The 10 Commandments of Italian Food



The Italians are real sticklers when it comes to meal time.
They’re particular about what they eat, how they they eat it, and what they eat and drink with it. There are rules about the time of year and the time of day, who’s in the kitchen and who’s at the table, how a dish is prepared and how it’s served. There’s no room for compromise and heaps of scorn for rule breakers.

If you grew up in an Italian family, you absorbed these lessons at your Nonna’s knee. For the rest of us, the Parma-based gastronomy institute Academia Barilla has condensed and codified centuries of traditional kitchen wisdom into the 10 Italian Commandments. The academia was chartered to defend and safeguard the nation’s culinary traditions. The faux pas of foreigners are more than shudder-inducing affronts; they are seen as all-out attacks on the integrity of their institutions.

When in Rome (or just Little Italy)…  The 10 Commandments of Italian Food

I. Don’t drink cappuccino after dinner.
Coffee- yes. Cappuccinos and lattés- no. Milky drinks are exclusively a morning thing.

II. Pasta is not a side dish.
It can be its own course or the main event, but never alongside an entrée. The same goes for risotto unless it’s served with Ossobuco Milanese.

III. No oil in the pasta water.
It doesn’t prevent the pasta from sticking. But it will coat the pasta and prevent it from properly absorbing the sauce.

IV. No ketchup on pasta.
Do we really need to be told this? What must they think of us?!

V. No Spaghetti Bolognese.
There’s art and science behind matching a particular sauce with a specific pasta shape, and certain pairings are sacrosanct. Bolognese sauce goes with tagliatelle.

VI. Chicken and pasta should not be combined.
Not in the same dish. Broth or giblety bits can go in the pasta sauce, but no chicken meat.

VII. Caesar’s Salad? What’s that?
It’s a Mexican invention, virtually unknown in Italy.

VIII. Don’t look for red and white checkered tablecloths.
Unless you’re looking to dine in a tourist trap.

IX. Your fork shouldn’t be able to stand up in the Alfredo sauce.
You won’t find the familiar cream-thickened Alfredo sauce which rarely appears on authentic Italian menus. When it does, it’s a cream-less version of butter and cheese.

X. Food tastes best when served with family.
Italian restaurants in America refer to something called ‘family-style dining.’ In Italy, there’s no such designation; it’s just called dining.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

McDonald’s: Savior of Diverse Food Cultures?


I’m the last person you’d expect to praise McDonald’s.
I hold the fast food chain responsible for childhood obesity, animal cruelty, environmental degradation, union busting, and the decline of the family dinner. 
Not a bite has crossed these lips since I read Fast Food Nation, and short of a gun to my head, it’s unlikely that one ever will again.
Still, credit where credit is due.

McDonald’s first steamrolled its way into overseas markets as an exporter of American culture. Its standard-issue menu of burgers and fries famously transcended boundaries and borders so that customers everywhere were assured of the same Quarter Pounder whether they were in a McDonald’s in Mozambique, Malaysia, or Minnesota. It was seen as the worst form of globalization, corrupting cultures, adulterating diets, and trampling on local culinary traditions. And it did those things. The hamburger has truly become a global food, and you can find them not just at McDonald’s but on menus everywhere, from Greek tavernas to Egyptian mataams.

McDonald’s is truly a victim of its own success. Now that you can find burgers at cafés, cantinas, brasseries, and biergartens, their own version doesn’t register the same excitement it once did. When McDonald’s brought its first restaurant to Kuwait in 1994, the opening day line of 15,000 customers stretched for seven miles; when the 70th Kuwaiti outlet opened this year, it elicited a yawn.

McDonald’s has shown itself to be surprisingly mutable.
They’ve abandoned their goal of standardized globalization for one of internationalization. Instead of bringing the same cookie cutter menu items to every foreign locale, the chain adapts its offerings to local tastes, preferences, and available ingredients.

While America’s McDonald’s adhere to a proscribed menu of commoditized, mass-produced burgers, foreign franchisees are only required to stick with a short list of standard items and are encouraged to tinker with the rest of the food. Hamburgers come on patties of sticky rice in the Philippines and on flatbread in Greece. In India, where much of the population doesn’t eat beef, there’s a potato-patty McAloo Tikki burger and Israel has the kosher McFalafel. You can order cheese quiche in Brazil, red bean pie in Hong Kong, and traditional Caldo Verde soup (made with cabbage, kale, onion, potato and chorizo) in Portugal.

The overseas McDonald’s are often held to a higher standard.
They conform to local laws and sentiments by sourcing GMO-free ingredients, and beef is often lean, grass-fed, and hormone-free. They source locally, buy cheeses with no artificial dyes, soft drinks with no added corn syrup, and grill meats over charcoal fires. Even the workers’ pay is often better than in the U.S.

Ironically, McDonald’s, the world’s best exporter of American culture has become a champion of global food cultures.
But make no mistake about it, this is still fast food. It’s loaded with sodium, preservatives, and cheap fats, pre-cooked and kept wiltingly warm under the glare of heat lamps, and served in an excess of packaging. 
It’s a cold comfort to think that the world’s culinary traditions are being preserved at food court kiosks. 

The 26 year old Canadian author of  McDonald’s Around the World has eaten at McDonald’s outlets in more than 50 countries (the trick, he says, is to cram as many layovers as possible into every travel itinerary). His blog chronicles the highs and lows of global eating at the Golden Arches.


Posted in fast food, food business | Leave a comment

Portly Pet Owners Produce Pudgy Pets

[Winners of the  ‘I Look Like My Dog’ contest from Cesar Select Dinners]


If every dog has its day, then the fat ones have next Wednesday.
October 9 is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

Our pets, just like their human owners, are fat. About half of all dogs in American homes are overweight or obese, which can lead to very human health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and joint problems. In the same way that one dog-year translates to seven human-years, dog-pounds have a much larger human equivalent. For some breeds, a single dog-pound can translate to as much as 25 excess human-pounds in terms of its physical toll.

Dogs share their owners’ lifestyles.
A generation ago, the notion of overweight pets would have struck us as ludicrous. But today we live increasingly in yard-less apartments and we build suburban developments with no sidewalks. Dogs are couch potato companions, joining us in front of TVs and computer screens. Walks are brief, primarily for the elimination of waste, and the dogs are left behind when we get our own exercise at the gym.

We project our foodie-isms onto our dogs.
You can buy dog food in locally-sourced, seasonal, organic, vegan, and slow food varieties, like the Well Fed Dog’s Salmon and Pumpkin Dinner, which uses only organic Scottish salmon ($9.95 for a 16 oz. serving), and Succulent Chicken poached in garlic-infused lobster consommé from Petropic’s Hawaiian-themed Tiki meals ($4.29 for a 14.1 oz. can). Even Purina has its Chef Michael’s Carvery Creations line that comes in flavors like brisket and braised short ribs (99¢ for a 3 oz. can).

The fact is that dogs have a mere fraction of our taste buds, and they will pretty much eat anything—they’re known to be especially fond of socks and cat feces. But these high-protein, high-fat diets suit more than just the dog owners’ culinary sensibilities—the easily digestible foods combined with little exercise mean that there are fewer calls of nature, and walks can be less frequent.

We have also come up with pet obesity solutions that mirror our own.
Jenny Craig diet has partnered with Nestlé for a proprietary regimen, Project:Pet Slimdown, and Pfizer Pharmaceutical markets Slentrol, an FDA-approved prescription weight-loss drug for dogs. There are Jog a Dog canine treadmills and Thank Dog Boot Camp workouts. And just like human weight-loss methods, the failure rates are high.

Fat owners make fat dogs
The twin obesity epidemics are tightly entwined. Studies show that we are as indulgent with our dogs as with ourselves.
We need fewer calories in the bowl and more miles on the feet. It’s the best advice for both dogs and owners. You and your dog will still look alike, only better.

What kind of dog would you be?
The doggie equivalent of a 217 pound 5’ 9” man is a 90 pound Labrador retriever. If a 12 pound Yorkie were human she’d be a 5’4″ women who weighs 218 pounds. The Pet Weight Translator can turn you into a dog, and vice versa.

Posted in diversions, health + diet | Leave a comment

Your Green Friend With Benefits


Kale isn’t the only one.
It’s just the one with the best PR.

Kale is a true ‘superfood.’ It’s a low calorie, nutrient dense, brain-boosting, heart healthy, do-no-wrong vegetable. You can say the same about plenty of other dark leafy greens, but kale is the one that has captured the nation’s collective appetite.

A few short years ago, Pizza Hut was the single largest consumer of kale in the U.S., and they weren’t even serving it; it was treated as an inedible garnish used to decorate their salad bars. Today you’ll find kale on the menu of any restaurant worth its hand-harvested fleur de sel. Food manufacturers are tossing it into soups, snacks, and soft drinks. Juice bars are squeezing it, mixologists are crafting kale-tinis, and it’s so ubiquitous in the trendy quarters of Brooklyn that the New York Times proposed it as the borough’s official vegetable.

There are signs of kale craziness everywhere:

It’s peaking as a baby name. This chart illustrates how many boys were named Kale in the U.S. since 1880.

eat more kale shirt


It turned Bo Muller-Moore into a folk hero when his small, eco-friendly, Vermont t-shirt business was sued by Chick-fil-A for violating their Eat mor chikin trademark.



We now have 50 Shades of Kale, the cookbook.

We learned that a rubdown does wonders for kale’s texture with more than 5,000 YouTube videos demonstrating proper kale massage technique.







It’s feeling more and more like peak kale.
The market is reaching saturation, and the notoriously fickle foodies are getting restless. Thousands cast their votes in last month’s Huffington Post superfood deathmatch pitting kale against the likes of chia seeds and kohlrabi. You can practically hear the rustle of pages turning as food marketers pore over trend reports looking for the next big thing.

America’s vegetable sweetheart is out there somewhere.
Prognosticators say that there’s plenty of room at the table for another kale-like superfood. They’re prowling the farmers markets and produce aisles for another long-neglected leafy green that can be readied for its close-up.

Zagat looks at the likely contenders in Predicting the Next Kale.
They look at nine different leafy green vegetables like collards, escarole, and dandelion greens, evaluating the potential of each to be the next kale.

Posted in food business, food trends | Leave a comment

Nearing Thanksgiving, Our Sexiest Smelling Holiday


image via Sensing Architecture

image via Sensing Architecture


Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower.

Research performed at the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago discovered that certain food smells are like olfactory Viagra, significantly increasing blood flow to the penis for men and to the vagina for women.

Thanksgiving—the sexiest holiday?
Men are easy, pretty much turned on by all food smells, but pumpkin pie is special. In combination with other foods, the smell of pumpkin pie increases penile blood flow by 40%.

Top scents for men:
pumpkin pie (especially with a lavender chaser)
black licorice with doughnuts
pumpkin pie with doughnuts
Pizza, buttered popcorn, and cinnamon buns round out the list of top turn-ons. Cranberry and chocolate were the least favored, with response rates as low as 2%.
Wouldn’t you know it?
The female sexual response is not so simple. While pretty much any food scent is arousing to men, women are more discriminating, turned on by some and turned off by others.
Top scents for women:
Good & Plenty candy combined with cucumber
Good & Plenty candy with banana bread
Pumpkin pie, coffee, vanilla, and grilled meats also do the trick for women.
Mood killers
While men have little to no response to less-favored fragrances, women actually have negative responses, exhibiting a reduced flow of blood to the genitals. Turn-offs for women include cherries and barbecue, except for the ladies of Atlanta and Houston who are inexplicably stimulated by these scents.
Love is in the air. You just need to sniff it out.


Posted in diversions, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

Eat Your Veggies–For Dessert!

image via A Thousand Words

image via A Thousand Words


Sweets lovers, you may want to avert your eyes.
Vegetables are sneaking away from your dinner plate and landing on the dessert menu. Carrot flan, eggplant tiramisu, black olive madeleines, and celery sorbet are charming and confounding us in equal shares, and forcing us to recalibrate our tastebuds.

Forward-thinking chefs have been playing with a sprinkle of salt and the bite of hot pepper for a while now. Chile-spiked chocolate barely raises an eyebrow anymore and sea salt caramel has become a culinary cliché. Bacon desserts have gone so far past outré that even Burger King lards up a vanilla soft-serve sundae.

The vegetable-based dessert trend has a certain logic.
It takes diners along the same continuum as the salty-savory sweets, but at the same time, they’re new enough to dazzle. And it taps into all things seasonal and farm-to-table.

Vegetable-based dessert are hardly a new invention.
Think about sweet potato pie, carrot cake, and corn pudding. But where the classic vegetable desserts are intensely sweet, the trend is toward fresher, vegetal flavors. The sugar is toned down to play up the ingredients’ natural sweetness, and savory tastes are front and center.

As an added bonus- you can forget the old adage about finishing your vegetables before you get dessert.

The Centers for Disease Control have a Nutrition for Everyone tool that calculates recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables for your age, gender, and activity level.

Condé Nast Traveler rounds up 20 of the most interesting vegetable-based dessert menus around the country.

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

Guns in Starbucks and Other Fun Facts

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz


Starbucks entered the gun debate with a bang.
In a widely circulated open letter on the company blog, CEO Howard Schultz writes: “…we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas—even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted—unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”
Note that it is a request rather than an outright ban. The guy at the counter waiting for his half-caf vanilla latte could still be packing heat.

This caught a lot of people by surprise.
That’s because for all the talk about gun control at the state and federal level, we don’t really think about about guns on a personal level. But we need to, because when guns are legally carried into restaurants and even bars, it’s touching all of our lives.

  • Fun Fact: Red state or blue—it makes no difference. Nearly every state throws its bar and restaurant doors open to gun-toting customers.

There’ve been some changes in the wake of December’s tragic shootings in Newtown; just not the kind you might expect. With bills pending in a number of state legislatures, we’ll soon see a majority of states explicitly allow residents to bring concealed and open-carry guns into bars and restaurants, while another 20 states continue to allow them by default.

  • Fun Fact: Tennessee State Representative Curry Todd served time this year for drunk driving and possession of a handgun while under the influence of alcohol. He had previously worked tirelessly as the sponsor of the nation’s first guns-in-bars law, which Tennessee passed in 2009.

These laws are the latest wave in the country’s gun debate, and represent progress made by the gun lobby as it seeks, state by state, to expand the realm of guns in everyday life.

Mixing guns and alcohol: this is truly the logic of the madhouse.
A very large body of research tells us that people who abuse alcohol are far more inclined to engage in risky behaviors, and gun owners are more likely to fall into that group:

  • Fun Fact: Compared to people who don’t keep guns in the home, gun owners are twice as likely to down five or more drinks in a single sitting; they’re nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to get behind the wheel of a car when drinking; and they consume 60 or more drinks per month at more than double the rate of non-owners.

Looking for a 3-star gun-free bistro for Saturday night?
Restaurants are free to post signs banning weapons, and recommendation sites like Yelp now include ratings for gun-free dining. Of course concealed weapons make compliance kind of iffy. Unarmed Tennessee residents rely on the listings at not-for-profit Gun Free Dining Tennessee (their motto: Eat in peace) while the NRA crowd visits (protecting the Second Amendment one bite at a time).

For all the fun facts, there’s nothing trivial about the dangerous mix of alcohol and firearms.
Americans own more than 300 million non-military weapons. There are more than 40,000 gun-related deaths every year, and one in three involves alcohol.

Are there guns in your local restaurants? The NRA website has an interactive, state-by-state map of current firearm laws.

Posted in food business, restaurants | Leave a comment

7 Geeky Gadgets Where Pizza Meets Technology


It’s a well-known fact: computer geeks love pizza.
In the technology business it’s said that if you need more productivity from your software development staff, you just hand out free t shirts and buy them pizza.
Why pizza? Because it’s delivered at all hours. Because it can be eaten with one hand while the other’s on the keyboard. And because it allows developers to make nerdy puns about pi and pie.

When pizza meets technology.
This is what happens when twin passions collide:


Dip Hop lets you play pizza toppings like a keyboard. It uses the very cool Makey Makey invention kit to convince your computer that the toppings are piano keys. The pizza sauces conduct a tiny bit of electricity; dip a slice into the sauce and you make a connection—and music. 

Domino’s, well-known for its commitment to speedy delivery, is testing a pizza delivery helicopter drone it calls the Domicopter.  The lightweight aircraft is eco-friendly, never gets stuck in traffic, and there’s no driver to tip.



Pizza Compass is just what it sounds like.
The app’s pizza slice is a directional pointer to nearby pizzerias. It  provides maps, opening hours, and links to reviews.



pizzamagnetLots of pizzerias hand out refrigerator magnets, but only Red Tomato’s is bluetooth-enabled. It’s preset for your favorite pizza; just press the pie to place an order. Alas, you need to be within delivery range, and Red Tomato is located in Dubai.



Pizza Hut passed on the refrigerator magnets and made an app for the XBox game consoleYou can place your order with the game controller, voice input, or Kinect gestures. After all, who’s really standing around the refrigerator until after the pizza arrives and they’re grabbing a soda?



dominostrackerDomino’s piloted a webcam program that lets you see your pizza as it’s being made. They haven’t rolled it out in all the locations, but you can still monitor your pizza’s virtual progress with the Pizza Tracker app.


NASA is making plans for the first pizza dinner in space with the construction of a 3D food printer for the International Space Station. ‘Ink’ nozzles print layers of liquid pizza dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings, and the whole thing bakes on the printer’s heated surface. Until Domino’s and Pizza Hut can colonize space, it’ll have to do.

Posted in diversions, fast food, gadgets, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

‘Pink Slime’ Worms Its Way Into School Lunches

image via the Office of the Manhattan Borough President

image via the Office of the Manhattan Borough President


Have we already forgotten about ‘pink slime’?
The 2012 scandal was a real stunner even for veterans of the food safety wars.
We were outraged to learn that the vast majority of the nation’s ground beef contained a squishy, beef-like substance made by heating and centrifuging fatty trimmings and connective tissue to extract every last little bit of edible muscle. It’s then treated with ammonia to halt the growth of bacteria, since these lower-grade cuts of beef are more likely to have had contact with E. coli-carrying feces.

Pink slime, known more flatteringly as lean finely textured beef, has been responsible for widespread contaminations, illness, and death. After enough high profile recalls and lawsuits, and a chorus of consumer protests, it’s been banished from every major fast food chain and retail grocer. But it’s still making the stomach-churning journey from slaughterhouses to school lunch rooms.

In the aftermath of last year’s media uproar, thousands of schools across the U.S. voluntarily eliminated the ammonia-treated processed beef product from their cafeterias. While school budgets are tight all over, their lunch programs are under new financial pressures from the recently revised national nutrition standards that hit the ground in 2012. The new requirements demand greater quantities of costly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while the federal government increased its contribution by just six cents more per lunch.

When pink slime first came to public attention, schools in all but three states— Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota; all big beef producers—purged it from their menus. Four more states—Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas— have since put aside concerns and resumed buying the controversial product for the 2013-2014 school year.

If not for school lunch programs, those same slaughterhouse trimmings would be processed into pet food or dumped as compost.
It’s not just about quelling the queasiness of parents and school officials. This is a substance that falls below the quality and safety standards of fast food restaurants and most commercial food processors. It’s nutritionally inferior to slime-free beef and inherently riskier, yet we’re feeding it to our most vulnerable population.
Don’t our nation’s schoolchildren deserve better?


Posted in food safety, kids | Leave a comment

Organic Water? What Is Wrong With You People?

ImWithStupid  organic-water-bottle---in2ition

We’re used to extravagant claims from bottled water companies.
It’s pure, it’s natural, it boosts brain function, improves memory, speeds weight loss, super-hydrates, and rotates your tires.
The latest ‘organic’ water claims stand out even in such ignominious company.

There is no such thing as organic water.
Water is an inherently inorganic substance. It’s H2O, hydrogen and oxygen. It’s not alive and never was— that requires carbon. No carbon, no life; which, by definition means not organic. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the arbiter of edible organics, specifically excludes water from certification.

Some of what’s passed off as ‘organic’ water is water that’s sourced from beneath certified organic farmland. The Welsh bottler Llanllyr even claims extra purity because not only are their fields certified organic, but nuns have lived above the source for centuries. It’s utter nonsense. Nuns or no nuns, organic-ness doesn’t rub off on the water.

There is one product that can legitimately call itself ‘organic water,’ although you can probably come up with a few of your own choice words for it. WTF?! comes to mind for me.
Koa Water 
squeezes all the water out of organic fruits and vegetables, and then bottles that. Since it uses all organic ingredients, the end product is organic. But is it water?

The company has developed a secret, proprietary technology (they call it the Koa Blackbox) that allows them to extract all of the taste, color, and aroma from the juices. You’re left with a clear, flavorless, calorie-free liquid with no discernible trace of the fruits and vegetables it came out of. In other words, water.

Of course none of this comes cheap.
The price of Lanllyr water suggests that the company compensates the Welsh nuns handsomely for any inconvenience caused by locating a bottling operation on their pristine land. Over at Koa, there’s the laborious extraction process and pounds of organic produce that go into each glass. But if you’ve got any cash left over after paying for your organic water, I’ve got a bridge we can talk about.


Posted in food knowledge, funny, sustainability | Leave a comment

Put Your Facebook ‘Likes’ to Work

image via NewLikes

image via NewLikes


The Facebook ‘like’ button is one of the most valuable technological innovations of our lifetime.
It’s the keys to the kingdom, the feature that turns social networks into something more than the sum of its users, the revenue generator that adds billions to Facebook’s coffers, and the engine that propelled Facebook’s IPO into the stratosphere.
You (yes, you) are creating enormous wealth. So why don’t you have something to show for it?

recently settled class action lawsuit against Facebook lays this all out for us.
Facebook was fined $20 million for putting users in Sponsored Stories without their permission, and is required to add some transparency to the process. The lawsuit shows us how a little click of the thumbs-up icon is turning us into unwitting, unpaid product endorsers. Our actions are plugging products to our social network; our names and profile photos are integrated into Sponsored Stories and advertisements that appear on our friends’ pages. Facebook even has the right to show the ads with our names and pictures on sites other than Facebook.

We’re the ones holding all the cards and we don’t seem to know it.
The products get our personal endorsements. Facebook gets the ad revenue. We’ve become the ads, but we’re shut out of the equation.

The like button is clicked so often that in a year the number of likes adds up to whatever the big number is that comes after billions. And those endorsements are especially big business for Facebook since they’ve been shown to influence purchase decisions at three times the rate of straight advertising. Fortunately, we’ve got Swaggable shaking up the model.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of liking it, Swaggable wants to make sure you get a little something for your effort.
Swaggable hooks you up with free products that are matched with your preferences. You pay nothing, not even shipping costs, and manufacturers send you free product samples. They hope you’ll continue to do what you’re already doing—share your opinions with your social network. You’re not obligated to write a review, and you’re expected to be honest about the products so that your opinions can maintain a semblance of impartiality.

A good chunk of the brands that Swaggable represents are specialty foods. You sign up via Facebook, telling Swaggable what types of products you’re interested in, or you can make specific requests for products you want from their current offerings, with new ones added every week. Samples are full-sized retail packages of mostly new and trendy foods, and Swaggable highlights categories like organic, fair trade, vegan, and non-GMO.  Right now they’re sampling brownie bars, mango chips, spiced nut mixes, wasabi salad dressing, and a few dozen other products.

Swaggable puts a little pinkie finger on the scale to shift the balance of power a tiny bit toward us.



Posted in cyberculture | Leave a comment

Welcome to the Grocerant



It’s 4 PM. Dinner is just a few hours away. Do you know what you’re having?
Studies show that 81% of Americans aren’t sure.

A Hungry Man Salisbury Steak dinner? Mac and cheese from a box? Those days are gone. Today you can kick things off with a cup of Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup or maybe some of Hooters’ chicken wings. Are you in the mood for a burger? Choose from T.G.I. Fridays sliders, L.A.’s  famous Fatburger, or the cultish White Castle. And don’t forget to save room for a slice of the Cheesecake Factory’s Oreo Dream Extreme.

Eating out while staying in.
Restaurant brands are gaining traction in the supermarket. Ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat meals that bear the name of your favorite casual or quick-serve outlet are blurring the line between eating in and dining out. The industry’s name for this hybrid is grocerant, where grocery shopping and restaurants collide.

Restaurant, supermarket, and consumer trends have all pushed us toward grocerants.

Restaurants were hit hard during the recent economic downturn.
Customers weren’t coming to them so they developed products that they could bring to the customers. Franchisees worried that the grocerants would cut into their dining-in sales, but the restaurants learned that if they developed licensed supermarket products that were a good fit without seeming identical to menu items, it could actually help the brand.

Supermarkets have also embraced the grocerant model.
They’ve been scrambling for years to keep up with the ever-expanding category of prepared foods. Shoppers are looking to bring the restaurant experience home. Grocers have tried to replicate that experience by installing pizza ovens, rotisseries, and stir-fry stations, but it’s quicker and easier to relinquish the space to licensed grocerant products. For all the effort it takes to create a store brand from scratch, they know that consumers are more likely to purchase a brand they already like over one they don’t know.

Consumers are cash-strapped and time-crunched. 
The supermarket might be a necessary downgrade from dining out, but restaurant-branded grocerants help soften the blow. They know that a frozen or pre-made version of the freshly-served restaurant counterpart is an inferior product, but for the savings and convenience it’s a compromise they can live with.




Posted in cook + dine, food business, restaurants | Leave a comment

Playing for the Vegan Team in the NFL

image via Zazzle


It’s not easy being green in the NFL.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is the latest pro-football player to find out. He joins a small but growing list of NFL vegetarians and vegans that includes Tennessee Titans guard Deuce Lutui, Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Cowboys fullback Tony Fiammetta, and Detroit Lions running back Montell Owens.

Players eat about 6,000 protein-dense calories a day to meet the physical demands of the game. Traditionally they load up on steak and eggs, burgers and shakes, and a heavy dose of fast food on road trips. It can be done with a diet of greens, beans, grains, and nuts, but it takes real commitment. They need to consume around twice the normal amount of protein to rebuild muscles undone by football. But once an athlete cracks the code of seitan and soy-based protein powders, there are real advantages to a plant-based diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control, NFL linemen have a 52 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population. The high fiber plus a load of antioxidant vitamins and minerals from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can boost blood and oxygen flow for improved heart health. This also makes plant-based foods superior to meat when it comes to repairing torn muscles and tendons, speeding up the recovery from training stress and injuries. And the complex carbohydrates in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can help with intensity and endurance on the playing field because they convert into fuel quicker and with fewer demands on the body than meat.

The bigger challenge is the pushback—hostility even—from teammates, fans, coaches, and the media when players bump up against the gridiron gospel of brute power, vitality, and virility.

Real men are supposed to eat meat.
It’s a cultural cliché that just won’t die: those who eschew animal-sourced foods are, if not exactly girlie, compromised as manly men. A meatless regimen is seen as mild and anemic, and worst of all, it speaks of compassion. Vegans are tagged as sensitive souls—cuddling bunnies, awash in emotionalism; not exactly the qualities of a fearsome tackler.

No poster child for a compassionate diet.
Still, vegetarians in the NFL go a long way toward dispelling stereotypes. A bulked-up physique speaks of the robust healthfulness of the vegan diet. Even a brutish reputation is a myth-busting rebuke to the old stigma of the vegetarian as gentle tree-hugger.

Football fans can go cruelty-free too: see PETA’s list of the Top 5 Vegetarian-Friendly NFL Stadiums.

Check out The Protein Myth explained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to learn more about athletic performance and plant-based diets.



Posted in diversions, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Scent Marketing: The Smell That Sells



Retailers are going through your nostrils to get to your wallet.
Dunkin’ Donuts wafts the scent of morning coffee through city buses. Domino’s printed heat-activated inks on DVDs of SkyfallThe Dark Knight Rises, and Argo that release the smell of pizza when the DVD player warms up, and bars can buy beer-scented darts for their dartboards. There’ve even been dog food-scented ads that are below the human smell threshold but are sensed by dogs with their thousands-times more sensitive noses.

Anyone who’s ever grocery shopped on an empty stomach knows the power of smell: the fragrance of roasting chickens as they take a turn around the deli department’s rotisserie; the fresh-baked aroma of yeasty goodness floating through the air of the in-store bakery. Supermarkets report a rise in sales of around 7% for fragrance-enhanced foods and Dunkin Donuts saw a 16% increase in store traffic and a 29% increase in coffee sales along the bus routes.

We’re lead around by our noses.
Food smells perk up the appetite, but it’s more than that. Your sense of smell is pure emotion. The other senses all pass through the rational filter in the brain, but smells skip the filter and instantly transport you to an emotional place. Your response is based in memories, and we tend to carry a lot of happy memories based around food.

Sensory marketing is nothing new.
Movie theaters have always relied on it to sell popcorn, and hotels know that if they pump a little bacon smell into elevator shafts in the morning they’ll boost their room service breakfast business. Amusement parks hide motion-sensing machines in the landscaping to spritz funnel cake or cotton candy fragrance when you walk by, and Cinnabon has built an empire on filling food courts with cinnamon-scented air.

Some recent applications have drawn attention for what many consider to be deceptive marketing.
Some fast food chains use frozen, precooked hamburger patties treated with a topically applied perfume that melts when they’re reheated and imparts the smell of freshly grilled meat. Supermarkets disperse artificial cooking smells that can mislead customers about what’s actually made on the premises. Even the Times Square Hershey’s store gives an artificial boost to its merchandise with chocolate-perfumed air.

What are you really smelling?
Artificial fragrances are in use all around us. A visit to the website for  fragrance supplier ScentAir gives you a sense of the scale of the industry. The company offers 1,600 different smells by monthly subscription from its fragrance library, and their market share alone represents 40,000 scent installations in more than 100 countries.

The practice goes by lots of different names–retail atmospherics, neuromarketing, sensory branding, olfactory marketing, scent logos. Whatever you want to call it, it’s probably making you spend more money.


Posted in food knowledge | Leave a comment

The Food Network is History, Tastemade is the Future



Matlock. Murder She Wrote. The Food Network.
The Food Network has gotten old. The shows are stale, the hosts have overstayed their welcome, and the audience is sliding into middle age.
Along comes Tastemade.
It’s a multi-channel network on YouTube that’s not just aiming to host the next generation of food shows. Tastemade wants to be the future of programming for the modern media age. It’s instantly global, social, and available anytime, anywhere. See the difference?

One year-old Tastemade is not just any old startup but is already a force to be reckoned with.
Tastemade creates original programming but the bulk of its content comes from networked partner channels. It has assembled a network of more than 100 food channels seen in over 200 countries and across multiple networks and devices. It’s got serious money behind it as well as the backing of serious players from technology and media, including early investors in TiVo and Netflix. There’s also a wildly popular app that storyboards users through the making and uploading of their own one-minute mini food shows. It takes just a few minutes and nothing more than an iPhone or iPod to create a restaurant review or cooking demo that’s shared with a global audience.

If you’re much older than a millennial you might not get it.
It sounds like a lot of unpolished content to slog through when you could just tune into a little Rachael Ray or Chopped on TV, but Tastemade speaks to an overall shift in viewing patterns. YouTube is the dominant go-to website for a generation raised on visual computing, even routinely used for content searches in the same way that older audiences rely on Google. But younger generations are still hooked on the traditional format of episodic television entertainment, and they look for more than the random aggregation of the YouTube universe. Tastemade finds the viewing sweet spot with a combination of TV-length, serialized shows plus digital media creation and discovery.

The Food Network was launched twenty years ago and it immediately won us over with a roster of talented chefs and cooks who entertained us by sharing their knowledge and passion for food. In recent seasons the real cooking has taken a backseat to inane competitions, product placements, dumbed-down instruction, and loutish celebrity hosts. 
Tastemade’s multi-channel platform is squarely aimed at a new, global generation of food lovers, but the fresh, truly food-centric content belongs in everyone’s future.

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, Entertainment | 2 Comments

Hormel SPAM vs. E-mail Spam


image via Happy Trails Computer Club

image via Happy Trails Computer Club


SPAM: a gelatinous block of porky luncheon meat.
Spam: a steady e-mail assault of erectile dysfunction ads, entreaties from Nigerian princes, and replica watch offers.
It’s hard to imagine a brand surviving this kind of association, but Hormel SPAM is doing just fine, thank you very much, not just surviving but thriving.

Hormel used to be awfully touchy on the subject.
In the mid 1990′s they watched their once-proud brand become synonymous with a detestable digital menace. They cried foul, suing a chunk of Silicone Valley for trademark infringement. A Hormel spokesman explained the company’s position with a statement on their website: “We are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, ‘why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk e-mail?’

In 2001 their worst fears were realized.
That’s the year that ‘spam’ made it into the Oxford English Dictionary— not as a luncheon meat but as “The practice of sending irrelevant, inappropriate, or unsolicited postings or e-mails over the Internet, esp. indiscriminately and in very large numbers. Still, after years of legal debate, the judges of the Trademark Board came down on the side of the tech companies. They ruled that the brand wasn’t truly damaged because no one confuses the internet application with a canned meat product.

For all of Hormel’s anguish, SPAM remains unmarred by the negative association.
Born in the Great Depression, SPAM is an emblematic food in America’s hard-times pantry. It’s so closely linked with vagaries of the economy that it’s been suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank should track SPAM sales as an economic benchmark. After a sluggish stretch, SPAM roared back during our current downturn and has been posting record sales and profits for the last five years.

SPAM has finally made peace with the internet.
Last year the brand introduced Sir Can-A-Lot, an animated spokescharacter with his own YouTube channel. He’s a little tin can of a knight who’s on a crusade to rescue your meals by infusing them with some pink processed meat. SPAM also has a presence on all the usual social media sites, and more than 3,000 ill-advised recipes on its redesigned website.


Posted in cyberculture, diversions | Leave a comment

Restaurant Ratings or Restaurant Rankings– How Do You Choose?



Who’s number one?

Restaurant rankings are a relatively new measure of gastronomic greatness.
Reviewers always rated restaurants, often using the shorthand of 3 stars or 2 forks, thumbs up or down, going back a century to the first Michelin guides. Then Zagat came along with its 30-point rating scale that moved us away from entire classes of restaurants toward individual glory, and a decade ago we got the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the list that made household names out of Spain’s elBulli and Copenhagen’s Noma, and has quickly become a dominant player in global media coverage of the industry. Most of the user-submitted review sites like  Yelp, Urbanspoon, Open Table, and Trip Advisor use a combination, aggregating and averaging the individual ratings to create best of and top ten lists.

Ratings and rankings are not interchangeable.
Both methods have their proponents, and both have their inherent flaws.

Ratings ask you how much you like it.
In theory, everyone is using a common scale of measurement, and applying that scale to different dining experiences with consistency. Of course the reality is something very different: reviews reflect the critics’ quirks, biases, and grudges. Their health, the weather, their mood, even the outfit they’re wearing can affect how a meal strikes their fancy on any particular day. Ratings don’t require a unique score for each restaurant and there’s a tendency to cluster the scores in a very narrow distribution. Researchers have also found that response styles differ systematically by culture, for instance Indians tend toward more extreme scores, both good and bad, while most Asian respondents are more moderate, and French reviewers tend to be be more positive than the less-generous Dutch.

Rankings ask you to compare it with all the others.
In their simplest form, rankings can feel very natural. We all have a basic impulse to make comparisons—it’s easy to distinguish a preference for pound cake over angel food, or to say that you like In-N-Out burgers better than Five Guys. But what if you’re choosing between pound cake and blueberry pie and rice pudding and mango sorbet and chocolate chip cookies? Or a French brasserie, an Italian trattoria, a steakhouse, and those same burger joints? Rankings can get difficult in a hurry.

It’s much more taxing to rank a group of restaurants than to rate them. Psychologists say that when you get past three choices most people start to get sloppy and even arbitrary with rankings. While the cognitive effort required to rate a group of restaurants is linear—the same mental process is independently repeated for each—the work of rank-order reviews rises almost exponentially since each additional choice has to be compared to every other one on the list. Once a list tops seven entries, the whole process can go off the rails.

Good food is subjective.
The ratings and rankings of restaurant reviews have their place, but there’s no substitute for a place at the table. Dining experiences are shaped by individual genetics and gender, historical and cultural influences, mood, emotions, context, and hunger. Reviews can create expectations and even guide the experience, but no two people can ever truly taste in the same way.


Posted in media, restaurants | Leave a comment

End Food Waste. Stop Tossing the Ugly Ones.


image via The Mutato Project

image via The Mutato Project


The U.N. wants you to buy funny food.
‘Funny’ is their word. Let’s call it like we see it. We’re talking about ugly fruits and vegetables; the two-legged carrots, blotchy apples, crooked cucumbers, and lumpy lemons. They’re the culinary misfits that are culled by the farmer in the field, tossed out by the supermarket produce department, and if they make it far enough, passed over by consumers. The U.N. partnered with consumers, producers, and governments to launch Think.Eat.Save, a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of food waste issues and facilitating cooperation across society’s producing and consuming sectors.

Farmers plow under more than a fifth of their crops every year because they don’t meet marketing standards for their appearance, and retailers generate another 1.6 million tons of food waste. It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s food production goes to waste, and about half of that is for cosmetic reasons. The U.N. says it could feed 900 million of the world’s hungriest citizens with our cast-offs.

Market standards for appearance are often circumscribed with awe-inspiring precision. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s document for greenhouse-grown cucumbers goes on for 10 pages describing the allowable gradients of the curves for cucumbers that bend, bow, or taper toward the ends. Field-grown varieties are guided by a separate document. The color of a red apple is delineated in the following paragraph:

That an apple having color of a lighter shade of solid red or striped red than that considered as a good shade of red characteristic of the variety may be admitted to a grade, provided it has sufficient additional area covered so that the apple has as good an appearance as one with the minimum percentage of good red characteristic of the variety required for the grade. For the striped red varieties, the percentage stated refers to the area of the surface in which the stripes of a good shade of red characteristic of the variety shall predominate over stripes of lighter red, green, or yellow. However, an apple having color of a lighter shade than that considered as a good shade of red characteristic of the variety may be admitted to a grade, provided it has sufficient additional area covered so that the apple has as good an appearance as one with the minimum percentage of stripes of a good red characteristic of the variety required for the grade. Faded brown stripes shall not be considered as color.

The Federal Trade Commission sets additional standards of beauty for fruits and vegetables that are shipped across state lines, and there are separate benchmarks for imports.

The European Union has already loosened its notoriously arcane produce regulations (sample banana spec: The thickness of a transverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, must be at a minimum of 27mm). Britain’s Sainsbury’s supermarket further relaxed its own standards, putting forked parsnips and knobby apples on the shelves of its 1,000+ stores.

Here in the U.S. we waste nearly as much as we eat, tossing out 20 pounds of food each month for every man, woman, and child. We spend a billion dollars a year just to dispose of  it. Unlike so many of the challenges we face, food waste doesn’t require a technical solution so much as a new mindset.


Posted in food business, sustainability | Leave a comment

Éclairs: A Choux-In as the Next Dessert Craze


image via L’Éclair de Génie


You heard it here first.
At least that’s true if you don’t follow the international food publications.
There’s plenty of buzz in Asia and Europe where éclairs are shaping up as the latest ‘it’ dessert, and the trend should land on these shores by winter.

The éclair is actually an unlikely candidate for fashionable status.
We think of it is a rather highfalutin treat, but to the French, it’s the first thing they reached for as a 10-year old in a patisserie; a beloved taste of childhood that as adults they’d rarely choose, and then mostly out of a sense of nostalgia.

There’s nothing wrong with the classic recipe of feather-light choux pastry, vanilla pastry cream, and a swipe of bitter chocolate, but the new éclairs have gotten a modern makeover. Stylish restaurants and boutique bakeries are creating innovative versions that bring some 21st century ingredients to the table. In Paris you’ll find éclairs with colorful icings and imaginative fillings flavored with fresh fruits, exotic spices, and varietal coffees and chocolates. Bakers are experimenting with mini savory versions stuffed with smoked salmon and dill or foie gras and fig jam, and even full-sized main course éclairs.

Éclairs are crossing the Atlantic to give us our next sugar high.
We’re already teed up for the next food frenzy. Donuts, whoopie pies, and especially cupcakes have all had their pop culture moment. First the trend watchers chased them down in gentrified urban enclaves, then outlets sprouted up in suburban malls and neighborhoods, and pretty soon they were on the menus of such cultural forces as Starbucks and Applebees.

Each has had a good run, but we’ve had our fill.
What was trendy is now passé. Macarons, cupcakes, cake pops, et al. have become too eye-rollingly common. Our greedy, sugar-riddled souls have already begun casting about for the next treat, and here come the éclairs. If they follow the familiar progression of food faddism, by this time next year éclairs will be on every menu from Michelin-starred restaurants to airport food courts, and trendy brides will be opting for éclair towers in place of wedding cakes. By then, we’ll probably start to look longingly at rice pudding and bundt cakes, but for now it’s éclairs. And if I’m right, pretty soon we won’t have to look very hard to find them.


Posted in dessert, food trends | Leave a comment

Nose to Tail Starts With the Head



Let’s start by getting the ‘head’ and ‘cheese’ business out of the way. 
Yes, it’s made with a head; usually that of a pig, but sometimes from a calf, cow, or sheep (good to know if you keep kosher).
No, there isn’t any cheese involved (the lactose intolerant can relax). The name evolved from the Latin word forma—a basket or box used as a mold—most often to compress and form cheese curds but also for meat terrines; as forma, and then fromage, became the word for cheese, the molded meats were swept along.

Said head is plucked and shaved, the earwax is cleaned out, and it’s simmered for hours— skin, snout, eyeballs, tongue, and all. The cooked meat is seasoned and packed into a mold along with the collagen-enriched stock (from all the bone and cartilage) which gels as it cools.

Looking at a well-constructed slice of head cheese can be like peering through a stained glass window with its mosaic effect of shimmering aspic dotted with suspended jewels of braised pork bits. At its finest, a slice of head cheese is tender meat and wobbly gelatin that melts on the tongue. Bad headcheese can be grayish, dry, and pasty, studded with the occasional bristle or tooth missed in straining, but that’s another story…

Any cuisine that cooks with pork has a version of head cheese, since when it comes to the pig’s head, it’s pretty much head cheese or toss it. In Germany it’s called sülze, it’s queso de puerco in Mexico, giò thủ in Viet Nam,and formaggio di testa in Italy. The Brits call it brawn and in the southern U.S. it’s known as souse. You probably eat more head cheese than you realize a slice can be snuck into a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or served as a salumi alongside its charcuterie cousins.

Your kitchen will look like the set of a slasher flick, but it’s otherwise not that difficult to make your own head cheese. So if you ever find yourself in possession of a whole pig’s head and a dozen or so friends willing to share in the results (that’s why they’re your friends), you’ll be amply rewarded with pounds of the stuff.

London chef Fergus Henderson’s cookbook The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating was an instant classic of  ‘nose to tail’ cooking. The book inspired the blog Nose To Tail At Home documenting the efforts of home cook/blogger Ryan Adams as he bravely cooks his way through the book, one pig knuckle or rolled spleen at a time.


Posted in blogging, cook + dine, food knowledge | 2 Comments
Web Analytics