What to Drink in a Polar Vortex

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

 

That nice hot cup of tea could actually be making you colder.
Alcohol? It might feel warm going down, but it’s just about the worst thing you can drink on a cold night. And these nights are really, really cold.

The frigid air holding us in its stinging embrace is the ominously-named polar vortex that slipped away from its arctic perch. It’s shown us how woefully unprepared we are for the record cold temperatures we’re experiencing. We’re particularly misinformed when it comes to choosing winter warmup drinks. It seems to defy logic, but a cold beverage can help you hang on to body heat better than a hot one.

When you drink a hot beverage on a cold day, you feel warmer at first because the hot liquid increases blood flow to the skin, but the body’s regulating mechanisms kick in and quickly turn things around. A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it automatically turns on a cooling response. Basically it makes you sweat, which is a welcome response in warm weather when the perspiration carries heat out of your body and into the atmosphere. But right now, the goal is to keep that body heat tucked away in your core.

A cold drink has the opposite effect. There’s some brief chilling while the liquid is going down, but instead of opening up the sweat glands on your skin, the cold causes blood vessels to contract and your surface skin actually tightens up. Less blood flows through the constricted outer layers of skin, which leaves more to circulate through critical core areas. You might get shivery from the surface chill, but that’s not a bad thing; it just means your muscles are trying to balance the cold surface by creating even more core heat.

If constricted blood vessels protect your body’s core temperature, it follows that beverages that can dilate blood vessels are a bad idea in freezing weather, which is what makes alcoholic beverages so dangerous. Drinking increases the blood flow to your skin; that’s why your cheeks are flushed and you have a warm glow inside and out. It’s deceptive though, because all of that peripheral heat comes at the expense of your vital organs. And the body has no need to shiver because the muscles near the surface are warm. If you venture outside, the shallow surface heat dissipates quickly and your core temperature, which is already lower than it should be, will continue to drop. It’s a surprisingly narrow margin between a safe core temperature (the standard 98.6°) and hypothermia (95°), and alcohol gives you a big head start. Just a few boozy minutes spent outside in polar vortex conditions can get you there.

Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?
Remember that most of the world drinks hot tea in hot weather, and Alaska leads the nation in per capita ice cream consumption. It’s counterintuitive but true—hot drinks cool you down and cold drinks warm you up.
In the midst of a polar vortex, when you hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, you know you’re about to get toasty.

 

 

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge, Health | 2 Comments

Two New Magazines Mix Food and Fashion

Egg Dress designed by Agatha Ruiz De La Prada

Egg Dress designed by Agatha Ruiz De La Prada

 

You’d expect it to be the unholiest of alliances.
In the Venn diagram of life, food and fashion aren’t supposed to intersect— food is what fashionistas avoid so the fashion will fit. Isn’t hunger supposed to be the ultimate fashion accessory? As Kate Moss once said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Two new crossover magazines are proving otherwise.
There is some common ground. Both food and fashion are seasonal and colorful. They can be stylish or trendy, and they both photograph well. Purists may grumble but the coalition gives a much-needed boost to the food publishing business. While most print media spent the last few years struggling with online challengers and a balky economy, fashion magazines have been busy breaking sales records for advertising pages. Food gets to hang onto fashion’s coattails with this new category of mashup publications.

cherry-bomb-magazine

 

 

Cherry Bombe thumbs its nose at Kate Moss with a breezy, sample-size-be-damned approach to food. The magazine’s founders have their food industry bona fides, but they also worked together at Harper’s Bazaar, and that’s what on display. Cherry Bombe has the look and feel of a traditional fashion magazine, from the cookie-baking supermodel on the inaugural cover to the glossy, stylized photography inside.

alla-carta-collage

 

Alla Carta’s founders say that they bring together food and fashion (and art and design) by exploring the social act of eating. The publication’s fashion-related interviews, editorial content, and photo spreads revolve around meals; good food and good design pull it all together.

There’s one more thing that ‘foodies’ and’ fashionistas’ have in common: both groups detest those fatuous and disparaging nicknames.

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5 Popular Brands That Could Disappear in 2014

Five different brands, five different reasons, but each of these household names could reach its expiration date by 12/31/2014.

Michelob Light

Michelob Light hit number one on the Wall Street Journal’s list “Nine Beers Americans No Longer Drink.” Annual sales have dropped to about 350,000 barrels from the million barrels sold in 2007. The company might cede the ‘light’ category to another of its own brands, the lower calorie, lower carbohydrate beer Michelob Ultra.

 

tab

Who knew that Tab was still around? Apparently not enough soda drinkers to stop the Coca-Cola Company from looking to dump the brand this year. It was the grooviest diet soda around when the hot pink can hit the market in 1963, but Tab’s sales took an early hit when its original sweetener cyclamate was banned by the FDA. It didn’t fare any better with saccharine as a replacement, and the stylish can spent a few decades sporting a mandatory label warning about its link to bladder cancer. The brand’s pretty much been down and out since Diet Coke was introduced in the 1980’s, but can still be found in some parts of the United States (and in Africa, Spain, and Norway) for at least a few more months.

chiquita

Chiquita Brands International made $1.7 million in payments to a nasty right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia where it’s long had banana plantations. The company has already admitted this, pleading guilty to U.S. criminal charges that it had supported the terrorist efforts of a group responsible for torturing and murdering Colombian citizens. While the company survived the media coverage and $25 million fine, it could be toppled by potentially billions in payouts to the thousands of victims’ families that have filed lawsuits against Chiquita.

leancuisine

Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food company, has drawn up a short list of underperforming businesses it’s looking to sell or shutter, and a lot of industry insiders are betting that Lean Cuisine is at the top. Frozen foods have fallen out of favor in recent years with customers are looking for fresher, less processed options. Frozen entrées have taken an especially big hit. Lean Cuisine might not be worth salvaging.

sriracha

Sriracha? What could stop the hot sauce juggernaut? Sales and profits have skyrocketed for more than a decade at Huy Fong Foods, the condiment’s maker. A passionate customer base slurps up 20 million bottles a year, and the company works overtime during the three-months of California’s chili harvest. Some say the air is perfumed with the aroma of 100 million pounds of roasting peppers; others call them ‘fumes’ and area residents say they’re driven indoors with headaches and red, stinging eyes. An injunction has halted operations for the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

 

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Destination Dining Where the Gas Station is the Destination

Eat-Here-Get-Gas

The term destination restaurant originated with France’s Michelin Guide.
In the early days of motoring, the Michelin tire company got into the travel guide business to boost demand for cars. It assigned the top score of three stars to restaurants with cuisine so exceptional that they were worth a special trip. The restaurant was the destination and a stop at the service station was, Michelin hoped, a byproduct of the journey. 
Now it seems the service station is the destination.

The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, and other media outlets have reported on the recent popularity of gas station cuisine, some even calling it ‘the next big thing’ or ‘the new food truck.’ These are restaurants you head to even when you don’t need to fill up; maybe they’re not vaut le voyage like a Michelin three-star, but they’re not just gas station convenience markets with withered hot dogs turning on grill rollers. There’s a Shell station with pan seared diver scallops on its menu; apricot glazed pork tenderloin served with a view of the Mobil sign; and corned beef that’s slow-cured in-house by an Exxon station’s deli master.

Gas station owners are willing business partners, happy to see a rent check and the increased foot traffic that a restaurant brings. Would-be restaurateurs see relatively low start-up costs for what is typically a highly visible and accessible corner location.

Gas station dining is a long-standing tradition in southern states where picnic tables are a common sight alongside the diesel pumps and locals know that the area’s best barbecued brisket just might come out of a roadside smoker. If you’re new to the genre, it can be jarring to dine on seared ahi amid a parking lot ambience of exhaust fumes, car horns, and stacked oil cans. The intrinsic kitschy charm of the experience is not for everyone.

This month Bon Appetit profiles 16 gas station restaurants around the country. You’ll find reviews of food at the pump at Gas Station Gourmet and Gas Station Tacos.

 

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Could This Be The World’s Most Perfect Coffee Mug?

 

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Scientists call it the Goldilocks Principle.
It comes from the children’s story The Three Bears in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by a family of bears. Each bear has its own porridge bowl, chair, and bed. Goldilocks tests out all three examples of the items, always finding that one of them is too extreme in one direction (too hot, too large) or the other (too cold, too small), and the one in the middle is just right.

In science, the Goldilocks Principle states that something must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes. Astronomists call Earth a Goldilocks planet because it’s not too near or too far away from the sun, but it’s just right to support life. In medicine the Goldilocks Principle defines the ideal dosage of a drug—too small and it’s ineffective; too large and side effects will harm the patient. And now a chemical engineer and an industrial designer have applied the Goldilocks Principle to coffee cup technology. They’ve created what could be the world’s most perfect travel mug.

The Temperperfect mug makes use of a phase changing material sandwiched between thermal walls. It alternates between a liquid and a solid as it absorbs, stores, and dissipates heat. Dean Verhoeven, one of the mug’s inventors who spent the last 15 years making, testing, and improving prototypes, describes its groundbreaking temperature regulating mechanism:

This project was born of my frustration with not being able to drink my carefully-brewed, but too hot, coffee right after I made it, and it then getting cold before I had time to enjoy it. I wanted it just right.
I thought about this problem and had an inspiration: why not take the excess heat out of the too-hot coffee, store it in the wall of the mug, and then use it later to keep the coffee at a pleasant drinking temperature? I realized that this could be done simply by adding an extra layer of what I call active (“Temperfect”) insulation to a standard mug. This extra insulation layer absorbs the excess heat from your drink, and brings it quickly to a comfortable temperature. Later, it slowly releases that heat back into your drink to keep its temperature just right.

It seems that the world has in fact been waiting for hot—but not too hot—coffee.
The creators found an enthusiastic audience when they turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. They were hoping to raise $23,500 to cover the cost of the production tooling that’s need to manufacture the mugs. Instead, that amount was pledged 10 times over by more than 4,000 backers and it’s allowed them to move straight from tooling to production.

The first Temperperfect mugs are planned to ship next summer. The company’s website can hook you up with a pre-order.

Temperperfect: a prototype

Temperperfect: a prototype

 

 

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, coffee, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

Reports of Holiday Weight Gain Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

image via Shelton Crossfit

image via Shelton Crossfit

 

Holiday weight gain is a bit of a myth.
The perception is that we really pack on the pounds. According to a classic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Americans vastly overestimate how fattening the holidays are. We think we’re likely to gain at least five pounds, while the reality, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds. That’s an average gain of just about one pound despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years.

That’s the good news.
The bad news is that over the years, the weight adds up. 
It’s just one extra holiday pound, but most people hang on to it. Weight is on an upward creep throughout most of our lives, from early adulthood to the peak of middle-age spread. We tend to accumulate about two pounds during each of those years, and half of that can be traced to holiday indulgence.

Another myth: you’ll lose the weight at the gym.
Every January millions of Americans pat their soft little holiday bellies and vow to get fit in the new year. It’s one of the most common resolutions, and health club rosters overflow with well-intentioned new members. Gym owners are all too happy to offer January deals and promotions because they know that the overflowing yoga classes and treadmill lines will be gone before the end of the month. A full 60% of annual gym memberships go unused after the first six weeks of every new year. Our collective failure to keep our fitness resolutions is the easiest money those gym owners see all year.

We don’t fare any better with a January menu of cottage cheese and green tea. 
40% of all New Year’s resolutions relate to diet and weight loss, but women typically revert to old eating habits by January 6th, with men holding out for another week. Men are more weak-willed about cutting out alcohol, usually making it only as far as the first weekend of the new year, while women abstain for two weeks.

Dogs and cats pack on the pounds too. 
We’re just as indulgent with our pets at holiday time. The average dog gets an extra 500 calories worth of table scraps from a single holiday dinner and cats get 200 extra calories. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, pets, like their owners, pack on the human equivalent of around two pounds by year’s end.

 

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Whole Foods Brooklyn: Fits Like a Glove

whole-foods-hipsters

 

What took them so long?
That was the obvious question when Whole Foods opened its first Brooklyn store this week.
The largest retailer of natural and organic foods and the borough that’s home to the most hobby brewers and pickle makers per capita are like a match made in heaven.

Brooklyn is of course much more than just a borough across the bridge from Manhattan.
It’s a lifestyle brand; the locus of the urban artisan food renaissance; an edgy-artsy-smart meeting of old and new, tradition and technology, rustic and haute. Its population skews toward a young, educated, creative class with deep pockets and well-traveled palates. They infuriatingly blend genuine knowledge and discernment with their hipper-than-thou pretensions of alder-smoked Himalayan sea salt caramels and secret coffee handshakes of cuppings and pour-overs.

Whole Foods is the rare retailer that speaks fluent Brooklynese.
Highlights of the new store include:

  • a bike repair station (plus dedicated fixie parking, or if you must there are two electric car charging stations)
  • knife sharpening from a local maker of knives and cutting boards whose website describes him as ‘an American multi-disciplinary visual artist and designer
  • something they call the vinyl venue, selling albums and accessories made from old, recycled records
  • a pickle and kimchi bar
  • a 20,000 square foot rooftop garden that promises to grow plenty of kale

It’s a who’s who of the borough’s food luminaries.
Brooklyn’s food heroes are all there, like Roberta’s, Mast Brothers, and Frankies Spuntino. They share shelf space (built of wood reclaimed from the Coney Island beach boardwalk) with hundreds of local, small-batch purveyors who are shooting for the same foodie stratosphere with locally-accented treats like cage-free, Sriracha-spiced mayonnaise, parsnip yogurt, vegan vanilla-hemp granola, and grapefruit-smoked salt marmalade. The Brooklyn angle is underscored by the store’s abundant signage, tags, banners, and stickers so shoppers can have no doubts about a product’s provenance.

Whole Foods has sold itself to Brooklyn as a creative, communal endeavor. 
Yes, it’s a supermarket, but it’s also a participant in the local economy, fighting the good fight against the GMOs and monoculture of corporate agribusiness alongside the visionary butchers and worker-owned collective bakeries of its urban enclave. 
A second Brooklyn Whole Foods is already in the works, this one in the uber-affluent and hipsterish neighborhood of Williamsburg.
To Whole Foods, it’s just so much low-hanging fruit.

Posted in food business, local foods, shopping | 1 Comment

Be a Lunchtime Lab Rat

mouse-dining-table

 

You’re part diner, part test subject.
Hidden floorboard scales weigh you as you walk to your table.
Take a seat and chair sensors monitor your heart rate while bites are counted, eye movements are tracked, and facial expressions are analyzed. The soup of the day is lentil.
This is the canteen at Holland’s Wageningen University, where campus hangout meets research facility.

The restaurant is a living laboratory of dining behavior, and its research is followed closely by agribusiness groups, nutrition, sustainability, and health policy makers, food scientists, and the hospitality industry.
Everything about it is modular and malleable to suit experimentation. Scientists can test the effects of center islands vs. long buffets; waiter service vs. self-service; lighting that’s dim, colored, or bright; communal tables, counters, or booths. They look for different eating patterns when sandwiches are cut in triangles vs. rectangles; fruit is sliced, cubed, or kept whole; food odors are enhanced or masked.

The control room trumps the kitchen as the real heart of the restaurant .
Joy-sticks let researchers zoom in with the dozens of cameras concealed in the ceiling. They study every move, large and small: who sits where, who lingers at the salad bar, who’s talking, smiling, and frowning. They count bites and time chew speeds, document a hesitant hand reaching for the dessert menu, and analyze food waste.

They’ve learned that coffee tastes stronger in brown mugs, small biters eat less, and when the usual conventional milk is relabeled as organic people complain of a funny taste. Fresh flowers on a table will improve the mood of table mates, nobody likes to eat in a room with blue lighting, and chairs upholstered with flowery pink fabric will be the first seats chosen.

There’s no shortage of volunteers.
Wageningen faculty, staff, and students are willing diners/test subjects. They have to sign a research waiver and photo release form, but few have balked at the prospect of lunch as a behavioral guinea pig. They’re unfazed by the scrutiny and surveillance, many even choosing to lunch there daily. It doesn’t hurt that the lentil soup is reputed to be thick and tasty and that the restaurant’s low prices make it one of the best bargains in all the Netherlands.

The canteen at Wageningen University, also known as The Restaurant of the Future, is open every school day for lunch.
I couldn’t help but notice that its Facebook page has just 2 likes.

Posted in restaurants, Schools | 1 Comment

What Is a Calorie and Why Should We Be Skeptical?

Brancas_Aeolipile_1
calorie

It’s a household word but still a mystery to many.
Ask ten people what a calorie is and at least nine will tell you ‘It’s the stuff in food that makes me fat.’ Calories are one of the most commonly counted things on the planet, but how many people know what they’re really counting?

 

calorieThe calorie is a unit of heat energy.
It was originally developed as a way to measure the efficiency of fuel burned in steam engines. When scientists turned their attention to humans, they borrowed the concept of the calorie as a way to quantify food as fuel for the human engine. In theory, the amount of heat that can be provided by any particular bit of food is the same whether it’s burned in a steam engine or a human body. More edible calories mean more energy for work, like coal in a human stove.

To measure the energy in various foods, early 20th century nutritionists burned small amounts of each inside a bomb calorimeter—a lab tool that surrounds a food-filled capsule with water. They assigned caloric values by calculating the different amounts of heat given off by different foods—one calorie for each one degree increase in the temperature of the surrounding water. These calculations are what we still use today; the calorie count on a box of Honey Nut Cheerios is calculated in 100 year-old Atwater units.

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie? 
Scientists are just now teasing out the nuances of the calorie. Advances in understanding were presented at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and it’s clear that all calories are not created equal.

451343 (1)Raw and unprocessed foods have fewer calories than we thought; or at least fewer than we are able to digest. The more a food is handled the more calories it gives up in digestion, and it can mean a swing of 30 or 40%. Most foods keep the calories contained inside their cell walls, so you have to do something to rupture the walls. The chopping, mixing, and heating of cooking might be enough to crack open the cells for some foods, but if you really want all the calories, you just need to eat factory-processed foods.

We’re also learning more about the body’s mechanism during digestion. Digestive tracts and their microbes are determined by genetics and cultural factors so you see big variations, like people of Russian descent with five more feet of intestines than the rest of us, and Japanese citizens with marine bacterium in their gut that help digest sushi. The old Atwater bomb calorimeter can’t even come close to figuring calories for these populations.

We understand enough to know that traditional calorie counts don’t apply to every food and every body. 
Ironically, this understanding comes just as the federal government is getting ready to launch a nationwide requirement for posted calorie counts in restaurants. The labeling, based on out-dated Atwater units, might not be accurate, but for now it’s the best method we have for quantifying calorie values, and one worth paying attention to as a defense against obesity.

In 2013, these were the most-searched calorie terms on Google:

  1. Egg
  2. Banana
  3. Beer
  4. Oatmeal
  5. Sugar
  6. Sushi
  7. Wine
  8. Popcorn
  9. Coffee
  10. Avocado

 

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Picking Up the Tab for the White House Kitchen

image via Lame Cherry

image via Lame Cherry

 

Room but not board.
That’s the deal we make with presidents. They live rent free in the White House but meals run them extra.
If food is served at a state function, the government picks up the tab; when it comes to family meals, they’re on their own.

Groceries are delivered from various Secret Service-approved commercial suppliers, and they’re randomly rotated for added security. Household staff members fill in the basics with runs to butcher shops, supermarkets, and farmers markets. At the end of each month, the bills are tallied and submitted to Mr. and Mrs. Obama. Personal care items like toothpaste, shaving cream, and Tylenol are on the tab, plus the cost of snacks for Air Force One.

The Obamas also pay the salary of the chef who prepares the First Family’s meals.
Past First Families all opted to pay just for the groceries and have their family meals prepared by the White House kitchen staff—an executive chef, executive pastry chef, and four sous-chefs, paid for with taxpayer dollars. The Obamas chose to bring in a personal chef, Sam Kass, who works in a small private kitchen on the residence level of the White House. Kass has been cooking for the Obamas since their Chicago days and knows their likes and dislikes so well that he rarely consults with them on menu planning. He’s also notoriously tight-lipped about their eating habits saying little more than “we have very balanced meals,” and that the family “walks the walk” with Michelle Obama’s healthful food initiative for the country.

Still, a few details have leaked out about the Obama family dinner hour.
We know that the president sits down at 6:30 to eat with the family nearly every night, a practice that is much criticized for his perceived neglect of  the traditional schmoozing time for Washington’s power players. Meals begin with a quick blessing and a clink of their glasses. The family typically plays a round of rose and thorn—going around the table, each member shares something positive from their day (the rose) and also something difficult or unpleasant (the thorn). Meal-time is soda-free, peanut-free (Malia’s allergic), vegetables are plentiful, they eat brown rice instead of white, and dessert is served just a few times a week. The president detests beets and loves double-crusted fruit pies.

Dinners out are rare, in part because they turn into a major production.
A Secret Service detail conducts an advance walk-through of the restaurant, scoping out the Obamas’ points of entry and exit, and seating. Metal detecting wand-wielding agents position themselves at the front door, and a dozen or so more take up positions inside and out, including a multi-talented chef-agent who supervises kitchen security. The Obamas arrive by motorcade with leading and trailing police motorcycle and cruiser escorts. There’s an ambulance, a couple of communications vans, and some black Chevy Suburbans carrying still more Secret Service agents behind tinted glass. Somewhere in there are multiple armored limousines, one of which holds the First Family.

Why bother?
Especially when there’s a brigade of White House cooks, an organic garden, the remnants of Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar, and never a dish to wash.

We’ll probably never know what’s on the Obamas’ shopping list.
An annual report is submitted to Congress that documents official, tax-supported White House expenses. But the First Family’s personal expenses, paid for out of their own pockets, are their own business.

 

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Would You Eat Cheese From Michael Pollan’s Belly Button?

Would you eat cheese from this man's belly button?


Would you eat cheese from this man’s navel?

 

It’s the ultimate foodie trophy: cheese cultured from the bacteria in Michael Pollan’s belly button.
Food writer Michael Pollan made his personal contribution to an art exhibit in Ireland called ‘Selfmade’ that explores the way we interact with our microbial landscape. The exhibit pushes us to consider our uneasy relationship with pungency and aroma—so celebrated in food yet reviled in our own bodies.

Bacteria samples were collected from artists, scientists, anthropologists, and cheese makers, including Michael Pollan’s navel lint and artist Olafur Eliasson’s tears. Other contributions came from inside noses, mouths, armpits, and between toes. Each of the 11 samples became the basis for a different cheesemaking starter culture, which is basically any bacteria that can produce lactic acid.

Washed-rind molds and blue veins get all the attention, but it’s mostly the nature of the microbial population that gives a cheese its flavor and texture and produces its aromatic compounds. The unique bacterial signature of each human donor truly resulted in 11 different cheeses of varying character.

If you ever thought that a cheese smelled like stinky feet, you were scientifically correct—human bodies and cheese both hoard similar microbial populations. The exhibit crosses the boundaries between culturally defined ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ smells. Its creator hopes that we’ll question why we choose to eliminate some of them with antiseptic and pair others with a 2012 Riesling.

‘Selfmade’ runs until January 19, 2014 at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin.

 

Posted in diversions, entertainment | 1 Comment

Your World is Awash in Pig Products

image via 52 Infographics in 52 Weeks

Things With Pig in Them – image via 52 Infographics in 52 Weeks

 

You probably had a dozen or so pig encounters before you even left your house this morning.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig-derived ingredients and processing agents make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin made from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

It’s a staggering, stunning array of food and non-food uses for pig parts.
To say the least. It’s deeply troubling if you’re vegan or vegetarian, keep kosher or eat halal, or just want to avoid pig products. The fact that most of the products don’t have to be labeled with the information is the real shocker.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig byproducts. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 15,000 entries.

Posted in food knowledge, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

Soylent: When Silicon Valley Dreams of Food

soylent

 

Soylent, a high-tech food alternative, has been grabbing headlines and investors.  
The meal substitute has the wind at its back with millions raised through crowdfunding, pre-orders, and the backing of prominent venture capital firms. Many in Silicon Valley think that Soylent could be a real game-changer.

Soylent is an engineer’s approach to food. 
It’s an odorless, neutrally-flavored sludgy mix of nutrients in a base of oat starch. It’s gluten free, vegan, and halal. It’s appropriate for sufferers of food allergies, acid reflux, or digestive disorders, and can be used to control weight or cholesterol. Soylent is essentially an efficient, inexpensive, clean-burning fuel. Its taste, to put it kindly, can be characterized as pretty much like you’d expect.

This is food by and for the tech crowd.
The concept took shape in Y Combinator, the preeminent bootcamp for digital entrepreneurs, and the story of Soylent’s development is peppered with techspeak about optimizations, inputs, and beta-testing (what regular eaters call nutrition, ingredients, and tasting). Its creator refers to meal replacement as a default diet, while regular dining is called recreational eating.

Soylent was influenced by the kind of sci-fi futurism that’s so beloved by engineers and technologists. 
The film and literary genre often depicts a bleak, dystopic future whose inhabitants subsist on lab creations like the vats of goopy gruel in the Matrix series or the blue milk of the Star Wars trilogy. Even the name Soylent comes from the novel behind the 1973 sci-fi classic Soylent Green in which Charlton Heston’s character discovers the unthinkable secret behind the edible solution to the twin problems of overpopulation and an insufficient food supply (It culminates in one of filmdom’s most memorable lines, captured in this YouTube clip).

Could this really be food’s future?
Soylent is regularly showing up on lists of the top food trends for 2014. It’s seen as the perfect food for the stereotypical, heads-down coder who subsists on takeout pizza and data packets. It’s also expected to appeal to people who think that home cooked meals are not worth the hassle of shopping, cooking, and cleaning up afterwards.  
The investors are betting that even outside of Silicon Valley, that adds up to a sizable population.

 

 

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Standing Out From the Crowd With the $450 Starbucks Metal Card

status mug available at Zazzle.com

status mug available at Zazzle.com

 

The Starbucks card is the most ‘gifted’ item in America.
Last December, 1 in 10 adults received one as a holiday gift. This season, the company expects it will be closer to 1 in 5. And then there’s the Starbucks Metal card. For the second year in a row  Starbucks is rolling out an ultra-limited edition gift card just in time for holiday giving. For the low, low price of $450 the card gets you $400 worth of coffee.

That’s not a typo. $450 gets you a card preloaded with $400 in store credit. Oh, and you also get a gold-level Starbucks card membership, a frequent buyer perk that gets you some freebies like drink refills and a birthday frappuccino, but those benefits are already free to regular customers who sign up for the My Starbucks Rewards program. Still, they plan to sell 1,000 of the cards through the luxury goods website Gilt.

Why stop at 1,000? Did they forget that there’s one born every minute?
Starbucks calls it the Metal Card and it really is made of metal. Watching someone pay for coffee with a slab of etched steel is a little like seeing Fred Flintstone buying his brontosaurus burgers with a stone credit card issued by the Bank of Bedrock. Conspicuous? You bet. Isn’t that the point? Last year’s Metal Cards sold out in less than a minute and then immediately popped up on sites like eBay and Craigslist where they were flipped for as much as $1,000. It was a tidy profit for Gilt shoppers while the new buyers ended up with a couple hundred dollars worth of vastly over-priced lattés. Clearly it’s not just about the coffee.

5,000 Metal Cards were sold in 2012, but this year Starbucks plans to limit the offering to a mere 1,000.
While that just about guarantees that the next guy in line won’t have the Metal Card in his wallet too, it’s hard to see how the card confers some kind of insider status. Starbucks lost its aura of exclusivity the minute it opened its first shop outside of the Seattle city limits. You can’t be an insider to something that you can buy on every street corner, turnpike rest stop, and hospital cafeteria.

It might not be exclusive, but the Starbucks Metal card will be scarce. But who really wants a $12 cappuccino anyway?

 

 

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The Subminimum Wage for Tipped Workers– how low can you go?

pennyonplate

 

The federal minimum wage is not rock bottom.
In the midst of the intense focus and national debate on the minimum wage, we don’t want to forget a group that falls even lower on the pay scale. There’s something called the subminimum wage for tipped restaurant workers, and by law it can be a shockingly stingy $2.13.

Increases to the federal subminimum wage haven’t even kept up with the standard minimum wage.
For most of the 20th century, the subminimum wage was pegged at 50% of the standard wage. In 1991, when the minimum wage was  set at $4.25, tipped workers received $2.13 per hour. In 1996 workers won a 90-cent per hour increase, but for the first time the subminimum wage was uncoupled from the standard wage and it was held at $2.13. It’s been stuck there for going on three decades. While the minimum wage has been increased four more times to its current $7.25 an hour, the subminimum wage, unchanged at $2.13, has been reduced to less than one-third of the minimum. Factor in the rising cost of living, and the buying power of the subminimum wage has effectively shrunk to $1.28.

Think about that $2.13 when you calculate a server’s tip. 
It’s called a gratuity, but the way the pay scale works there’s nothing gratuitous about tips. The subminimum wage is based on the assumption that tips will constitute the vast majority of a server’s earnings. As customers we think we’re rewarding good service, but in fact we’re subsidizing the ability of restaurant owners to pay a mere pittance to their employees. Tips are necessary just to get server compensation up to the minimum wage.

While wages are stuck at $2.13, tips are trending down. 
The recent recession and current recovery have kept a lid on restaurant menu prices and taken a toll on individual spending habits and corporate travel budgets. Tips are calculated on stagnant spending, and customers have gotten chintzy with that calculation.

Restaurants can also choose business practices that will erode tips.
Employers can keep payrolls down naming more of their workers to the subminimum wage category. And when those workers aren’t in typically tipped positions, it’s perfectly legal for restaurants to institute mandatory tip-sharing pools and take a cut from the servers to subsidize the paychecks of non-serving employees. They can also deduct the tip-related portion of their credit card processing fees from the tips given to servers. It’s a small amount from each tip (typically around 2%, and can go as high as 4%), but it adds up to nearly $1,000 a year for full-time workers. For a restaurant chain like Olive Garden, it can be upwards of $10 million in credit card fees that are skimmed from employee paychecks.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Servers
We have a seafood watch list, fair trade labeled imports, and we know when the eggs are cage-free. How about looking at the sustainability of restaurant workers?
There’s a measure in the Senate that will increase the minimum wage to $10.10. Let’s make sure that subminimum wage workers are included this time.

 

 

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Forget Wine Flights. Now We Have Gravy Flights.

Numbered dishes available from Magenta Wholesale Home Décor

Numbered dishes available from Magenta Wholesale Home Décor

 

Tasting flights aren’t just for wine anymore.
The migration began with other drinks, and we started to see flights of beer, whiskeys, and tequila, often served on wooden pallets with cutouts to hold all the little tasting glasses. Now they’re showing up all over the menu, at any meal and every course. There are tasting flights of country ham at breakfast, lamb flights for dinner, and flights of cheesecake for dessert. And of course that gravy flight, so suitable at any time of day.

A flight is not just so many small plates.
It’s meant to be a progression of tastes that’s presented to allow for sampling and comparison. The selection should be deliberately chosen to show depth or breadth, to highlight differences or to emphasize similarities within a category. Traditional wine flights are often vertical tastings of different vintages of the same wine, or horizontal tastings of a certain vintage from different wineries. A cheesecake flight might offer tastes of cakes made from goat, cow, and sheep’s milk, while a chocolate flight could start you with a sweet and mild 60% cocoa Dominican Republic, move on to a smooth 72% Ecuadorean, and then contrast those against an earthy, cocoa-heavy 85% African blend. Whatever the category of food or beverage, a flight should always be constructed with a guiding discipline.

Here are some of the more interesting flights we’ve found:

frenchtoastflight

 

Experience the full range of sweet and savory playing off the egg-battered challah of the French Toast flight at Chicago’s Batter and Berries.

 

 

stew potsNew Orleans’ R’evolution Restaurant explores the seven nations that settled Louisiana (Native Americans, French, Spanish, Germans, English, Africans, and Italians) with a flight of seafood stews including French bouillabaisse, Spanish zarzuela, and Tuscan cacciucco.

creme-brulee-flight

 

Pisces Sushi and Global Bistro in Clearwater, Florida presents a fusion of Asian flavors and French custard in its flight of crème brûlée.

barclayprime

You’d break the bank trying to taste your way through the luxe steakhouse menu at Philadelphia’s Barclay Primebut the flight of NY strip steaks lets you compare and contrast among prime examples of wet-aged, dry-aged, and wagyu beef.

 

A flight of popsicles is appropriately the only dessert offered at Brooklyn’s street-food-themed Nightingale 9.

9OH2O_ONE_LITER_GLASS_STILL_BOTTLE_FRONT_WITH_TUMBLER_ON_WHITE_MAX_10_WEB

 

The menu at Ray’s and Stark Bar explains its water flight thusly: Martin Riese, General Manager and Water Sommelier of Ray’s & Stark Bar, has curated a water selection that demonstrates the difference in taste between twenty different waters sourced from various regions of the world. Terroir affects water just like wine. Let us take you on a global journey of water. You have my permission to roll your eyes at this thankfully only-in-Los Angeles phenomenon. Oh, and that global journey of water will run you $12 for three three-ounce pulls of the tap.

gravyflightAnd about that gravy flight, you’ll find it at Biscuit Head in Asheville, North Carolina. The ‘big as a cat’s head’ biscuits are paired with a rotating menu of gravy specials plus the standard lineup of sausage, espresso red eye, sweet potato coconut, smoked tomato creole, and vegetarian seitan gravy. $7 gets you three bowls of three gravies. And there’s not a gravy sommelier in sight.

 

 

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Detox Away the Turkey Weight

image via Ayay.uk

image via Ayay.uk

 

Are you feeling the turkey weight?
The typical Thanksgiving meal was a whopping 4,500 calories. That’s two day’s-worth of food for most of us, or, to put it in especially vivid perspective, the equivalent of nine large orders of McDonald’s fries. 
Is it any wonder that you woke up feeling overstuffed and bloated?

This holiday season is just getting going.
It’s too soon to be feeling a pinch in your waistband. But it’s the perfect time for a between-holidays detox. Flush the alcohol, sugar, and toxins out of your body now and you can boost your immune system and improve metabolic function through the rest of the season.

There are plenty of online resources to prep you for a few more weeks of bacchanalian excess.
Detoxification blogs like The Detoxinista and Detox the World are full of seasonal suggestions..
A variety of approaches are taken by smartphone detox apps:

The app from Juice Master has a 3-day juice detox  that will have you losing up to five pounds in just 72 hours.

How to Detox Your Body leaves you sparkling on the inside with colon cleansing regimens. Detox Diet Pro claims to do the same but without enemas and colonic. This app shows you how to flush out the liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs, skin, blood, and lymphatic systems through a very high fiber diet.

The Health Detox promotes an acid and alkaline balanced diet that claims to boost your energy level by optimizing your body’s pH balance.

There are apps for detoxing on all raw foods, or by following the lemon regimen popularized by Beyoncé’s post-partum detox. You can find gender-specific detox apps like Body Detox 4 Women and Man Up Detox, or learn to detox with smoothies.

The Official Online Holiday Detox Kit professes to understand:
to overdo it is human. to overdo it over the holidays is almost mandatory. we’re here to help. choose your flavor of holiday splurging, confess your excess, and get the perfect detox plan.”
Just enter your specific overindulgence into the quick and easy online tool and it suggests the appropriate cure.

Posted in health + diet, holidays, phone applications | Leave a comment

The Family Dinner. It’s Not Just for the Holidays.

Dinner with the Andersons: Jim, Margaret, Princess, Bud, and Kitten

Dinner with the Andersons: Jim, Margaret, Princess, Bud, and Kitten; via Screen Gems

 

The reality of a family dinner bears little resemblance to its mythical counterpart.
It’s the rare household with mom, dad, and kids sharing the events of the day over meaty roasts and noodle casseroles. There is probably more texting to outsiders than sharing with family. And a weekday roast? In your dreams.
But that’s okay because family mealtime is not just about the warm and fuzzies of the cultural ideal.

A regular shared meal can pay huge family dividends.
Study after study points to the same thing: regular family dinners lead to happier and healthier kids. They’re less likely to smoke, drink, abuse prescription or illegal drugs, or develop eating disorders, obesity, or depression. They watch less television, delay sexual activity, and get better grades in school. 
Clearly there’s something to this.

Whatever it is, it’s not just about the food.
The ‘secret sauce’ of a successful family dynamic is not in Mom’s meatloaf. Obviously there are plenty of other factors that contribute to a family’s well-being and anchor its values. A common mealtime is just one piece, but it seems to be the bellwether.

Go heal the planet, but don’t be late for dinner!
Since producing the environmental crusade An Inconvenient Truth, Laurie David has been advocating for family well-being. The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time doesn’t have Al Gore’s narration, but it does have child-care experts, writers, artists, and chefs sharing their personal dinnertime rituals. Participants include Maya Angelou, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, Alice Waters, Arianna Huffington, Nora Ephron, Judge Judy, Michael Pollan, and Sheryl Crow.

The differences between families that eat together frequently (defined as eating five or more family dinners per week) and infrequently (fewer than three times per week) are striking. The definitive studies have been conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Read the full report: The Importance of Family Dinners VI.

Try it, even if it’s just a takeout pizza and nobody has anything to say.
There’s no guarantee that the food is any healthier just because we eat together as a family. It doesn’t guarantee meaningful conversation, much less moments of genuine intimacy.
But the ritual of the family dinner at least makes these things possible.

 

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There’s Just One Kind of Turkey in This Great Big Land of Plenty

image via Minnesota Turkey Growers Association

image via Minnesota Turkey Growers Association

 

Everyone in America eats the exact same turkey.
Of the 242 million turkeys raised this year, maybe 30,000 of them are not broad-breasted whites.

Virtually every turkey bred in the U.S. comes from a single genetic line. Even most free-range farmed turkeys have been raised from poults purchased from large-scale breeders working from that line. The broad-breasted white is a genetically-engineered hybrid developed in the 1970′s. It was bred to be ‘broad-breasted’ because breast meat sells, and ‘white’ because that way the little feathers missed in plucking won’t show, cutting down on processing costs.

The broad-breasted white is a triumph of efficiency in factory farming.
It was engineered to convert the minimum amount of feed into the maximum amount of white breast meat in the shortest possible amount of time. The turkeys are ready for market in as little as 12 weeks and 70% of the weight is breast. The over-sized breasts make it impossible for appropriate body parts to meet, so 100% of factory-farmed turkeys are the result of artificial insemination. By contrast, heritage breeds take seven months to reach market and are about 50% dark meat. The heritage designation demands that they mate naturally with no human intervention. 

A lot of turkey parts have to fall by the wayside to get that much breast meat on a broad-breasted white.
Mass market turkeys have scrawny legs and tiny little skeletons. Their body cavities are so small that their organs are too crowded to reach full functionality. They’re too frail and top-heavy to walk, roost, or fly, often painfully crippled by the stress of all that breast weight perched on under-sized frames. Industrial producers actually prefer immobilized turkeys because there’s no chance of movement that could lead to muscle development. They want to see all of the growth aimed toward the singular goal of breast production.

The broad-breasted white turkey is not a robust bird.
Their oversized breasts constrict their lungs so that they are constantly starved for oxygen. They develop the cardiovascular diseases that seem to find the overweight and sedentary members of every species. Even if they’re not headed to slaughter, the ‘natural’ life-span of these turkeys is only a year or two, versus the eight to twelve year life expectancy of heritage breeds. There’s nothing robust about their flavor either. All that white meat is flabby; the protein level is low, the taste is mild, and the texture is soft. Gaminess and chew have been bred out, and while broad-breasted whites are higher in fat than other breeds, there’s none of the richness.

A naturally raised, free range broad-breasted white turkey can be a vast improvement over a factory farmed specimen. It has a foraged diet and develops muscle mass that contribute to superior flavor. But for a turkey that tastes like a turkey should taste, you’ll have to seek out a heritage breed. ‘Heritage’ is not a federally-regulated term, and it’s an over-used marketing buzzword, but a true heritage turkey is one of the ten specific breeds that were raised in the U.S. prior to the 1950′s when the poultry industry began to genetically engineer turkeys on the way to developing the broad-breasted white.

Don’t eat a Thanksgiving turkey that tastes like every other turkey in America.
You can order a heritage breed turkey online at Heritage Foods USA and D’ArtagnanOn the east coast, Mary’s Turkeys can direct you to local markets that carry their birds. Local Harvest and the The US Ark of Taste at Slow Food USA both maintain national directories of heritage turkey farms, markets, and breeders.

Breed makes a huge difference to the taste of chickens too. Read about heritage chicken varieties in Chicken. Just Chicken.

 

Posted in food business, holidays, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

For The Terducken Curious

cartoon via Dr. Fun

cartoon via Dr. Fun

 

By now, the turducken should need no introduction.
In the span of a few years, it’s gone from urban legend to regional curiosity to your neighborhood Whole Foods freezer. You can buy fresh or frozen turduckens; free range, organic, and kosher turduckens; turducken for your pet (canned or dry); and a mock tofu-based turducken for vegans (with apologies, the tofucken).

When plain old turducken just won’t do, there are endless can-you-top-this variations like the fowl de cochon (turducken stuffed pig) and the quaducant (quail, duck, and pheasant). At the opposite end of the spectrum is the hotchken, known as the poor man’s turducken, consisting of a humble chicken stuffed with hotdogs. This year’s rare collision of the Thanksgiving and Hanukah holidays is bringing a never-again-in-this-lifetime-please brisket stuffed turkey  (the tursket) to some tables.
For those who like to keep track of these things, the largest documented nested bird roast is the rôti sans pareil, or ‘roast without equal,consisting of 17 successively stuffed birds, starting with a 5-foot long Great Bustard and finishing with a 5-inch Garden Warbler, so tiny that can be stuffed with no more than a single olive.

The turducken effect has spilled over its poultry borders.
A cookie is baked inside of a cookie to create the chocoOreochip, and a cream cheese-frosted behemoth known as the cherpumple bakes entire cherry, pumpkin, and apple pies inside the tiers of a three-layer cake, laying claim to the title of the turducken of desserts. The online magazine The Bold Italic asks the question ‘why stop at the turducken?’ suggesting stitched-together hybrids for every part of the meal. The stufftatobrussyamberry combines stuffing plus all the traditional side dishes in a marshmallow-topped terrine; and the coffwinder brings together a meal’s worth of beverages in nested glasses of a cider aperitif, wine, and after-dinner coffee.

Turn your relatives into a turducken. 
The Bold Italic doesn’t stop with the menu. They figure that a little turducken-style tinkering can keep the inevitable family dramas to a minimum. The cousunclma packs all of your least favorite family members into a single body. 
If only Thanksgiving could really be so simple.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_fOzYgq3p3O4/TAgnOAPWy0I/AAAAAAAAAdo/4f4jopg4jAw/s1600/12birds_600.jpgThe terducken– like Russian nesting dolls rendered in pimply poultry flesh

http://www.seriouseats.com/images/20100111-cherpumple.jpg       brusselsThe mighty Cherpumple and the multi-tasking Stufftatobrussyamberry

familyfamilyThanksgiving with the cousunclma–just seat him at the opposite end of the table.

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