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.

 

Posted in food policy, food safety | Leave a comment

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!

 

Posted in cyberculture, restaurants | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in fast food, food knowledge, food trends | Leave a comment

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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Move Over, Cows. Almond Milk Has Arrived.

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Got milk? Gotten milk recently? 
The dairy case is overflowing with milk alternatives—creamy liquids derived from non-dairy sources. Alt-milk is a hot commodity, even as cow’s milk has been in a decades-long decline. And it’s not just the lactose-intolerant or dairy-allergic who are buying it. TV commercials are daring consumers to try it just for the taste.

Fat, cholesterol, animal welfare, pesticides, GMOs….there are plenty of reasons to give up dairy milk.
We know that a cow’s life on a dairy farm is hardly the bucolic idyll of our imaginations. Supporters of animal rights and anyone looking to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics are all on the lookout for alternatives to large-scale dairy producers. There are also vegans, the allergic and lactose intolerant, and anyone looking to reduce fat and cholesterol.

Most people, when they first look beyond dairy milk, make a stop at soy milk. But there is growing awareness that soy is a high spray, intensively farmed, rain forest-depleting crop, plus most of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically-modified. There are also concerns that the estrogen-like chemicals naturally occurring in soy have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, and doctors are recommending that we limit our soy intake.

Nut milk first appeared on supermarkets shelves in the late 1990’s when their square, shelf-stable boxes were mostly relegated to the natural and health food aisles. The game-changer took place at the end of 2009 when almond mild was repackaged as a fresh beverage and was slotted into the refrigerator case. The demand took grocers by surprise, and they have continued to add more space for the category.

Almond milk has pulled ahead of the alt-milk pack.
It’s made with roasted almonds that are crushed like you’re making almond butter, then thinned with water. Commercial producers usually add vitamins, stabilizers and, in some cases, a sweetener and flavorings like chocolate or vanilla. Almond milk is especially low in calories, compared with dairy as well as the other milk alternatives, and it’s low in fat and high in protein.

It also wins the alt-milk taste test.
Not that it’s much of a contest: rice milk is thin and watery, oat milk is thick and gloopy, and hemp milk is chalky and tart. Almond milk tastes slightly sweet with slightly bitter undertones. It’s very creamy, has an off-white color, and foams impressively for cappuccinos. It’s a good dairy substitute for cooking and baking, and it’s so nutty-good poured on top of dry cereal that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to try it.

 

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Dinner Party Wars

image via MissOmniMedia

image via MissOmniMedia

 

There’s a show on the Food Network in Canada called Dinner Party Wars:

Dinner Party Wars invites you to enjoy a deliciously hilarious hour of wining, dining and undermining as three couples go head to head in a ruthless, no-holds-barred dinner party competition. Hidden cameras capture every detail as testy guests come to blows and taste buds are either tickled or tortured.

A Canadian chef and a British etiquette expert serve as arbiters of taste and style by mocking, critiquing, and choosing an eventual winner from competitions like Gnocchi Knockdown and Chicken Bingo.

This is home entertaining as a full contact sport.
It’s soulless competition, a manifestation of our over-heated foodie-ism that has turned dining into an emblem of status and lifestyle. And it’s a far cry from the simple pleasures of sharing a hand-crafted meal with friends.

It’s easy to see where we lost our way. 
It started with Martha—the one we love to hate and hate to love. Martha Stewart taught us to sweat the details with her asparagus bundles braided with strands of chive. She instilled in us her mania for perfection and armed us with stencils, X-acto knives, and a carpenter’s level to decorate cookies.

Then the foodies took over. We learned to critique every morsel, abandoning genuine gustatory pleasures as we vet the preparation and provenance of each locally-grown, artisan-crafted, bee-friendly bite. Entertaining is fraught with political correctness and one-upmanship knowing that you’ll be drummed out of polite society if you serve the wrong coffee.

Dinner party perfection should be at most aspirational. We shouldn’t expect to reproduce the slick pages of Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart Living any more than a reader of Playboy expects to date a Playmate. 
And in any case there’s always a lot of air-brushing going on.

Our current favorite antidote to dinner host anxiety is Kinfolk. 
It’s a magazine, dinner and workshop series, online journal, and film series that celebrate the soul of the dinner party. It’s about artistry, but it’s scaled back to a simple elegance. You’ll find recipes, table settings, and shopping resources, but it’s more inspirational than instructional. There’s nothing super-human about any of it. Feet on the ground, sleeves rolled up, and you’ll get there by dinner time.

 

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Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like Custom, Edible, and Anatomically Correct

gumpaste mold via CK Products

gumpaste mold via CK Products

 

When flowers just wont do…
Digital imaging and 3D printing put a modern spin on Valentines gift-giving.

Choc-Edge-3D-printed-face

 

Choc-Edge will render your face or your beloved’s in dark, milk, or white chocolate. Just send in a photo; custom molds start at $80.

 

parkerscookie

 

Parker’s Crazy Cookies turns your likeness into a caricature of fresh-baked goodness. The design process costs $25 for an initial proof and three revisions, and then you can order all the cookies you want.

gummymold

 

It’s hard to top the Valentines Day gummy mini-me, but unfortunately it’s currently available only in Japan. A 3D scanner maps you from head to toe to create a detailed silicone model that’s turned into a candy mold.

wedding-cake-toppers-superman-couple

 

Fondant doppelgänger cake toppers aren’t just for wedding cakes. Like Butter creates plenty of custom, edible sculptures (starting at $60) in the days leading up to February 14th.

 

sex_drugs_chocolate1

Send in a photo and Chocolate Dreams will render pretty much any shape or image in chocolate, even so-called exotic designs that they claim are ‘not for the fainthearted.’

 

 

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What You’ll Eat in Sochi

Sochi

 

Forget everything you think you know about Russia.
Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is the most un-Russian of cities.

Sochi is warm; subtropical in fact, with palm trees, exotic flowers, and tea plantations. Sochi is the warmest city to ever host the winter games. Sochi is so warm that organizers began stockpiling snow last year, plowing it up under frozen tarps, and snow-making experts from the world’s top ski resorts have descended on the city for a massive snow-making operation that converts 12,000 gallons of water a minute into snow. More importantly, the climate means that Sochi’s local cuisine doesn’t rely on the smoked meats and cellared root vegetables that are so ubiquitous in the rest of the country. Instead, Sochi’s markets are filled with locally-fished Black Sea flounder, sturgeon, and mussels. Citrus, berries, and tropical fruits grow wild, and local artisans sell their own wine, cheese, and caviar.

The Olympics mark the city’s global debut
In a country that’s known for its dour national character, Sochi seems downright cheerful. The city hopes to use the spotlight to market itself as a carefree playground for an elite, cosmopolitan crowd. It aspires to a St. Tropez or Cannes kind of tourism, calling the region the ‘Russian Riviera,’ and plopping outdoor café tables on every block of sidewalk. There are pricey steakhouses, sushi bars, Italian and French restaurants, and of course Starbucks outlets are everywhere. But the refinement is more of the homegrown variety. There are no Michelin stars, and traditional dishes like kebabs, borscht, and blini tend to be your best bet.

If you’re heading to Sochi (which requires you to disregard the security-related travel alert posted by the U.S. State Department, ignore the god-awful human rights policies of President Putin, and banish the image of the infamous ‘twin toilets’ of the Olympic Village from your mind), you’ll find more than 500 English language listings and reviews for Sochi restaurants on Trip Advisor.

 

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Food Storytelling: The (Old) New Genre

image via ManayunkDish.com

image via ManayunkDish.com

 

Everyone has a food story in them.
I don’t mean the tiresome chatter of conspicuous consumers of consumption who collect foodie trophies to post on their Facebook walls. I’m talking about the human narrative of food. It might be the gumbo your neighbor brings to every potluck; the pineapple upside-down cake you always request on your birthday; the skinned knuckles from grating onions when you make Bubbe’s chopped liver; or the pasta you learned to roll in Nonna’s kitchen.

There are always new food stories in the making.
The artisanal food movement has expanded the narrative by adding passionate and creative producers to the tale. We still celebrate heritage and traditions, ethnic and familial bonds, but now the food itself has a backstory, and our own relationship with its creator may be central to it.

It’s an evolution of food reporting. It’s also a longing for a kinder, gentler food era when food arrived on our tables through a series of interconnected, human relationships, not as the result of industrialized production.

Here are some places where you can explore the (old) new genre of character-driven food storytelling, and even a few where you can contribute your own food story.

Life & Thyme is home to what it calls ‘culinary storytelling.’ It documents the story of food from the farm, to the kitchen, to the table, with an emphasis on the people behind each of those phases. It mixes essays, interviews, film, recipes, photography, and even some offline events. The site accepts contributions from anyone with ‘an eye for beauty, a knack for storytelling, and a passion for food.’

The Stanford Storytelling Project is an arts program at Stanford University that explores the transformative nature of storytelling with a special emphasis on stories of food and the modern food movement. Students, academics, and food professionals have all contributed to the ongoing series of podcasts, radio shows, and live events.

American Food Roots asks what we eat and why we eat it. AFR combines original reporting, archival material from immigrant communities, and recipes and stories from home cooks. The site welcomes contributions that celebrate heritage in all its variants–regional, religious, ethnic, political, and familial–’because that’s how we know who we are.’

Food Stories wants to know how you celebrate food holidays. All of them. You probably thought February has little more than Valentines Day chocolate on its food calendar. In fact it’s the month of World Nutella Day (February 5th), National Tortellini Day (the 13th), and a full seven days for Kraut and Frankfurter Week (9th-15th).

Southern food is especially evocative, particularly for a Southerner. Diverse food cultures combined to set a common table for black and white, rich and poor. The Southern Foodways Alliance, based at the University of Mississippi, is the keeper of the flame for disappearing traditions. Spend a little time with SFA’s massive collection of oral histories and you’ll gain an appreciation and understanding of the American South’s unique food culture .

The next generation of food storytellers 
I’m keeping an eye on the Fulbright Scholars. The distinguished Fulbright Program that counts 43 Nobel Prize winners, 28 MacArthur ‘geniuses,’ and 80 Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni has created fellowships for food storytellers. The first Fulbright class of Digital Storytelling Food Fellows will be announced this spring.

 

 

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Should You Just Say No to Kale?

nutellaneedle

 

You know by now that food can be addictive.
Studies have even shown that certain foods can light up the same region of the brain as heroin and cocaine. We’re told to stay away from things like chips and cookies because they’re loaded with the kinds of processed and refined carbohydrates that trigger our junk-food cravings. But other studies show that choosing healthy foods—leafy greens, fruits, and salads—can promote something called ‘vicarious goal fulfillment’ that convinces us to eat even more junk.

Picture two menus.
One menu offers burgers and fries. Some people will choose a burger only; some add fries to their burger orders.
The other menu has the same burgers, same fries, but it also offers a side salad. It seems logical that there are still some burger-only orders; some of the burger-only folks will now add a salad; some of the burger-with-fries will stick with fries; and some will switch from fries to a salad. You’d figure that the orders would go up by a few salads and down by a few fries.

It doesn’t work like that.
When a salad option is added, french fry orders actually increase. In fact three times as many diners will go for the fries when a salad is on the menu. Apparently the mere presence of healthy options encourages us to make unhealthy choices. The findings were the same, whether it was Oreos or fried chicken, salad or veggie burgers.

Researchers confirm that this ‘vicarious goal fulfillment’ happens when a person feels that a goal has been met if they have taken even a teeny, tiny step towards it. It’s like joining a gym you never get to, or buying an important book that sits on the shelf.
The fleeting thought of ‘Hmm, I could have a salad,’ is enough to satisfy dietary goals.

It’s an ironic kind of indulgence.
There is a certain logic to it. The researchers contend that the virtue conferred by the salad gave diners license to lower their guard. And the more self-disciplined an individual is, the more powerful the effect—the healthiest test subjects were actually the most likely to add fries from the second menu.

Kale as a gateway drug?
I’ll bet it’s news to you. But you can bet it’s not to the fast food industry.

 

Posted in diet, fast food, health + diet | Leave a comment
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