus, if it’s crisp it’s finger food; use a fork when it’s limp and greasy.

French Fries: when they’re served alongside a food that requires a fork, like a steak, they are eaten with a fork; if they come with a sandwich or a hot dog in a bun, they are eaten with fingers.

Pickles: of course they are always finger food, right? Wrong— a little gherkin or cornichon served alongside a fork food, say a slice of pâté, should be eaten with a fork.

Shrimp: unsauced shrimp—hot or cold, fried or cocktail—is finger food when you’re standing up and eating hors d’ oeuvres; if you’re seated at the table, shrimp in any form is eaten with a fork.

Sashimi is never finger food; sushi goes either way.

When in doubt, use a fork. You might seem prissy, but never impolite.

For more tips, plus a dining guide to nearly every country on the planet, consult The Etiquette Scholar.


Posted in food knowledge | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Food Movement Will Occupy Wall Street Next Weekend


It’s our turn!
Next Saturday, advocates of food justice will be descending on the Occupy Wall Street encampment.

The connection
The food system is linked to Wall Street in ways that impact us personally and directly, as well as globally and ephemerally.

The scale and scope of the agribusiness monopoly puts the giants of Wall Street to shame.
While the 10 largest banks hold 54% of the nation’s assets, a mere 4 food companies churn out 75% of breakfast cereals, 75% of snacks, 60% of cookies, and 50% of ice cream. Inputs like seeds and pesticides, the mills and slaughterhouses that process foods, and even the supermarkets are similarly concentrated in a few hands, and they hold our nation’s food policy in a vise grip.

Then there is Wall Street’s effect on food prices.
The same deregulation that made the stock market volatile also increased price volatility in agricultural markets. Speculators have only been allowed to freely trade in food futures since 2000. Farmers used to trade in futures to guarantee a stable price for their future harvests; now agricultural commodities are just one more investment vehicle for speculators looking to squeeze out short-term profits, putting downward pressure on wages and pushing up prices.

When Occupy Wall Street protestors talks about the 1% and the other 99%, the gap between rich and poor is seen in starkest relief in terms of hunger and deprivation. 17 million school-aged children are underfed, nearly 1 in 5 Americans relies on food stamps, and half of all babies are born into households receiving government food subsidies.

Next Saturday’s demonstration is not just for food activists, or even activists who care about food. It’s for all of us who understand that to change the food system, we need systemic change in the institutions, regulations, and corporate influence that stand in the way of a healthy and just food system.



Posted in food policy, sustainability | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The 5 W’s of Food Day

The Who
It might be easier to list the who isn’t.
Food Day was created by the consumer-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Food Day’s advisory board is stacked with city mayors and university heads, Senators and members of Congress, two former Surgeons General, chefs, scientists, public health leaders, and many of the most prominent voices for change in the food policy world (Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Jim Hightower, and many more).
Food Day’s hundreds of partner organizations run the gamut from the Sierra Club to the Episcopal Church, and corporate partners include Whole Foods, Dole, and The Cooking Channel.

The What
It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness and raising funds to promote healthy eating and affordable, sustainable foods.
Food Day is based on Earth Day in that any individual or group, formal or informal, can plan an event. There are thousands scheduled, including policy campaign kick-offs, food festivals, cooking lessons, farm tours, film screenings, school curricula, protests, and themed dinners in restaurants, private homes, and public spaces.

The When
Food Day is Monday, October 24.
We’re in the home stretch.

The Where
Food Day events large and small are being planned all around the country.
There will be high-profile gatherings like the massive, celebrity-packed Eat Real Eat-In being held in New York’s Times Square, and others as low key as a home cook’s pie-making class being held in a Brookline kitchen.
Visit the Food Day website to find events near you, or consider hosting your own Food Day dinner with help from Epicurious’ Food Day event planning kit.

Because it’s time to fix our broken food system.


Posted in holidays, sustainability | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Herman Cain: The Man and the Pizza

He’s Herman Cain, the man who would be President, one of the most successful African-American food entrepreneurs in American history, and Bill Clinton’s sparring partner during the 1994 health-care fight. That’s the man. But what about the pizza?

Godfather’s Pizza has over 600 locations in more than 40 states, according to the company’s website. This nationwide pizza company boasts several crust varieties and 100 percent real cheese. The Godfather’s Pizza website also tells us that one slice of a classic cheese pizza provides 290 calories, with 9 g of fat, 4 g of which are saturated fat. Cholesterol content is 20 mg and sodium content is 530 mg.

This is heartland pizza, sturdy, earnest pies with a toppings menu that includes middle-America faves like ground beef, sour cream, and bacon bits. There’s no hint of Naples, Italy or even New Haven, Connecticut.

By most reports Godfather’s produces a reasonable alternative to the Domino’s, Shakey’s, and Pizza Huts of the world (full disclosure: like most coastal, urban dwellers, I have no first-hand experience with Godfather’s Pizza). An unscientific twitter survey conducted by Politico turned up mixed reviews, while in a subsequent blind tasting, the Politico bipartisan panel ranked Godfather’s dead last (sample comments: “that is so bad”…”the most unappetizing”…”the cheese is really sour”…”the crust is like a sponge”).

Through a strangely ironic turn of events, nearly 100 Occupy Wall Street protestors were taken to area hospitals in various stages of gastrointestinal distress. The suspected culprit: food poisoning from a tainted delivery of Godfather’s Pizza.

Earnest, cheesy, and all-American. An underdog with national ambitions. Enemy of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Seemingly unremarkable, no better or worse than the rest of the field, but with a potentially dangerous edge. The man and the pizza.


See the song stylings of Herman Cain as he unleashes a rich baritone for this pizzafied cover of John Lennon’s Imagine. Sample lyrics:

Imagine there’s no pizza
I couldn’t if I tried
Eating only tacos
Or Kentucky Fried
Imagine only burgers
It’s frightening and sad





Posted in funny, media | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Best Food Magazines You’ve Never Read

Conventional wisdom tells us that print is dead.
Its death knell sounded loud and clear in food-oriented publishing when the print edition of Gourmet folded in 2009. If that beloved legendary publication couldn’t make a go of it, who could?

A handful of hardy, independent publishers have managed to beat the odds, surviving and even thriving. Even more improbably, a few new food magazines have been introduced in the post-Gourmet era. They recognize that they have to offer something special, some added value over the other ways we have of consuming text.

Each of  these publications succeeds by offering heft and depth, nearly ad-free pages, and price tags high enough to make it all viable and sustainable. Their graphics are striking, the writing is of a long form seldom seen outside of print, and they have a book-like physical permanence that defies you to toss it in the recycle bin.

Remedy is a good, old-fashioned read masquerading as a modern magazine. Each issue uses stories and recipes to explore a single theme: cravings, growing up, celebrations. The current issue is Stealing— true food crimes, stealing away a private moment out of a crazy day, or stealing a boyfriend and his to-die-for breakfast dish—all stories to curl up with, coming from a variety of voices. is -surprise!- all about meat. Every form of animal flesh is fodder for Meatpaper’s pages, from birth to roasting pan, plus insightful takes on this bedrock of masculine Western culture. It all comes courtesy of a team of former, presumably very broad-minded, vegetarians. Coming soon: the new Bones issue. Paul is Paul Lowe, a food and prop stylist with the crafting sensibility of Martha Stewart and an eye for whimsical, flea market style aesthetics. The magazine is stuffed with ideas for creative, hands-on cooking, decorating, and entertaining that is within reach of even the DIY-challenged, and accompanied by sumptuous, naturally-lit photography. Peach burst on the scene last summer and immediately became the must-have fetish object for die-hard foodies. It’s a high profile collaboration between the expletive-sputtering culinary bad boy David Chang (chef-restaurateur of New York’s Momofuku empire) and former New York Times writer Peter Meehan, with contributions from celebrated friends like Anthony Bourdain and Ruth Reichl. A single subject (issue 1: Ramen; issue 2: The Sweet Spot) is probed through a dense, idiosyncratic mix of essays, recipes, art, photography, and rants. writing for the literati or literature for the foodie? Alimentum is a literary review that celebrates food, both figurative and metaphorical.  Short fiction, poetry, and essays give new dimension to the experiences of standing on the grocery checkout line or sharing a glass of wine with a former lover. a mere two issues under its belt, we’re keeping an eye on Condiment. It occupies the intriguing, conceptual space between food, community, and creativity, with topics like anarchist gardeners, mutant fruits, and a clam dig.

The Art of Eating has a traditional mix of recipes, producer profiles, wine, book, and restaurant reviews. Its long (since 1986), ad-free run speaks to the fine writing and its in-depth (often obsessively so) articles.

Gastronomica calls itself “food-focused scholarship,” but don’t let that scare you away. Yes, it is cerebral and erudite, but it is also lively and accessible. It explores such esoterica as the history of hippie-style cooking, caterers to the Third Reich, to our love of hamburgers, and it’s all wrapped up in a glossy, stunningly photographed package.




Posted in Entertainment, media | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The World Waits for the Next Cupcake

image via Sparkliatti

Cupcakes have had a good run.
It seems like only yesterday that cupcakes were a humble homey dessert, just one of the pack, interchangeable with cookies and brownies. Then, in a perfect storm of ease, economics, and Sex and the City, cupcakes caught fire. Today, cupcake bakeries dot the landscape of gentrified urban neighborhoods and suburban strip malls. You can get a cupcake in a deli or a burger joint, waiting for a plane at the airport, in a hospital cafeteria, or a Michelin-starred restaurant.

High time for the next ‘it’ treat.
Eye-rollingly common, greedy little treats for our sugar-riddled souls, trend watchers in the media have dedicated countless column inches to predictions of when these precious nubbins of fake happiness will ride off into the sunset. There have been a few lone voices in the wilderness calling out for dark horse candidates like bread pudding and bundt cakes, but most arguments have coalesced around a few credible contenders. like tiny, colorful hamburgers, macarons are a French confection of meringue and ganache. The beauty of the macaron is its pastel-shaded beauty; its insubstantial nature and particular challenge to the home baker limits the appeal. treat best left to the professionals, donuts will need to overcome the stigma of deep frying if they are ever to fully realize their potential, though it breaks my heart to say so. ice pops came on strong this summer. They’re easy to make at home, take well to unusual flavor combinations like mango mint and basil watermelon, and traditional versions in lemon and cherry are perennial crowd pleasers. But outside of a few tropical zones, these are strictly a seasonal treat. pies have been getting plenty of recent buzz, which no doubt pleases the pie contingent, after they’ve been so sorely and repeatedly disappointed by the failure of their favorite pastry to break through. Move inland from the two coasts and you find that it’s nothing new; pie has always been a big deal. pops? You’ve got to be kidding. Whoopie pies are essentially inside-out cupcakes. The frosting in the middle gives them an edge on portability, but otherwise, why bother?

Each of these pastries might, in turn, have its pop culture moment, and we’re even hearing rumblings of support from the rugelach, cream puff, and funnel cake camps, but we don’t see cupcakes stepping aside any time soon. Their longevity defies trend forecasting, their rationale—comfort and luxury for just a few dollars—transcends the vagaries of our economy. Cupcakes continue to multiply like fruit flies.

We’re still waiting for the next cupcake, and it could be a while.



Posted in dessert, food trends | Tagged | Leave a comment

Beverage, Meet Laptop

image via Remember the Plamo

You know you shouldn’t, but you do.
You check your email every morning with the day’s first cup of coffee at your elbow, and wind down in the evening with a little facebooking and a glass of chardonnay perched nearby. Your latté and laptop share a table at Starbucks, and when you’re on an airplane, everything’s crowded together on the fold-down tray .
Sooner or later, beverages and laptops cross paths.

Now what?

Electric Power Plug Icon Clip Art Unplug and disconnect the power cord fast: the electrolytic activity from combining electricity and liquids begins on contact. If it’s running normally on the battery, shut down in your usual way and remove the battery. If there’s a burning smell, smoke, or sparks, turn it off by any means possible and get that battery out. Disconnect any other drives or devices that are connected to your laptop.


Invert the laptop to drain any excess liquid to prevent it from coming into contact with the screen. And wait.

It’s a bit of a crap shoot.
The laptop could eventually power up without skipping a beat or there could be complete ruination. If you opt to bring it in for a professional repair, just know that liquid damage is almost never covered by the warranty—even Apple Care and other extended service contracts—and they will know.

Of course nobody relishes the disruption of their activity, and there is the possible expense to repair or replace, but it could be worse (think superglue or maple syrup). And you’re not worried about your data because you back up religiously, right? Just in case (no lectures, no recriminations) you can contact a data-recovery company like DriveSavers. You’d better be desperate, because you’ll pay dearly for this service. Still waiting. You really don’t want to power up for a good 72 hours after it’s completely disgorged the liquid. Every day or so you can give the laptop a gentle jiggle to drain any trapped fluid. Some people swear by hair dryers to speed up the process, but unless the spill was water, you run the risk of baking the liquid’s sugars and impurities right into the computer’s innards. Stick to air-drying, and resist the temptation to try it out too soon.

You’re back online and it’s all looking good. You know that nothing fried on contact, but there could still be damage that has yet to be revealed.

If you spilled water, you should be fine. Anything else—coffee, tea, soda, juice—and you’ve got potentially corrosive sugar or acid residue in there. Unless you’re totally confident in your ability to take your computer apart and swab the components with distilled water or denatured alcohol, take it to a professional for a thorough cleaning.

An ounce of prevention…. Lifehacker gives us The Best Foods (and Strategies) for Eating at Your Computer.



Posted in gadgets, Science/Technology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Babies and Dogs Dressed Like Food

Is there anything more precious than a baby? So sweet, so innocent, so defenseless; our hearts overflow with the desire to love and protect them.

And our dogs: pure of heart, willing to lay down their lives for us, we see the unconditional love in their soulful gazes and undying loyalty.Then Halloween rolls around and we dress them like food: we wrap babies in tortilla diapers and give them red felt salsa for hair, and stuff dachshunds between foam hot dog buns and tape yellow mustard stripes down their backs. The sacred trust between child and parent, dog and master— it goes right out the window.

Why do we do it? I guess because we can. in Food Costumes (20 pics) in Food Costumes (20 pics)



Posted in diversions, funny, Halloween | 2 Comments

For $500 You Can Be a Restaurant Seatholder


image via Bruno Fosi Industrial Design

Restaurant reservations have never been easy to come by in New York.
When the neighborhood is trendy (TriBeCA), the executive chef is a big deal (Daniel Patterson of San Francisco’s Coi), and the cocktails are overseen by a legendary bartender (Dale ‘King Cocktail‘ DeGroff), you’re either waiting a year or so for the place to cool down or dining at 5:15, six weeks from next Tuesday.

The team behind The Elevens is counting on that kind of buzz; in fact they’re banking on it. A good 6+ months from the spring 2012 opening, they’re looking to sell $1 million worth of something they call seatholderships. For $500 you can be one of 2,000 seatholders. That one-time investment will get you ‘priority’ reservations, a 25 percent discount on everything you order (and up to 3 guests, if you’re paying), and access to special events. They’re also promising to put some of the business decisions up for voting by seatholders.

The team behind The Elevens says that selling seatholderships is not just about the money, and certainly with all the accolades trailing them (James Beard Foundation awards, Michelin stars) one would assume there were other funding options. They are hoping to foster “a convivial community of compatriots… camaraderie with the staff and fellow regulars… a sense of proprietorship… of belonging.” And you can get a table on Saturday night.

An early draft of the food and cocktail menus are posted on the website, along with a little do the math section to show seatholder savings over 10 years. As of this writing, 84 seatholderships have been purchased.



Posted in community, restaurants | 1 Comment

Women are from Venus; Men Drink Bourbon










In 1949, Esquire Magazine published a little something called Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, with a pair of cocktail menus, “Something for the Girls” and “Something for the Boys.” This month sees the publication of Daniel Boulud Cocktails & Amuse-Bouches, For Her & For Him in two separate, gender-based volumes.

It would seem that women have always adored fluffy concoctions of egg white froth, tropical fruits, and crème de whatever, and that in 60 years, men have only occasionally looked past the bottles of bourbon and rye to add a dash of bitters.

Enduring gender lines are as resolutely retrograde as a vodka gimlet.
The cocktail lounge remains a bastion of stale but inescapable stereotypes where a man’s character is distilled in a highball glass. His drink should look and taste like alcohol. It should come in a proper glass, preferably one without a stem, and if there must be garnish, it should be restrained. Woe to the man who orders an Appletini— according to Modern Drunkard Magazine’s 86 Rules of Boozing, “Drink one girly drink in public and you will forever be known as the guy who drinks girly drinks.”

A women is not judged as harshly. She can sip a sweet pink Cosmopolitan or knock back a Scotch, neat, without reproach. She can order a Fuzzy Slipper or Naughty School Girl with a straight face and no risk of social stigma. But it can raise eyebrows when she tries to break free of the lingering pink-drink tyranny of the Sex and the City era to indulge in a little Mad Men-style boozing.

Are rye and malt whiskey inherently male? Are vodka and champagne just for the ladies? What about gin and tequila—bisexual? The last time I checked, liquor was made without gender. We are all looking for exceptional flavor, balance, and diversity whether it comes in a sugar-rimmed flute or straight up with a twist.

Check out Food and Beverage Magazine’s Top 5 Girly Cocktails of All Time and Ask Men’s top 10 list of Drinks Real Men Don’t Order.

A consumer survey conducted by the beverage industry magazine Cheers reveals the Margarita is America’s favorite cocktail, regardless of gender. The survey also show that women are more inclined than men to consult a cocktail menu, are more willing to try new concoctions, and are far more likely to be influenced by descriptions and photographs of drinks. You can find more survey results in the Cheers blog On the House.




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

Steve Jobs: The Food World Pays Tribute

The Food World has a soft spot for Steve Jobs.
No, he was not a ‘foodie;’ in fact he had little interest in the distinct pleasures of the table.
His ties to the industry are indirect, his influence is almost incidental.
He was never really one of us.
Even so, the visionary mind of Steve Jobs has touched the lives of diners, home cooks, and food workers everywhere.

Quick food facts about Steve Jobs:
He was a vegan since his college days, although he did eat sushi.
He briefly dabbled in fruitarianism (yes, an all-apple diet).
He often did his own grocery shopping at the Palo Alto Whole Foods.
He was partial to raw foods.
He frequently fasted, believing that digestion was burning up energy that could be better spent on work.
In his role as Pixar CEO, he convinced Disney to drop its McDonald’s Happy Meal toy tie-ins.
Earlier this year, he was ranked #5 on a list of the 50 most powerful people in food.

After technology, media, and entertainment, the food industry is where he had his greatest influence.
Here’s the way Steve Jobs is being honored and remembered by food communities online:

Restaurant Management Magazine looks at the transformative potential of the iPad for the restaurant industry.

Restaurant marketing site Restaurant Commando tells of the lessons learned from Steve Jobs’ marketing of the iPod.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thanks Steve Jobs for his role as one of the world’s most prominent advocates for vegetarianism.

Fast Casual shares ten lessons the restaurant industry can learn from Steve Jobs.

The Food Watchdog looks at the legacy of food apps.

Food Network Musings describes Steve Jobs’ influence on the home cook in everything from from recipe gathering to how we make shopping  lists.

The Daily Weston recognizes the range of Steve Jobs’ food-related contributions from party evites to Yelp reviews.

Serious Eats asks you to share your own thoughts, remembrances, and thanks in response to the question: “How did Steve Jobs change Food/Cooking?”

iEat. That’s why I mourn his passing.



Posted in cyberculture, Science/Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is Access to Healthy Food a Basic Human Right?

Is access to healthy food a basic human right?
That’s the question being asked by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Not just food, but healthy food.
Food access is a right. That one has been with us since 1948, the result of the experience of the Second World War. At the end of that war, vowing that the world would never again see such suffering, the international community created the United Nations and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the various protections, guarantees, and liberties is the individual’s right to food.

Back in 1948, nobody thought to specify the type of food. When those words were written, the Big Mac was just a gleam in Roy Kroc’s eye, and the Colonel had yet to fry his first chicken. Who could have imagined a time when nutrition would be so divorced from food that malnutrition could go hand-in-hand with obesity?
This is the paradox of modern-day poverty.

It’s like the line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
Millions of Americans are adrift in a sea of junk food. They are surrounded by cheap and abundant processed foods, with little access to healthy foods. This landscape has been dubbed ‘food deserts,’ to describe low-income communities with plenty of processed foods at convenience stores and fast food outlets, but little or no fresh food, and the nearest supermarket is one mile away if it’s an urban community, and 10 miles away if it’s rural.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that this is a reality for more than 20 million Americans, and 1.7 million of them are living in California. The bill on Governor Brown’s desk would create the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It enables the state to collaborate with public, private, and philanthropic entities to bring loan and grant financing to the under-served neighborhoods. The goal is to encourage existing businesses to expand their healthier offerings, and to attract grocery stores, food cooperatives, farmers’ markets, and other fresh food retailers.

Is access to high quality food a basic human right?
The State Assembly and the Senate in California think so; in fact they have thought so twice. The previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was inclined to believe that healthy food is a privilege earned by the state’s wealthier residents who own cars or live within striking distance of farmers markets; last year he vetoed a similar bill after it passed both houses of the legislature. Once again, it sits on the governor’s desk where it is a signature away from becoming law.

Find out where they are: the Economic Research Service of the USDA created a Food Desert Locator based on census tract-level data.

The Food Environment Atlas lets you go deeper into a community’s statistics, looking at factors like restaurant expenditures and meals cooked at home.



Posted in community, fast food, health + diet | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Smelling and Selling

Your appetite perks up the minute you walk into the supermarket.
There’s the homey smell of roasting chickens as they take a slow turn around the rotisserie, a faint herbal-citrusy scent rising from neatly stacked pyramids of produce, and of course the fresh-baked aroma of yeasty cinnamon goodness floating through the air of the in-store bakery.
What are you really smelling?

Supermarkets, restaurants, and other retailers are pumping more and more artificial fragrances through their stores. The practice goes by lots of different names–retail atmospherics, neuromarketing, sensory branding, olfactory marketing, scent logos–whatever you want to call it, it’s making you spend more money.

Sure, food smells make you hungry, but there’s more to it than that. Your sense of smell is directly connected to the emotional control center of your brain, where it triggers a response that influences your behavior. When a particular scent taps into the right emotions, you’re more inclined to make a purchase.

This stuff really works.
According to the Scent Marketing Institute, Nike was able to boost its customers’ intent to purchase by 80% when certain scents were added to their store environment. Gas stations can triple their mini-mart coffee sales, nightclubs serve more cocktails, and toy stores can get parents to linger longer with the right scent (it’s orange-seawater-peppermint for nightclubs and piña colada for toy-shopping grown-ups— go figure).

Food is a natural for scent marketing. Most of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our sense of smell. Our taste buds perceive only bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and umami flavors, and we already rely on odor molecules for specific taste sensations. Plus, it’s easy to perfume the air with chocolate or freshly baked bread, and not so simple to devise a suitable smell for sneakers or Legos .

Sensory marketing is nothing new.
A breakthrough in nebulization technology, in which a scented oil is converted into a dry vapor, has made fragranced air more commercially viable, but for years hotels have pumped a little bacon smell into elevator shafts in the morning to boost room service breakfast business, and theme parks have been tempting you to buy popcorn and sweets with scent machines hidden in the landscaping. More recently, Starbucks became so convinced of the power of scent marketing that it nearly abandoned its successful line of hot breakfasts because of the way the smell of heating sandwiches interferes with the coffee aroma.

Reeking of deception
Aggressive scent marketing by a New York supermarket has opened an ethical debate. Brooklyn’s Net Cost market has had great success with five nebulizers that pipe different fragrances through strategic store locations, seeing sales rise by 7% for the corresponding foods. The problem is that the store also disperses cooking smells for items that aren’t prepared on the premises, and for items it doesn’t even carry. Customers have complained that the store is misrepresenting its products, and that they feel misled and manipulated by the scents.

You can get a good overview of retail atmospherics at the website for ScentAir, the scent supplier to Net Cost markets, among its tens of thousands of global installations. ScentAir offers 350 smells by monthly subscription from its fragrance library, although to me, separate entries for funnel cake and waffle cone feels like so much hair splitting.

Last month’s New Scientist looks at the ways in which smells shape our moods, behavior and decisions while barely registering in our conscious lives. Read The unsung sense: How smell rules your life.

From the Gigabiting archives, February, 2011: Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower. Read Better than Viagra: Arousal by Food Smells.



Posted in Science/Technology, shopping | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

You Can Bring a Gun into a Restaurant in 49 States

image via the Chattanooga Pulse


Ohio recently  became the latest state to open its bar and restaurant doors to gun-toting customers. Ohio joins four other states, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia, that enacted laws explicitly allowing loaded guns in bars, while 17 other states allow weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol. The status is fuzzy in another 20 states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where legislatures have not explicitly addressed the question; by default they are allowing their residents to carry guns into establishments that serve alcohol.

These laws are the latest wave in the country’s gun debate, and represent progress made by the gun lobby as it seeks, state by state, to expand the realm of guns in everyday life. They follow last year’s Supreme Court rulings affirming that citizens have an individual right to keep a loaded handgun for self defense. The rulings opened a floodgate of lawsuits challenging various state gun laws. Some of the most extreme proposals have come from gunslinging Governor Rick Perry who thinks Texans should always come to the table strapped, even when that table is in a school cafeteria.

The laws in most states allow people licensed to carry concealed weapons to take them into taverns, hotels, and restaurants. Armed customers are not supposed to drink, although that’s little comfort to servers and bartenders, many of whom feel that the mix of guns and alcohol-emboldened customers creates an unsafe work environment. Bars and restaurants are free to post signs banning weapons, but compliance can be iffy, with local gun-carry forums springing up to point out loopholes, and of course the weapons are concealed in the first place.

The logic of the madhouse
On November 1, when Governor Scott Walker signs Wisconsin’s Personal Protection Act into law, Illinois will be the nation’s last hold-out; the only state to prohibit the  carrying of guns into restaurants. It’s a sad day when a state’s General Assembly thinks its citizens need to carry weapons to be safe in restaurants.

We know that alcohol and firearms are a dangerous mix, but we seem to have lost touch with common sense on this life-and-death issue.

Keep up with the latest gun legislation with the public interest law center Legal Community Against Violence.

The NRA website has an interactive, state-by-state map of current firearm laws.




Posted in community, restaurants | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Their Last Meal on Earth: What the Chefs Would Choose

It’s a morbidly perverse little parlor game.
Chefs have been playing the My Last Supper game for years. Alone together with some down time, in the kitchens and after-hours back rooms of restaurants around the world, they ask each other the question: As the big clock is ticking down, what would you eat?

Like The Aristocrats joke told among comedians, it was always a kind of secret handshake for chefs. Then a few years ago, photographer Melanie Dunea asked 50 prominent chefs to describe their ideal last meal, and she compiled their answers, along with portraits informed by their responses, in an absorbing, intimate volume titled My Last Supper.

The answers are as varied, imaginative, and distinct as the chefs, and it’s a diverse list that includes Ferran Adria, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain, Marcus Samuelsson, Gabrielle Hamilton, Tyler Florence, and Thomas Keller. Some of them would pile on luxurious ingredients like truffles and foie gras; some would seek perfection in the simplicity of a hot dog or a BLT; and others would return to their early taste memories choosing scrambled eggs, rice pudding, or Mom’s fried chicken. Each also shares the wished-for setting, dining companions, and even background music (count on lots and lots of early Rolling Stones).

Last week, Melanie Dunea launched a website bringing the concept to life. Every other Tuesday at noon, EST, she’s releasing a video in which a different chef shares the manner in which they would bid adieu, complete with recipes. The current episode features the ultimate meal of chef Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park.

You can watch the latest installment of My Last Supper here.

In October, Dunea will release a follow-up book, My Last Supper: The NextCourse. Asking the question that drove the first volume: “What would be your last meal on earth?” it features a new roster of chefs including Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal, Paul Bocuse, David Chang, Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, Todd English,  Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Joel Robuchon.




Posted in cyberculture, diversions | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Hungriest Organ


image via Walk the Road Less Traveled

According to the Journal of Physiology, your brain is just 2 percent of your body weight but sucks down 20 percent of your daily calories. Feed it right and you’ll be perky, productive, and alert. Junk it up with the wrong foods and you’ll never remember where you put your keys.

A little coffee and sugar can get your brain going in the morning. Caffeine fires you up pretty much instantaneously, and a sweet on the side adds to the effect: the duo can improve physical energy, short-term memory, and problem-solving skills, but it’s temporary, and there’s an equally fast drop in all of those as the caffeine wears off and your body has burned through the sugar.

Keep coffee and danish to a minimum; the better choice: citrus or berries (complex sugars to power up, anti-oxidants to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment), and cereal (protein for long-lasting brain energy, memory, and attention).

An omelette and a salad are perfect midday brain food. The antioxidants in a salad can mop up the cell-damaging free radicals you’ve run into all morning from the ozone and pollutants, and the combination of vitamins C and E can improve cognitive skills and stave off Alzheimer’s Disease. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds, nuts, or dried herbs will add the vitamins, and dark green (romaine, spinach) or orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes) are full of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The eggs are rich in choline, which your body uses to produce a neurotransmitter that snaps your brain to attention and boosts memory.

Have a little yogurt for dessert and you’ll produce dopamine, the happy neurotransmitter, and noradrenalin, the perky hormone. Together they will help you face the afternoon with a smile.

Your brain loves a good snack. A couple of pints of blood move through it every single minute, and the brain is always on the the lookout for nutrients in the flow; its favorite would be 25 grams of glucose in there, which is exactly one banana. Avoid junky processed foods with their trans-fatty acids. Rodents that are fed a steady diet of junk food get seriously confused by the classic rat-in-a-maze experiment, while in humans, highly-processed chips and baked goods have been implicated in a slew of mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD  to autism.

Have a cocktail or two to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Eat fish to rebuild the cells and gray matter you were losing all day, and finish up with a dessert containing strawberries or blueberries, which seem to help with coordination, concentration, and short-term memory.

According to Men’s Health, you can tailor your food choices to suit specific mental tasks, from picking the best American Idol contestant to refinancing your mortgage. Check out its list of the best and worst brain foods for the job, which it claims can boost your brain’s productivity by 200 percent.


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

Food Stylists: Dirty Tricks of the Trade

It was the scandal that rocked the vegetarian world.
Vegetarian lifestyle magazine VegNews admitted that it routinely ran photographs of meat-based dishes to illustrate its meatless recipes. Examples included pseudo-vegan ice cream made from actual cream, beef frankfurters posing as their vegan counterparts, and pork ribs with the bones airbrushed away to look like a soy substitute. Bear in mind that these were stock photos used for budgetary reasons, and that no animal products touched the VegNews test kitchen. Still, readers were outraged, immediately offering up their online condemnation. They called it hypocrisy of the highest order, a betrayal of their trust, a show of contempt springing from deliberate and systematic deceit.

Food journalists, though, mostly responded with a collective shrug.
Food is, for the most part, supremely unphotogenic. It’s the law of nature that frozen will melt, crisp will wilt, and moist becomes dry. Food stylists have always relied on an arsenal of inedible ingredients and unsavory techniques to get the money shot, in the same way that celebrity stylists enhance their clients with hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras.

Take roasted chicken. If you make it at home, you know that the flesh shrinks and the skin wrinkles and deflates as it roasts, but in the pages of food magazines it always appears plump with taut, evenly browned skin.  That’s because the picture-perfect chicken has been stuffed with materials like cotton balls and paper towels, its skin was sewn tightly together, and it was roasted just long enough to give it a little texture. Then, still raw on the inside, it’s sprayed with a soap-based mixture and blasted with a blowtorch to achieve the ideal, deep golden-brown color. Bon appetit!

Here are some other tricks of the trade:

  • motor oil substitutes for pancake syrup, and the pancakes are treated with water repellent fabric spray to keep the ‘syrup’ from soaking in
  • barbecued meats are colored and glossed with wood stain, and grill marks are drawn on with eyeliner
  • nuts are fixed in place with super glue, and berries get touched up with lipstick
  • Elmer’s glue is a stunt double for pouring milk; stick a straw in a glass of whipped Crisco and you’ll swear it’s a milkshake
  • aerosol deodorant gives fruit a just-picked look
  • cotton balls, soaked and microwaved, provide the steam for ‘steaming hot’ soup
  • hairspray gives new life to a dried out slice of cake
  • brown shoe polish is applied to raw meat for a crusty, ‘well-roasted’ surface
  • hamburger patties are propped up with cardboard so they don’t sink into the perfect frill of lettuce atop the fluffy bun

There are purists out there who only use the real thing, and if the photographs are destined for advertising, the governing laws dictate that the food product that is the campaign’s subject must be the authentic item, although alterations and enhancements are perfectly kosher. The public should understand that commercialized food imagery is a hyper-idealized version of reality. It’s been gussied for its magazine appearance like a movie star that’s styled for the red carpet.

Like stars without their makeup
Ultimately, we gladly turn to our home-roasted chicken—homely and imperfect, but perfectly delicious. In the same way, we know that our romantic partners are not Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, but we are no less satisfied.



Posted in food business | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

BabyNes: Like a Coffee Maker for Babies

Eager to repeat the success of its Nespresso coffee makers, Nestlé has rolled out machines that make tea, smoothies, and now baby formula.

The BabyNes works just like a single-serve coffee maker, minus the cappuccino frothing wand. Add water to the tank, pop in a capsule, push a button, and you’ve made perfectly warmed and mixed baby formula. The company’s  press release emphasizes safety, convenience and hygiene, touting a ‘microbiological’ filter built into each capsule to eliminate bacteria present in the water.

An extravagant new mouth to feed.
Naturally, such convenience doesn’t come cheap. The machine costs around $300, and the single-serve capsules cost more than $2 a pop. That’s 2 to 3 times the cost of canned, pre-mixed formula, which is itself a few times the cost of powdered formula (and, if you were curious, triple the price of an espresso pod). Figure that the capsules alone will run you an extra $650 each year.

What else is wrong with this picture?
Nestlé has engaged in a decades-long tug-of-war with public health advocates over baby formula. The two sides are always going to be at odds since breastfeeding is key to improving health, nutrition, and child mortality rates, especially in developing nations, and Nestlé is the world’s largest manufacturer of breast milk substitutes. Now, global health advocates are gearing up for a new tussle over the BabyNes.

The BabyNes machine has been cited for 130 violations of the World Health Organization standards, mostly for Nestlé’s misleading and inappropriate marketing claims touting its superior nutrition. The most serious charge is that it fails to meet basic standards for use in markets outside of the U.S. and Western Europe. The BabyNes reconstitutes powdered formula with water heated to 40 degrees celsius, a temperature that is pleasing to a nursing infant but far below the 70 degrees necessary to kill water-borne bacteria commonly found in developing nations, even after it’s passed through the capsule’s filter.

Nestlé is hoping that the pricey BabyNes will join the ranks of high status baby products like thousand dollar all-terrain strollers, digital video baby monitors, and electric baby wipe warmers. It’s a market with little price sensitivity, and presumably one with few concerns for water-borne bacteria.

Nestlé's BabyNes: This is NOT a coffee maker

Nestlé's Nespresso: THIS is a coffee maker














Posted in gadgets, Health | Tagged | 2 Comments

How Far Would You Go For a Meal?

A strange little story got picked up recently by the national news agencies:
Man Drives 1,400 Miles for Pizza.
It seems that David Schuler, a resident of  Jackson, Mississippi makes regular pizza runs to Town Spa Pizzeria in his former hometown of  Stoughton, Massachusetts.

Traveling for a special meal is nothing new. The Michelin guidebooks turned it into a provincial French industry nearly a century ago, and today, a third Michelin star is a global event. 100,000 out-of-towners tried to book dinner and a hotel room when that third star was awarded to Noma, a Nordic/Scandinavian restaurant that’s rather obscurely located in a warehouse on Copenhagen’s Greenlandic Trading Square.

The International Culinary Tourism Association defines a destination restaurant as “a restaurant that is so interesting, different, or special that people travel just to eat there.” Usually this means that the food, the service, the decor, the setting—any or all of these factors—are so distinctive, so unique, or so authentic and typical of a place or style, that the restaurant creates a singular culinary experience.

Mr. Schuler’s trip raised eyebrows because Town Spa Pizzeria doesn’t seem to fit the bill as a culinary destination. There are no Zagat ratings or stars, Michelin or otherwise; it doesn’t even make the Globe’s cut for the top 25 pizza’s in the greater Boston area. And let’s not forget that his road trip took him through more than a dozen states, including such pizza strongholds as New York, Philadelphia, and New Haven.

What the culinary tourism professionals don’t understand is that the best food destinations are more than just notable dining experiences. They are great adventures that are etched in our memories—the time zones crossed, the inaccessible location, the sheer audacity of the journey can all punctuate a meal with a piquancy that’s all its own.

By that definition, Town Spa Pizzeria made for a worthy culinary destination for Mr. Schuler.

For the record, he placed a takeout order for 150 frozen, par-baked, vacuum sealed pies, evenly split between cheese, linguica and onion, and pepper and onion.



Posted in funny, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment
Web Analytics