McDonald’s Israel. But is it McKosher?

You’ve got to hand it to McDonald’s.
The fast food giant is staying the course in Israel. The sands of the Negev are littered with the wrappers of those that have come and gone, like Ben & Jerry’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks; and those that have quietly dwindled to insignificance, like Pizza Hut and KFC.

McDonald’s has only been in Israel since the early 1990′s. All of its 160 restaurants in Israel keep pork off the menu and serve kosher beef, and about a quarter of them are certified kosher—they close on the sabbath, don’t serve cheeseburgers, and for the week of Passover the buns are made of matzah meal. Milkshakes and milk-based desserts have to be eaten in designated dairy-only booths.

McDonald’s Israel caters to local tastes with the McSchwarma, with spit-roasted shaved meat in flatbread, Israeli salad of chopped cucumber and tomato, and the McKebab with tahini served on pita bread. In a rare admission of defeat, last week the chain pulled the McFalafel from its Israeli menus, unable to compete with the thousands of street side falafel stands that do it bigger, better, and cheaper.

In place of the McFalafel, Israel is getting selections from McDonald’s Big America burger promotion, a series of  two-fisted, half-pound, inauthentically themed burgers that play into stereotypical, slightly racist notions of America’s regions : the Big Miami is a hamburger topped with a taco; the Big Texas, has a bean-stocked chili topping that no self-respecting chili con carne-loving Texan could have dreamed up;  the Big Idaho recycles the hash brown patties from McDonald’s breakfast menu; and there’s a gravy and egg-topped Big Hawaii.

McDonald’s Israel has had its share of controversy, from its insistence that Hebrew be spoken by all restaurant staffers to its refusal to open outlets in the West Bank and Golan Heights. The current fatty, beefy challenge to the traditionally light, Mediterranean-style Israeli might be the most contentious yet.

Sarah Melamed is an American writer living in Israel and writing about the local cuisine in her blog Food Bridge. She also provides links to other English language Israeli food bloggers.



Posted in fast food, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

Attack of the Belly Fat Ads

They’re the ads that ate the internet.
You know the ones—crudely drawn, often animated, with cellulite deflating and re-inflating above the waistline of a pair of too-tight jeans, in a never-ending before-and-after of fat to fit to fat to fit. The headline, looking to be hand-lettered, touts a simple, unnamed tip to trim the fat.

To say you know the ads is an understatement. The ads are so ubiquitous that you’ve likely seen them hundreds or even thousands of times. Their sponsors are clients of half of all the ad networks in the U.S., running on the homepages of powerhouse websites like Facebook, CNN, and the Washington Post. They’ve appeared tens of billions of times as banner ads and popups. You read that right—billions, with a b.

The Federal Trade Commission is going after the perpetrators of a hustle.
The FTC has asked federal courts to halt the belly fat ads and freeze the operators’ assets, alleging that the ads are the leading edge of a vast and elaborate con built on false claims and deceptive practices.

Click on the ad looking for a homespun diet tip and you’re taken to a second site. This one looks like news coverage of a reporter’s investigation into the health benefits of diet supplements. The faux news report, named something like Weekly Health News or Health News Beat, typically investigates diet pills made from mangoes or acai berries, or from the human hormone hCG. It might include the names and logos of major networks and news outlets, and because the ads run on their websites, the reporter will falsely represent that the networks have run the news report.

The fake reporting has suckered millions of people into giving up their credit card numbers to obtain ‘free’ samples. It turns out to be not so free when the initial orders obligate them to a stream of $79.99 shipments. There’s a toll-free number for cancellations, and the tens of thousands of people who have filed complaints after their calls went unanswered will be happy to tell you about that one.

We keep seeing the ads because they work. So far, these unsavory businesses have raked in more than a billion dollars in sales—again, that’s billion with a b.

Read about the 10 legal challenges filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has also posted a consumer alert to warn the public about the proliferation of deceptive claims and fake news sites that pedal weight loss aids.


Posted in cyberculture, health + diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Audible Edibles: Radio food shows online

There’s something about listening to a food show on the radio.

Of course I am endlessly entertained by TV cooking shows: a little pseudo-cooking from a well-coiffed celebrity host in a pristine, Sub-Zero-sponsored kitchen; or maybe the high drama of competitive cooking looking all too easy with flashy knife skills and careful editing. It’s performance television, and most of us view it with the same slack-jawed passivity we assume when watching a CSI marathon.

But there’s just something about listening to a food show.
There’s an intimacy and immediacy to the disembodied voice in your ear, a connection that is rarely found through the high-gloss visuals of television. Fans of the genre claim that at its best, radio taps deep into their memories, pulling imagery from their brains in a way that video never does.

Radio is accessible just about anytime, anywhere: you can tune in the local station through the FM dial, subscribe via satellite service, stream shows live online, or download podcasts to numerous devices. There are shows for every taste from the big city polish of Los Angeles’ Good Food to Eastern Iowa’s recipe-swapping Open Line, with its repertoire of icebox cookies and new uses for canned cream of mushroom soup. Niche podcasters play to cultish audiences with the practical, the edgy, and the strange like the dairy discourse of Cutting the Curd, irreverently feminist Girl on Girl Cooking, and school cafeteria reports from the Renegade Lunch Lady.

Much of the best of food on the radio can be found on the lower end of the dial at NPR stations and The Heritage Radio Network, a relative newcomer that presents an eclectic lineup of live webcasts aimed at the hip, green-leaning, culinary do-it-yourselfer.

American Public Media’s the Splendid Table combines cooking tips, chef interviews, and lifestyle segments.

Cooking Issues brings one of our favorite blogs to life. Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute tinkers with the newest kitchen technologies, techniques, and ingredients.

Brand new to the airwaves, U Look Hungry is long-time blogger Helen Hollyman, who follows the people behind the latest cultural shifts across a broad spectrum of food, arts, agriculture, and activism.

The BBC’s The Food Programme produces thoughtful, in depth explorations of a broad range of culinary topics.



Posted in diversions, Entertainment | Tagged | 1 Comment

Beer Makes You a Mosquito Magnet

As if we didn’t have enough reasons to hate the little buggers.
It seems that mosquitoes like the smell of beer. Beer ranks right up there with stinky feet and limburger cheese, two of the other known mosquito attractants.

It’s always been clear that mosquitoes prefer some people over others. They like us fat and juicy, especially targeting the overweight and pregnant among us. They also like us sweaty and active, going after the movement and the carbon dioxide we’re pumping out. Basically, if you’re outside at a barbeque they’re going to bite you, whether you’re sitting in a lounge chair with a cold one or running around in a volleyball game.

It’s not clear what they like about beer drinkers.
Insects can get drunk, and they do things like fly upside down when they’re inebriated. But they can hold their liquor, staying upright even while taking in vapors as high high as 60% alcohol (If you were wondering, yes, there are tiny little bug breathalyzers called inebriometers).

You, on the other hand, are completely hammered after a half a dozen beers. Your drunken blood alcohol level of 0.10 is a fraction of the alcohol concentration that a mosquito can tolerate. They’re definitely not biting us for the buzz.

Short of moving to Antarctica there’s really not much we can do about mosquitoes biting us. So go ahead and light a citronella candle, slather on the insect repellant, and drink up. Just know that if you drink beer, the mosquitoes will drink you.

[Most of the mosquito research in this country (including the studies referenced here) takes place at the Medical Entomology Center at the University of Florida.]

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, health + diet | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Small Indulgence: Bite-sized desserts


[image via Show and Tell]

Forget about ordering one dessert with four forks.

What’s big in desserts right now is small. We’re scooping itty bitty spoons into tiny tureens of tiramisu and downing shot glass shooters of passion fruit soufflé. Already precious cupcakes have morphed into the cake ball trend, and little pies are appearing atop lollipop sticks.

Restaurants are happy to accommodate the baby sweet tooth. They find that average checks are higher when small desserts are on the menu; customers that wouldn’t typically indulge are lured by the novelty and smaller commitment of the miniatures, and while they’re at it, they’ll order a coffee, a tea, maybe an after-dinner drink.

We are more adventurous with tiny desserts. We want a big taste in the small package and are willing to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients and preparations. The stakes are low– we’re committing to just a few bites at a lower price point than for standard desserts.

O.K., but just a sliver.

A tiny dessert can be perceived as a guilt-free indulgence. Whatever the caloric reality of a flight of wee custards or micro nut tarts, we think of the minis as a lo-cal, portion-controlled treat– kind of like those 100-calorie pre-packed snack bags of chips and crackers. Is it technically even dessert? It almost doesn’t count.

For the true fan of bitty foods, you can get an eyeful at Must Have Cute, a blog devoted entirely to the genre.

The Stir examines the bang-for-the buck of the Starbucks Petites line and Dairy Queen’s Mini Blizzards in Mini Desserts Will Make You Fat and Poor.

Get ready for dollhouse-sized cheesecakes. Industry insiders predict that cheesecake is due for its own mini makeover. It’s the original mini dessert maker, and it’s still baking little cakes with just a light bulb. See where it all began:  Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven.

image courtesy of Are you portion savvy? Gigabiting explores portion trends in Mini-Size Me.



Posted in dessert, food trends | Tagged , | 1 Comment

California Legislates the Hot Dog

[hot dog diagram by Alyson Thomas]

Laws are like sausages,’ goes the famous quote attributed to the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, ‘it is better not to see them being made.’

This week saw the two worlds collide—sausages and legislation—and the chancellor was right; it ain’t pretty.

In California, a state where a $4 billion shortfall is called a ‘balanced’ budget, lawmakers have turned to the important work of pinning down the true meaning of hot dog.
The proposed legislation doesn’t speak to food safety or suggest special food handling. It doesn’t address food additives, nutrition labeling, or school lunch programs. The critical hot dog text of S.B. 946 (which also deals with Medicare consultations, access to health care, and HIV reporting) reads:

A whole, cured, cooked sausage that is skinless or stuffed in a casing and that is also known as a frankfurter, frank, wiener, red hot, Vienna, bologna, garlic bologna, or knockwurst, and that may be served in a bun or roll.”

This week, the bill passed the State Assembly Health Committee. Next, it needs funding approval from the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The final legislative hurdle is a floor vote by the full Assembly, after which, god willing, it will be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.


Posted in food policy, funny | Tagged | 2 Comments

Reality TV Casting Calls

Who wants to be a TV chef?

There’s no big secret to getting yourself cast on a reality TV cooking show.
Take a gander at the current crop of performing cooks and chefs; clearly it’s not all about looks.
Think relaxed, witty, self-effacing, totally credible, at the top of your game—your true self, only better, like the Brits on Academy Award night.
The opportunities are out there if you’re willing to regularly check industry websites, send out a bunch of applications, maybe toss in a little home video, and show up at open casting calls.

We seem to have an insatiable appetite for food shows, and it’s matched by the cable channels need for reliable, inexpensive programming.
Be a chef. Or just play one on TV. Here are the new shows that are currently casting:

The people behind the quality Top Chef franchise are casting for a potential new Bravo series. They’re looking for chefs of any level in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin who “have a lifelong love affair with food, a passion for creating visually impressive dishes and a desire for adventure. Email with your bio plus a recent photo.

If Top Chef is at the top of the reality television heap, we have to climb down more than a few rungs for the new show from the Kitchen Nightmares/Celebrity Fit Club producers. Kind of a Kitchen Fit Club. they are looking for overweight food workers from all over the industry—chefs, waiters, school lunch line ladies—you name it. If you work with food and you’re at least 75 pounds overweight and don’t mind flaunting it in spandex workout gear on national television, you can download an application from the production company website.

Not overweight? Not a food industry worker? You might be just right to host a show about healthy cooking. This is a collaboration between the Cooking Channel and Good Housekeeping magazine, and they are looking for the big personality and an individual who has conquered weight issues through healthy cooking and eating. Email your story and pics to

There’s no cooking necessary for a new show featuring inventors and their food-related innovations. You need to have a camera-ready prototype that involves any aspect of growing, processing, preparing, storing, serving, or disposing of food. Pitch your burrito-on-a-stick or carrot-powered flashlight at the Lucky Dog website.

Kristina’s Fearless Kitchen will help the klutzy and inept get past their kitchen hangups. The Kristina of the show is the winner of an Oprah-sponsored host-your-own-cooking-show contest. If Kristina’s life sounds like a dream come true, you can nominate yourself or a friend at

Other new shows in various stages of production include a look at people who eat non-food items like soap and sofa cushions; Taste of Humanity, in which Megachurch pastor Phil Hotsenpiller and his wife, Tammy cook dinner with Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists; and two food shows from the Jersey Shore team. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Instead of 15 minutes of fame, maybe we all get our own cooking show.


Posted in Entertainment | Tagged , | 2 Comments

You’re So Wrong! Food Myths and Misconceptions

Adding salt won’t make the water boil any faster, you can take mayonnaise on a picnic, and go ahead and swallow that gum—it doesn’t take any longer to digest than anything else you might eat.

Let’s face it, sometimes common wisdom isn’t all that wise.
Then there are those infernal enemies of truth—of course I’m speaking of tweets, like buttons, and repostings. They carry the misinformation to the masses, and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself a new food mythology.

Let’s separate the facts from the fiction, the science from the silliness.
We’re going to look at those myths and misconceptions, and settle this once and for all.

myth: Add salt to water to make it boil faster.
reality: Salt actually raises the boiling point, so salted water takes longer to boil. It’s moot anyway since it takes way more salt than what gets added to a pasta pot to have that effect. Just add salt because it will make the pasta taste better.

myth: Sushi means raw fish.
reality: Sushi refers to the vinegared rice. Sashimi comes closer in meaning, since the ingredients are always raw, but it’s still not accurate.


myth: A craving is your body telling you it needs something.
reality: Our bodies can tell us physically when we lack a certain nutrient, but specific food cravings are strictly emotional.


myth: Alcohol burns off in cooking.
reality: Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it evaporates more quickly in cooking. But even after an hour of simmering, 25% of the alcohol remains, and 10% after two hours.


myth: There are negative-calorie foods that use more energy to eat than what’s contained in the food itself.
reality: The mere act of existence burns about 62 calories an hour, so in that sense, you can eat very low-cal foods and come out ahead. But chewing and digesting even a tough food like celery won’t bump up the hourly calorie burn enough to compensate for the added calories.

myth: You can’t bring sandwiches containing mayonnaise on a picnic.
reality: Commercial mayo has a high acid level and actually acts as a preservative for other ingredients. The turkey on a sandwich or the tuna in the tuna salad are more likely culprits when it comes to food-borne illnesses.

myth: Slice into rare beef and you get bloody juices.
reality: Nearly all blood is removed from meat during slaughter. Even when it’s served ‘bloody rare,’ you’re only seeing water and beef  proteins.


myth: The avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole will keep it from turning brown.
reality: There is no special magic to the pit. The browning is just natural oxidation from exposure to air, and the pit is big enough to block some air from reaching the dip. Try saran wrap and you’ll cover more area.

Myths, legends, misconceptions, polite fictions, old wives’ tales….
They’re the lessons o f old-school chefs, the ‘wisdom’ passed from mothers to daughter; whatever you want to call them, there are plenty more out there, and now they’ve gone viral.




Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Shut Happens: Which Restaurant Will Be Next to Fail?










Restaurant closings. Those are the real signs of the times.
In recent months, Sbarro, Perkins, Marie Callender’s, Fuddruckers, Steak and Ale, Bakers Square, Bennigan’s, Old Country Buffet, Pizzeria Uno, and Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse have all filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Employees, investors, suppliers, and customers are all wondering, who’s next?

Even in the best of times, restaurants are a risky business. In a recession, empty tables and stalled prices cut into thin profit margins; combine that with the rising food costs we’re seeing, and the margins are squeezed on two sides.

The restaurants that went belly-up all had some things in common: all were national chains; all were in the quick or casual dining sector, a cut or a few above fast food; and with the exception of the pizzeria chains, all were marked by mediocrity and a sameness of menus. Each was conceived differently— Bennigan’s was modeled as an Irish pub, Perkins as a bakery/luncheonette, Charlie Brown’s fancied itself a classic, clubby steakhouse—but you could walk into any one of them and order shrimp tempura, a buffalo chicken wrap, and a chipotle-flavored something.

Who’s cooking, who’s flaming out?
The Street, an online media company that covers investing and finance, compiled a Bankruptcy Watch list of the 14 restaurant chains with the greatest likelihood of failure in the coming months. From least to most risky they are:

14. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
13. Sonic
12. Ruby Tuesday
11. Carrols Restaurant Group (operates Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana, and Burger King franchises)
10. Einstein Noah Restaurant Group (Einstein Bros., Noah’s, and Manhattan Bagels)
9. O’Charley’s (O’Charley’s, Ninety Nine Restaurant, and Stoney River Legendary Steaks)
8. Ruth’s Hospitality Group (Ruth’s Chris Steak House and  Mitchell’s Fish Market)
7. McCormick & Schmick’s
6. Bravo Brio Restaurant Group (BRAVO! Cucina Italiana and BRIO Tuscan Grille)
5. Domino’s Pizza
4. DineEquity (IHOP and Applebee’s)
3. Morton’s The Steakhouse
2. Wendy’s/Arby’s
1. Denny’s

Not to worry—even if the worst-case scenario plays out 14 times, striking everyone on the list, we’re still left with plenty of mediocre chain restaurants where we can go to satisfy a yen for nondescript, chipotle-flavored something.

Visit The Street for the details outlining each company’s potential for bankruptcy.


Posted in food business, restaurants | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Tired of fumbling with round fruit? Try a Square Watermelon. first glimpse of a square watermelon was in a cartoon. In Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo, our favorite television family was vacationing in Japan when Homer Simpson squandered so much of their vacation money on Japanese novelties, including a square watermelon, they were nearly stranded there forever.

It took a few more years for Japan’s farmers to catch up with Homer’s prescience.

Leave it to the Japanese to come up with this one. From bonsai trees, to compact cars, to miniaturized electronics, they have demonstrated their mastery of making things work in small spaces, and population-dense Japan is full of them. Homes are compact, the kitchens within them are tiny, and the refrigerators are positively Lilliputian.

Watermelons are big, roundish space hogs that have never fit well in Japanese refrigerators. This has been a particular concern in Japan, where melons hold a special place in society. The rarest and most exotic are sold as high-end gifts in luxury fruit shops. The nation tracks the springtime fruit harvest like baseball stats, when first-of-the season melons sell for astronomical sums—this year, a pair of Yubari cantaloupe fetched the top price of one million yen (about $12,400).

Square watermelons were created to accommodate Japanese refrigerators. While still growing on the vine, a farmer puts each immature melon into a square, tempered glass box that exactly matches refrigerator dimensions. The full-grown watermelon, once it’s removed from the box, fits precisely on refrigerator shelves.

Growers in California and Panama plan to introduce square watermelons into the American market. Even with our big, American-style refrigerators, we can appreciate the space savings—square melons take up less room, and therefore less energy, to cool, transport and display in stores. Less space means a smaller carbon footprint.
If you want round, you can always pull out the melon-baller.

Not just square: one Japanese grower has been fooling around with other shapes. See the watermelon heart, the pyramid, and more at Crown Melon.

Instructables has step-by-step instructions that show you how to grow your own square watermelon.


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These Foods Will Outlive You

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. In fact 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

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 food knowledge | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Daily Deal Just for You

[image via ToMuse]

It’s the daily deal battle royale.
Groupon’s success has spawned an entire industry of ‘deal-of-the-day’ clones. The good news: outstanding bargains are out there; virtually something for everyone. The bad news: something for everyone is flooding your inbox, from tequila tastings to pole-dancing lessons, when all you really want is a good, discounted pizza. There are so many of these daily deal startups out there, that now we have daily deal sites aimed at them.

Fortunately, there are sites that stand out from the pack. They are targeting narrow, niche markets, and putting their own spin on the social buying business model.

For the boys gone wild
Thrillist, the online newsletter celebrating the bro lifestyle, has launched Thrillist Rewards, heavy on half-price brewery tours, mail-order meats, and all-you-can-eat spare rib deals.

For the other boys gone wild
The Daily Hookup and Daily Pride are the gay man’s answer to Groupon.

For the foodies
Too tasteful for coupons, Savored takes you into the kind of high-end dining rooms where the discount is kept under wraps. It’s prearranged at reservation time, and then automatically, and discreetly, subtracted from the total at meal’s end. I guarantee you will be amazed by the celebrated and coveted tables to be had through these deals, and it’s all so hush-hush that even your dinner companions won’t know your secret.

For African-Americans
The discount deals offered at the Black Biz Hookup come from black-owned and operated businesses.

For moms
You’ll find half-priced treats aplenty for family-friendly fro-yo shops at Plum Distict.

For the Jews
A dozen bagels for the price of six, or maybe a nice brisket sandwich? Between JDeal and yes, Jewpon, you’re sure to find them.

For suburbanites
You get big city dining bargains and you don’t have to pay for downtown parking with the small town BigTip deal site.

For Hispanics and Latinos
Multiple sites are still duking it out for preeminence in this massive target market; Desceuento Libre, Groupacho, and Social Libre. Each offers a different Latin-flavored oferta del dia.

For the Fox News crowd
Glenn Beck launched Markdown, touting its combination of values (of the shopping kind) and values (conservative ones).

The pizza and beer pong set has CampusDibs, there are Gluten Free Deals for celiac sufferers, and Vegan Cuts is the place to save money and animals. Don’t feel left out if your tribe isn’t represented here; new niche sites pop up regularly.

To help you sort through the deals:
Yipit aggregates all the deals from all the services, and then sends a single, consolidated email customized to fit your preferences. Take a look at the more than 200 deal sites they are currently tracking.
Restaurant critic meets price tracker at The Bad Deal. Check here before you buy.
You have unused, prepaid Groupon and other coupons, and the expiration date is approaching. Impulse purchases can happen to the best of us. Fortunately, there is a robust secondary market for deal coupons at Lasta.



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

It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the chips.










A new study, conducted by Harvard University scientists and published in this month’s New England Journal of Medicine, says that potato chips are making us fat.
Uhhh…. really?

Of course we already know potato chip are bad for us. We just didn’t know how bad.
120,877 test subjects were followed over 20 years in what’s hailed by the scientific community as the most comprehensive look ever at the effects of food and lifestyle choices. There was an average weight gain of 17 pounds over the 20 year span, and on average, 7 of those pounds came from potato chips.

We know they’re bad for us, but we can’t help ourselves. Potato chips are America’s hands-down favorite snack, holding down the number-one spot for more than 50 years, despite the ever-expanding body of nutritional wisdom.  Maybe we really can’t help ourselves.

Feeling stressed? It’s possible that a chips binge will make you feel better. Eating potato chips can light up the dopamine reward pathways in the brain in the same way as cocaine. Gorging on chips can also cause a metabolic change that suppresses the release of stress hormones. Unloved? When it comes to monkeys and banana chips, the lower-status monkeys will keep stuffing themselves to feel better. Sound familiar?

Looking at each four-year segment of the study, potato chips contributed 1.69 of the nearly four-pound weight gain; more than sweets, soda, and even french fries (all other potatoes, combined, added another 1.28 pounds). The other culprits:

  • soda was good for a pound every four years
  • an alcoholic drink a day added 0.41 pounds
  • an hour of TV viewing each day added 0.31 pounds
  • quitting smoking added five pounds
  • meat added a 0.95-pound uptick in weight, and processed meats (yes you, bacon) were right behind at 0.93 pounds

Test subjects who consistently slept less than 6 or more than 8 hours each night gained even more, as did heavy TV viewers. Regular exercise knocked off 2 pounds per four-year segment.

The individuals followed in the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, were all health professionals—in other words, people who should know better. One can only imagine how the rest of us would have fared.

You can read the complete study, Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men, in the June 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.



Posted in health + diet | Leave a comment

Jail Time for Farm Photos










If Big Agriculture has its way, you could get a year in prison for any one of these pictures.

Agribusiness lobbies in farm states are pushing bills that would make it a criminal offense to take photographs, video, or audio recordings on any farm without the owners’ consent. Stop at the side of the road to snap a photo of frolicking lambs during a Sunday drive in the country, and you could be looking at serious jail time. It would even be a crime to possess or distribute unauthorized farm images, making them the legal equivalent of child pornography.
Big Agriculture really doesn’t want us to know what’s going on with our food.

The so-called Ag-Gag bills are aimed at keeping the secrets of industrial farming secret.
Legislation has so far been introduced, though not successfully, in Florida, New York, and Minnesota, and is pending in Iowa. On the heels of some of the worst animal welfare abuses in U.S. history, including the violations that led to last year’s historic 500-million egg recall, the farming industry has chosen to target the whistle-blowers, rather than the violators.

We have a long and storied tradition of food safety and animal welfare whistle-blowing, from Upton Sinclair to people like Kit Foshee, the former corporate quality assurance manager at Beef Products, Inc. who opened our eyes to the execrable path of factory-raised beef, from slaughterhouse to supermarket. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Obama signed into law earlier this year, created a set of powerful legal protections and remedies for food safety whistle-blowers. We need to know more about what goes on behind the barn doors, not less.

Take that sense of Ag-Gag outrage, and do something.

Sign the Slow Food USA petition (43,000+ already have) protesting the lobby’s actions, that will be forwarded to Iowa’s senate.

Take your camera along the next time you visit a farm. Hundred of Farmarazzi (the paparazzi of the farm world) have taken photos—showcasing both good and bad practices—and posted them to the Farmarazzi Facebook page.

Follow the Food Warriors. The Real Time Farms Blog has sent out a small army of interns to document our nation’s food system. The Real Time blog will be sharing their posts, video, and photographs as the interns visit farms, markets, and food artisans in every region of the country.

Read Gigabiting’s Food Safety: No such thing as TMI.


Posted in food policy, food safety | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Why the Chef Gave Back his Michelin Star

The chef said:
The food world was stunned this week when Le Lisita, a restaurant in the south of France, handed back its Michelin star.

Why on earth would a restaurant give back its coveted Michelin star?
The best known and most highly respected of all the restaurant ratings, Michelin stars are awarded very sparingly. A star (or two or three) in Le Guide Rouge can make or break a restaurant.
But so can a bad economy.

A Michelin star signifies a standard of décor and service. The guidebook’s inspectors demand it, diners know to expect it, and bankers are more than happy to extend credit lines for capital improvements to starred establishments. According to the Society for Quantitative Gastronomy, a restaurant’s prices will rise by 20% after the award to offset the higher operating costs.

Thanks, but no thanks.
Following the accolade, Le Lisita found itself barely breaking even, serving haute cuisine in a rareified atmosphere in the midst of an economic crisis, while humble, affordable brasseries and bistros were doing a roaring trade. Since giving back the cherished award, Chef Olivier Douett has revived his former, brasserie format.

Le Lisita now offers a menu with starter and plat du jour for €23.60 ($33.54). Each waiter looks after twenty to thirty customers, rather than the five or six of the one star restaurant. Chef Douett now feels like he is cooking for his customers, not just for stars.



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Where’s the Edible Emblem for Gay Pride Week?

It’s Gay Pride Week, so where are the special holiday delicacies?
This is a celebration in need of a dish– an edible emblem, a culinary signature.

The dish needs to be festive, sure, but it also should bind together the generations in their observance. It should feel as if the spirit of those that came before are hovering over the holiday table. And if it uses a chiffonade, all the better.

All the great holidays have one.
Thanksgiving has its turkey and St. Patrick’s Day has corned beef and cabbage. Even Passover, a Jewish salute to deprivation mind you, has its matzoh ball soup. How can it be that Gay Pride Week doesn’t have a signature food?

From little boys with Easy Bake Ovens to a love of brunch (carbs! sunglasses indoors!), food culture runs deep in the LGBT community. The reverse is true as well; the community has always been well-represented in the kitchen, filling the gap between mom-cooks and the meat-slapping alpha males at the grill.

There is a contingent backing the cupcake; it’s a tad trendy and obvious, but it does make a certain amount of sense. Cupcakes have buttercream and sprinkles going for them, and cupcakes became a rallying cry for the gay rights struggle when an Indianapolis bakery refused to make rainbow cupcakes for a customer’s National Coming Out Day celebration.

Personally, I would like to see something a little weightier with cultural and historical significance; something that hasn’t been co-opted and over-exposed by the mainstream. Plus, cupcakes are already the domain of third grade classroom birthday celebrations—Gay Pride Week shouldn’t have to share.

There isn’t a definitive dish of Gay Pride Week, but there are still plenty of ways to celebrate.

We are fabulous–therefore we eat out! is the motto of Gay Eats, nationwide listings of gay-owned, gay-friendly, and gay-popular dining, with shout-outs to hunky waiters.

The Daily Hookup, a gay-oriented answer to Groupon,, is a deal site with a carefully curated lineup of bars and restaurants.

Be there for the grand opening this month of The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (the widely anticipated spinoff of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck) for treats like the Bea Arthur and the Salty Pimp.

Obama Foodorama lets you follow the food adventures of First Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, the openly gay, Executive Pastry Chef known around the White House as ‘the Crustmaster’.

In honor of Gay Pride Week, Fork in the Road, the food blog of the Village Voice, is temporarily transformed into the Big Gay Food Blog.



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The 10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving

[image via Los Angeles Times]

Texting while driving gets all the attention these days, but few things are more distracting than a hot cup of coffee in your lap.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified the ten most common and dangerous foods to eat or drink while driving, and naturally, coffee is at the top of the list. Even with a travel lid, coffee seems to find its way out of the cup. The other nine on the list are:

2. Soup and 3. Chili.  No explanation necessary.

4. Tacos.  A well-known tendency to disassemble.

5. Hamburgers.  Messy, often two-handed eating, with the added distraction of condiment packets.

6. Chicken and 7. Ribs.  Saucy and greasy, plus bones to navigate.

8. Jelly donuts.  The prudent choice is glazed.

9. Soft drinks The potential to fizz and spill increases when a can or bottle is involved.

10. Chocolate.  Sticky, melty, and a wrapper to negotiate.

It’s estimated that 80% of all car accidents are caused by distracted and multitasking drivers. Eating and drinking rate at least as high as cell phone use for their ability to distract a driver, but they are legal activities practiced by the vast majority of drivers. Mobile dining has been institutionalized through the proliferation of drive-through windows and in-vehicle dining accommodations like the 15(!) cup holders found in the Honda Odyssey.

More food-related accidents occur in the morning, when commuters make a greater effort to keep spills off of their work clothes. Manual transmissions contribute to the hazard, with gear-shifting adding one more variable to the equation. A cell phone call while eating and driving increases the risks exponentially.

Eating while driving is not in itself illegal, but plenty of citations have been issued to especially careless drivers. New Orleans Saint Bobby McCray was involved in a very public incident he called a DWP— Driving with Pizza, and one chronic offender was issued a restraining order banning all edibles from his car. In perhaps the most egregious example, the driver wasn’t cited for eating but for feeding. That would be breastfeeding, While driving. And she was on a cell phone.

Meals on wheels indeed.



Posted in food safety | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Grapes of Laugh: Wine label humor

Wine marketers have finally caught on to something that other industries figured out eons ago.
Shopping is not a rational activity but an emotional one. Consumers buy with their gut. Of course price still matters to wine shoppers, and they might scan the tasting notes if they’re right there on the shelf, but if they don’t like the label, they’re not going to buy the wine. It really is that simple.

The educated oenophile is still out there, but the average wine buyer isn’t impressed by Old World history, and a ‘good year’ probably has more to do with a team in the playoffs than varietals and vintages. Give him a chuckle with a funny label, and that’s something he knows will go over well with his friends. It’s a gag gift, a conversation-starter at a dinner party. He knows that the label won’t make the wine taste better, but it also can’t hurt.

Wineries use giggle-inducing labels to make their bottles ‘pop’ from the shelves, to grab a shopper’s attention and create a name that will be remembered. It’s also a bit of an inside joke for the winemakers, an irreverent jab at the old elitism, that makes wine seem modern and accessible. Most funny labels fall into one of these categories:

Cutesy Critters
In 2006, the market analytics firm AC Nielsen reported that for new wine brands, bottles with animals on the label sell at double the rate of those sans animaux. Since then, so many vintners have chased that success that the wine aisles bring a fairy tale’s worth of fanciful creatures. There’s Monkey Bay and Toad Hollow, Dancing Bull, 3 Blind Moose, Elephant on a Tightrope, and 47 Pound Rooster (there must be a doozy of a story behind that one).

These are the light-hearted and playful names, often encompassing an insider’s joke; wines like Senile Farms, Jake’s Fault, White Lie, Rock-Paper-Scissors, Moral Compass, Screw Kappa Napa, and Big Tattoo Red.

Salacious and Scatalogical
If the critters represent fairy tales, this category comes from the adults-only section. Split between cheeky and crass, the not-so-subtle and the wholly adolescent, it’s full of labels like Well Hung, Kilt Lifter, Frog’s Piss (yes, it’s French), and enough ‘ass’ variants (Big Ass, Horse’s Ass, Stu Pedasso-try saying it fast) to fill a Cruvinet.

The Punsters
These wit-tinged labels do a lot of varietal tweaking along the lines of InZinerator, Seven Deadly Zins, Bored Doe, Goats do Roam, Cardinal Zin, Chard-No-Way (it’s a Chenin Blanc), and Bouteille Call.

Wine’s image has come a long way from Château this or Domain that.
Not everyone is a fan of this turn, feeling that it cheapens the entire category, and that greater reverence should be shown. The reality is that there is room enough for all kinds of wines. Wine is a mature industry with broad, mass-market appeal, and variety and range come with the territory.

Wine for the Cheap offers reviews, discussion, and genuine appreciation for low-cost labels.


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You’ll be Eating This Next Year

That’s no Oscar.
The toques! The domed plate covers! It can only be the sofis.

You might not know the award, but you know the winners.
The Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation, or sofi, is the top honor in the specialty food industry. Past winners include the Republic Of Tea, Rick’s Picks, Stonewall Kitchen, Cypress Grove Chevre, O Olive Oil, and the list goes on. If you pay attention to these things you know the names; if not, I can guarantee they are on the shelves of your neighborhood market and making their way onto local menus. This year’s finalists were just announced, and the odds are you’ll be seeing them soon too.

The sofi nominees are selected at the Fancy Food Show, the industry’s twice-yearly marketplace and schmoozefest that’s attended by everybody that’s anybody in specialty foods. The events draw executive chefs, supermarket buyers, specialty retailers, the food press, and even a few lucky civilians who can be easily spotted for their blissed-out looks and tote bags overflowing with a free haul of artisan meats, exotic condiments, 6 colors of finishing salts, and 92% cacao chocolate truffles. This is where the tastemakers decide what’s in, what’s out, and what’s on the horizon. These are the trends and ingredients that will first break with the fervid foodies of the Open Table crowd, and eventually trickle down to the menus of Olive Garden and Applebees.

The trendspotting:
Foods of the Andes captured two of the ten silver medals for this year’s best new product, a pretty good indication that we will be delving deeper into regional Latin American cuisines.
Prepared foods, spice blends, and ingredients from the Indian kitchen point to another trendy cuisine.
The pig still rules. Cured ham from the new, American-raised mangalitsa pigs, and an herb-rubbed, domestic pancetta were also awarded silver medals.
There was chocolate purported to make you smarter, and fermented, probiotic -rich beverages to make you healthier. Expect a big takeoff for the functional foods category;
and gluten-free everything.

Sofi silver finalists and gold winners are selected from more than 250,000 products that appear at the Fancy Food Show. Competition takes place in 30+ categories, literally from soups to nuts. You can see the full list of this year’s silver medalists at Foodspring, the consumer-oriented blog of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. Gold medal winners will be announced at this summer’s edition of the Fancy Foods Show, temporarily relocating from New York to Washington, DC.


Posted in food business, food trends | Tagged | 1 Comment

How Much? How Many?

A little culinary quantum physics to answer some of life’s vexing questions.

So much in life is uncertain, unknowable, and uncontrollable. Sometimes we can use a few answers. Maybe these aren’t the kinds of questions that keep us up at night, but there is still something comforting about round numbers.


A keg contains 15½ gallons, or the equivalent of 6.8 cases of beer. That’s 124 red party cups filled to the brim. [KegBooty]




There are 37 scoops in a gallon of ice cream.  [WikiAnswers]




Within their PVC-wrapped tubes, Smarties come in a combination of white, yellow, pink, orange, purple, and green. Each color’s flavor really is slightly different. They are packaged as a roll of 15. [Wikipedia]


Plain or peanut?
A 1 lb bag of peanut M&M’s contains approximately 190 candies; you get 405 M&M’s in a bag of plain.   [ChaCha]



Figure on 7,200 grains in a cup of rice.  [WikiAnswers]




It takes 1½ potatoes to make the Big Grab single serving size of chips. How many chips is that? Let’s just say not enough. [Askville]



If you squeezed every last drop of ketchup out of little foil packets, it would take 41 of them to fill a standard ketchup bottle; realistically, you’ll never wring out every last drop or hit the narrow bottle opening every time, so count on 50 packets. Of course, realistically, who’s going to attempt this?  [CalorieCount]


A box of Cornflakes contains a mere 981 flakes, [WikiAnswers] while the same size box of Cheerios holds almost 5,000 of the little o’s. More importantly, it’s easily enough to make Cheerio necklaces for 50 small children.  [WebAnswers]




And the proverbial two scoops of raisins in Raisin Bran? It begs the obvious question Just how big is said scoop? You have to wonder, is it the same scoop, independent of box size, or does the scoop get larger when the box size increases?

The raisin counts prove to be an average of 221 in the 15 oz. package,  337 raisins in the 20. oz. box, and a stingy double scoop of 321 in the 25.5 oz. size. The scoop-to-box-ratio increases proportionately until you get to the big box, which is strictly for bran flake enthusiasts. [Science Creative Quarterly]


Next time you go grocery shopping, remember that volume estimates are subject to all sorts of perceptual illusions—a fact that marketers never forget. Tall and narrow appears to hold more than short and wide, and tuna cans aren’t flattering to anything but tuna.



Posted in food knowledge, shopping | Tagged , , | 3 Comments
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