Burgernomics: The Big Mac Index

A ride on a city bus costs more than $7.00 in Oslo but only 7¢ in Mumbai.
The same iPad 2 that sells for over $1,000 in Buenos Aires can be picked up for half that price in Bangkok.
But when we really want to understand purchasing power, we look at global Big Mac prices.

A Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you go.
The McDonald’s Big Mac is an ideal indicator. With a few accommodations to local tastes, it’s the same sesame seed bun, same special sauce, same double beef patties, made to identical specifications by all of the company’s franchisees around the globe. Unlike transit or tablet computers, the Big Mac includes inputs from a wide range of local area sectors from agriculture to advertising, and hires a mix of white and blue collar workers.

A theory of burger-buying parity
The Big Mac Index has been published annually in The Economist since 1986. The index demonstrates the purchasing power of consumers around the globe by converting the world’s currencies to a hamburger standard. Purchasing parity would mean that every consumer world-wide is paying the same equivalent price (in their local currency) for a Big Mac. If you’re paying more than the fair-value burger benchmark, you live in a country with an over-valued currency; conversely a cheap Big Mac signals an under-valued currency.

Travel across the European continent and the power of currency valuations comes to life. A mere 17 Ukrainian hryvnias (the equivalent of $2.11) gets you a burger in Kiev; hungry in Hungary and you’ll spend 645 forints ($2.63), while in Copenhagen the same Big Mac costs more than double that amount ($5.37) in Danish krones.

The Big Mac Index locates most of the world’s under-valued currencies in Asian countries—no big surprise to anyone who shops at big box discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco where more than 90% of the merchandise can come from China. Taiwan, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, and Hong Kong are all under-valued by more than 40%. India, home to the index’s cheapest burger, the $1.62 Maharaja Mac, also has the cheapest currency, the 60% under-valued rupee. Switzerland and Norway top the list with the priciest Big Macs, quadruple the cost of an Indian burger ($6.81 and $6.79), and the most over-valued currencies (62% ).

You can see the full data set here.

 

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Don’t Eat a Bad Sex Diet. Avoid these Libido-Killers.

You won her heart with long-stemmed roses. Now what?
Keep the post-Valentine’s Day doldrums at bay by steering clear of these foods. Every one of them is known to kill the sex drive.

Gin and tonic
You already know about the effects of gin (I believe the proper medical terminology is whiskey dick), but did you know that tonic water also suppresses the libido? The quinine that flavors it is known to lower testosterone levels. Gin with tonic water is a double whammy in a highball glass.

Microwave popcorn
Pop a bag and the nonstick chemicals used on the inner lining of the microwave bag are transferred to the popcorn you eat. The most commonly used of the chemicals contain substances that have been linked to testicular tumors, infertility, and lower sex drive.

 

Moroccan spices
The Willams-Sonoma website describes its little jar of ras el hanout as ‘notable for its rich aroma and well-balanced curry-like flavor.’ Ras el hanout is even more notable for containing agnus castus, a spice better known as monk’s pepper or chaste berry, an ingredient prized in monastery kitchens for helping monks to maintain their vows of chastity.

Black licorice
A simple movie date is a nice follow-up to the Valentine’s Day fuss, but skip the concession stand Good & Plenty. Black licorice contains testosteronelowering phytoestrogens. Just the black. Have some Red Vines instead.

Mint
Mint tea is a common homeopathic remedy prescribed for women with excess body hair. The mint oil in the tea (and other minty foods) makes the extra hair fall out by lowering the drinker’s testosterone. This is a good thing. Not so good for men who want to hang on to their testosterone and their hair.

And then there’s soy.
Soy gets a special mention because it doesn’t belong on this list.
For years it’s been getting a bad rap. The story goes that soy is loaded with estrogen; it will overwhelm your system with female hormones, your testosterone will plummet, your muscles (and more!) will start shrinking, and you’ll develop gynecomastia, a.k.a. man boobs. Not true. The misinformation stems from a lone test subject in a single study who apparently did grow breasts and did drink soy milk in ungodly amounts, but he also suffered from a host of other health and weight-related issues that were not widely reported but probably the true culprits.

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Drinking Liberally: This Ain’t No Tea Party

Are you wearying of the Republican primary marathon?
Sure, it was amusing at first watching the Perry and McCain gaffe machines, but lately all the fun has gone out of it. The incessant finger pointing and negative advertising is enough to try the patience of even the most committed political junkie.

This would be a fine time to connect with your local chapter of Drinking Liberally.
Drinking Liberally is an informal, nonpartisan social gathering where left-leaning individuals can go to share a drink and a little political chit chat.

There are currently 227 Drinking Liberally chapters in 47 states plus a few overseas chapters for expats. Each meets at a regular bar or pub and at a regular time each week or month. Drinkers aren’t necessarily policy wonks, or even members of the Democratic Party, and progressive political discourse tends to be just a starting point for a night out with like-minded friends and strangers.

Think about the last Republican debate.
You probably sat at home with your head ready to explode from the especially inflammatory and preposterous candidate statements. Instead, you could have gone to a Drinking Liberally debate-viewing party where everyone is welcome to vent their outrage among friends, boo at the screen with every mention of Obamacare or debt ceiling, and empty their glass when Ron Paul talks about the Federal Reserve.
Drinking Liberally makes activism fun.

Promote democracy one pint at a time.
Find a Drinking Liberally gathering near you.

Drinking Liberally is a project of Living Liberally, an organization that builds progressive communities through social networks and events. You can also engage through the political comedy fans of Laughing Liberally, attend a film with Screening Liberally, have a good meal and conversation with Eating Liberally, and discover progressive authors with Reading Liberally.
Conservatives don’t have nearly this much fun.

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A Year in the Life of Your Stomach

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The True Story of Baby Carrots

[image via Bent Objects]

Did you ever wonder where those perfect little carrots come from?
Those marvels of the produce aisle, so uniform in shape, size, and color, like no carrot found in nature. You’ve had your suspicions; you’ve heard the rumors.
It’s all true: carrots- yes; babies-no.

True baby carrots are a specialty crop that’s grown to be harvested before maturity. The supermarket version is a manufactured product. It starts with full-sized, fully-grown carrots that are snipped into 2-inch sections, pumped through water-filled pipes into giant whirling peelers, whittled down to lovable niblets, and bathed in a mold retardant before they’re packed in plastic bags for shipping. Organic carrot growers use a citrus-based product called Citrix, but the conventional baby-cuts in your supermarket were treated with chlorine to prolong shelf life.

The baby carrots we’ve come to know were invented in the late 1980’s. Supermarkets have always demanded carrots of uniform size and shape, with no lumps, bumps, spots, or twists. One California carrot farmer had grown tired of culling the imperfect and irregular carrots from his crop. Up to 70% of his harvest would end up discarded or sold at a discounted price for juice and animal feed. He started experimenting with green bean trimmers and potato peelers, dabbling first with 1-inch rounds that he marketed as ‘bunny balls’ before settling on 2-inch thumbs, and an industry was transformed. Ironically, we now pay a premium price for the former cast-offs.

The baby-cut boom has changed the way carrots are grown. The ideal carrot used to be bulky-topped and steeply tapered, grown to a standard 6½ inches for the best fit in 0ne- and two-pound plastic bags. Now growers shoot for long, narrow cylinders. The length gets them more cuts—it’s gone from the original two cuts per carrot to three and even four cuts from 8+ inch behemoths. Straight and narrow means they can be planted closer together for more yield per acre, and less is wasted when they’re carved into the baby carrot shape.

Before the advent of the baby-cut, annual carrot consumption in the U.S. was a steady 6 pounds a year per person. It started climbing in 1986 and topped 11 pounds per person by 2007. We snack on them, throw them into soups and stews, entertain with baby-cuts and dip, put them in lunch boxes, and order them at fast food restaurants. The carrot industry’s Eat’em Like Junk Food campaign has even pushed ‘scarrots’ as a dubious alternative to Halloween candy.

I know what you’re going to say.
Of course it’s cheaper, healthier, and better for the environment to buy whole carrots from a local grower. But we’re eating twice as many fresh carrots as we used to. It’s hard to argue with that kind of success.

 

 

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Would You Trade Your McMansion for a Cup of Coffee?

How’s this for a cultural shift: most Americans would forgo square footage for a house near a Starbucks.
For generations of strivers a big house was one of the most important emblems of status, a four bedroom jacuzzi-tubbed signpost along the roadway to success. The Jeffersons were movin’ on up; the Clampetts got their Beverly Hills mansion with a ce-ment pond in back. Now, it seems, you’re a nobody if you can’t walk out the front door and get a latte.

According to the Community Preference Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 77% of Americans say that walkability is an important factor in their housing decision, and they prefer nearby restaurants over schools, churches, parks, and movie theaters. 88% say that they would choose a smaller home in a neighborhood with nearby amenities over a larger home where they have to drive everywhere.

If you’ve ever lived in a highly walkable neighborhood, you already know what a beautiful thing it is. It gives you convenient access to the daily destinations of life. If you’re lucky, you can walk to school or work. If you’re even luckier, there are groceries, a decent bakery, and the all-important cup of coffee within walking distance.

A premium coffee vendor is no small thing to a neighborhood. It speaks to the area’s economic and cultural vitality; it signals that the neighborhood has arrived. A successful cafe can add to a neighborhood’s momentum, drawing in more businesses and raising property values, an upswing cycle that realtors and civic associations refer to as the ‘Starbucks Effect.’

You can learn the walkability rating of any home or business. Walk Score calculates a score from 0–100 for any address— 100 is a Walker’s Paradise and 0 is totally Car Dependent. The algorithm assigns points based on the nearby amenities, as well as factors like cul de sacs (not a walk-friendly feature) and block lengths (shorter is better). A car-free lifestyle becomes possible with a score upward of 80.

Check your Walk Score and see how it matches up against some of these well-known residences:

The Obama’s former Chicago home has a middling Walk Score of 71. The move to the White House got them into a home with the very robust score of 97.

The Brady Bunch ranch house had a Walk Score of 74; very respectable for the San Fernando Valley.

Monica’s lower Manhattan apartment on Friends scores an unbeatable 100 points.

 

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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Drink Soda

We all know about tooth decay from the sugar and the elevated risk of diabetes, asthma, and heart disease associated with obesity. But there are plenty of other reasons not to drink soda.

Weird fat accumulations
According to a recently published Danish study, a liter of soda a day can dramatically increase the amount of fat surrounding the liver and skeletal muscles. Soda doesn’t simply make you fat—it makes you weirdly fat.

 

Fat in the usual place- even from diet soda
Of course all the sugar in soda will cause weight gain, but did you know that even diet soda settles in your midsection? Researchers from the University of Texas reported something they call the diet soda paradox. They monitored subjects for 10 years and found that those who drank diet soda had a 70% percent increase in waist circumference compared with those who didn’t drink any soda. Those who drank more than two diet sodas per day saw their waists expand by 500%.

Wouldn’t you rather have a crusty baguette and a nicely ripened Camembert?
One soda a day—less than the average daily consumption in this country—adds up to around 90,000 calories a year. That’s a lot of empty calories. Think of all the wonderful splurges you have to forgo to make room for that in your diet.

 

Old before your time
The resin lining of soda cans contains a hormones that ages your body prematurely and brings on early puberty in children. The phosphates shrink muscle and leach calcium from your bones giving you old-lady osteoporosis, and a new study links the sugars to high blood pressure. And rats given the compounds found in cola drinks died five weeks early; you don’t even want to think about what that means in human years.

Poison for all ages
High-fructose corn syrup derived from genetically-modified corn; brominated vegetable oil with an alternative use as a flame retardant— these soda additives are banned in more than 100 countries, but Americans happily drink them up. The substances have been linked to memory loss, nerve disorders, autism, infertility, and a jumble of cancers.

Glass, aluminum, plastic; take your pick
Glass is heaviest to ship; we export our planet-warming carbon dioxide addiction along with Coca Cola. Aluminum is an environmental disaster before the soda cans are even pressed. And then there’s the ubiquitous plastic bottles. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating mass of plastic debris that covers an area larger than most European nations. More than 200 species of fish and marine wildlife ingest the toxic trash, including some that end up at supermarket fish counters.

You really don’t want your neighbor drinking diet soda
Artificial sweeteners and other soda additives pass through both our bodies and waste water treatment plants without breaking down. A recent test of major municipal water supplies serving 28 million people found sucralose in 8 out of 12 of them. Yes, that’s someone else’s post-digestion Splenda in your drinking water.

 

 

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The Facebook IPO is Not the Only Game in Town

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It’s the biggest IPO in years and there will be none for you.
There’s a long line of bankers, venture capitalists, institutional investors, and well-connected individuals getting first dibs on shares of Facebook when the social media titan goes public this spring.

Less buzz, more bunny.
Why bother when you can easily buy into the initial offering from Annie’s Homegrown? When Annie’s announced plans to go public, there was none of the frenzy that surrounded recent offerings like LinkedIn, Groupon, and now Facebook. The organic mac and cheese maker doesn’t generate the same kind of heat, but unlike so many technology and social media companies, it does generate profits: in each of the last five years, Annie’s sales have grown by an average of nearly 16%; in 2011 the company reported a profit of $15 million.

Annie’s makes the second most popular macaroni and cheese, trailing only the iconic blue box from Kraft. In the natural and organic market, it’s number one for macaroni and cheese, snack crackers, fruit snacks, and graham crackers. The company makes crackers, condiments, frozen pizza, and 100 other products that can be found in 25,000 specialty and mass market locations across the U.S. and Canada. Annie’s is a premium-priced, high-margin brand with a loyal customer base that is better-educated, more health-conscious, and spends more on food than the average consumer.

Annie’s also has a cute bunny logo and a way better stock ticker symbol (BNNY) than Facebook’s (FB).

See full financials and learn about the stock offering–read the company prospectus filed with the SEC.

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The Dine and Dash is Back

Just because your unemployment has run out and you’re living in your parents’ basement doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things in life.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the traditional dine-and-dash is flourishing in these recessionary times.
No mere adolescent prank, customers of all stripes are slipping out without paying, stiffing owners and servers at restaurants all along the dining scale. There are surreptitious walkouts, made easier by waitstaff cutbacks. Some customers will ring up a big bill and exit without signing the credit card receipt, leaving the restaurant with little proof when the charge is later contested. And of course there will always be diners who refuse to pay for the steak, already eaten but incorrectly prepared, or the wine that they drank but insist was inadequate.

Like a platinum AmEx with no limit.
There is an element of trust that is unique to the restaurant business. No collateral is given, no credit check is run, identification isn’t even demanded; yet a restaurant is willing to feed you in advance of payment with no chance of recovering the meal if the bill is unpaid. It basically extends instant credit to all its patrons.

Dine-and-dash and the law.
Failing to pay a bill is not normally a crime, but if the presumption is that the customer never intended to pay the check, it’s considered criminal fraud. And when the tab is high enough, it can be a felony. Some restaurant owners will deduct the loss from the server’s wages presumably to incent employees to police their customers. In fact this is a violation of federal labor laws.

When it pays to be a nobody.
In the annals of true crime, few are as idiotic and incomprehensible as the tales of the celebrity d-and-d. Maybe they think that it’s payment enough to grace us with their presence. Restaurant owners tend to see things differently. Celebrities who have been caught in the scam include run-in regular Jeremy Piven, lovin’ the free cheesecake Foxy Brown, is he broke or just drunk Dennis Rodman, left them holding the [grocery] bag Adam Sandler, and the crown-forfeiting Miss Teen Louisiana, who probably could have pulled it off in any of the other 49 states.

What would you do?
ABC News hired three actors to play hungry teens, and two more to portray a diner waitress and her manager. Each time the same scene was played out, there were a few stares and raised eyebrows, but otherwise none of the diner’s patrons reacted when the teenagers brazenly strolled out without picking up the check. But when the customers saw the waitress’s distress, there were repeated offers from other tables to pay the unpaid tab, and customers who were willing to speak on her defense to the manager.

Watch the full episode of What Would You Do? at ABC TV.

Read about the exploits of America’s most prodigious dine-and-dasher. By the time the police caught on and put an end to his crime spree, he had amassed an arrest record that ran 133 pages.

 

 

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The $1,000 Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

Work perks.
Staffing firm Accounting Principals, which has just published its Workonomix Survey of workplace spending, found that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit, spending $1000 a year on workday coffee. Most consider it money well-spent.
Younger workers (ages 18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the workweek as their older colleagues ages 45+: $24.74 vs. $14.15; men outspend women: $25.70 vs. $15.00.

The coffee break is a vaunted worker tradition. Legend has it that the world’s first coffee break took place around 1000 A.D. in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Long before the power and pleasure of the coffee plant had been discovered, a goatherd noticed his goats dancing around after eating its red berries. Following the goats’ lead, herders began indulging in the berries to stay awake during the long, boring stretches of watching the herds.

The coffee break first appeared in the U.S. in Stoughton, Wisconsin (home to the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival held every August) when the wives of 19th century Norwegian immigrants agreed to cover their husbands’ work shifts on the condition that they be allowed morning and afternoon breaks to go home to tend to household chores and brew up coffee. It was formalized as a workplace ritual in 1902 at the Barcolo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, NY (rather appropriately, the manufacturer of Barcalounger recliners). In 1964 the coffee break was etched into U.S. labor history when negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers nearly broke down over the practice. Other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits, and a 5% raise, but it was the coffee break that nearly brought about a strike. 74,000 workers at Chrysler came within an hour of walking off the job when the company relented and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.

Did you know…
the espresso machine was invented in 1901 by an Italian factory owner as a way of speeding up his employees’ coffee breaks?  The first espresso machine, the Tipo Gigante, used a combination of steam and boiling water forced through coffee grounds to make a cup of coffee quicker than any other method in use.

The Coffee Break App for Mac can be set to remind you when it’s break time. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, lighting up again when break time’s over.

 

 

 

 

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The GOP Candidates: You Are What You Eat

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Undisciplined, unpredictable, and unapologetically falling to temptation— that’s Newt Gringrich. He knows he should watch his waistline, but sometimes he just can’t help himself when it comes to ice cream.

Rick Santorum loves his beer, resolutely but conditionally. He has judged the stouts, the bocks, the white ales and the wheat beers to be worthy; IPAs don’t pass muster.

Ron Paul eccentrically puts it all out there with a family cookbook. The recipes are unfettered by contemporary dietary concerns and restrictions: pork tenderloin is sauced with an entire block of cream cheese; another block is the binding for a little something called Oreo Truffles; and the book makes liberal use of Velveeta, pudding mixes, and bottled dressings. Salt and additives, good fats and bad; it’s not his place to infringe on your personal liberties.

And Mitt Romney’s favorite food? Ever the political chameleon, that seems to depend on who’s doing the asking. He has previously cited chocolate milk, pretzels, peanut M&Ms, hot dogs, meatloaf, and Cocoa Puffs cereal. He often attempts a common touch, tweeting about a chicken sandwich at Carls Jr. and declaring a pulled pork burrito is “better than filet mignon,” but unlike the everyman he hopes to evoke, he removes the crispy skin from his fried chicken and pulls the cheese off the top of pizza slices.

   Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.
                                   (Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste)

 

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Supermarket Waste: Where Does the Old Food Go?

image via Scary Mommy

The out-of-date yogurt cartons, the dented cans, the misshapen potatoes that shoppers passed over.
There’s a lot of activity behind the scenes and after hours at your local supermarket. Employees strip the shelves of brown bananas, opened boxes, broken jars, and stale muffins. They take the past-peak quality produce and meats to the deli or the salad bar and recycle them into prepared foods. They also remove packaged foods approaching their expiration dates—still perfectly good, but who’s going to buy a 5-pound block of cheese with 3 days left?

The good news is that more food than ever is finding a second life.

Wholesalers and supermarket chains have set up reclamation centers that operate as clearing houses for products considered unsaleable by the stores. The centers are filled with Christmas cookies in January, Valentine’s chocolate in March, and a year-round assortment of products that are nearing their sell-by dates or have packaging that has since been updated by the manufacturer. Much of it is shipped off to dollar stores and discount grocers, two categories that have become important to the food chain in our current economic state. There you’ll find an ever-changing assortment of foods—items discontinued by manufacturers, unfamiliar regional brands, foods labelled for export, and plenty of familiar and even high-end products all offered at highly discounted prices.

Food banks are another outlet for unsaleables, and most supermarket chains and reclamation centers participate in some sort of hunger relief program. The passage of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages participation by protecting the stores and distributors from criminal or civil liability around issues of food safety. The FDA also enthusiastically supports the practice and has even emphasized that other than baby food and formula, most food expiration dates refer to the point when a product’s taste, texture, color, or nutritional benefits start to deteriorate rather than the point when you need to worry about the product’s safety.

Americans waste a lot of food—more than 40% of  all we produce. According to the The Natural Resources Defense Council if we wasted just 5 percent less food, it would be enough to feed 4 million Americans; 20 percent less waste would feed 25 million. This is indefensible at a time when both food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continue to rise.

On his Wasted Food website, Joanathan Bloom has a lot to say about food waste and what we can do about it.

AlterNet grades the food waste handling of Wal-Mart, Safeway, and other top grocery chains.

 

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How Food Influences Dreams

image via the film 'Sleeping and Dreaming of Food'

You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

– Scrooge to Marley’s ghost; from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Was it something I ate?
Anyone who has ever gone to bed after a dinner of enchiladas can tell you that what you eat affects your dreams. Surprisingly, there is very little solid science to explain it.

Spicy foods in particular are notorious for inspiring especially vivid dreams.
Some in the medical community have theorized that the heat from the spices elevates body temperature enough to interfere with the quality of sleep. The discomfort then works its way into your subconscious, and is reflected in the narrative it creates. Real life stomach aches and other types of gastric distress can end up as dream-pain experienced by your dream-self.

Another theory suggests that what you eat before bedtime isn’t as important as how much you eat and when you eat it. Any digestion increases the metabolism and brain activity, so the more you eat and the closer it is to bedtime, the more vivid the dreams.

Sweet dreams: Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is another culprit. When your body’s blood sugar level is low, which happens when you haven’t eaten in a long while before bedtime, your brain gives you a little spurt of adrenaline that causes your body to drop some stored glucose into the bloodstream. If you’ve ever had a dream that wasn’t just vivid but also felt especially frantic, you know the feeling of adrenalized dreaming.

If you’ve ever dreamed you were sitting in a restaurant only to wake up and find your partner cooking up some bacon, you already know that food smells can creep into your dreams. The sense of smell is associated with the part of the brain that is associated with emotions, so food smells can take on a literal meaning and also affect the mood of your sleeping-self. One study (unpublished but presented to the American Academy of Otolarygology) pumped different scents into the nostrils of sleeping subjects, and found that dream moods and impressions were clearly colored by the smells, although dream content seemed unchanged.

Gaming your own dreams
We know that food affects dreams, but no one has figured out how to use it to manipulate the content of dreams, Inception-style. The best we can do is choose foods and time our meals to get the best night’s sleep possible. Web MD has a slide show of foods that help and foods that harm your sleep.

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The Yin and the Yang of Twitter Hashtags

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

Fast food restaurants are working the Twitter hashtags.
For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #JapanEarthquake or #JustinBieberHaircut, but last year Twitter started selling spots on the list. About $120,000 buys a promoted trend, and everyone from Al Jazeera (#ArabSpring) to Starbucks (#Starbucks) has sponsored a hashtag and promoted it as a trending topic.

Fast food restaurants are drawn to Twitter.
It’s an inexpensive and immediate way to create a buzz and promote a menu special. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. At its best Twitter creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging; at its worst, well, it also creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging.

Twitter campaigns gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories last week with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets:  Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef?  When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock. Come on Wendy’s, #HeresTheBeef, on a Meatless Monday, no less? Some might say you got what was coming to you.

Hardly isolated incidents, we’ve seen plenty of fast food twittering gone awry. There have been some obvious missteps: Subway, not exactly known for its down-home cookin’ was derided for its hashtag #SUBWAYAllStarBBQ; and Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?

It’s an axiom of marketing that customers share bad experiences far more often than they praise the good ones- consumer research has shown that bad:good ratio to be 5 to 1. When a customer shares online, you can multiply those numbers by their Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
Between their own tweeted gaffes and hashtags that are hijacked by disgruntled customers, companies are powerless to control their promotional narratives.
Maybe fast food restaurants should just lay off the Twitter hashtags.

 

 

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Girly Beer

image via Philly.TheDrinkNation

Pink is for girls, y’know.
That’s why the beer industry is using it to sell beer to women. After years of disenfranching and objectifying women, it’s time for a little condescension.
Ladies, cue the squeals of delight and air kisses because this one’s for you.

Molson Coors Animée: the bloat-resistant beer

Mhttp://www.beer-pages.com/stories/news/images/animee.jpgolson Coors is pre-tty pleased with themselves for this one. Bloat resistance is just one of its charms. According to the company’s press office, Animée is “lightly sparkling and finely filtered with a delicious, fresh taste [and an] unexpectedly sophisticated appearance.” That translates from PR flack-speak as fruity flavors and pastel hues. Instead of 6-packs, Animée is sold in lighter, daintier 4-packs. Animée was launched in the U.K. in late 2011 with a big bucks promotion, and we can hardly wait for its appearance on our shores cause, you know, we hate to bloat too.

Heineken’s Jillz: “Fresh and exciting. Just like you.” Uh huh.

http://groepje5.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/jillz.jpg

Heineken’s entry, also thoughtfully sold in 4-packs, is Jillz (with a Z; the original name of Charli with an I was withdrawn when the company realized that is a nickname for cocaine) a sweet beer and apple cider hybrid that would never be confused with either of the two beverages. Type your name into the online Jillz Datemaker and a buff and shirtless bartender will personally invite you to ‘Come bite my apple.’

 

Is that really beer? I mistook it for a hip stylish purse.

 

http://nola.eater.com/uploads/chick-beer-ladies.jpg
Finally a beer that matches your slingback sandals. The Chick Beer website explains: “The bottle is designed to reflect the beautiful shape of a woman in a little black dress. The six-pack looks like you are carrying your beer in a hip stylish purse. Chick’s unique reflective bottle blings you up! It’s fun, fabulous, and female!”

 

 

…and the lady in the bold Pucci print will have a Carlsberg.

 

http://cached.imagescaler.hbpl.co.uk/resize/scaleToFit/427/285/?sURL=http://offlinehbpl.hbpl.co.uk/news/OKM/2DAA6980-05EB-5A98-17A4236C1FDEF1C8.JPG
http://i.huffpost.com/gen/280219/thumbs/s-CARLSBERG-COPENHAGEN-BEER-large300.jpgIn the beginning, there was Eve.
Introduced in 2006, Eve’s Press Kit asks that its girly flavors (litchee, passionfruit) be served in girly glasses (flutes) at suitably girly occasions (“where women meet and socialize in company with their best friends.”) But what about those situations when you want a real beer in a real bottle and darn it, none of them look good with your outfit? It happens to women all the time, according to  Carlsberg’s International Innovation Director: “There may be situations where they are standing in a bar and want their drinks to match their style. In this case, they may well reject a beer if the design does not appeal to them.” Thank goodness Carlsberg’s new Copen♥hagen (the heart is silent) is on the scene to rescue us with its tasteful, go-with-everything bottle.

 

Is anyone surprised by the missteps?
Beer marketing has a long and shameful testosterone-drench history. The industry has always flogged its products with sexist, dude-centric imagery like sports figures, cowboys, rappers, farm animals, physical labor, and above all frat-boy humor. These clumsy, condescending, pink and fizzy attempts to appeal to women are about what we expected.

Half the market is still waiting for their beer.

 

 

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Should We Eat Roadkill?

Guinea Fowl image via My Retirement Chronicles

Waste not?
It’s a question being asked by a growing number of environmentalists, animal ethicists, and economists.
Leave it to rot or take it home for dinner?

According to PETA, roadkill is a better choice than the factory-farmed, shrink-wrapped product you find in the supermarket. The group recommends it from a health standpoint, because it doesn’t contain antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants. And it’s the more humane option because the animals haven’t been castrated, dehorned, debeaked, or suffered through any of the other horrors of intensive animal agriculture.

Perhaps you prefer the term flat meat.
Roadkill is fresh, organic, and free. It was clearly free-ranging, as some unlucky driver knows all too well. It’s sustainable and supportable through an enlightened political ideology, and there’s plenty of it—according to estimates by Animal People News, the annual roadkill toll tops 100 million animals, and that’s not even counting the species categorized ever so delicately as indiscernible.

The legality of taking home roadkill varies by state.
Alaska considers it state property but residents can get on a waiting list for a moose, caribou, or bear; Illinois says the driver gets first dibs, though the privilege is only extended to state residents; Texas had to outlaw roadkill because of too many not-quite accidents; and in Tennessee, on the day that the legislature legalized the taking of roadkill, the state senator who had introduced the bill was presented with a bumper sticker: Cat—The Other White Meat.

Tastes just like chicken.
Steve Rinella, who collided with and then stewed up a raccoon for an episode of his now surprisingly defunct Travel Channel show The Wild Within says that “[roadkilled] meat is actually much fresher than what you might find in a grocery store.” The wiki How to Eat Roadkill recommends that you “learn the signs of healthy roadkill”: it should be freshly killed, preferably from an accident you witness, although you get some slack time in the winter months; you want a fresh stench, since the impact can force excrement rapidly through the animal’s digestive tract; and fleas are a good sign, maggots are not. And not to worry about rabies—sure, it’s a deadly communicable virus that infects the central nervous system, but the wiki tells us that it dies off quickly with the animal.

Should we eat roadkill? In theory, it’s an excellent exercise in ethics, environmentalism, and self-reliance.
Just in case, you can order PETA’s Free Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit right here.

 

 

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The Coolest Kitchen from the International Consumer Electronics Show

Jetsons via Hanna-Barbera

The toasters really did tweet at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.
The ovens downloaded recipes, the refrigerators were on Facebook, and the dishwashers chatted with the washing machines about the hot water.
The kitchen of the future is here, and can be summed up in one word: connected.
You talk to your appliances, they communicate with each other and the outside world.

The LG ThinQ refrigerator has a smart food monitor that texts you updates when you run out of groceries. It recognizes each family member through voice-recognition software and suggests dishes appropriate to each diet. The refrigerator can cue the ThinQ oven to the appropriate cooking time and temperature, and the oven will text you when it’s preheated and completed the cooking cycle.

The app-enabled Samsung refrigerator tracks the expiration dates of groceries and will soon be upgraded with an e-commerce app that will allow you to shop for food straight from a screen on the front of the fridge. For now, the LCD monitor can be used to stream TV and Facebook or download recipes.

You can ring up the internet-connected Jura-Capresso coffeemaker from your smartphone to start brewing before you even get out of bed. It stores individual preferences for coffee strength, water amount, temperature, and milk-frothing steam.

There are features to appeal to the tech-geek inside us, but the real smartness of the appliances fits into the broader conversation around the connected home and overall home management. Connected appliances can minimize down-time and waste by running their own performance diagnostics, and they can connect to the manufacturer for repairs and upgrades. They can tap into signals from power companies and use the data to adapt their cycles to optimize energy usage and shift their energy consumption to off-peak times.

Smarten up your old appliances.
There are devices out there that let you create your own connected home without replacing your old appliances.

The Wifi-connected Twine is loaded with temperature, pressure, moisture, current, RFID, and motion sensors. It knows when the refrigerator door is opened and closed, when the ice maker is jammed, and when your oven thermostat needs recalibration; and it can report on status via emails and tweets.

Remember the Clapper? Belkin’s WeMo is the 21st century version of ‘clap on, clap off.’ You plug in any appliance that has an on-off switch and control or schedule its operations via smartphone or tablet computer.

The connected home is not exactly the futuristic utopia of The Jetsons, where a hungry Jane pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. But we’re getting closer.

 

 

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Subway is Bigger than McDonald’s, But is it Better?

image via NMA.TV

Subway has given McDonald’s a good thumping.
About a year ago Subway surpassed the long time leader in restaurant count, and McDonald’s has been choking on Subway’s dust ever since with a mere 33,000+ locations to Subway’s nearly 36,000.

Subway owes much of its success to its image as a healthy alternative to the traditional fast food meal of burger and fries. The chain gets a lot of traction from its ‘Eat Fresh’ slogan, and especially from an innovative ad campaign promoting a weight loss angle through spokesman Jared Fogle who reportedly lost 245 pounds by exercising and eating only Subway sandwiches. The company now has a lucrative hold on the minds of fast food eaters as the virtuous option.

According to the marketing researchers at Decision Analyst, more Subway customers than any other quick-serve restaurant patrons (42%, versus a low of 3% for Taco Bell) choose the restaurant because of its selection of healthy offerings. Subway also rates highest in consumer trust; in fact it’s the only one of these restaurant with more people who ‘completely trust’ their nutritional claims than ’do not trust’ them (again, Taco Bell is in the cellar with just 7.5% of consumers putting faith in their claims).

Subway says its better, and we believe it’s better, but is it really?

The truth is, you can eat a low-cal, low-fat meal at either chain, albeit one loaded with hormones, pesticides, preservatives, and sodium. Both chains offer their share of options, though McDonald’s selection of snack-sized wraps and salads feels meager and skimpy next to Subway’s assortment of meal-sized 300 calorie subs. But Subway more than holds its fat-laden own when it comes to core menu items. The chain’s top-seller is the B.M.T., short for Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest; the 6 inch version, at 450 calories, is on par with McDonald’s Big ‘N Tasty, and the best-selling meatball marinara sub, also in the small size, tops the Big Mac by an (un)healthy margin. Opt for a 12 incher- even chicken or tuna- and you can be eating a thousand-calorie sandwich. Get it on Subway’s honey oat roll and the bread alone snags you more than 500 calories.

Researchers have also found something they call a ‘health halo’ associated with a Subway meal. Consumers are so familiar with Subway’s claims as the healthier choice that they will underestimate the calories they are actually consuming. The misperception that they are being ‘good’ influences them to be ‘bad’ with other food choices: studies have shown Subway diners to be more inclined to justify an order of chips or dessert, and one study’s participants ended up consuming 56% more calories than those eating at McDonald’s.

Basically, eating at any fast food restaurant is like jumping out of a window. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the 30th floor or the 40th; the net effect to your health will be pretty much the same.

 

 

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Snooping in Other People’s Pantries

Almedahls vintage pantry tea towel

It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul.
Nonsense. The true window to the soul is the pantry.

Every pantry tells a story.

Pantries are as individual as fingerprints. They reflect history and aspirations, politics and pocketbooks. They are links to the past and road maps to our dreams. They are the show we put on for guests and they can harbor our deepest secrets.

Pantries can be treasure troves of exotica or wastelands of deprivation. They can speak of careful planning or organized chaos. They can remind us that we are overscheduled or underpaid. And sometimes they just scream Take out the recycling!

Pantries are the place where dreams meet reality.

The online world is ripe with opportunities for a culinary peeping Tom. The best of these is a photo series, now in its fith year, called Other People’s Pantries.

Hosted on the blog The Perfect Pantry, each week a different guest blogger showcases their own pantry in photographs and text. We have peered inside of converted broom closets in tiny urban kitchens, hand-hewn shelving in log cabins, and lavishly outfitted pantry extravaganzas in grandiose homes. We have been to kitchens in nearly every state and about a dozen countries. Can by can, spice by spice, each pantry tells the story of a cook, a home, a life.

If you’re game, Other People’s Pantries is currently soliciting submissions for new pantries to feature.

Want to snoop some more?

Diane Sawyer prefers Miracle Whip to mayonnaise. Bobby Flay like to mix hot sauce into his Greek yogurt. Rachel Ray bakes with cake mixes. Celebrity  secrets are revealed in Stock Your Pantry Like the Stars.

A dieting wife and mother; a restaurant critic; a 20-something ethical vegetarian; a newly-divorced middle-aged man; the Montreal Gazette dissects the shopping and eating habits of this eclectic group of home cooks in its series Shop, Cook, Eat, Drink.

What Your Groceries Say About You looks at the secret language of grocery purchases, from Jimmy Dean’s dough-wrapped frozen sausages (“I will eat anything on a stick,”) to canned Reddi Whip (“There’s an 87% chance I’m using this for sex.”)

 

 

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Pizza-nomics: Pegging a Subway Ride to the Price of a Slice

$2.50 doesn’t go very far in New York City.
Two things it will buy: a slice of pizza and a ride on the subway.
Through a strange and delicate interplay of markets in New York, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

The economic axiom known as the New York Pizza Connection or Pizza Principle was advanced in the early 1980’s. The uncanny parallel was first noticed when the cost of a single ride was being raised to $2.00, the same as the then-prevailing price of a single slice. A look back showed that this economic law had held with remarkable precision since 1964, when both items ran for 15 cents. Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since.

The decades since the discovery have brought plenty of change to transportation and street food. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system. Pizza parlors have battled invading food trucks and the low-carb craze of the Atkins diet. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to flour, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

On the surface, the relationship might seem arbitrary—aren’t pizza and subway rides comparison-defyingly disparate? To a New Yorker, there’s nothing haphazard or esoteric about the connection. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

 

 

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