A Guide to the Foodie Holiday Gift Guides

image via 7DTV

Holiday gift guides are supposed to make life a little easier at this time of year.
In theory, they are carefully curated, well-targeted selections that keep us from slogging through too many websites to come up with the perfect gift. But with so many gift guides out there, now we find ourselves slogging through them.
That’s why Gigabiting has done the slogging for you, to come up with a carefully curated, well-targeted selection of holiday gift guides for all the food lovers on your list.

Hit the ground running this holiday shopping season.
The Wall Street Journal has A Foodie’s Guide to Cyber Monday 2011.

They like kitchen hacks and the science behind the cooking.
Shop for the innovative cook at Seattle Weekly’s Food Geek Gift Guide: 2011.

Let them show their love with wearable food gifts.
The Huffington Post has 12 T-Shirts and Totes for Food Lovers.

They’re cool and they cook; for them, you can pick up a set of knives reflecting the specialized techniques of 20 ethnic cuisines, or a honey dipper inspired by the geometry of the beehive.
It’s Gifts for Your Foodie Friend from the Cool Hunting Holiday Gift Guide.

The cheeseboard is from reclaimed slate, and the espresso machine is hand-cranked.
It’s the Green Gift Guide for foodies from Treehugger.

Turn soybeans into soymilk and fruit juice into boozy hooch.
There are all kinds of gifts for all kinds of DIYers from Kitchen Daily’s 10 Make-Your-Own Food Kits.

They’re obsessed with swan-necked pour over kettles and debate the virtues of wet-processed beans.
Please the coffee lovers in your life with a selection from Dear Coffee, I Love You’s Coffee Lover Gift Guide 2011.

Have any food bloggers on your list? We need some love at holiday time just like anybody else.
My Kitchen Addiction mixes the professional, the practical, and the personal in the Food Blogger Gift Guide.

Here’s a gift that’s one-size-fits-all:
Give a gift to end hunger from the Feeding America Gift Catalog.
$12 buys a child’s breakfast for 3 months; for $90 you can provide 6 months’ worth of dinners for a family of 4.

 

 

 

 

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Holiday Weight Gain: First the good news…

How about the good news first…
Reports of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated. The perception is that we really pack on the pounds at holiday time. The reality (according to the National Institutes of Health) is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds— just about one pound on average. Despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years, the typical weight gain is surprisingly small— except for the already-overweight who tend to keep growing during the holidays.

And the bad news…
It may be a mere pound, but the weight adds up.
Most people don’t ever lose that extra holiday pound.

Our weight is on an upward creep through the adult years. On the march toward the middle-age spread, and the health complications that accompany it like diabetes and heart disease, we tend to accumulate about 2 pounds each year. About half of that can be traced to seasonal overindulgence.

A January menu of cottage cheese and rice cakes.
40% of all New Years resolutions relate to diet and weight loss. We take alcohol and red meat off the menu and sign up for gym memberships. Unfortunately, research shows that our resolve is not so strong: six out of ten will fall off the wagon by January 6th.

There are unexpected side effects to holiday weight gain.
You’re not the only one affected. Read: Pet Parade: Holiday weight gain affects pets too.
And then there’s that special someone. Last year, BeautifulPeople.com, apparently a dating site for the thin and superficial, canceled more than 5,000 memberships on the basis of profile photos showing evidence of holiday overindulgence. In the words of the site’s founder, Robert Hintze, “Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.” You can read about it in Dating Site for Beautiful People Expels “Fatties” Over Holiday Weight Gain.

Feel free to make a New Years resolution to send nasty email messages to Mr. Hintze.

 

 

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The Myth of the Sugar High

Let’s put this one to rest once and for all…
Sugar does NOT turn kids into hyperactive maniacs.
There’s NO SUCH THING as a sugar-induced high.

I know what you’re thinking. Of course it’s real. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. Two cans of Coke or a birthday party goodie bag and the kids are bouncing off the walls.

But study after study after study proves otherwise. Researchers have tested the sugar in soda, candy, and fruit; compared honey, molasses, corn syrup, and cane sugar; looked at short-term and long-term effects; examined young kids, old kids, kids with ADHD and the purportedly sugar sensitive; and the results are always the same: there is no scientific cause and effect between sweets and hyperactivity. In fact the only reason there are so many studies is because you refuse to believe the results.

I know. You’re still not convinced because studies, schmudies; you know what you know—a handful of Hershey’s Kisses and you’re prying the little ones off the ceiling.

The scientific community has a couple of theories.
All suggest that there is a legitimate high; it’s just not really from the sugar.

The buzz can come from the sheer thrill of getting a sweet treat—eating a forbidden or restricted food can in itself create a certain excitement. Then there are the environmental factors. Often the treats are given on occasions when the kids are already amped up like a play date, the ball park, a holiday, a school event, or a party. It can also be the caffeine that’s found in the treats—it’s in soda, and not just cola but some orange, cream soda, and lemon-lime varieties; and it’s in the chocolate in cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, candy bars, pudding, ice cream, and more. And then there are the expectations. Parents are on alert, on the lookout for bad behavior, maybe even fueling it by raising the anxiety level in their kids.

There are plenty of  good reasons to limit the amount of sugar in children’s diets. A sugar high just isn’t one of them.

 

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The Yelp IPO. Who Wants In?

Yelp is going public.
Last week the business-review website operator filed with the SEC for its initial public offering. Sometime in early 2012, you should be able to buy publicly traded shares of Yelp stock. But will you want them?
We can’t seem to make up our minds about Yelp.

We love Yelp.
It’s the mother of all review sites. We barely remember a time when we ate out without consulting it.

We hate Yelp.
Like the old adage says: Everyone’s a critic. On Yelp that includes the uninformed, the unqualified, and the perpetrators of unchecked spelling and grammar.

Yelp is a runaway success.
Yelp draws 61 million monthly visitors to its database of 22 million user reviews.

Yelp is a failure.
Losses total $32 million and counting. Some believe Yelp can never turn a profit.

Merchants can’t make up their minds either.
Exposure on Yelp can drive real traffic to small businesses. Amid a sea of competing delis and pizza joints, a couple of good Yelp reviews can make all the difference. But merchants complain about the lack of transparency to Yelp’s review filter that selects what’s posted publicly, and have suspected that the filter is manipulated to benefit paid advertisers. Class-action lawsuits have been filed that accuse the company of extorting ad fees in exchange for withholding negative reviews.

Then there’s Yelp’s love-hate for Google.
Google may be the pipeline to Yelp’s customer base, but these days there’s not a lot of love passing between the two sites. A few years ago, Google paid Yelp for access to its review database to populate Google Places, a local business add-on to Google Maps. After that agreement ran out, Google tried to buy Yelp, and when the offer was turned down, Google continued to mine Yelp’s pages, without payment, for unlicensed content.

This fall Google bought the Zagat reviewing brand, removed most of the pay wall and pitted it directly against Yelp. Yelp has seen its content pushed to the bottom of online searches as Google tinkers with rankings to favor its own Zagat results. Since more than half of all of Yelp’s traffic comes from Google searches, this could be a disaster in the making for Yelp.

Unconditional love for Yelp’s IPO.
Yelp is the Web’s de facto reviewing authority with killer brand recognition, millions of devoted Yelpers, and a ready-made stock symbol (YELP). Despite grumbles from readers, lawsuits from retailers, and imploding tech partnerships, the IPO is expected to be a great success. Groupon’s recent public offering demonstrated that investors will line up to buy a piece of an over-valued, unprofitable tech company with a shaky future.

More detail about Yelp’s IPO can be found in the S-1 registration statement the company filed with the SEC.

 

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Q: Should Food Stamps Be Used to Pay for Fast Food?

 

image via SoapBlox

A: Yes. It alleviates hunger and avoids demeaning and intrusive Nanny State regulations.
A: No. It’s a blatant money-grab by the fast food industry at the expense of the health of our neediest and most vulnerable.

Hunger advocates are howling over fast food giant Yum! Brands’ campaign to allow low income Americans to use food stamps at its Taco Bell and KFC restaurants. Anti-hunger advocates feel that any increase in the availability of food is a good thing.

It’s a nice chunk of change to go after.
The number of Americans who use food stamps is now close to 46 million—that’s 15 percent of the population—with almost $65 billion to spend on food. The program (properly called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it’s been stamp- and coupon-less for years, but the ‘food stamp’ name stuck) currently places purchase restrictions on alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, vitamins, and hot, prepared food. Chips, candy, soda—all fair game.

Yum! Brands is trying to put a common sense spin on it, and groups like the Congressional Hunger Center and the Coalition for the Homeless are backing the fast food lobby. With five fast food outlets for every supermarket in the country, they argue it’s a convenient option, especially for the elderly, disabled, or homeless. And food stamps can already be used in convenience stores and gas stations, places not known for healthy options.

On the other side of the argument, health advocates have the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their corner, and that’s who funds the food stamp program. They feel that we can’t afford to be indifferent to the quality of the food. Access to fast food, with its often alarmingly high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, should not be expanded for low income populations that are plagued by high rates of obesity and diabetes. And for those trapped in a sedentary lifestyle, like the elderly and disabled, these foods are especially insidious.

According to the Food Stamp Act of 1977:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, in order to promote the general welfare, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.
Clearly, the policy is not referring to access to the KFC Double Down, but is it really better to go hungry?

 

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Cat-Pork, Latex-Fruit and other Cross-Allergies

image via BuzzNet

Hay fever sufferers should take a pass on the swiss chard and sunflower seeds. No celery sticks in the shade of a birch tree either. Skip the dill pickles if you react to latex, steer clear of tropical fruit if dust mites make you sneeze, and yes, pork and cat dander can be problematic.

These are all examples of cross-allergies (also known as Pollen-Food or Oral Allergy Syndrome), and like the recent rise of food allergies, they are becoming more common. About a third of seasonal allergy sufferers will cross-react to the wrong foods, but the number is closer to two-thirds if birch or alder pollen are your triggers.

Here’s how it works: the same chemicals that cause hay fever and other airborne allergies can also be found in some foods. There’s a whole grocery list of reactive foods, but the culprit is usually a raw fruit or vegetable that has the same protein as the airborne allergen. Eat the wrong food, and it sends the immune system into overdrive and triggers an allergic reaction. Instead of the sneezing and itchy eyes you get when you inhale the allergen, you’ll end up with a tingly mouth, hives, difficulty swallowing, or even anaphylaxis—all food allergy symptoms.

These are the most commonly occurring cross-allergies and their offending foods:

  • Dust/Dust Mites: mangos, shellfish, plums, melons, tomato, avocado, pawpaw, pineapple, peaches, and kiwis.
  • Latex: almonds, apples, bananas, kiwis, avocado, dill, oregano, ginger, and sage.
  • Birch/Alder Tree Pollen: celery, apples, apricots, cherries and other stone fruits, parsnips, buckwheat, caraway seeds, and coriander.
  • Hayfever (Ragweed/Grasses): cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, sunflower seeds, zucchini, cucumber, and chamomile tea.
  • Cat Dander: pork.

Some foods contain more of the troublesome proteins than others—peaches more than plums, apples more than pears. And there can be differences between varieties—Gala and Golden Delicious apples cause more allergic reactions than Braeburns, and Crenshaw melons are benign while cantaloupe and watermelon are powerful triggers.

Not every pollen produces cross-allergies; some trees like maple, oak and poplar, don’t share reaction-causing proteins with foods. Nor does having one of these allergies mean you’ll necessarily cross-react with any of the implicated foods. And, if you do react, you may not be allergic to every food on the list.

 

 

 

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Masquerading as Blueberries

Blue Man Group image via John Mottern

There are no blueberries in Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffins.
You won’t find any in Blueberry Pop-Tarts or Special K Blueberry Fruit Crisps either, and Total Pomegranate Blueberry Cereal is missing the blueberries and the pomegranate.

Instead of real blueberries, some manufacturers create little berry-shaped clumps of various sugars, starches, gums, and oils, and coat them with (often petroleum-based) blue food dye. They’re usually labeled as blueberry-flavored bits or particles. For its Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal, Kellogg’s concocted an entirely new food classification, identified in the ingredient list as crunchlets.

The labels don’t lie.
Food marketers have gotten away with the blueberry bait-and-switch by complying with FDA nutrition labeling requirements. The box can be decorated with lush photography of plump berries, and the product’s name can trumpet berry goodness—it never needs to cross paths with an actual berry as long as the dirty details are all revealed in the fine print of the packaging.

The labels might not lie, but they sure do skirt the truth.
The consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest plans to put an end to these dishonest and deceptive practices. Attorneys from the CSPI have filed a complaint in federal court against General Mills, one of the biggest practitioners of this form of marketing. The complaint contends that General Mills misleads the public about the healthfulness of its products when it depicts fruits that they don’t contain, and in doing so, the company  violates various state laws governing deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices.

You can follow the lawsuit’s developments on the Center for Science in the Public Interest website.

The attorneys from the law firm Finkelstein Thompson are seeking public input from consumers who may have been misled by these products. If you purchased any products that you believed were made from real blueberries but actually contained derivatives or no blueberries, you can contact them about joining the class action—they expect potential plaintiffs to number in the millions.
[email to contact@finkelsteinthompson.com]

 

 

 

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Dirty Bathroom, Dirty Kitchen: a.k.a. The Potty Post

image via SwongzDesign

Talk about an appetite killer.
We’ve all been there. Literally. The dirty restaurant bathroom that makes us wonder about the kitchen. If they couldn’t be bothered to keep the bathroom clean…

A recent poll by Cintas, a provider of restroom supplies to the restaurant industry, found that 79% of respondents would avoid a restaurant if they knew the bathrooms were dirty. 88% of them agreed that the state of the restrooms says something about the kitchen’s hygiene, and 94% said if they personally encountered bathroom nastiness, they wouldn’t return.

Looking beyond the yuck factor
Clearly there’s spillover in our minds, but there is actually no hard data to support a connection between a dirty bathroom and a dirty kitchen. According to Douglas Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University and publisher of the BarfBlog, health inspectors will take note of the general state of a restaurant restroom and include impressions and any obvious violations in the report, but they don’t pull out the swabs and test kits like they do in the kitchen. Professor Powell is a big believer in the power of hand-washing to compensate for other inadequacies, and recommends that customers speak up if there’s no soap or hot water, or if they see slipshod washing by restaurant workers.

We rate the chefs, the ambiance, our favorite dishes; why not the bathrooms?
That’s the question asked by the developers of Bestroom, a new smartphone app that helps you find and rate restrooms in restaurants, Starbucks, and other public places.

Another start-up, although I’m not holding my breath for this IPO, is CLOO’. Short for community plus loo (with an apostrophe mark to represent a GPS marker), CLOO’ is a location-based social media app that gives you a private option when the public restroom is unacceptable or unavailable. CLOO’ searches through your social networks to locate potential, nearby hosts who, for a small fee, will allow you to drop by and relieve yourself in their bathrooms. The company calls this “turning a stranger’s loo into a friend of a friend’s loo;” what would you call it?

Cintas, the company behind the poll, gives an annual award for America’s Best Bathroom. Winners receive a plaque and a permanent spot in the Cintas Hall of Fame. Previous winners have been found in hotels and restaurants, a casino, a college, and the Fort Smith, Arkansas regional airport. This year’s nominees included an eco-friendly Brooklyn Cuban restaurant that flushes its toilets with reclaimed rainwater, a Las Vegas casino men’s room with urinals set into authentic, graffiti-covered sections of the Berlin Wall, and a Presidential porta-potty made for Barack Obama’s inauguration. You can find this year’s and past years’ winners at America’s Best Restroom Hall of Fame.

 

 

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New Uses for Microwaves

Happy microwave via Chazzyllama

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I’d cast my vote for convenience.

Take the microwave oven.
It’s entirely redundant in our kitchens. It does nothing more than duplicate cooking processes that are nearly always better-performed by other appliances. Yet every one of us has one. Why? Because it’s convenient. It’s quicker, easier, and usually requires less cleanup than other cooking methods.

Most of us use our microwaves to defrost, reheat, and boil water. But why stop there? With a little know-how, we can do so much more with our microwaves.

Make skinny potato chips: Lay thin potato slices in a single layer on a plate. Season (salt, pepper, vinegar- whatever you like). Microwave for about 5 minutes until they reach the desired point of brown and crispy done-ness.

Soften brown sugar: Microwave the package of brown sugar on high for 15-30 seconds. Voila!

Dry fresh herbs or grated citrus peels: Spread herbs or peels on a paper towel. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or until dried, stirring every 30 seconds. Cook another 1-2 minutes for thicker peels and herbs.

Freshen soggy peanuts: Spread in a baking dish and microwave, uncovered, on high for 3 minutes per cup. They’ll crisp up as they cool.

Make scratch chocolate pudding: Mix 1/3 c. cornstarch, 1/4 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 c. sugar, pinch of salt, and 2 1/4 c. milk. Cook for 2 minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir in 1 t. vanilla and 2 T. butter. Let stand for about 5 minutes until it’s pudding-thick.

Get twice as much juice from a lemon: Give it 30 seconds in the microwave and then roll it around a few times on the counter. Double juice.

Roast a whole head of garlic: Put a whole, unpeeled bulb of garlic on a paper towel. Microwave on high for 1 minute, turn it upside down and give it another minute. The soft, roasted cloves will squeeze right out.

Need some melted chocolate for a recipe? Snip the corner off of a bag of chips. Microwave for 20 seconds and knead the bag to mix. Keep repeating in 20 second increments (you’ll need a potholder as it heats up) until fully melted. Squeeze the chocolate out of the cut corner for a completely bowl-less, spoon-less experience.

Cook corn on the cob right in its husk: Put unshucked ears of corn on damp paper towel. You can microwave 4 or so at a time, adding a little under 2 minutes cooking time for each ear. Let the corn stand for 5 minutes before serving. The husks and silk will slip off easily.

Ripen an avocado: Microwave an avocado on medium for 2 minutes. Turn over, and microwave for 1 minute more.

Make a little cake in a mug: Coat the mug with nonstick spray. Add to the mug 4 T.  flour, 9 T. hot chocolate mix, and a pinch of salt. Give a stir and add an egg, 3 T. water, and 3 T. oil.  Mix it up well and microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise to alarming heights and then settle back into the mug. It’s not the best chocolate cake you ever tasted, but not-the-best is better than no chocolate cake.

Read Gigabiting’s Kitchen Hacks for many more kitchen shortcuts and helpful tips.

 

 


 

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The New Recyclables

image via Living, etc.

Yogurt containers into toothbrushes, Cheetos bags into CD cases.
While you were dutifully rinsing out tuna cans and bundling newspapers, recycling kept moving forward.

Specialized recyclers have sprung up to handle everything imaginable— or unimaginable in some cases: broken crayons, used dentures, old sports trophies, even sex toys. The kitchen is particularly fertile ground for recycling. Following are kitchen items that you’ll probably be surprised to learn are recyclable.

Hershey’s Kisses
Those little bitty foil wrappers sure add up. Around 80 million chocolate Hershey’s Kisses are wrapped every day. That’s enough aluminum foil to cover nearly 40 football fields. Instead of tossing it out, toss it into the bin with aluminum cans.

Corks
We like our chocolate and our wine. 13 billion natural wine corks are sold each year. Get mailing instructions or find a local cork drop-off location on the websites for recyclers ReCORK and  Yemm & Hart. Used corks can  find new life as placemats, shoe footbeds, flooring, and other building materials.

Cooking oil
I hope you know not to pour used cooking oil down the drain. It’s the number one cause of clogs, so clearly a lot of people are pouring it out. Whatever you’ve been doing,  you might be surprised to learn that your used oil can be recycled into biofuel. Check Earth911 for a nearby recycling location.

Packaging and more
Terracycle accepts the previously non-recyclable and turns them into products like clipboards and backpacks. Terracycle accepts:

  • Drink pouches (like Capri Sun) and single-brew coffee pouches (like Flavia)
  • Single-serve treat packaging (granola bars, cookie, gum, and candy bar wrappers)
  • Lunch kits (like Lunchables)
  • Chip bags
  • diapers
  • toothpaste tubes
  • small electronics

Produce stickers
Barry Snyder doesn’t recycle but will upcycle all those little stickers that come on supermarket produce, turning them into mosaic homages to well-known works of art. Visit Stickerman Produce Art to check out his work and for sticker shipping details.

Kitchen appliances
Remodeling a kitchen, or even just replacing the old toaster— use the Steel Recycling Institute’s location finder to pass along old appliances large and small.

If your unwanted items still have some life in them, get them into the hands of people who can use them. Sell them or offer them up as giveaways on Freecycle, Craigslist, Throwplace, and iReuse.com.


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Paying More, Getting Less: Your Incredible Shrinking Groceries

[image via Slow Poke Comics]

 Coming soon to a supermarket near you…

Two Musketeers candy bars, Demitasse-a-Soup, Product 18 cereal.
It’s not your imagination; your groceries really are shrinking. Everything but the prices.

Hellmanns’s mayonnaise, Skippy peanut butter, and Tropicana orange juice are among hundreds of national brands that have shrunk their packaging in recent months. An 8 oz. Dannon yogurt now weighs in at 6, while the 6 oz. Yoplait dropped to 4. Kellogg slimmed cereal boxes by an average of 2.4 oz., and Wrigley’s 17-stick PlenTPak is not so plenTiful at 15. Mission prefers to play a shell game with its tortillas, dropping 2 from the 10-pack, then adding 2 to the 8-pack and calling it a ‘bonus;’ kind of like the ‘extra’ hour we get for daylight savings time.

Portion reduction, short-sizing, eco-friendly packaging—whatever they want to call it, it’s just a way of flying under the radar with price increases.

At least a dozen eggs is still twelve.

We are losing our benchmarks. A pint of Häagen-Dazs is now 2 oz. shy of that measure, and the former half gallon carton of Dreyers or Breyers ice cream has taken two separate hits to get to the current 1.5 quart size. The old one pound can of Maxwell House or Folgers coffee now weighs in at around 12 oz., just like a supermarket bag of Starbucks beans, in case you thought you were getting a full pound. Some reductions are more troubling than others—it’s problematic when you can’t squeeze two decent sandwiches out of the smaller size can of Starkist tuna, while four fewer Double Stuf Oreos will hardly be missed.

It’s not that we begrudge the manufacturers their profit margins. They are feeling the squeeze, coping with the rising cost of ingredients plus high fuel prices. Holding the line on supermarket pricing through down-sized packaging can make the product more attractive to budget shoppers. What irks is the disingenuousness; the sense that the manufacturers are pulling a fast one when they tout their new ‘value-added redesign,’ or ‘slim-ship enviro-packaging.’

As the frequently resized Alice said to the Wonderland caterpillar:
I’m not particular as to size, only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.

The shoppers’ advocacy site The Consumerist will keep you up to date on shrinking grocery items with its regular feature, Grocery Shrink Ray.

 

 

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5 Foods for Senior Moments

[image via R2 Thoughts 4 You]

We’re having a national senior moment.

Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are a demographic time bomb. Making up nearly one-third of the population, they’ve reached the age of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and synaptic glitches. That’s 75 million boomers that can’t remember what they went upstairs for.

Brain foods really work.
In the same way that a low cholesterol diet can keep plaque from forming in arteries, there are foods that can keep plaque from forming in your brain. You can unclog your cognitive functions just like you can unclog your arteries.

There are also foods that can sharpen your focus and concentration, enhance your memory, and speed your reaction times. Add them to your diet early enough and you can stave off cognitive decline later in life.

Here are five foods that can make a real difference; if you’re one of those baby boomers, maybe you should write them down.

http://yourbarcelonaguide.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/salmon-steak12_-_resize_large.jpg Nothing preserves cognitive ability like wild salmon. That’s right, wild— not just any salmon will do. Farmed salmon doesn’t develop the same quality or level of essential fatty acids that make wild salmon the ultimate brain food.

http://www.pachd.com/free-images/food-images/matcha-green-tea-01.jpg Just like the wild variety is souped-up salmon, matcha is high-test green tea. Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea that’s ground into a powder. Instead of drinking an extract, like what you get when tea leaves are brewed, you consume the whole thing dissolved into the beverage. The brain buzz of focus and clarity is exponentially greater, and immediately noticeable. And the Kermit-green shade? That’s how it’s supposed to look.

http://www.fitnessgurusam.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/energy-coffee-and-sugar.jpg The brain boost from caffeine or sugar is short-lived but real. They both can make you alert and focused. Too much sugar, though, can actually interfere with your memory.

http://www.blackdiamonduniversity.com/images/monavie-training/product/acai-in-basket.jpg The acai berry is this year’s pomegranate; the ‘it’ fruit that is showing up everywhere, blended into smoothies and dressings, flavoring teas, juices, and sodas. Oddly, for a fruit, its nutritional profile resembles that of wild salmon, high in protein and the essential fatty acids our brains desire.

http://www.cheftools.com/images/13-0938-180.jpg The newest brain food discovery is turmeric. Turmeric is a mildly-flavored, deep yellow spice that is always found in curry powder, and is often used as a less costly alternative to saffron. It is such a powerful brain plaque-remover that it’s being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

 

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Modernist Thanksgiving, Anyone?

Modernist cuisine is one of the glories of the 21st Century.
By borrowing from the laboratory, pioneering chefs have blown through the established boundaries of cooking, upending centuries of culinary tradition. They’ve refined and deepened our understanding of techniques and ingredients, astounding us with new and intensified flavors and textures. But can we please keep it out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving?

You don’t want to mess with Thanksgiving.
It’s our most traditional and food-centric holiday. For most families, the food traditions are inviolable—swap out the creamed onions for butternut squash and you’ll never hear the end of it from someone claiming to wait all year for those damned onions.

Call me old-fashioned, but I want my gravy thickened with roux rather than hydrocolloids, and please hold the alginate spherification when you cook my cranberries. This is not a day when my senses should be stunned.

Trading cast iron pans for the rotor-stator homogenizer
The modernist Thanksgiving kitchen is a sterile, precise environment. Cooking is reduced to the often soundless, odorless elements of physics and chemistry. Vacuum-sealed bags of deconstructed turkey swim silently in their sous-vide bath, and the beep of a digital touch pad signals the centrifuge cycle of the sweet potatoes. You’re not just hands-off;  you’re in protective gear.

Gone is the cacophony of rattling pans, the sizzle of fat, and the tangle of smells that fill the house. Gone too is the romance of cooking—the creative imprecision of a dash of this and a splash of that; the blast of heat when you open the oven door to baste the turkey; the hand-cramping satisfaction of mashing an enormous pot of potatoes into submission.

On November 25th, let’s put away the autoclaves and cryo-guns, and bring on the tradition.

Read about the ground-breaking text Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, in Gigabiting’s The Biggest, Greatest, Most Revolutionary Cookbook Ever. No kidding.

 

 

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Don’t Hold the Mayo

[Nine Badass Mayonnaise Jars via Marc Johns]

Nobody’s holding the mayo these days.
According to research by Bloomberg Businessweek, six of the top 15 best-selling condiments in the U.S. are different varieties of mayonnaise. While we’ve been musing about population trends and watching salsa and ketchup duke it out, we failed to notice that mayonnaise has been living large at the top of the condiment heap.

Mayonnaise love is kind of embarrassing. We’ve always thought of mayonnaise as a little low-rent, a little trashy. Every negative stereotype hanging over American food is encapsulated in each white, bland, fatty dollop. It’s been falsely mythologized as the spoilage-prone scourge of picnics and potlucks, and doubles as a common treatment for head lice.

Like bacon before it, trend watchers think that mayonnaise’s down-market, all-American image gives it the hallmarks of a foodie cult-favorite in the making.

Mayonnaise goes upscale.
36 new supermarket varieties have been introduced in recent months in trendy flavors like chipotle and lime. All the big commercial brands have added a line of olive oil mayonnaise replacing some of the standard soybean oil with that culinary darling, and Hellmann’s is transitioning its whole product line to cage-free eggs.

A sure sign of its overhaul is the appearance of mayonnaise on fine dining menus. Of course chefs have always tinkered with various flavorings added to the basic mayonnaise emulsion of egg yolk, oil and and acid (usually vinegar or lemon juice). But it always left the kitchen labelled as rémoulade, rouille, or aïoli. Now, they’re able to hold their heads up high and say mayonnaise.

This month we’ll see the opening of the world’s first world luxury mayonnaise store. Empire Mayonnaise Co. is shooting for the artisan stratosphere with seasonal flavorings like white truffle, Indian lime pickle, fennel, and black garlic, and will include emu and quail eggs as the base for some batches. Naturally, the new shop is located in Brooklyn.

Haven’t you always wondered…http://printablecouponsanddeals.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Hellmans-mayo-new.jpg
Why the great mayonnaise divide—Best Foods in the western half of the U.S., Hellmann’s in the east?
Best Foods has owned both since 1932 (and the company has been a division of Unilever since 2000), but decided early on that both brands had such commanding market shares in their respective halves of the country that the distinct names and recipes should be preserved. The two products are made in the same plant and contain all the same ingredients, but there are slight variations in relative quantities of those ingredients. Best Foods is the tarter and tangier of the two, and is presumed to contain more lemon juice, but the company isn’t talking.

 

 

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Tap Water: Cheap, Environmentally Sound, and Now Trendy?

[image via Pur]

Remember the aha moment when you realized that Evian is ‘naive’ spelled backwards?
It was a moment of clarity, of sanity. You wouldn’t be duped. You wouldn’t be one of those status-seeking suckers out there who were buying into baseless health claims and slick marketing. You knew that the Emperor was just plain naked.

So what happened?
You did become one of them. We all did.
We’re drinking more bottle water than ever—85 million bottles every single day. But there is one bright spot; one place where we have curbed the habit and are going out of our way to specify tap: tap water orders are way up in restaurants. According to the consumer research group NPD, restaurant tap water is one of the fastest-growing beverage orders, increasing annually by nearly a billion servings.

Economic conditions are clearly behind the trend. In the current recession, we’ve barely cut back on the frequency of dining out—just one percent in the past 5 years—but we’re looking for ways to trim the tab. We’re keeping dessert and dumping the bottled water.

Tap water also has a kind of reverse status for the restaurants.
For three decades, beginning with the Perrier days of the 1970s, restaurants were guilty of promoting water elitism. They sent their waiters out to push high mark-up/high margin bottled water menus, and made us feel like cheapskates when we chose the tap. Now they’re shunning bottled water to demonstrate their locavore and sustainability bonafides, and frankly, they owe us this one.

There’s an environmental upside to the down economy. Since 2006, just this little switch to tap water in restaurants has already saved 8.75 billion gallons of water, and all the associated packaging, transportation, recycling, and landfill waste. The challenge is to make this change permanent, and not lapse into our old water habits when the economy turns around.

 

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Today’s history class is brought to you by Doritos

“The best-selling packaged cookie in the world is the Oreo cookie. The diameter of an Oreo cookie is 1.75 inches. Express the diameter of an Oreo cookie as a fraction in the simplest form.”

You’re looking at middle-school math.
The worksheet comes from a a sixth-grade curriculum in wide use across more than a dozen states. Another lesson on research methods asks the kids to design an experiment that allows them to prove that there are 1,000 chocolate chips in the large package of Chips Ahoy! cookies, and in the geometry unit, surface area is calculated using a box of Kellogg’s Cocoa Frosted Flakes.

We’ve recently increased awareness and toughened school nutrition standards. Cookies, candy, and chips are out, and schools are being pressured to turn down the million-dollar soft drink product placement contracts they were jumping at a few years ago. These changes have left school districts looking for new sources of income, and junk food marketers looking for a new ‘in’ with school-age kids. Both groups have found what they need in the classroom.

It’s called Sponsored Educational Materials, and it can be anything from branded assignment books and textbook covers to an entire course curriculum. While we might cringe at the sight of obesity-prone schoolchildren toting school supplies plastered with Pop-Tarts logos, the sponsored curricula are truly chilling. Companies like Kraft and Burger King hire educational consultants to create teaching materials that will further their corporate interests while adhering to national standards. First graders are color-sorting M&Ms and counting Tootsie Rolls, elementary art classes are decorating push-up tubes for Nestle Push-Up Ice Cream, and students in high school business skills courses learn how a McDonald’s franchise operates. And a special ‘A’ for irony has to go to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo for curricular programs like Coke’s Step With It! and Pepsi’s Balance First, that dominate middle school instruction in health and physical education.

To learn more about advertising cloaked as teaching aides, visit The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, a group that is advocating for government policies to limit marketers’ access to children. Earlier this year, the CCFC set its sights on a blatant piece of propaganda titled ‘The United States of Energy,’ a lesson packet used nationally in sixth-grade classrooms. Sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, it was a less than fair and balanced assessment of our nation’s energy sources that failed to mention any of coal’s negative impacts on the environment and public health. The CFCC organized a successful letter-writing campaign to remove the material from classrooms. The group hopes to repeat that success as it goes after junk food marketing.

 

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Free Food for Facebook Fans

image via Troll.me

This week alone you could have eaten for free at Chick-fil-a, Hooters, Applebee’s,  IHOP, Baskin-Robbins, Waffle House, Subway, TGI Friday’s, and Denny’s. There were free cans of Campbell’s soup, beans from Green Mountain Coffee, and enough free energy drinks to keep you up all night surfing the web for more.

A whole new form of promotions has grown up around the Facebook ‘like’ button. Companies offer freebies to induce us to become fans of their Facebook pages. It’s called inbound marketing, and most brands and consumers feel it creates winners on all sides. Companies love it because it creates customer leads for their brands at about half the price of traditional marketing campaigns. They not only get the individual’s contact information, but  ‘likes’ appear on the wall of the user’s Facebook page, leveraging that person’s social network. And of course we like it because who doesn’t want to get free stuff?

The average Facebook user clicks 9 ‘like’ buttons every month; we tend to ‘like’ it most if it involves chocolate, milk, or ice cream, although Coca Cola alone picks up 4 new fans every second. Giveaways have gotten so ubiquitous that some brands generate interest by distinguishing their promotions with unusual twists: Campbell’s soup will send a can to a sick friend, Denny’s fans can win a year’s worth of Grand Slam Breakfasts, McDonald’s has been picking up 50,00 new fans a day by offering a second chance to win its popular annual Monopoly contest, and Burger King drew gobs of attention for its offer of a free Whopper to anyone who would ‘unfriend’ 10 of their contacts.

Looking for some free food? Here are some sites that can tip you off to the latest giveaways:

Hooray Free Food
Sweet Free Stuff
Daily Free Stuff
Oh Yes It’s Free
Free Stuff Finder

Food and beverage brands are social network stars. They dominate Facebook’s popularity rankings with 11 of the top 20 spots, including the top 4. You can follow the rankings on Social Bakers and FameCount, two sites that track social media followers for the food and beverage industry.

 

 

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The Dirty Details: Food Imports from China

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

Recent food scandals include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Forks or Fingers?

image via Design Boom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sashimi is never finger food; sushi goes either way.

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

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

 

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The Food Movement Will Occupy Wall Street Next Weekend

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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