What Can You See at 175 Chickens-Per-Minute?

chicken-inspection

image via Linco Food Systems

 

That’s how fast the line of eviscerated chickens will soon be flying by slaughterhouse inspectors.
The speedup is just one of the controversial features of the USDA’s planned deregulation of the poultry business.
The proposal is officially named ‘The Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection Regulation,’ but it’s known informally as ‘The Dirty Chicken Rule.’ For good reason.

Not everyone is on board with the plan, and its critics are not just the usual suspects from food safety and consumer watchdog groups. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported on its potential to negatively impact food and worker safety, and 68 members of Congress have already written to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to suspend action on the proposal.

Criticism has focussed on four distinctly troubling features of the regulation:
• Increase inspection line speeds from an already inadequate maximum of 140 chickens per minute to 175. 
• Reduce the number of government poultry inspectors by 40%. 
• Allow poultry processors to opt for ‘self-inspection’ by their own, non-certified employees in the place of trained government inspectors. 
• Allow poultry processors to subject chickens to higher levels of antimicrobial chemicals.

Add it all up and you have inspectors that get one-third of a second to inspect each bird inside and out, while the number of eyes on them is cut almost in half. The remaining eyes need no particular training in inspection techniques and they’ll rely on the slaughterhouse owner for a paycheck. Is it any surprise that there’s a provision for more pathogen-killing treatments? Processed chickens are already typically dunked and doused with antibacterial chemicals four separate times, but the industry wants to be ready for the onslaught of feces, tumors, lesions, deformities, and other abnormalities that it expects to pass unchecked through the rejiggered inspection lines.

The USDA has already been test-driving the new inspection model through a pilot project in two dozen slaughter facilities, and the agency’s regulatory agenda indicates it hopes to finalize the plan in April. Poultry workers, chicken industry lobbyists, and food-safety advocates have been bringing dueling efforts to Capitol Hill, while the Obama administration is having a hard time looking beyond the cost savings that arise from reduced and privatized inspections.

Don’t let the USDA play chicken with your health.
Change.org is petitioning the agency to abandon its plans to overhaul and privatize the poultry inspection system. Add your signature to the nearly 200,000 already collected at the petition with the appropriately unsavory name of Scabs, Pus, and Feces in Chicken? USDA, Keep It Off My Plate!. 

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The Food Avoiders

 

food-allergy

Contemporary eating habits have given rise to a whole new segment of the food market. The industry is calling them food avoiders.
These are people who read labels for the un-ingredients. They’re more interested in what’s not in their food than what’s in it.

Food avoidance is way of life for tens of millions of American consumers.
Some avoid certain foods because of allergies and sensitivities or specific health problems like celiac disease, diabetes, or lactose intolerance, but they’re in the minority. Most are opting out of certain foods and ingredients as a lifestyle choice.

Eat this! Don’t eat that!
There’s a steady barrage of nutritional advice and medical headlines, and they usually contradict earlier messages. Should we drink red wine for heart health or avoid it because of liver disease? Are eggs high quality protein or little cholesterol bombs? Are we eating butter this week? Additives, dyes, GMOs, gluten; we eye our plates warily, shunning those foods that make us most anxious.

Marketers love the food avoiders.
They get to charge a clean label premium to a larger share of the market than is medically or nutritionally justified. Take gluten-free products: less than one per cent of the population needs to avoid gluten but more than 29 per cent chooses to avoid it even though it’s estimated that a gluten-free diet can double the cost of groceries. Surveys conducted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness show that the number one stressor for celiac patients is not the disease itself but the cost of the diet.

It’s a fine line between food avoidance and food fear.
Americans have a love/hate relationship with food based on an eating history full of pesudo-scientific trends that emphasized discipline over pleasure. Now the American Psychiatric Association is considering recognizing Selective Eating Disorder as a medical condition. A task force has been convened to study and categorize finicky eating in adults (known as the Food F.A.D. Study). Researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have launched the first public registry of picky eaters that has already attracted thousands of respondents.

The late, great Julia Child had some advice for food avoiders:
“If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.”

julia-child-kitchen-425tp0901092

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Place Your Bets: It’s Bracket Time

 

Bracketology Cake via Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen NCAA Basketball Tournament Recipe Booklet

Bracketology Cake via Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen NCAA Recipe Booklet

 

Why should basketball fans have all the fun?

Every year around this time food lovers and sports lovers are both overcome with the same impulse. I’m talking about their shared compulsion to turn everything into a tournament bracket. It’s blueberry vs. corn in March Muffin Madness and parm vs. wings in the Final Four of Chicken. There’s a beer bracket and a booze bracket, Munch Madness and Starch Madness, and a bracket ranking of the campus food for each of the NCAA tournament teams.

Some say the madness is out of control.
We have breakfast joints vying for Morning Meal Madness in San Antonio and Oklahomans choosing the top state fair food-on-a-stick for Food Fair MadnessAnd we hardly need a bracket to tell us that Thin Mints are the top dog of Girl Scout Cookies.

There are also some rather specious competitions out there.
There’s something fishy about the Southern Food Bracket over at Garden & Gun Magazine where Duke’s Mayonnaise bested Tabasco, and Moon Pies never made it out of the first round of southern brands. Then there’s the Bar Food Bracket: should Zagat voters really have the final word on fried pickles and jalapeño poppers? And who made the brackets in the Fruits and Vegetables Tournament? The banana pepper is a number one seed? Really?

Nothing ignites passions and stirs debate like the annual condiments tournament, this year’s courtesy of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. Past condiment contests have brought legendary matchups like ketchup vs. dijon mustard, and surprises like satay sauce’s unexpected run to the Elite Eight. We’ve been introduced to regional long-shots like chow chow and Pickapeppa, and they’re still debating Nutella’s 2011 disqualification for being an edible candy.

You can find more alternative brackets at Sports Grid’s meta Bracket of Brackets: In Which We Bracket All The Best Non-Basketball Brackets So Far, or create your own at The Bracketizer.

 

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Bang for the Buck: How to Ration Your Organics Budget

pricevalue

 

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

There’s no two ways about it: we pay through the nose for our organics.
But it’s worth every penny when the conventional counterparts are laced with toxic chemicals. That’s good value, regardless of the premium. Have you checked the sticker price of cancer lately?

But an all-organic diet isn’t always practical or available, much less affordable. Thankfully, there are times when it’s not essential. With some foods, there’s room for compromise.

There’s a good rule of thumb when you’re choosing produce: if it’s thin-skinned, leafy, porous, or has a lot of cracks and crevices, you want to go organic. Pesticides tend to leech into the flesh or get trapped in the openings, and even with careful washing and peeling there’s no way to avoid ingesting a good-sized dose.

Reduce your total pesticide exposure by 80% with these organic fruits and vegetables:

•Apples  •Cherries  •Grapes (imported) •Nectarines  •Peaches
•Pears  •Raspberries  •Strawberries
•Bell Pepper  •Celery  •Potatoes  •Spinach

The flesh of thicker-skinned, husked, or podded fruits and vegetables are less susceptible to most contaminations, cold weather crops are grown when pests are less prevalent, and tree fruits often require fewer pesticides because they’re high above the ground where they’re less susceptible to insects.

You can safely stretch your grocery budget with the conventionally-grown versions of these:

•Avocados  •Pineapple  •Mangos  •Papaya  •Kiwi  •Grapefruit
•Onions  •Sweet Corn  •Asparagus  •Peas  • Cabbage  •Eggplant
•Broccoli  •Tomatoes  •Sweet Potatoes 

Conventional processed foods can be a minefield of toxins and contaminants, but it’s impractical if not impossible to keep track of the safer choices among the ever-changing selections and brands. The FDA performs pesticide residue monitoring, but the allowable levels that meet federal safety guidelines are still pretty hefty, to say nothing of the various and sundry dyes, preservatives, and other additives.

You can keep your sanity in the supermarket while still limiting the toxins with a few key recommendations:

•Baby Food
This should be a no-brainer. Baby foods are often cooked and condensed versions of fruits and vegetables, intensifying the chemical levels present in the ingredients. Factor in the baby’s small body size and they can pack a real wallop. Since toxins can also pass through a mother’s bloodstream to a developing fetus, the switch to organics should start in pregnancy.

•Bread
Insects love grains, so it takes a lot of insecticides to keep them at bay. Malathion is especially popular with food processors, showing up in most conventional, grain-based packaged foods like bread, saltines, graham crackers, tortillas, cookies, and breakfast cereals. School lunches are full of it; so are doggie flea dips and head lice shampoo, but there its links to lower IQ and ADHD are less troubling.

•Frozen Lasagne
Beef, cheese, tomatoes, and pasta—four of the big chemical carriers join forces in a single dish. Popular brands even contain DDT-class pesticides. Have you read Silent Spring?

•Pick your poison
Is it chips and salsa? Ice cream? Coffee? What’s your personal favorite indulgence? If you eat a lot of it or eat it often, it’s a good idea to eat it organic. A little bit of a particular toxin can be tolerated, but buildup and overexposure to a single substance can be harmful.

Organic foods can be costly, but they represent long-term investment in our health and environment.  Shop strategically and you and the planet will get the most value out of those splurges.

 

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The Coffee Break- A Vaunted Worker Tradition

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee's Etsy store

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee’s Etsy store

 

The lunch break has all but disappeared under a mountain of emails, but the coffee break seems inviolable.
It’s a highlight of the workday, the favorite employee benefit even at perk-heavy companies like Google with their ping pong tables and free haircuts. The Department of Labor even gives it special status—lunchtime can be off the books but coffee breaks have to be paid.

Some of us need more coffee than others.
Every year Dunkin’ Donuts teams up with CareerBuilder to survey Americans about their workplace coffee habits. The most recent survey ranked the top 10 heaviest coffee drinking professions:

  1. food prep and food service workers
  2. scientists and lab technicians
  3. sales reps
  4. marketing and PR professionals
  5. nurses
  6. writers and editors
  7. business and finance executives
  8. K-12 teachers
  9. engineers
  10. IT managers and network administrators

Even if your profession didn’t make the top 10 you’re probably drinking coffee on the job. Optimize the habit with these apps for coffee breakers:

coffee-break-app

Caffeine Tracker monitors the body’s metabolization of caffeine. Just provide a few body specs and record your consumption and it displays the current level of caffeine in your bloodstream in a color-coded pie chart.

Are you the one making the Starbucks run? Skip the post-its and keep all the no-foams and half-cafs straight with Coffee Order.

Up Coffee correlates your coffee drinking with your sleep patterns. Give it a few days of your habits and it can tell you how long you’ll feel wired from that last cup and when to cut off the caffeine so that you can get a good night’s sleep.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break AppIt darkens your computer screen for a pre-determined duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

 

 

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Restaurant Lingo

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Restaurant people are truly a different breed.
They look different, with their own clothes and tattoos. They keep their own hours, heading to work when most of us are heading home, and going out when we’re going to sleep. The industry has its own rites and rituals, its own rules, and its own language.

Dining room jargon–

BOH: Back Of the House; the kitchen, walk-in, or any other area where you don’t deal with customers; BOH also refers to the people who work there. FOH: Front Of the House is the bar, the dining room, or anywhere else the staff deals with customers, as well as the people who work those areas.

[ _ ]-Top: describes the table’s seating– a 4-top seats four; a 2-top seats two but is better known as a Deuce, and a Hi-top is a tall table like you’d find in a bar area.

Covers: the count of meals served; multiply the tops by the Turns (the number of seatings at a single table) and you’ll get the total covers.

What they call us–

Diners are called Campers when they linger too long at the table, or Cupcakes when they’re flirting with staff. If it’s an open kitchen there are probably a few other coded descriptors.

PPX is an Extraordinary Person–it might be written on the ticket to signal VIP treatment. It’s not just for celebrities and high rollers; someone might write NPR on a ticket to tell the staff that Nice People Are Rewarded too.

There are numerous unprintable phrases to describe a bad tipper; some of the kinder ones are Stiff and Flea.

Kitchen jargon–

After you place your order, the kitchen might print out Dupes; these are duplicate tickets frequently printed in multiples on color-coded paper to signify courses. The dupes are hung on the Rail or the Board where they’re considered On Deck.

If your server has checked the Low Board they know the Count of a particular menu item; if it’s 86’ed you’re out of luck. In a hurry? The cooks will be told it’s On the Fly, and they’ll Fire the dish immediately.

When multiple cooks are working different components of a single dish they’ll call 3 Out or 5 Out to signal to the others that they’ll be ready to plate their items in the stated number of minutes. All Day counts the number of dishes that the cook is readying at that particular time, as in ‘I’ve got 2 lamb and 3 risotto all day.’

Cooked orders go from the Line to the Pass, a long counter surface where they’re plated and picked up by servers. If the kitchen is In the Weeds with too many dupes, the orders won’t be Coming On Up as quickly as they should. Conversely, if the waitstaff is Slammed the orders can sit there Dying on the Pass.

Learn to speak their language and who knows—the next time you’re at your deuce in the FOH, you just might find yourself comped like a real PPX.

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An ‘X’ in Espresso is Like Nails on a Chalkboard

Alphabet_soup

 

Something in me snaps when I see an ‘x’ in espresso. 
Or an extra ‘r’ in mascarpone. The salad is ‘Caesar,’ not ‘Ceasar,’ and nobody tops off a meal with a ‘desert’. In my opinion, malaprops and misspellings are reasons enough to eat elsewhere.

Yes, we all make little mistakes sometimes. And it’s true that excellent spelling skills are seldom a prerequisite for a restaurant job. But no, I will not lighten up; not until every misplaced ‘x’ has been eradicated.

Butchering should only take place in the kitchen. 
There’s no room for creative expression when it comes to menu spelling. Get it wrong and it undermines your credibility and leaves doubts about your expertise. If you can’t spell it right, how can I trust you to cook it properly?

Wrong tells me that you couldn’t be bothered to check. It makes me wonder what else you couldn’t be bothered with, like trimming the tough stems from the spinach or washing your hands.

I’m not saying it’s easy.
Menus can be an etymological bomb fields. They can challenge even the word-nerdiest diners and restaurateurs (no ‘n’ in that one!) with their technical jargon and regional and obscure foreign phrases. It’s what makes food terms such a favorite of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

For the final word on menu language, pick up a copy of The International Menu Speller with its 10,000 alphabetically arranged names of dishes, ingredients, culinary techniques, and nutrition terms, all correctly spelled and accented. You’ll need it for the next round of the Cooking Edition of Scrabble.

 

Posted in diversions, restaurants | 2 Comments

Chef: A Food Film With Credibility

Chef had its premiere at the SXSW festival, and early word is that it gets it right.
The film, about a chef who resets his career by opening a food truck, comes with foodie bonafides. Jon Favreau, who portrays the eponymous chef, learned his kitchen chops from L.A. chef Roy Choi, the Los Angeles restaurateur who is credited with reinventing street food. Choi’s resumé includes leaving behind his own fine dining kitchen to pioneer the current food truck craze.

Chefs are rarely satisfied with movies about chefs.
They complain that there’s too much cinematic eye candy, the details are bogus, and there’s never enough of the unique culture of the professional kitchen with its comradery and competition, ego and submission, artistry and forearm burns. Chef’s often cite Disney’s Ratatouille as the movie that comes the closest to capturing the industry’s sacrifice, striving, and ethos—and it’s an animated rat in the kitchen!

Filmmakers will never stop trying.
Among the vicarious pleasures that sell movie tickets, food is up there at the top of the list along with sex and violence. All three are fetishized, idealized, larger-than-life screen themes, but food is the one that we can most closely approximate in our real lives. Favreau, who also directed Chef, has even said ‘I shoot food the way Michael Bay shoots women in bikinis.’

Food can also cut right to the heart of a character.
We see the commitment and sacrifice when we watch Rocky Balboa gulp down raw eggs, and we immediately understand that ice water flows through the characters’ veins in Goodfella’s when they horrifically brutalize Billy Batts and then swing by Mama’s house for a late night supper. Could anything take the place of the exposition provided by the bag lunches of the Breakfast Club? The privileged girl’s bento box, the soup thermos and crustless sandwich of the nerd, the Pixy Stix and Cap’n Crunch sandwich of the oddball—it’s like cinematic shorthand. A quick peek tells us everything we need to know.

Plotlines and characters are forgotten while food scenes linger in the imagination.
They captivate, seduce, and make us drool. Think of the iconic scene in Big Night: the two chef-brothers, desperate to save their struggling restaurant, are banking everything on the success of one special meal. They’ve cooked their hearts out creating an elaborate layered pasta dish baked inside a domed pastry crust. You’re holding your breath as the siblings carefully lift the dish to reveal the timpano, and at that moment there’s an audible exhale from the audience; a sigh of relief, a moan of pleasure.
If we’re lucky, Chef will give us one of those moments.

 

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Supergrain of the Future or Dickensian Gruel: The Internet Ponders Quinoa

olivertwist

Please Sir, can I have some more quinoa?

 

MarchQuinoaIn just a few short years quinoa has gone from subsistence staple of the rural poor of Bolivia, to health food store curiosity, to global success. Along the way it’s made friends (a Superfood with a capital ‘S’!), galvanized detractors (The Wall Street Journal recently collated the rancor and called it a backlash), and courted controversy (our appetite for quinoa has priced the crop beyond the means of indigenous farming communities where one in five Bolivian children suffers from chronic malnutrition).

Quinoa is not exactly winning fans for its taste (blandly earthy) or its texture (oatmeal gone wrong), but its nutritional profile makes a compelling argument. It’s more of a seed than a true grain, so it’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than a typical grain, but lower in fat and calories than typical nuts and seeds. It’s one of the only plant-based foods that’s a complete protein, it’s loaded with all the essential amino acids, it has no cholesterol, and it’s gluten-free. It’s a bit much to expect it to taste like a cronut.

Still further proof of Quinoa’s global domination:
Quinoa is March’s Whole Grain of the Month, walking in the footsteps of carbohydrate giants like oats and barley. We had to weather millet and teff month, and amaranth seemed to drag on forever, but finally it’s quinoa’s turn. As you gather the family ’round the quinoa rinsing colander (please tell me you’re rinsing) we turn to the many voices of the internet as they toast and roast this plucky newcomer.

quinoa

 

 

Spoofing all things trendy, the Pinterest board My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter chronicles the fabulous life and painfully stylish wardrobe of little Quinoa and her playmates Chevron, Vyvanse, and Crostini.

astronautmeal

 

 

 

NASA was appropriately lightyears ahead of the curve when, 20 years ago, the space agency explored quinoa’s potential as a candidate crop for Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems, in other words, as an in-flight snack. Declaring it a near-perfect food, virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients, it’s become a pantry staple in the space shuttle galley.

 

A visual guide to eating quinoa:

do not eat

do not eat

eat

eat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David-Lynch-Cooking-Video

 

Filmmaker David Lynch shares inexplicably moody atmospherics and cooking tips in his signature style in the video David Lynch cooks quinoa.

 

50shades quinoa

 

 

 

Of course someone’s written 50 Shades of Quinoa. Was it ever in doubt?

 

 

glutenfreematzoBut is it kosher? Observant Jews rejoiced to see a new face at the seder table after several thousand years of the same old Passover dinner. Even though some quinoa packaging carries the ‘kosher for Passover’ label, The Orthodox Union has not officially given its blessing. As yet, no rabbi has made the trek to the remote growing area high in the mountain region of Bolivia for the necessary inspections.
Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge, funny, health + diet | Leave a comment

Everything Added to Food (at least according to the FDA)

nothingaddedThe FDA’s Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS) has more than 3,000 entries and goes on for 40 pages.
As the nation’s food safety database you’d expect it to be an exhaustive inventory of what we eat. ‘Everything’ is right there in its name.

The FDA plays fast and loose with its interpretation of ‘everything’
Colorings and flavorings can be added to food without being included in the EAFUS. Same with substances that are used in processing and then stick around in the final product. These might be disinfectants like bleach, or residue from production and packaging processes that use acids, metals, salts, arsenic, or radiation. Since the FDA calls them processing aids rather than ingredients, they don’t make the ‘everything’ list either. The Pew Health Group, the health sector of a U.S. public policy non-profit, has its own list and it identifies nearly 10,000 allowable food additives that the FDA seems to have overlooked on their so-called ‘everything’ list.

The agency maintains a second list of foods that are designated Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), although ‘safe’ is interpreted as liberally as ‘everything’.
Foods that are Generally Recognized as Safe were grandfathered into the food system because we were already eating them in 1958, the year when our current food additive regulations went into effect. Remember 1958? Back then we ‘generally recognized’ that we didn’t need seat belts or bicycle helmets, and doctors ‘generally recognized’ that a martini and a cigarette was a good way for pregnant women to relax. Items on the GRAS list are allowed in our food without FDA approval or restrictions, and it’s what brought us things like saccharine and MSG and the notorious Red Dye No. 2. It’s allowed substances like salt, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats to overwhelm our diets because manufacturers can use them in an unrestricted way. The controversial caffeine levels found in energy drinks and the dangerous combination of caffeine and alcohol are recent examples of GRAS freedoms run amok.
And GRAS items don’t show up on the list of EAFUS. Don’t ask me why.

The GRAS list has become an unlocked back door directly into our kitchens.
What began as an inventory of the most common and presumed benign foods has become the primary way that new ingredients are added to the food system. A GRAS designation allows a manufacturer to add a substance without pre-market review and no government agency has to sign off on its safety. And all the folks who are ‘generally recognizing’ its safety can be on the manufacturer’s payroll. The Journal of the American Medical Association examined 451 GRAS notifications submitted to the FDA between 1997 and 2012 (a process that is itself strictly voluntary) and found that every single one of them was based on assessments that were performed by employees of the manufacturer or by company-paid consultants.

The FDA says innocent until proven guilty when it comes to our food—even if it’s genetically modified.
It’s positively mind-boggling, but controversial substances like GMOs are treated as Generally Recognized as Safe. If the conventional version of a food has GRAS status, its GMO counterpart is a slam-dunk—no additional safety testing or approval is needed. And it isn’t even documented in the EAFUS.

For all its obfuscation, the FDA actually publishes something called FDA Transparency Blog.
The blog’s stated purpose is “to create a dialogue with the public about the activities that FDA is engaged in to protect and promote the public health.”
Unfortunately, nobody at the agency has bothered posting to it since September, 2013.

We have a right to know. 
We might choose to buy organic, or non-GMO ingredients, or to support brands with strong sustainability practices and appropriate safety oversight. Our choices are only as good as the knowledge allows.

 

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Money to Spend and a Full Set of Teeth: Eating with the Baby Boom Generation

tabasco bottle

 

Baby boomers are rekindling the fire in their bellies, and it’s changing the way America eats.
Take a quick stroll down any supermarket aisle and you’ll see how manufacturers are amping up the flavors with mintier chewing gum, darker chocolates, fruitier juice drinks, and spicier chips.  Iceberg lettuce has given way to arugula, mayonnaise to garlic aioli, yellow mustard to dijon.

Why is hot so hot?
Some of the new-found love of big and bold tastes come from societal changes that have broadened America’s definition of the mainstream. Immigrant populations have introduced complex, high-octane flavors like wasabi, chili-lime, and ancho and chipotle peppers. As a nation, we travel more, eat out often, and have a slew of new food media that have informed the tastes of recent generations.

Food scientists and marketers acknowledge the immigrant influence, but they point to another demographic shift. 
The baby boom generation is getting old. Some time around age 40, the nerve receptors in the nose and tongue begin to diminish in number and sensitivity. Smells are muted and flavors are less distinct. That means that 80 million boomers are demanding that flavors be torqued so they can recapture the taste sensations of their younger days.

Unlike previous generations, the baby boomers have reached middle age with their teeth intact, broadened appetites, and the wealth to indulge the demands of their tastebuds. They are by far the single largest and most influential demographic group in history, and they have the spending power to disrupt the entire food market.

The boomers’ shifting preferences are also being passed down to children and grandchildren, shaping the tastes of younger generations. Growing up with pesto and peppers, even very young children are demonstrating a yen for boldly pronounced flavors. The under-13 set cites Chinese food as its favorite, followed by Mexican, Japanese, Italian and, in fifth place, American food. Quesadillas have replaced grilled cheese sandwiches on restaurant kiddie menus. Sushi is the new fishsticks.

Sweeter, spicier, bigger, bolder: it looks like the new flavor profile is here to stay.

 

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Where Does Your Milk Come From? Learn how to read the carton code.

 

image via whereismymilkfrom.com

image via whereismymilkfrom.com

 

There are dairy farms in all 50 states, but that doesn’t mean the milk in your refrigerator came from anywhere nearby.

Trace your milk with Where is My Milk From? 
The website decodes the numbers stamped on your milk packaging and identifies its source based on the FDA system known as FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards). To find the FIPS number, look for the string of numbers near the sell-by date stamped on your carton or jug. There may be different sequences of numbers depending on the brand, but the part of the sequence you’re looking for has a two-digit number followed by a hyphen and then another number, which could be two to four digits.
The two-digit number before the hyphen identifies the state.
The number after the hyphen identifies the specific processor. 

The results can be surprising or even unsettling.
A lot of milk is taking cross-country jaunts—more than ever before. In recent years dairy production has been quietly gravitating to a handful of states that house gigantic factory farms, and they’re driving small, locally-owned dairies out of business. Since 2001, the number of large dairy farms with 2,000 or more cows has more than doubled from 325 to nearly 800, while almost 35,000 small farms (500 or fewer cows) have disappeared. We used to get most of our milk from smaller farms, but not any more. The big dairies tripled their market share in the last decade.

Not just farm to table. Now it’s farm to fridge.
We’re all too familiar with the dark side of factory farming, from the mistreatment of animals to threats to public health. The virtues of local food systems are equally well-documented. Where is My Milk From? is welcomed for the way it sheds light on our notoriously opaque supply chain.

 

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The Procrastinator’s Guide to Restaurant Reservations

sign via Chefville

via Chefville

 

Plans change and so do moods. Cravings pop up, dates can slip your mind, or maybe you just want a little instant gratification.
If you’re flexible, spontaneous, or just plain forgetful, this one’s for you. These are the tools, techniques, and technology that will land you a last minute reservation at even the most coveted tables in town.

Here’s how little ol’ you can eat like a VIP.
If you’re George Clooney, or Beyoncé, or even a simple Supreme Court justice, a table will always materialize at a moment’s notice. That’s because big city restaurants hold back a few tables for celebrity and VIP walk-ins, and even humble locales will save a table for friends of the house. Those unused prime tables plus some late cancellations made by mere mortals are released back into the reservation system for last-minute booking.
Here are some places where you can troll the 11th hour open tables:

Every morning the data cruncher behind Last Minute Eatin scours the 800 or so top-rated restaurants on New York’s OpenTable to see who’s got an actual opening for that evening. He posts a carefully curated list of that day’s 100 hottest restaurants on the homepage, and throughout the day he’ll continue to cross-check for availability, tweeting updates every 20 minutes from 8AM on.

Register your wish list with Rezhound—any dates, any restaurants, in any city as long as it books through OpenTable—and the free service alerts you by text or email the moment a match is available.

The Eater group of city guides publishes its Crunch Time listings of restaurants with same-day availability of tables for two. The feature appears daily in the New York, L.A., and Chicago editions, with sporadic coverage elsewhere.

Leloca adds a geo-targeted twist to the cancellation model. Within seconds of a reservation cancellation it tweets out the available table to smartphone users within the vicinity of the restaurant. It’s a first-come-first-served offer with a discount attached, usually in the range of 30-50%.

You’re never, ever going to come across available tables at certain restaurants. You have to go after them.
When it comes to the newest, the most buzzed about, the best reviewed, the most in demand, you need to get a jump on the clamoring hordes. Many of the most popular restaurants have very specific reservation cycles. For instance at Noma, the global destination restaurant in Copenhagen that many consider the world’s best, bookings are opened every 4th Monday for three months out, and 20,000 requests typically come in on that one day—and the restaurant has just 12 tables. Closer to home, San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions releases future tables into its online reservation system at 4a.m. and can be booked solid long before sunrise.

Often the problem is that software programs are stealing your dinner. They’ve been operating for years on ticketing sites where they keep a step ahead of site security to scoop up the best seats for ticket brokers and scalpers. Now they’re invading restaurant websites and online reservation systems, snatching up the prime dining times at rare and rarified tables.
Here’s how you can fight fire with fire:

Mechanize gives you the open-source software that will do your bidding in cyberspace. It will endlessly comb booking engines for newly released openings and cancellations and make the desired reservations for you.

HackerTable scours the sites for you in a similar way. It focuses on the over-heated Bay Area restaurant scene and lives up to its tagline of reservations at elusive restaurants by regularly posting availability at hard-to-get spots like The French Laundry and Chez Panisse.

When all else fails, you can always go with the best table that money can buy.
Hotels have always had concierge services and now all the major credit card companies offer them to customers who qualify for the ‘elite’ or ‘platinum,’ or ‘signature’ cards. There’s a lot of talk about their ‘special’ relationships with restaurateurs, but they rarely have any genuine pull. What they offer is the legwork involved in hunting down those OpenTable cancellations. What’s new is a breed of concierge services specializing in restaurant reservations, and for the right price, they will deliver the goods.
They smack of the same elitism and manipulative swagger as the old school method of greasing the maître d’s palm:

Today’s Epicure charges an annual membership fee of $1,000 (shorter terms are also available) and gives access to impossible reservations at the highest profile restaurants of the moment. In addition to the cool thou to join, Today’s Epicure tacks on a variable fee that hovers around $100 per booking, rising with the lateness of the date and the hotness of the venue. They follow the money, offering reservations in New York, Los Angeles,  Miami and The Hamptons in season, and

I Know the Chef appeals to the big-shot wannabe. It’s more of a cut-rate experience than Today’s Epicure—even the annual pricing, at $499.99, sounds like a bargain basement come-on. They don’t guarantee you the hottest tables in town but will consider your dining preferences and find you a slightly cooler restaurant that you’ll like too, although most of their list is bookable without any help. They make up for it by promising that dinner comes with a side order of fawning—a special amuse-bouche or maybe a personal greeting from the chef. You don’t really know the chef at I Know the Chef, but to an outsider you’ll look like an insider.

The dorm’s RA can steer you clear of the cafeteria’s meatloaf, but college students with more rarified palates turn to the restaurant concierge services at the Boston Collegiate Consulting Group. The group calls itself a ‘lifestyle brokerage’ and for $300 a month they promise to ‘open doors’ and ‘make lines disappear.’ Of course for $300 a month they’re doing more than just giving undergrads a meal plan alternative. They also decorate dorm rooms, line up courtside seats to NBA games, and make apologies to landlords after wild parties. For the littlest the littlest bigshots, BCCG also has a ‘prep’ division for high schoolers.

Stop dragging your feet!
You know what to do. The weekend [out-of-town guests, your anniversary, your best friend’s birthday…] is almost here. Go out and make some reservations!

 

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Kids Are Drinking Way More Coffee. So What?!

babydrinkingcoffee

A new report published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that 73% of children and young adults in the United States have a regular caffeine habit, and more than ever they’re getting their jolt from coffee. In 2000 just 10% of their caffeine came from coffee; now it’s nearly 25%.

Of course kids are drinking coffee.
What else is left? Not soda with all that nasty high fructose corn syrup, and diet soda, we’re now learning, is even worse. Sports drinks and juice boxes are not much better, and there’s too much lactose intolerance going around for milk to make a comeback. 
Coffee it is. And what’s so wrong with that?

It’s not going to stunt anyone’s growth. postum_ad
That old chestnut? Generations of children grew up hearing it but it turns out to be linked to nothing more than early 20th century pseudoscientific ads plugging Postum, a once popular coffee-alternative.
The grain-based, caffeine-free drink—still much-loved in Mormon circles where coffee is banned—achieved early mainstream success with ads touting Postum as a kid-friendly beverage while vilifying coffee with claims that “It robs children of their rosy cheek sand sparkling eyes. It lowers their vitality, lessens their resistance to disease, and hampers proper development and growth.” The message took root in the country’s cultural consciousness and persists to this day.

A few more inches might have been nice, but don’t blame your early coffee habit.
The medical community has found virtually nothing to support a link between coffee and height. The myth makes much of the fact that caffeine has an adverse effect on the body’s absorption of calcium, but that bit of ‘common knowledge’ originated with a single bone mass study of elderly people with osteoporosis whose diets were lacking in calcium. For everyone else, the impact is so negligible that a couple of cups of coffee a day can be offset by a splash of creamer or the foam on top of a cappuccino.

Of course you don’t want to be revving their little engines with caffeine.
Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, and it can cause jitters and sleeplessness in children just like it can in the rest of us. But there is a growing body of evidence that coffee can actually have a calming effect on some kids. If you’re familiar with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you know that it’s typically treated with pharmaceutical stimulants—it seems counterintuitive but they work on the brain’s chemistry to calm and focus an overactive mind. New research suggests that the natural stimulants in coffee have the same effect, and findings indicate that caffeine can also work as an anti-depressant in children.

When it comes to kids and coffee, the real problem isn’t the caffeine.
It’s the vanilla syrup, the caramel drizzle, and the whipped cream. It’s all the sugary, frozen, and blended concoctions that masquerade as coffee, some that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For a child, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup, and there aren’t many kids who take it black.
And then there’s the cost: at four bucks a pop for a fancy latté drink, unless you want to give a serious bump to your child’s weekly allowance, no one should be in a hurry to cultivate an early coffee habit.

hellokittycoffee

 

 

 

 

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Breakfast meets Dinner, Sweet Meets Savory. It Has to be Chicken and Waffles.

chicken_and_waffles_postcards-r8b447020e9dd4c1cbe17f359c8ff62d6_vgbaq_8byvr_324

Chicken and waffles, once a little-known regional oddity, has hit the big time.
It’s on the menu at IHOP. It’s a Lay’s potato chip flavor. National fast food chains are testing out a sandwich version (Burger King), chicken nuggets (Popeye’s), and a chicken-filled waffle-shelled taco (Taco Bell).

Brunchers everywhere are rejoicing.
Chicken and waffles brings together the fatty, meaty, saltiness of fried chicken, the sticky sweetness of maple syrup, and a rich, crisp waffle. The classic brunch dilemma— sweet or savory?— is a thing of the past.

It’s not clear who we should thank [some might say blame] for this inspired combination.
Some food historians see a link to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. Others cite southern soul food origins, pointing to the pre-Civil War kitchen of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello where his kitchen staff of slaves would have encountered the nation’s first imported waffle iron. The dish’s current popularity can be traced to its 20th century resurgence on both the east and west coasts. In New York’s Harlem, chicken and waffles was a staple on the menu of the Wells Supper Club. An after-hours gathering place for Jazz Age club-goers, the Wells legend tells us that the combination was a happy compromise made in the wee hours—it was too late for dinner and too early for breakfast, so both meals were served on a single plate. The dish hit the west coast in the 1970′s where it was equally well-suited to the midnight rambles of the local youth culture. Roscoe’s chain of soul food restaurants was a favorite late-night haunt of Los Angeles stoners and the Hollywood crowd. And now we have bastardized versions turning up on 99¢ ‘value menus’ at thousands of fast food outlets. If anyone is doubting its ascendancy, that’s all the proof you need.

The culinary mashup can still baffle the uninitiated.
Is it breakfast or dinner? Is it two dishes sitting side-by-side or should it be eaten as a single entity? With maple syrup, really? How about butter? Gravy? Hot sauce?

Yes to all!
Crunchy, juicy, spicy, crispy, fluffy, sweet, and salty, plus a hit of sticky maple—it’s a heck of a forkful.

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McDonald’s is a Big Loser at the Sochi Olympics

Olympic Games Sponsorship: "SKI JUMP" Print Ad by DDB Amsterdam

Olympic Games Sponsorship: “SKI JUMP” Print Ad by DDB Amsterdam

 

It’s been a slippery slope for McDonald’s in Sochi.
As a lead sponsor of the Olympics, a privilege that’s rumored to cost more than $100 million, it was supposed to be their time to shine. Instead, the company’s lukewarm support of human rights has brought protests, boycotts, and a media nightmare to their physical and cyber doorsteps.

It’s a giant misstep for the usually savvy multinational marketer.
McDonald’s seems unprepared for the backlash, yet there was plenty of warning. The controversy began last June when a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” was passed by Russia’s Federal Assembly and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. The policy was condemned by athletes, activists, governments, and citizens from around the world.

It should have been the moment for a global business leader like McDonald’s to take a stand on this pressing public issue.
The Olympics are not the time for political grandstanding, but they can be a platform for building awareness. All it would take is a clear and unequivocal public position affirming support for non-discrimination and equality and denouncing anti-LGBT laws and the hate-based violence and human rights abuses they incite.

McDonald’s restaurants in dozens of cities around the world became the target of protests and college activists campaigned to evict campus outlets, but the most damage was inflicted by McDonald’s widely mocked and parodied social media campaign Cheers to Sochi. Its hashtag (#CheerstoSochi) was meant to send messages of support to American athletes but instead it was hijacked by LGBT activists who took over the conversation on sites like Twitter and Facebook. The farcical Cheers to Sochi site has been translated into Japanese, German, French and Russian. It’s been flooded with criticism of McDonald’s inaction, and has also become an aggregator for stories highlighting Russian repression.
As of this writing, posts to the parody site outnumber those to the official site by a 10-to-1 margin.

Nearly 100 nations, thousands of athletes, 14,000 press outlets.
With the eyes of the world on Sochi, the global Olympic sponsors have the opportunity and platform for impressions that will last long after the final bobsled run. Just think of the impact if McDonald’s had used the occasion and resources to share a message of tolerance.

 

Posted in fast food, media, social media | 1 Comment

10 Foods We Loathe

Ask most people what food they simply can’t stomach and you’re likely to get at least a few of these.
In order of revulsion, the 10 most hated foods are:

  • Liver
  • Lima beans
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Okra
  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Tuna
  • Gelatin

The survey of 75,000 American adults was conducted by The Journal of Psychology.

Some of these aversions are hardwired at birth for our protection and survival. Your genetic makeup plays a role with everyone perceiving flavors a little differently, sensing different levels of intensity. But as a general rule, we like sweet and dislike bitter— sugar means energy and bitterness can be a warning sign of toxicity. Savoriness signals protein, and an appealing saltiness helps our bodies get necessary sodium.

That’s the nature of taste; then there’s the nurture.
Context and experience influence how we taste by shaping how we feel about what we eat. Our perceptions and biases are influenced by sociological and cultural factors like ethnicity and economics, and there are also the psychological associations we make with foods that are based in our personal histories and memories of meals gone by.

Certain flavors are polarizing, like blue cheese and black coffee. They’re as beloved by some as much as they are detested by others. Other foods like spinach and brussels sprouts can elicit a child’s knee-jerk response that’s carried into adulthood. And then there are foods that are just plain difficult, like organ meats or snails or odd sea creatures. It’s not that the taste is so objectionable; often it’s quite neutral. But the smell, the texture, or even the mere thought of these foods can cause queasiness in a wide swath of eaters. 

Challenge yourself to try something new. Push through lingering prejudices to retry what you’ve previously rejected.
Sometimes the most delicious foods are the ones that can seem to withhold their pleasures. Their charms might elude you with subtlety and nuance or shock you with their assertiveness. But if you can push through those first tentative nibbles, you may find, as with so much in this life, that the taste is sweeter and the rewards are greater for the effort.

 

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The FDA or Monsanto: Which One Will Control GMO Labeling?

i-do-not-want-your-gmo-i-do-not-like-you-monsanto

image via ediblearia

 

GMO labeling is coming.
The fight over if we’ll label genetically engineered crops and foods is over and the good guys won. The fight over who will control the labeling is just beginning.

Last week we saw the first shot fired in this new battle.
A group representing the inventors and food manufacturers who use genetically modified ingredients announced the formation of a new alliance called The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. The group wants to get out ahead of legislative efforts to enact mandatory GMO labeling by creating their own voluntary labeling system.

The food, chemical, and biotech companies of the coalition have pretty much given up on the state battles. For years the agribusiness giants—companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Kraft Foods, and Coke and Pepsi—opposed labeling initiatives at the state and even local level, engaging in costly campaigns to defeat individual ballot measures one by one. They pressed so hard because they felt that a single regulatory win could have a domino effect on the remaining states. And they were correct: after recent legislation passed in Alaska, Connecticut, and Maine, as many as 30 states are expected to introduce mandatory labeling laws during the 2014 legislative session.

Consumers should be wary of voluntary GMO labeling. In fact such a system already exists. The FDA instituted self-labeling in 2000 and in the dozen or so years since not a single food company has voluntarily labeled its genetically engineered products. The difference this time, if The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food has its way, is that the new voluntary system would get congressional approval allowing it to take precedence over state regulations. Essentially it would let the industry off the hook for mandatory labels.

One thing everyone in the industry can agree on is that the conversation about engineered ingredients is growing louder.
A recent survey found that more than half of all American adults report some concern about GMOs in their food. They don’t necessarily perceive a health risk from engineered ingredients. They might not even choose to eliminate them from their diets. But they have the right to know what they’re eating.

 

 

Posted in food business, food safety | 1 Comment

New Snacks Get the Junk Out of Junk Food

Snacking gets a bad rap.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. A well-chosen snack will stave off hunger, boost your energy, and supply your body with important nutrients. What’s wrong is that we reach too often for the empty calories of junk food.

Lucky for us that there’s a new generation of healthier snack foods that mimic the crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty foods we crave but without the fat and sugar overload.

ohsoHealthy chocolate
Lots of the new snacks are pushing the functional properties of chocolate. When the cacoa content (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form) reaches around 70 percent, it crowds out the milk, sugar, and butterfat, and you get a big, healthy dose of antioxidants and heart benefits. Look for Wellness Cacao, a fruity French line, the probiotic Ohso bars, and IQ Superfood Chocolate.

Green Wave Smoothie Pops

 

Kale lollies
Will nothing stop the march of the kale evangelists? Forget Good Humor bars; it’s all about kale ice lollies like Greenway Smoothie Pops.

 

WheyThins-SourCreamChive-960x960Not Wheat Thins. Whey Thins.
Whey is the liquid remaining in cheese making after the curds are strained out. A serving of Wheat Thins crackers delivers 2 grams of protein in 140 calories. A 100-calorie pack of Whey Thins packs in 10 grams of protein, and it comes in snacky flavors like sour cream and chive and barbecue.

 

Chia_Pod_foto_3Chia snacks
Chia is an ancient grain that is a great source of protein, omega-3, fiber, and slow-release carbohydrates. Look for it in new on-the-go healthy snack foods like Chia Pods and Chia Shots.

EPIC_Bars_520_668_85

 

The new jerky
It’s not just beef anymore. EPIC bars are high protein jerky snacks made from turkey, bison, and beef. The animals are all grass-fed and the bars combine lightly-smoked jerky with nuts and dried fruits.

ips

 

Egg-white crisps
Intelligent Protein Snacks are air-puffed chips of egg white and corn that are much higher in protein and lower in fat and sodium than traditional chips. Since the term ‘egg white crisps’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it, the company is hoping they’ll become known by the nickname ips (rhymes with chips).

blue-hill-savory-yogurt_600x900

 

 

Savory yogurt
Who said yogurt has to contain fruit? Premium brands are losing the sugary flavorings for naturally sweet vegetables like butternut squash, carrot, tomato, beet, and parsnip. Yogurt makers are betting that there’s still room in the refrigerator case among all those Greeks.

 

We are truly a nation of noshers with most Americans skipping meals but snacking so frequently that we have pushed daily eating occasions up to an average of 10 a day. You can read more about the snacking phenomenon at Gigabiting’s Life has Become One Continuous Snack.

Stay on top of the latest snacking trends with a subscription service like Nature Box. Choose a box size of 5, 10, or 20 snacks, and then customize your snacking preferences with dozens of taste and dietary options, and every month you’ll receive a selection of all-natural, high quality snacks.

 

 

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Salt and Sugar: The dizzy dance on your tongue

kitchen crochet via iheartamicute

Prosciutto and melon.
French fries with ketchup. And of course the legendary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
It happens when salt and sugar form an unsteady alliance; distinct and unblended but properly balanced.

Lately we have spotted salt sneaking its way into more and more desserts. Of course salt has always had a place in baking– a small amount acts as a preservative, aids browning, and brings flavors into focus.  Forget to add salt to bread or a pie crust and it can end up tasting like cardboard. But this new breed of desserts features salt in a more prominent role. The salt content is higher, and it might even dust the top of a cake or a chocolate truffle like powdered sugar.

Salted desserts are nothing new in other cultures. There are salted Chinese egg custards, Iranian salted watermelon, and salty Dutch licorice. Not coincidentally, sugar and salt are both simple substances that have treated palates since prehistoric times. Modern techniques have evolved for harvesting and processing, but traditional, even ancient methods, still bring much of our sugar and salt to the table.

The current salty sweets trend in the U.S. goes back about years ago when French fleur de sel caramels burst onto the candy scene. The candy came to us from the Brittany region of France, an area known for both abundant dairy production and locally harvested salt, where there’s logically a long-standing tradition of combining the two in salted caramels. The added salt helps to bring out the browned butter flavor and balances the overwhelming sweetness that is typical of caramel. Brittany caramels first captured the attention of chefs who found that its complex, nuanced flavors took well to a variety of treatments. Salted caramels have since found their way into the mainstream with salted caramel products like Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Starbucks cocoa, and Wal-Mart store brand chocolate truffles.

Sweet tooth or salt tooth? Why should you have to choose? 

 

 

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