How Green is Your Coffee?

Actually, it’s pretty hard to tell.
There’s fair trade and organic coffee, shade-grown, and even bird-friendly.
You can drink it in a recycled cup with organic soy milk and sugar from plants that haven’t been genetically altered.
And there’s the carbon impact.

By the time the beans have been grown, harvested, processed, roasted, shipped, ground, and brewed, your morning cup of coffee has left a pretty big footprint on the planet. About 3 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere for every pound of coffee that is produced using environmentally responsible practices. More when it has been factory-farmed.

You can buy carbon neutral coffee.
Carbon-neutral means that the sum of the world-wide activities that produced your coffee did not contribute to the carbon in the environment. To accomplish this, a grower or roaster conducts an audit of their energy usage and emissions, and then plants trees (which are naturally carbon-sequestering) to mitigate the impact. Carbon offsets are purchased in an amount to make up the difference.

We know what ‘carbon neutral’ means, and there are private companies that provide audits and certifications, but there’s no national standard or official certification, and no regulations or protocol for the FTC to enforce. Until we get some standardization and clarity, here are a few things you can do to green your coffee-drinking habit:

  • Minimize your footprint by shopping locally. Unless you live in the tropical band around the equator, you can’t buy locally grown coffee, but you can reduce the number of miles that your coffee has to travel to reach you by finding a roaster close to you to cut down on the trip and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by your coffee delivery. Coffee Habitat will tell you where you can find roasters in your area that have demonstrated social responsibility in both their bean imports and their own business practices.
  • Consider the source. Shade-grown, bird-friendly, and fair trade are not mere marketing ploys to ease a guilty conscience. They are all designations and certifications that have real, enforceable teeth that guarantee ethical and environmentally sound growing practices.
  • Use a permanent filter in your coffee maker. The little paper filter might seem like a small thing, but disposable coffee filters are a strain on the environment both at the start of their life and at the end. They use paper, which is made from a consumable resource that is slow to be replaced. Toxic chemicals are employed when the paper is processed, and after they’re used, they end up in a land fill for decades. Worst of all are the snowy white filters that were bleached to get that way.

 

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College Dining: It’s Not Like You Remember

image via GraphJam

 

Sushi Bar … Espresso Bar… Carving Station … Mongolian Barbecue… Made-to-order Pasta
This is a college cafeteria?

The old dining hall was supposed to be a taste of home. There was little choice: a green salad, a main and some sides, bread and butter, and  jello or a slice of cake for dessert. There was little imagination, plenty of repetition, and mediocre execution—just like Mom used to make.

Steam trays full of meatloaf and homey casseroles don’t cut it for a generation raised on Starbucks and shopping mall food courts. They have eclectic tastes, broad palates, and a long list of food allergies and specialized diets.

Colleges are more than happy to cater to fussy, finicky students. Campus dining is a $9 billion market—as much as Americans spend in fine dining restaurants. More importantly, according to the food service consultants at Technomic, 44% of college students give significant weight to college dining programs when deciding where to enroll. And it’s a lot easier for a school to boost the meal plan than the average SAT scores.

Sodexo, the food service provider to 650 U.S. campuses, gives us their predictions for the top 10 trendy dishes of the 2011-2012 school year:

  1. Grilled Chicken Souvlaki Kabob
  2. Paella
  3. Spanakopita
  4. Couscous Chicken Stew
  5. Orecchiette with Broccoli and Garbanzo Beans
  6. Fattoush and Sumac (Pita Bread Salad with Tangy Dressing)
  7. Spanish Tomato Bread with Manchego Cheese
  8. Edamame and Corn Salad
  9. Pesto Pasta Bowl
  10. Wild Mushroom Risotto Balls with Pesto Aioli
According to the Princeton Review, these are the top 10 college cafeterias :
  1. Wheaton College (IL)
  2. Bowdoin College
  3. Virginia Tech
  4. Bryn Mawr College
  5. James Madison University
  6. University of Georgia
  7. Washington University in St. Louis
  8. Cornell University
  9. Colby College
  10. University of Massachusetts- Amherst

 

 

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7 Foods the Experts Won’t Touch

image via Care2

Where do the chefs eat when they have a night off? That’s where you want to go. In the market for a new computer? Ask the head of your company’s IT department what he uses at home. If you knew what toothpaste your dentist’s family uses, you’d probably buy it too.
The skinny, the scoop, the inside track—that’s what you want.

Experts from a variety of food-related fields have made these 7 insider recommendations of foods to avoid. They’re based on professional wisdom and expertise, but more importantly, they represent personal choices. None are banned in the U.S.; they’re all USDA or FDA approved, but those in the know won’t eat them, and they won’t feed them to their own families.

1.Conventional Apples
The grafting techniques of conventional apple growers demand some of the most extensive pesticide usage in all of agriculture. While chemical producers and regulators duke it out over the residue, Mark Kastel, former executive for agribusiness and co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group, buys organic only. When that’s not feasible, then peel the apples and wash up well afterwards.

2.Canned Tomatoes
The resin linings of cans contain bisphenol-A, what we know as BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The acidity of tomatoes causes a large amount of BPA to leach out of the lining and into your food—so much that the BPA level from just a few cans’ worth of tomatoes is enough to have a health impact. Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist and bisphenol-A scholar at the University of Missouri, won’t touch them.

3.Microwave Popcorn
Actually, the popcorn is fine. The microwavable bag is another story. Its lining is coated with chemicals that, when heated, vaporize and migrate to the popcorn. One of those chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, accumulates in your body for years and is linked to infertility, liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. It’s such a known threat that DuPont and other manufacturers will phase it out by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan. Dr. Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, won’t be indulging until then.

4.Farmed Salmon
Dr. David Carpenter is the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and a leading authority on contamination in fish, and he won’t go near farmed salmon. Commercially farmed salmon is raised in packed pens and fed an unnatural diet of  soy, poultry litter, antibiotics, and chicken feathers. Contaminants in those items include carcinogens, PCBs, flame retardants, and nasty pesticides like dioxin and DDT. These substances are so concentrated in the fish that Dr. Carpenter says you increase your risk of cancer after just two salmon dinners in a year. Since there are no remaining commercial fisheries for wild Atlantic salmon, Dr. Carpenter sticks with Pacific salmon, like wild-caught Alaskan.

5.Conventional Potatoes
Conventional potatoes are chemically dosed three time: fungicides during the growing season; herbicides before harvesting; and a second herbicide after after they’ve been picked to keep them from sprouting. Since potatoes grow underground, they can’t be sprayed directly. Instead, the chemicals are put into the water and soil where they’re absorbed into the flesh of the potatoes. You can’t washing and peel them away. According to Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board and farm director of the Rodale Institute, potato growers “say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.”

6.Grain-fed Beef
A cow’s steady diet of corn and other grains is, simply put, unnatural. Their multi-chambered stomachs are built for grass, and have never adapted to the corn and soybeans of the feedlots, so favored by most cattle ranchers because they are cheaper than pastured grazing and can fatten a cow for slaughter much more quickly. The feedlot environment, combined with the lack of adaptation in digestion, makes grain-fed cattle vastly more disease prone than grass-fed, and the bacteria they pass to beef eaters is much more dangerous. Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of numerous influential books on sustainable farming, would never, ever allow grain-fed beef to cross his lips.

7. Hormone-treated Milk
Most dairy cows are fed artificial growth hormones to increase milk production, and that milk contains elevated levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Unless the milk is organic or explicitly labeled hormone-free, it’s in there. IGF  is linked to breast, prostate, and colon cancers, and while the exact mechanism in milk is not clear, Rick North, project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society points out that the hormones are banned in nearly every other industrialized nation.

 

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Did You Inherit the Supertaster Gene?

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

About 25% of us are supertasters– more women than men. It can be a mixed blessing. Flavors are perceived more vividly. Salt is saltier. Sugar is sweeter. But carbonation bubbles can be distractingly prickly. Hot peppers can be punishing. Hardly a garden of gustatory delights.

Taste is one of the most basic of all human experiences. It is also one of the most complex. It is dependent upon experience, context, and genetics. It embraces all of the senses.

It begins with the tongue.

Supertasters’ tongues are distinguished by two genetically determined traits. One is the profusion of taste buds densely packed into each square inch of the tongue’s surface. The greater sensory capacity leads to more nuanced sensing of flavors. The second trait is the perception of the chemical compound 6-n-propylthiouracil known as PROP.

Most people perceive PROP as a slightly bitter taste. About a quarter of the population will fail to taste it at all. Supertasters are overwhelmed by an intense bitterness.

Supertasters tend to prefer orange juice to grapefruit, tea to coffee, green beans to broccoli, spinach to kale. They have a penchant for creamy, fatty foods but as a group are thinner than the general population, perhaps because the palate is more easily satisfied. As children, they are often known as picky eaters.

Supertasters that succeed in developing tolerance for strongly-flavored foods can benefit from this genetic endowment. They can perceive far more subtle and nuanced flavors than the rest of us, distinguishing individual notes in a complex dish. Quite a few wine connoisseurs attribute their discerning palates to supertaster status, including wine writer Robert Parker who famously insured his taste buds for one million dollars.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Offal for Beginners

Clockwise from top: pig's tongue, heart, foot, ear. Image via Eat Me Daily

We are having an offal moment.
Nose-to-tail, organs, innards, variety meats, the nasty bits—whatever you want to call it, whole-animal cookery is experiencing a revival in restaurant and home kitchens.

There are good reasons to eat offal.
It’s cheap, full of nutrients and protein, and adds variety to our diets. It reduces waste, maximizing the resources of food production, and pays a kind of respect to the animal that gave its life to appear on our plates. Of course those reasons are probably the last thing on your mind when you’re confronted with a grilled sheep heart (very tender, distinctly ringed with chambers) or boiled pig ears (simultaneously crunchy and gelatinous, still looking very ear-like).

Offal doesn’t challenge us with its taste. Most innards and extremities are subtly flavored and not unfamiliar. And intellectually we appreciate its virtues. The problem is an emotional, elemental, visceral response—one we feel in our own viscera. Its homophonic name (yes, it is pronounced awful) doesn’t help.

Offal is the stuff of nightmares for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Some might recoil from brussels sprouts and others gag on cottage cheese, but offal provokes a squeamishness that is nearly universal. It’s a shame, because some of today’s most creative chefs have embraced whole-carcass cooking as a badge of honor, producing innovative, exciting dishes based on offal and odd bits like heads, tails, and trotters.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are some tips to get you started.

  • Leave it to the professionals.
    Preparations can involve some fairly gruesome peeling, snipping, and soaking. You want to be sure it’s done right and hang on to your resolve and your appetite. Eat out.
  • Start with sweetbreads.
    You probably thought I was going to say liver, but no, the thymus gland (or sometimes pancreas) is the better gateway offal. Sweetbreads are sweet and mild, and in expert hands will emerge tender and crispy, sort of like a cross between monkfish and fried chicken. Liver, on the other hand, is chalky with a powerful mineral tang—paté and terrines did not prepare you. Trust me, you want the sweetbreads.
  • Know your limitations.
    The true challenge is not to your palate but to your head. Pig brains might taste like nectar from the gods, but if you can’t get past the ick factor, then don’t go there. We all draw our lines somewhere, and there’s no shame if yours is this side of ram testicles.

The U.K. Guardian explains all the nasty bits in An A to Z of Offal.

AOL’s Gadling travel blog has A Guide to America’s Most “Offal” Restaurants.

 

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The Fat Tax is Coming!

image via the Army of Epiphenomenon

How would you like to trim the deficit, healthcare costs, and your waistline in one fell swoop?
That’s what a fat tax can do. it’s been embraced by much of Europe, and the idea is gaining traction in Washington.

Hungary’s so-called ‘hamburger tax’ goes into effect next month, just a few weeks ahead of Denmark’s ‘saturated fat’ tariff, targeting pork, cheese, and butter. Finland is looking to add a fat tax to those it already levies on salt and sugar-laced foods. Germany, Romania, and Spain all have similar legislation moving through government channels.

Instead of taxing fatty foods, Japan taxes body fat. The Ministry of Health requires businesses to administer obesity checks for all employees and their family members ages 40 to 74. The legislated upper limit for the waistline is a strict 33½ in. for men, and 35½ in. for women, beyond which a tax is levied (by comparison, the average waistline in America is 39 in. for men and 37 in. for women).

We actually have some fat tax history in this country. In the months following the 1942 Pearl Harbor attack, a handful of states taxed obese citizens–per excess pound–to encourage them to eat less and preserve food resources for the war effort. The fat tax was revived in the 1990’s when a proposal was floated to tax certain foods and put the proceeds toward nutrition literacy programs. The concept was debated publicly when it was ranked #7 on U.S. News and World Report’s  list of 16 Smart Ideas to Fix the World, and the debate grew louder when Rush Limbaugh spearheaded the opposition.

The fat tax debate has stayed with us.
Current supporters include the World Health Organization, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, food writers Mark Bittman (with the New York Times as his soapbox) and Michael Pollan (who contends that the insurance industry is ready to get on board), and President Obama, who supports a tax on soda and other sugary foods.

Congress, though, has shown little enthusiasm for a federal fat tax, although most states are already getting their cut in the form of taxes on junk food and soda. The public, too, consistently shows low approval ratings for the taxes in polls. Critics point to its regressive nature, with the burden falling on lower income Americans who are the biggest consumers of junk food and already spend disproportionately on food, relative to their  incomes. And of course the notion of the food police is troubling in terms of both privacy issues and the broader concept of the role of government.

There are few privacies more worthy of protection than what we choose to eat and drink. While these are personal decisions they’re not private ones; not when our healthcare system spends nearly $150 billion dollars annually to treat obesity, nearly as much to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more goes toward the treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancers that are linked to diet.

How do you weigh individual freedoms and social responsibilities?

 

 

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Contest Winners: Designing a new food label

 

Daniel Campuzano

http://thewonderlustjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/nutrition-label.png 


 

 

The old label (far left) just isn’t working for us.

Not that it ever really did. In fact when the FDA first introduced nutrition labeling in 1993, the agency deliberately didn’t choose the best option; instead, it opted to play it safe by choosing the design that was characterized as ‘the least poorly understood.’

The FDA is taking another crack at it. Later this year it will introduce revised food labeling, and the hope is that it set its sights a little higher.

Melissa Messer- Daily Nutritional Value Paul Frantellizzi

The School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, is lending an unsolicited hand. It held a public competition called Rethink the Food Label,  judged by a panel of designers, health professionals, and food activists (including faculty member Michael Pollan). Entrants were encouraged to “re-imagine the label to include geography, food quality, food justice, carbon footprint, or lesser-known chemosensory characteristics.”

Joanne Frederick- The Real Food Label

The biggest shortcoming of the current label is the nutritional arithmetic. All those grams and percentages tend to cause our eyes to glaze over. It also gives manufacturers the ability to ‘game’ the system by adding irrelevant and inert ingredients that improve the labeling profile without making the food any healthier. Instead of improving food and nutrition literacy, the current label is a distraction that doesn’t directly answer the real questions:  Is this good for my health? Is this good for the planet?

The best of the contest submissions (some seen here) use a visual shorthand to answer those questions. They finesse a graphical yes or no with design elements like thumbs up or thumbs down, report card-style letter grades, color coded food groups, and red light or green light.

We will soon find out if the FDA has incorporated any of these elements in its final redesign. The contest makes one thing clear —the existing model can be vastly improved with a dose of simplicity and a little creativity.

See who won at Rethink the Food Label.

 

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I am Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card.

Hi! I’m Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card. You can download a picture of me to your phone and buy coffee with it. Seriously.

http://jonathanstark.com/card/

It’s true. You can use Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card to get yourself a free coffee. The real card lives in Jonathan’s wallet, but he has posted a downloadable copy that can be scanned at any Starbucks. An iced vanilla latte, a French press pot of Guatemala Antigua— name it. There’s no cost, no catch, no strings, no restrictions.

Jonathan Stark was curious about the concept of social sharing.
About a month ago he loaded $30 onto a Starbucks card and posted the image for his friends to use. They quickly turned it into caffeine, so Stark added another $50 and invited a few more friends. This time, the card wasn’t depleted. His friends were adding money as well as spending it, starting a twitter conversation in the process. So he created a program that allows coffee drinkers to check on the card’s balance, updated every minute, and encouraged users to share it with their friends.

Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card has become an experiment in anonymous collective sharing that turns a cup of coffee into an act of participation and social engagement. It’s kind of a high-tech version of the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny dish next to a cash register. Sure, you could order 8 pounds of French Roast and a round of venti frappuccinos for the office, but there’s a karmic toll to it; the same one that keeps you from dumping the whole take-a-penny dish into your pocket, even when you see a bunch of quarters peeking through the copper.

The card occasionally struggles to find its equilibrium between generosity and  moochers. As of this writing, a few hundred dollars is passing through the card every hour or so, with nearly half of the users also giving back.

Say ‘Hi!’ back to Jonathan’s card.

 

 

 


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Burgernomics: The Big Mac Index

image via Say It Ain't So, Joe

Yes, there’s endless news of the economy’s continuing slide into oblivion. But there’s another reason to be pessimistic: have you seen the price of a Big Mac?

A Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you go. Same sesame seed bun, same special sauce, same double beef patties. It’s a truly global consumer product comprised of the same tradeable goods and non-tradeable services worldwide. It should, in theory, cost roughly the same anywhere in the world.  Swap your dollars for the local currency, and the four dollars that got you a Big Mac in Des Moines should still buy you a burger in Kuala Lumpur, give or take a few Malaysian ringgits.

In fact we don’t have burger parity. Buy a Big Mac with Ukrainian hryvnias and you’ll pay less than two dollars; spend some Norwegian kroner and it will set you back more than eight dollars.

The Big Mac Index, compiled annually by The Economist, is designed to test the theory of burger-buying parity. It demonstrates the purchasing power of consumers around the globe by converting the world’s currencies to a hamburger standard. The fair-value benchmark– the point where there is purchasing parity between the nations– is the exchange rate that has every consumer world-wide paying the same price for a Big Mac. If you’re paying more than the benchmark price for a Big Mac, it tells you that you live in a country with an overvalued currency.

The burger barometer .
The ‘raw’ index is adjusted for GDP per person as a more meaningful guide to currency under- and overvaluation. The closer the adjusted index gets to zero, the closer a country comes to burger parity. The larger the difference, the more expensive it is, in real buying power, to purchase a Big Mac; a smaller number tells you the burger is a  bargain.

A look at the chart, below, and it’s clear that you pay a premium for special sauce in Latin America; the Brazilian real is the world’s most overvalued currency, with the Colombian and Argentinian pesos not far behind. The British pound is running almost even with the dollar, while the overvaluation of the euro zone seems to hint at the currency struggles of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. And for all our griping about the devalued Chinese yuan, when it comes to burgers, China’s currency is surprisingly close to its fair value against the dollar.

The Big Mac Index is undeniably simplistic. But it does make exchange rate theory a bit more digestible.


 

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How Did Rich and Fat Become Rich and Thin?

Richer, thinner, younger, smarter; what if you could change one thing about yourself? Which would you choose?

A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

We tend to forget that this has not always been so.

Thinness was, for most of recorded time, the fate of the lower classes with their inadequate diets and physical labor. Traditionally, only the rich could afford to be well-fed. Fat was a status symbol.

Not any more. In fact the polar opposite is now true: as income and education falls, obesity rises– both the rate of obesity and the amount of excess weight. The poorest Americans, those living below the poverty level, are the most likely to be morbidly obese.

The underlying causes are many, especially for the urban poor who face high concentrations of fast food outlets and low concentrations of grocery stores, plus limited time for exercise or access to outdoor space. But the big culprit is our out-of-whack food system that can sell highly refined, fat and sugar-laden, processed foods at far lower prices than fresh, whole foods.
The terrible irony is that these days, thinness is a luxury reserved for the rich.

For the record, the complete poll results are:

  • richer    43%
  • thinner  21%
  • smarter   14%
  • younger   12%
  • and 9% seem to like themselves just fine.

Visualize the caloric bang for the buck: see why a Big Mac costs less than a salad (spoiler alert– it’s the federal subsidies).

The Rich & Thin Club claims to simultaneously whip your waistline and your bank account into shape by monitoring calories coming in and dollars going out. It theorizes that small, unnecessary, everyday indulgences are the undoing of both. Calculators demonstrate the impact of 10 years of Starbucks lattés or restaurant appetizers in terms of accumulated pounds versus an early mortgage payoff or the compounded interest of savings. It’s an eye-opener.

 

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The Milkman Cometh

Remember the milkman?

Once a fixture of the early morning landscape, making deliveries to about a third of all households in the United States, the milkman was all but extinct as the 20th century drew to a close, with sales down to a paltry 0.4% of the retail dairy industry. It appeared that the milkman would remain a bit of quaint nostalgia for those old enough to remember, and younger generations would never know home delivery that doesn’t arrive in an Amazon box.

Home milk delivery had been dying since the 1970’s. Improvements in refrigeration and pasteurization had extended the shelf life of dairy products allowing for less frequent purchases. The burgeoning supermarket industry had begun selling milk as a loss leader to lure customers into their stores. And Americans were drinking less milk.

The return of the milkman
Recently, this old-fashioned service has been making a comeback for reasons that can be personal, practical, and political. It’s a convenience for working parents who can strike a chore off their list, and for seniors who can lighten the load they lug home from the market. It fits with consumer interest in local products and small-scale producers who likely bottle in reusable and recyclable glass bottles and adhere to natural and organic dairy practices.

This is not the milkman of yesteryear.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that it is still almost always a man slinging the bottles. But smaller customer bases and larger areas of coverage demanded tweaks to much of the business model, so in addition to traditional dairy products, high-profit items like specialty meats, bread, jams, and cut flowers are often added to the orders.

Dairies are availing themselves of plenty of 21st century technology with online ordering, route optimization software that works with the delivery truck’s GPS , twittered delivery announcements, and hand-held scanners that track barcoded products and generate the customer accounts.

Businesses range from the small mom and pops with a few hundred local customers to Oberweis Dairy, which delivers to more than 50,000 households throughout Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Dairies in Maryland , Virgina, Washington, and Boston are reporting annual sales growth of more than 30% and massive waiting lists as they expand into new delivery areas. Even New York City has Manhattan Milk, although its trucks are more likely to drop the bottles with doormen than on doorsteps

You will pay a premium for the convenience, usually a delivery charge of around $3, but the milk itself probably costs no more than the supermarket price for organic dairy products. In exchange, your milk will be the freshest you can get and you will be doing your part for the local economy and the environment. And between the nostalgia, the cream on top, and the glass bottles, you’ll swear it just tastes better.

 

 

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Black Licorice: The Confectionary Whipping Boy

image via Pammy Shep

 

It’s the candy we love to hate.
In a candy land of sugary, fruity, creamy, chocolatey, there’s licorice. It’s herbal, salty, medicinal, and barely sweetened; and doesn’t apologize for it.

We are of course talking about black licorice; the only true licorice. Red Vines, Twizzlers, and the like rely on mostly fruit flavorings; there is not a drop of licorice in them. The red-black connection is limited to a similar extrusion process in their manufacture.

Licorice haters spend their days picking the black ones out of the jelly bean bowl, immune to the charms of the jumbo-size box of Good & Plenty. They gather online, congregating in places where they can bash black licorice in the supportive environment of like-minded licorice loathers; places like The Official Black Licorice Hate Thread and the I Hate Black Licorice Facebook page where it’s referred to as the devil’s candy.

And then there are the celebrants.
There’s the Licorice Lovers blog and newsletter, which takes a look this month at what makes licorice the perfect summertime treat (it’s versatile and doesn’t melt) and features a dress made entirely from nine pounds of licorice whip;s and The Magic of Licorice, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the many health benefits of licorice (it’s been prescribed to treat coughs, ulcers, and constipation; it’s also one of the most sexually arousing scents around.)

Whether you love it or loathe it, a good place to explore your deepest emotions is Licorice International, the web’s most complete licorice resource. It offers the largest selection of European licorice varieties available in the U.S., with more than a dozen countries represented. A downloadable tasting guide will match your taste and texture preferences with suitable licorice varieties.

 

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Three Little Words: Strategic Pork Reserves

Earlier this summer it was reported that China’s Commerce Ministry would release part of its strategic pork reserves in hopes of capping rising food prices. Reaction from the U.S. ranged from WTF? to I want one.

There are nation’s that keep strategic oil reserves, and some stockpile grain, but a national pork reserve?

China is a porcine superpower. With a pig population of 446 million, China is home to half of all the world’s pigs, with one pig for every three citizens. China has more pigs than the next 43 countries combined, including the U.S. at number two with about 60 million pigs.

Pork is serious business in China. It makes up more than half of the meat consumed, and as living standards rise, so does consumption, which has quadrupled in the last 20 years. This crushing demand for pork has made it susceptible to price fluctuations due to weather, disease, and grain price inflation.

There was nationwide panic in 2006 when an epidemic of blue-ear disease struck the Chinese pig population. The disease was eventually brought under control, but left in its wake supply shortages and runaway price inflation. Clearly unacceptable in a country that runs on pork, the next year the Chinese government made it a national priority to ensure a reliable supply of pork. Throughout the country, icy warehouses hold 220,000 tons of frozen hogs, and pre-payments are made to farmers to maintain herd levels. With pork prices up 38 percent since the start of the year, this summer, the Chinese government has been digging into the stash to help stabilize prices.

Here in the United States, we have a bit of wheat saved up, and the world’s largest petroleum reserve, but alas, no strategic pork reserve. And we call ourselves a superpower.

 

 

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The Best of YouTube Cooking

Type ‘cooking’ into the YouTube search engine and you get 27,900,000 results—way out ahead of ‘gardening’ (1,380,000), and almost as many as the results returned for ‘Obama’ (30,700,000). Granted, the number is dwarfed by the search results for ‘Justin Bieber’ (203,000,000), ‘naked’ (51,600,000), or even ‘cats’ (47,400,000), but still, it’s pretty impressive.

With those kinds of numbers, there is obviously something for everyone, from the entertaining to the solidly instructive, plus plenty of quirks, niches, and the gratuitously not-ready-for-prime-time. Sure, there are times when you just want to gawk at an enormous-breasted women slicing ginger or the 11-year boy who will eat anything on a dare. I’m not judging. But this is about cooking, for those times when you are looking for the prosaic and practical. Guidance, advice, and inspiration. YouTube never disappoints.

High quality production, an extensive library of recipes, and an easily navigable website for recipe backup, YouTube cooking channels don’t get any better than Food Wishes. It’s the first place we go for a crash course in homemade mayonnaise or duck butchery, and a reliable source of inspiration when we want to pay homage to the foods of Provence, throw a Salvadorean-themed dinner party, or use up the too-many spring greens we bought at the farmers market.

Novice cooks swear by the videos from Start Cooking. They cover the most basic of cooking basics (how to fry an egg, steam rice, or make English muffin pizzas in a toaster oven), and advance to the merely basic (roast a chicken, bake brownies). There’s plenty of detailed instruction, but it’s never preachy or tedious.

The video hosts of Delectable Planet want to see you eating lower on the food chain, and they encourage you with a chipper earnestness and not even  a hint of condescension. It doesn’t hurt that the plant-based recipes are seriously tasty.

There’s something about Dave. Dave Can Cook is not the slickest show out there. The segments are loose and unscripted, the recipes lean toward hearty, homely, countrified dishes, and Dave’s grasp of the technology is shaky at best. But he’s a natural cook and host, relaxed and affable, with genuine enthusiasm for the whole process. In other words, he’s the real deal. And if you want to know how to season your new cast iron pan, he’s your man.

Ethnic cuisines, with their often unfamiliar ingredients, equipment, and techniques, can be especially well-served by the video format.

We like to get our Indian cooking lessons from Chef Vah of VahRehVah. The recipes vary from the somewhat dumbed-down and Americanized to wildly exotic and challenging.

The Japanese chef-host cooks and narrates while Francis the poodle provides French-accented English translations. It’s the inimitable Cooking with Dog, and you’ll have to see it for yourself, because you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that it works.

The dizzying camera work and fast cuts of Maangchi’s Cooking Show make high drama of Korean home cooking. Host Maangchi barely breaks a sweat while manhandling 10 pounds of cabbage for the kimchi segment, but you might need a nap afterward.

Italians turn to Giallo Zafferano for their pizza and pasta primers. The English-language version, Yellow Saffron, is no less authentic, but a lot easier to follow.

An 80-something Jewish bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother) prepares classic Jewish foods like brisket, kugel, and borscht, as the host of the wildly endearing Feed Me Bubbe.

For classic French dishes and techniques, it doesn’t get any better than  Julia Child . Enlightening, entertaining, accessible, and undiminished by the years, her timeless PBS shows are finding a new audience and reconnecting with the old one on YouTube.

 

 

Posted in cook + dine, Entertainment | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Ethical Carnivore: Pleased to Meat You

It’s not like you’re suddenly going to go cold turkey, if you’ll pardon the pun. We humans didn’t claw our way up the food chain so we could eat quinoa.

Meat-eating and ethical eating don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways to eat meat that are sensitive to the environment, to our health, and to the animals involved.

All meat is not created equal.
We all know that factory farming is a grotesquery. It’s basically institutionalized animal cruelty and it creates a product that is unfit and unhealthy for human consumption. It depletes resources and is destructive to the environment.

Then there’s grass-fed or pasture-raised beef.
These animals are raised in open, humane, sanitary conditions. They conserve resources by passing on a diet of grains grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Better for your health, grass-fed beef contains fewer antibiotics and hormones, is leaner than grain-fed and grain-finished beef, and has a more favorable ratio of omega fatty acids.

The well-managed pasture system sustains natural resources by reducing erosion and water pollution, conserving carbon, and preserving biodiversity and wildlife. Their sales methods—either operating as an independent, selling directly from their own property, or selling through small, locally focused producer groups—help support local communities, promote local foodsheds, and earn a fair price for the producers.

The industrialization of the calf.
We took an earth-friendly, solar-powered ruminant and turned it into a fossil-fuel powered machine.
The problem with banishing all meat from the dinner table is that ranchers of conscience are caught in the sweep, demonized along with factory farmers. These ethical producers should be celebrated as the vanguard of a growing revolt against industrial agriculture, not penalized by association.

Let’s face it, we are not heading toward a meatless society.
But we can be a society of ethical carnivores. We need to eat meat in moderation and avoid animals raised in confined spaces and fed an unnatural diet. Choosing grass-fed beef can have a lasting impact on our health and the health of the planet.

 

 

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Everything (and then some) Bagels

image via chris piascik.com

The everything is not the most popular bagel—that would be plain, closely followed by sesame. But for some, it’s the only bagel that will do. Salty, seedy, and pungent with onion and garlic, it’s the true bagel lover’s bagel.

The everything bagel also has its detractors. They complain that the everything’s yeasty, stinky goodness befouls its milder brethren in the paper sack on the way home from the bagel shop. They whine about garlic breath and the way poppy seeds tuck themselves into the spaces between their teeth. I say knock yourselves out with a blueberry bagel [sic].

And there’s controversy.
In a promotional post for his 516Ads blog, web entrepreneur David Gussin claims to have invented the everything bagel as a teenager in the early 1980’s. Working an after school job at a Queens bagel bakery, he was inspired to reuse the tasty, toasty, seedy debris he swept out of the oven at the end of a shift. The shop’s customers went crazy for the concoction, and the rest, as he says in a New Yorker Schmear Dept. profile, is history.

Not so, says modern marketing guru Seth Godin. He claims to have originated the everything bagel at least three years earlier, back in 1977 when he was a teenaged bagel shop employee. Godin figures the oversight comes from the fact that the bagel shop of his youth was located in Buffalo—too far off the radar of the bagel elite. Despite a compelling argument from Godin (“…you add the seeds when the bagels are on the wet burlap…the burnt seeds in the oven get pretty incinerated and you wouldn’t want to use em.”) the New Yorker has yet to publish a retraction.

The everything is hands-down the funniest bagel.
There is so much online riffing on the boastful hyperbole of the appellation that blogging pioneer Jason Kottke hypothesized, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought Twitter was built specifically for the purpose of cracking wise about the lack of everything on the everything bagel.” His blog, Kottke.org, rounded up some of the best:

–This “everything bagel” is great. Has onions, poppy seeds, garlic, cheese, q-tips, Greenland, fear, sandals, wolves, teapots, crunkin… @JohnMoe
–The “everything bagel” really only has like three things. Just what I want for breakfast. Lies. @missrftc
–You might want to scale back on calling yourself an “everything bagel.” I mean, right away I can see there are no M&M’s on here. @friedmanjon
–Flossing after an everything bagel is important b/c as the name implies, you don’t just have *something* in your teeth, you have every thing. @phillygirl

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

You can make everything taste like an everything bagel with a sprinkle of Everything Bagel Spice Mix.

The home gardening adventurers at Plantgasm ask the question, “Can you grow anything from the seeds of an everything bagel?
Nope.

 

Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge | 1 Comment

A Global Warming Amuse Bouche.

image via World Magazine

How’s that climate change thing working for you?
Not everyone is in agreement on the causes, but the effects are undeniable.
Popsicles and iced drinks can only take you so far. What will you be eating as the planet heats up?

2010 was the world’s hottest year on record; that is, until 2011. The National Weather Service reports that 1,400 records for a high temperature have been broken around the country this summer, and we’re not even through July. The current heat wave is exceptional for its duration, strength, and even breadth, and climatologists are telling us it’s just a taste of things to come.

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Washington and at Stanford University’s Program for Food Security and the Environment analyzed data from 23 climate models. They predict, with 90%  certainty, that by the end of the 21st century, average growing-season temperatures will be hotter than the most extreme levels recorded in the past. Barring a swift and sudden reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, here’s what will happen to our food:

  • Fruit trees will blossom weeks early in the warmer spring weather, before insects arrive to pollinate them. Without successful pollination, small fruit will form and quickly drop off the trees before it can mature.
  • Grapes will wither into raisins before they can be pressed for wine.
  • Dairy cows will experience reproductive failure and produce less milk.
  • Hogs and cattle will go off their feed and take longer to get to market.
  • Chickens will lay fewer eggs.
  • Coffee-growing regions will fade away as growers are forced to either move to higher ground or pack it in.
  • We’ll drink  summer ales year-round—the only palatable brew from weaker, low-acid, warm-weather hops.
  • Fish will flee the southern hemisphere, vegetables will wither in the fields, maple syrup will be just a memory.

We’ve seen food prices rise by 20% as the hot weather torpedoes production, but what if dinner costs 20 times what it did?

The midwestern breadbasket will be redubbed the tropical fruit bowl.
Mashed cassava will stand in for potatoes, we’ll eat french-fried yucca, and scramble the eggy akee fruit for breakfast. It’s already happening across Europe, where England has begun producing bananas, olives, and oranges, and central Russia is planted with fig trees and lemons.

The evidence continues to pile up.
This is not just another summer heatwave but part of a larger trend that is indisputably based on measured concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming as a result of human activity is recognized by the national science academies of  every major industrialized country.

Learn how your personal choices  impact the environment. Read Ten Personal Solutions to Global Warming from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Join 350.com, a global, grassroots movement to solve the crisis.

 

 

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Your 12-pack Toting Days are Numbered

[image via the Purple Sprout]

 

Why are we buying all those bottles and cans of soda?
Oceans of corn syrup, mountains of glass and plastic waste, money, fossil fuels; this is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

Americans consume about 50 billion liters of soda a year. That comes to 216 liters for every man, woman, and child, most of it sealed in plastic or aluminum. It’s labeled and packaged and packed into cartons. It’s shipped around the country, passes through distributors and wholesalers and retailers, before it’s toted home in 12-packs loaded into the trunk of a car.

All that for water and flavoring and some CO2 for carbonation. The stuff could come from anywhere, and we’re importing it like it’s lobsters from Maine.

You can (and should) make soda at home.
It’s economical and green and better for your health. The easiest way to go about making soda and sparkling water is with a home system. The newest versions are light years away from the old-fashioned, cumbersome seltzer siphons. All you do is fill a bottle with tap water, pop it into a soda maker, and in 3 seconds you have seltzer. You can make sparkling fruit juice, adjust the bubble size to your preference, or add extracts and syrups to make soda.

The initial investment (machine, carbonation, bottles, a few syrups) starts at around $100, but quickly pays for itself. You only have to give up a few inches of counter space, and it works without electricity.

Slate’s Get Busy with the Fizzy marvels at the home carbonation phenomenon, and details the perfect storm of economics, health concerns, environmental awareness, and nostalgia that shaped it.

You can make classics like homemade ginger ale, root beer, and cream soda, or experiment with herbs and seasonal ingredients like strawberry-rhubarb, chai tea, and orange-lemongrass. The Homemade Soda Expert has tips and links to suppliers and recipes.

 

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, sustainability | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Edible Stay-cation

You haven’t booked your Michelin tour yet?

That’s right, Michelin, publisher of the eponymous hotel and restaurant guides, bestower of stars to the crème de la crème of restaurants worldwide, has created a set of world-wide culinary vacations. The drool-worthy itineraries include cooking classes with renowned chefs, wine tastings in celebrated cellars, and of course plenty of Michelin-starred dining.

Are we forgetting something?

Oh yeah; time and money. But don’t despair. With a little online browsing, you can find recipes and ingredients for any and all of the world’s culinary traditions.

International Recipes.net is a recipe exchange with more than 34,000 members in 90 countries. I’m not sure what this means, but it’s a little disconcerting to see that the most requested recipe from the U.S. is Olive Garden’s tiramisu.

Food in Every Country covers culinary history, traditional holiday dishes, mealtime customs, and the political, environmental, religious, and economic factors that define each cuisine. The database is broad, although every country is a bit of an overstatement.

In Mama’s Kitchen focuses on authentic, home cooking from around the world.

Soup Song and Rice Gourmet focus narrowly on these two, universal foods.

Say it like a local– Forvo is a pronunciation guide for 258 of the world’s languages.

Sometimes they do things a little differently. Worldwide Recipes has conversion tools that adapts weights, measures, and temperatures for the American kitchen.

Ethnic Foods Co. sells a global selection of spices, pantry goods, prepared foods, cookware, and even some fresh herbs and produce.

Massachusetts blogger Sarah Scoble Commerford began her world tour in April, 2010. She is cooking her way through each of the world’s 193 countries (give or take, depending on the dynamism of national political agendas). Working alphabetically, beginning with Afghanistan, she is preparing a representative meal from each country’s traditions and ingredients. She just started cooking her way through the T’s (goodbye St. Kitts; hello Thailand). She documents one or two meals each week in her blog,  What’s Cooking in Your World? At the current pace, the ETA for Zimbabwe is spring of 2013.

Why not put away your passport, save on airfare, and indulge in some kitchen table travel?

 

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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
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