Detroit, Michigan: The New Back Forty


There aren’t enough jobs, enough people, or enough tax revenue, but one thing Detroit has plenty of is vacant land.
The city is barely standing after decades of a free-falling economy, fruitless renewal efforts, and a local government that was feckless at best and more often corrupt. Two-thirds of Detroit’s residents streamed toward the exits, leaving 40 square miles of abandoned buildings and empty lots—a space equal to the entire city of Boston—that arson, bulldozers, and nature are transforming into a massive urban prairie.

Most people look to Detroit and see a ruined space prowled by looters and packs of wild dogs; some see a field of dreams.
Visionary citizens and a progressive administration are rehabbing and reshaping the city. To them it’s not blight but unplanned green space, and a prime test case for large-scale urban farming. Detroit has become the nation’s hub for advocates of urban agriculture and the shrinking cities movement that reimagines distressed, post-industrial cities as smaller metro cores surrounded by green belts of food production.

In April 2013, Detroit passed a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance that changed the way the city is zoned.
Urban zones traditionally fall into one of five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial, and special zones (school, hospital, airport, etc.). Zoning establishes dedicated land uses; the local government can regulate the activity but it also offers legal protections. Detroit’s ordinance established agriculture as an urban planning priority. It gave formal legal status to an array of land uses including community gardens, rainwater catches, and aquaculture, and permits even small, backyard gardeners to sell homegrown produce from their own farm stands.

The ordinance has been embraced by a public and private cross-section of the city.
Citizen groups like Be Black and Green and My Jewish Detroit have helped to establish the nearly 2,000 gardens flourishing in the city’s ethnic enclaves. More than 1,000 citizens volunteered at a spring planting day launching Hantz Farm, the world’s largest urban farm. The school district has converted one of the city’s many abandoned public schools into 27 acres of gardens to provide produce to its school cafeterias. Even the automakers have joined in with projects like the Cadillac Urban Gardens which has recycled and repurposed hundreds of steel shipping crates into raised-bed planters.

Detroit’s food activists are aiming for a food sovereign city.
That’s a lofty goal of 51% or more of the fresh foods consumed in Detroit to be grown by Detroiters within the city limits. It’s especially gutsy when you consider that just a few years ago Detroit was the poster child for urban food deserts, with fully half of its residents living without reasonable access to fresh groceries. Empty lot by empty lot, the city is transitioning there.



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A City Guide to Affordable Gastronomy

The Wallet Hub Map of Food Affordability in 150 Metro Markets 


A roof over your head and food on your plate.
Those are the big ones in everyone’s budget. Housing and food add up to nearly half of most Americans’ annual spending.

Housing values are closely scrutinized; food values not so much.
There are endless real estate rankings and ratings—we know about New York condo prices and San Francisco rent; we know which cities are affordable for retirees and where to move to after college. Even though food is often the next largest chunk of the budget, there’s been scant research into where to go for the good food values.

The sweet spot for a food scene is where quality meets affordability.
Wallet Hub
, a social platform for financial decision making, evaluated the 150 most populous U.S. cities to find the most and least economical food scenes in the country. Data was culled from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and analyzed using 18 weighted metrics indicating diversity, accessibility, quality, and affordability of food in each city. They counted grocers, butchers, cheese shops, and coffee roasters and compared prices across regions. Well-ranked cities have farmers markets, CSAs, food trucks, and maybe a food festival or two. They also have plenty of healthy options, a range of ethnic cuisines, food delivery, and a decent ratio of full-service to fast food restaurants.

Some of the rankings are what you’d expect. For all its bounty, high prices sink New York City to #143 (where it’s sandwiched between Port St. Lucie, Florida and Anchorage, Alaska), and places like Omaha, Nebraska and Fort Wayne, Indiana don’t have too much going on food-wise, but man are they cheap. Coffee, craft beer, and inexpensive ethnic restaurants spring up wherever you find large student populations, giving a ratings boost to big college towns like Madison, Wisconsin (#3) and Austin, Texas (#8). San Francisco is tops for restaurants and diversity but gets dinged for some of the highest prices in the country, knocking it down to #15.

There are also plenty of surprises.
Tourist meccas like Honolulu, Hawaii and Orlando, Florida are inexplicably dense with specialty grocers. Portland, Oregon is perched within the winery and brewery belt of the Pacific Northwest, yet it has some of the highest beer and wine prices in the country. Detroit is in dire need of ice cream parlor. Salt Lake City, even with its caffeine-free Mormon population, has more coffee shops per capita than Jacksonville, Florida and El Paso, Texas. And can someone please tell me why Fayetteville, North Carolina and Henderson, Nevada are two of the nation’s most expensive food towns?

Visit WalletHub’s 2014’s Best and Worst Foodie Cities for your Wallet to get a full picture of the eating landscape, and to learn why we should all pack it in and move to Grand Rapids.




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Slow Money: It’s Like Slow Food for your Wallet

currency cover art from 'Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money'

currency cover art from ‘Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money’


The Wall Street Journal says of Slow Money: ‘Forget conventional 401(k)s; think goat cheese and fennel.’
Bloomberg Businessweek calls it one of the ‘big ideas that will change small business and entrepreneurship,’ and Time Magazine says it has the potential to ‘remake America’s food industry.’.’

Investments you can sink your teeth into. 
Slow Money is a movement that organizes investors and donors to steer capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. It’s guided by the same principles as the Slow Food movement. Slow Food promotes traditional cooking with local ingredients as a response to the unhealthy and unsustainable fast food lifestyle and the globalized, industrialized state of our food supply. Slow Money offers a similar alternative to the fast money of our global financial markets. It asserts that our current paths, both agricultural and fiduciary, are irresponsible, unhealthy, and ultimately unsustainable.

You don’t need a big bank account to join the Slow Money movement.

  • Kickstarter and Indiegogo have both had great success applying a crowdsourced funding platform to food-related projects. They pool money in increments as small as a few dollars and patronage is usually rewarded in the form of project mementos or perks— a $10 pledge might entitle you to a snack bag from an organic nut roaster, or $200 to a pickle maker could get you a weekend brining workshop.
  • Kiva Zip is a crowd-sourced platform for 0% interest peer-to-peer lending. Lenders can browse individual loan profiles to choose a borrower—both food producers and sellers—approve the payback schedule, and even have direct conversations with borrowers. Loans are pooled from amounts as small as $5 PayPal transactions, and while there is risk involved, borrowers and business plans are vetted for credit-worthiness and are overseen and endorsed by trustees.
  • Credibles crosses crowdfunding with the CSA model of prepayment for the next harvest.
    If an individual were to make a direct investment in an egg farm or a jam maker, payment in-kind would bring them more eggs and marmalade than they would know what to do with. Credibles creates a single fund from the contributions of multiple investors, with buy-ins starting at $50. The loans it makes to small and artisanal producers are repaid in-kind—a farm returns crops, a restaurant returns meals, a small-batch ice cream maker returns pints of rocky road—but since an investor is buying into the shared pool, repayment comes from the collective pool of businesses in the form of edible credits, ‘credibles,’ that can be redeemed for a wide assortment of products.
  • Gatheroundis like TED Talks for the Slow Money crowd. Each live online event features a conversation with a thought leader from the food world plus presentations from several early stage food entrepreneurs who are seeking funding. A $25 donation logs you in, and at the end of the session you direct Gatheround to send those dollars in the form of a three-year, interest-free loan to the entrepreneur of your choice. When the loan is paid back, your tax-deductible $25 will continue to cycle through future Slow Money projects. mobilizes investors at a grassroots level through its network of regional chapters and local investment clubs. 
Since 2010, Slow Money affiliates have funneled more than $38 million to over 350 small food enterprises around the United States. Visit the Slow Money website to learn about local gatherings, and join the emerging network of investors who are working to improve the health of local food systems and the economy.
Put your money where your mouth is. Literally.

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There’s a Whole Lot of Ranch Dressing Out There


Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design

Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design


If you’re looking for a Philly cheesesteak you’re more likely to find one at the Jersey Shore than in Philadelphia.
Try New York for a Maine lobster. Or Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or New Jersey—it appears on more menus in more restaurants in each of those states than in its native Maine.

Co. Design, the design blog from Fast Company Magazine, teamed up with the food industry data collectors at Food Genius to create a map of each state’s most distinctive foods. Populations are mobile, supermarkets are national, and the same chain restaurants dot the landscape wherever you go. Their map looks at the ways in which new and traditional local cultures, economies, availability, trends, and convenience leave distinctive food fingerprints all around the nation.

The foods that made the cut might not be the most prevalent in each state, but they are the most uniquely loved.
Co. Design wanted to measure the relative popularity of each state’s food choices, to find what is distinctive and unique about those choices when compared with the rest of the country. That meant that they had to level the influence of ubiquitous and cookie-cutter fast food and chain restaurants. So no matter how popular and dominant the chains are, the multitude of Waffle Houses, McDonald’s, and Olive Gardens were just counted once for each state.

Here are some of their findings:

As a nation, we love our peppers, which seven states own as their most distinctive ingredient. New Mexico is alone in claiming the green chile, found on the menus of 51% of all the restaurants in the state but only in 2% of restaurant dishes in the rest of the country. The jalapeño is king pepper in Colorado and Texas, Ohio likes its banana peppers, and Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia favor the milder green bell variety.

While lobster is shipped far from its native waters, most coastal states are showing love for their local catches. Haddock stays in Maine and New Hampshire, crab cakes still rule in Maryland, crawfish in Louisiana, grouper in Florida, Walleye in Minnesota, and prawns top the western states on the mainland while Hawaii has its ahi.

America is awash in ranch dressing. It’s the most beloved regional treat in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama, Kentucky, Vermont, and West Virginia, and Nebraskans included it in their generic preference for what they simply call ‘dip’.

On the Co. Design website you’ll find an interactive version of the map that lets you explore the top 5 dishes and menu terms for each state.

A Gallup-Well-Being poll from earlier this year ranked all 50 states based on their residents’ emotional and physical health and healthy behaviors. Do you care to guess how the ranch dressing states fared?


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Top 10 Food Scenes: not just the usual suspects.

2010 07 31_0006foodcitysign

What defines a great food scene?
Is it a cluster of big name chefs and world-class restaurateurs? A distinct regional cuisine? The diverse offerings of authentic ethnic enclaves?

The definition is changing.
We still have our celebrated food meccas like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco with countless options and Michelin stars, but America’s towns and small cities are proving that you don’t need vast offerings and high-end restaurants. Instead, what they have is communities of concerned farmers and talented food artisans, passionate and discerning food lovers, and a deep-rooted, indigenous food culture that adds authenticity and meaning to the experience.

These communities give rise to clusters of second tier restaurants. The cooking can be just as refined and inventive as anything you’ll find in their better-known, big-city counterparts, but they’re the kind of restaurants that are opened by independent chef-owners rather than investor consortiums. There’s no publicist garnering national press and pushing these restaurants onto top 10 lists. You don’t go there to add a notch to your foodie belt; you go there to eat well.

Sperling’s BestPlaces, a research firm that produces city rankings, crunched the numbers to come up with a list of America’s Top Cities for Foodies
The list ignores the ratings and emphasizes the food culture by counting up specialty food markets, cookware shops, wine bars, craft breweries, and farm markets, and the ratio of local ownership to chain franchised food outletsIt leveled the playing field for small cities by leaning heavily on density data rather than sheer volume. By Sperling’s measure the ten best ‘foodie’ cultures are found in:

1.Santa Rosa/Napa, California
2.Portland, Oregon
3.Burlington, Vermont
4.Portland, Maine
5.San Francisco, California
6.Providence, Rhode Island
7.Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts
8.Seattle, Washington
9.Santa Fe, New Mexico
10.Santa Barbara, California



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Everyone Wants to Walk to the Coffee Shop


Abbey Road via Apple (Parlophone)/EMI

Urbanologists call it The Great Inversion.
The last half century was spent fleeing the blight and density of cities. Now we want to go back. The jacuzzi-tubbed four-bedroom suburban spread doesn’t signal the success it once did. These days you’re a nobody if you can’t walk out the front door and get a latté.

It’s a cultural shift built on coffee.
77% of Americans say that walkability is a hugely important factor when they decide where to live. Most say that they would choose a small home with nearby amenities over a larger home where they have to drive everywhere. And the favored amenity isn’t schools, churches, parks, or movie theaters; it’s a café that’s within walking distance.

A premium coffee vendor is no small thing to a neighborhood.
It signals that a neighborhood has 
arrived, that it has economic vitality and cultural momentum that can continue to snowball into something greater. Realtors and civic associations even refer to this type of upswing as the ‘Starbucks Effect.’ And we’re not just talking about fuzzy, quality of life issues; there is usually a real increase in property values when a neighborhood acquires food-related amenities.

Walk Score rates the walkability of any home or business. It calculates a score from 0–100 for any address— 100 is a Walker’s Paradise and 0 is totally Car Dependent. The algorithm assigns points based on the nearby amenities, as well as factors like cul de sacs (not a walk-friendly feature) and block lengths (shorter is better). A car-free lifestyle becomes possible with a score upward of 80. A study conducted by CEOs for Cities uses Walk Scores to quantify the Starbucks Effect: it estimates that each point adds $3,000 to a home’s sales price.

What’s your Walk Score?
If you’ve ever lived in a highly walkable neighborhood, you already know what a beautiful thing it is. Walkable communities are happier, healthier, safer, cleaner, and greener.

See the Walk Scores of some well-known residences:
The Obama’s former Chicago home has a middling Walk Score of 71. The move to the White House got them into a home with the very robust score of 97.
The Brady Bunch ranch house had a Walk Score of 74; very respectable for the San Fernando Valley.
Monica’s lower Manhattan apartment on Friends scores an unbeatable 100 points.



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Would Jesus Tip More than 20%?



Tips for Jesus struck again, this time in Philadelphia.
After drinks ($150) and dinner ($250) a diner left a $2,000 tip for the bartender and $5,000 to the server. Those latest tips bring Jesus’ total extravagance to nearly $150,000.

An anonymous diner or group of diners has been tipping for Jesus since last fall, leaving absurdly generous tips at restaurants and bars in more than a dozen cities in the United States and Mexico. Each receipt has been stamped with the Instagram handle @tipsforjesus, where photos of the tips and the ecstatic recipients are posted.

The tech-savvy Samaritan is rumored to be former PayPal VP Jack Selby and a few friends from his inner circle. While maintaining their anonymity, the group has released public statements and given a few interviews explaining their mission. Despite the insignia and the extensive coverage by religious press organizations, they prefer to keep some distance between Tips for Jesus and traditional Christian philanthropy, calling theirs ‘agnostic’ giving.

The Tips for Jesus crew is hoping  to inspire an army of munificent copycat tippers. They try to create an internet sensation with each new episode, harnessing the power of social media through the 75,000 followers of their Instagram account. And it’s exactly the kind of off-kilter, feel-good story that the internet likes to run with.

The problem is, as an act of charity, this kind of giving falls flat.
With the gap between rich and poor ever widening, plunking down the occasional out-sized tip isn’t especially effective or even moral. It smacks of hubris and privilege, more like the drunken lark of an entitled frat boy than genuine altruism. And while n
o one would argue that restaurant servers aren’t worthy of largesse, the Tips for Jesus recipients aren’t exactly hash slingers working the midnight shift at Denny’s. Whatever their true identities, the Tippers definitely dine like tech millionaires of a recent vintage, and the Instagram photos show receipts for high-end sushi bars, craft cocktail lounges, and  blow-outs at clubby steakhouses—the kinds of places where a server makes a solidly middle class living and is more likely to use a tip windfall to buy a big screen TV than to pay an overdue electric bill. 

Not that I think they should stop.
Tips for Jesus is probably not destined for long-term sustainability, but it’s bringing attention to charitable giving and packaging it for a new generation of givers. Some of them just might take their philanthropic impulses and find their way to more conventional forms of charity. In the meantime, it’s fulfilling the fantasy of everyone who’s ever waited on tables.


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‘Nose-y’ Neighbors Sue to Shut Down Sriracha Factory




It’s harvest time for California’s jalapeno peppers and the air around the Huy Fong Foods factory is perfumed with the rich aroma of chilis and garlic.
The company makes a full year’s worth of Sriracha hot sauce during the three-month chili harvest. Daily deliveries of fresh peppers, 100 million pounds in all, are roasted, ground, and blended with garlic and other spices.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the factory’s neighbors is threatening this year’s production cycle.
With pepper processing hitting its full swing, nearby residents are complaining about the pungent fumes. They’re getting headaches, their eyes are stinging, throats are sore, and children are being kept indoors. Last Monday, the city of Irwindale, California sued Huy Fong Foods charging that the wafting odors are a public nuisance in violation of the municipal code. The city has asked for a restraining order that would immediately stop all operations at the factory, and lawyers might even pursue a permanent injunction that could lead to a total shut down.

Sriracha is no ordinary hot sauce.
Sriracha love starts out innocently enough: a squirt in the stir fry, a dab added to marinades. 
You marvel at how a tiny hit of heat, sweet, and garlic perk up those dishes. You try a few drops in dips and dressings, a steady squeeze into scrambled eggs, a swipe of the basting brush on meats headed for the grill. A smidgen turns into a dollop and a smear quickly becomes a slather. Pretty soon the green-capped rooster bottle is keeping company with salt and pepper at every meal and there’s a second bottle for the office fridge. You think: is there nothing that can’t be improved by this marvelous elixir?

Sriracha lovers come from all walks of life.
It’s a sleeve-trick of Michelin chefs, a key ingredient in urban street food, and it’s mixed into the mayonnaise at the Applebee’s in Ottumwa, Iowa. The company sold 20 million bottles last year and it pulled it off with no advertising and a website that hasn’t been updated since 2004.

Sriracha could be in very short supply next year, and beyond that—who knows?
Huy Fong Foods is exploring filtration systems and other means of mitigating the aromatic emissions but there’s no quick fix. At least part of this year’s chili pepper harvest will likely be written off. 
Let the hoarding begin.



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Cook Your Cupboard Wants to Know: What’s Languishing in Your Pantry?


Campbell's Limited Edition soups

Campbell’s Limited Edition soups


Cook Your Cupboard wants to know what’s in your pantry.
NPR has launched a food project inspired by a dilemma that every one of us has faced: What do I do with                   ?
Go ahead and fill in the blank with three of the odd, the random, and the esoteric items that lurk, semi-forgotten in the back of your cupboards.

We all have them. 
They might be edible mementoes from a long-ago road trip or bizarre condiments chosen on impulse. There’s the still-full bottle of rose water that was purchased for a specific recipe, the rice cakes from the diet you never started, the raspberry chipotle mustard you were gifted with last Christmas, and the Arborio rice and saffron bought for a dinner party you never gave.

Cook Your Cupboard is never stumped.
Poke around on high shelves and low ones, in the back of your cupboards, and the darkest reaches of your freezer. The Cook Your Cupboard blog invites you to submit three items that you’d like to salvage before they reach their expiration dates. The radio show listeners and blog readers offer suggestions, advice, and recipes, and a few lucky submissions are handled on-air by the week’s guest chef—past participants include big names like Jacques Pepin, Nigella Lawson, and Mollie Katzen.

We learn that canned vegetarian haggis is best left in the desert for coyotes, and powdered lemonade mix should only be used  to clean the insides of a dishwasher, but most pantry hodgepodge trios are put to legitimately appetizing use. Apple cider vinegar, almond milk, and dried red beans become vegetarian chili and cornbread; chick pea flour, chia seeds, and harissa are turned into Indian-inspired fritters. They’ve tackled fenugreek, bonita flakes, Georgian Tlekmani sauce, Moroccan fish balls, and canned custard. And anchovies. For some reason no one seems to know what to do with anchovies.

Submit a photo of your most regrettable purchases and let the culinary brain trust at NPR work some magic. Currently they’re looking for three items hidden in the forgotten corners of your freezer.

The pantry contents of celebrities, the secret language of grocery purchases, and more are revealed in Gigabiting’s Snooping in Other People’s Pantries.

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Fixing the 4 Food Groups of the Corner Store


image via The Candy Trail

image via The Candy Trail


Candy, ice cream, chips, and soda.
That’s the stock in trade of the corner store. When kids drop in on the way home from school clutching dollar bills from their allowance, that’s what they buy. And in Philadelphia, the poorest and most obese of the big cities, they were buying way too much. A study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that more than 53% of  the city’s public school students were shopping at corner stores once every school day, and 29% were stopping by both before and after school, five days a week. On average they were spending just over a dollar at each visit, and on average they were buying sugary, fatty treats that added up to 356 calories.

There’s so much wrong with this picture—from the dearth of healthy options in urban food deserts and the poor nutritional choices the kids were making, to the out-of-whack food system that creates so many empty calories so cheaply. It threatened to undermine the schools’ efforts where they had eliminated junk food from campus vending machines and rid cafeterias of hard working deep fat fryers.

The corner store is not the enemy.
Bodegas and convenience markets are part of the urban landscape. They serve an important role in poorer communities where options are limited, and Philadelphia has fewer supermarkets per capita than almost every other large American city. The corner stores are free market enterprises with little square footage and prime display space that’s often contractually reserved for favored vendors. They don’t have room to stock what doesn’t sell, and what does sell is often cheap and unhealthy.

It’s a two-pronged approach.
Store owners need to be encouraged to stock fresh, healthful foods, and kids need to be encouraged to choose them. The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based organization that works to improve access to affordable, healthy food, has led the charge with its local Healthy Corner Store Initiative and the creation of the national Healthy Corner Stores Network.

Creating a sustainable model on the supply side.
In 2009 The Food Trust began with fewer than a dozen participating Philadelphia store owners. They provided equipment like inexpensive refrigerated barrels that allowed the stores to expand their inventory of perishable foods, and linked the owners with local farmers and fresh food suppliers. They also offered training, merchandising, and technical support to store employers that showed how they could boost food safety and reduce spoilage, and ultimately the store owners found that they could improve overall store operations while profitably selling healthier products.

Appetites don’t naturally follow access.
To create sustainable demand for healthy foods, the diet of an entire household has to be transformed. The Food Trust reaches out to both children and their parents with education and message marketing. They engage families through community-based programs on nutrition and healthy purchasing, and are a strong presence in the public schools where 80% of the city’s students have participated in nutrition and wellness programs. Of equal importance is a youth leadership program that targets the social component of behaviors and the troubled relationship that many kids have with food.

In just four years, Philadelphia’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative has grown to involve 680 store owners. All have agreed to stock at least four healthy new products, with most offering dozens more. Pricing is kept competitive and many products bear labels and logos that highlight the store’s healthy options.

Philadelphia is bucking a childhood obesity trend.
While obesity rates remain unchanged all around the country, recent studies show an average decline in obesity rates for Philadelphia’s schoolchildren of five percent, and an even more significant seven percent drop among African American boys and Latina girls, two groups at especially high risk for diabetes. The success is shared by numerous constituents of the city’s broad-based assault on obesity, but breaking the old corner store habit, with its daily dose of junk food, is no small part of it.


Posted in community, health + diet, kids | 1 Comment

50 States, 50 Hamburgers

americanhamburgerWe’re not just a hamburger nation; we’re a bigger and a better hamburger nation than we were just a few short years ago.

We have burger momentum across the boards.
The old-school, classic burger joints are thriving in small towns and downtowns. At the same time the gourmet burger has found a legitimate place on high-end menus where it’s being made from fresh grinds of prime beef cuts and served on quality breads and buns. They’re being accompanied by a dizzying array of pickles and condiments that are crafted with renewed creativity and attention to detail. There’s even a fast-food burger revival led by chains like  In-N-Out, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Smashburger, The Counter, and Shake Shack, all serving serious but unpretentious burgers.

Tastier than a bald eagle, more beloved than Uncle Sam.
Pizza, tacos, sushi, falafel—they’ve all made a run at the hamburger. But like America itself, the burger is unshakeable. It came to us as an immigrant from Hamburg but quickly learned the language. It’s egalitarian and a little artless, socially mobile and likes to push its way onto foreign shores. The hamburger continually absorbs regional differences and global influences but remains unequivocally, unapologetically American.

The Serious Eats family of websites is never more serious than when they’re discussing burgers. 
There’s lively conversation on Burger Talk, recipes from the Burger Lab, and for the true obsessive connoisseur there’s A Hamburger Today. And now they’ve given us The United States of Burgers, an interactive map of the most iconic burgers and burger restaurants from each of the 50 states.

Delaware has lava rock-grilled burgers from the 1950’s-era Charcoal Pit drive-in; New Mexicans top theirs with roasted green chiles; Iowans eat loose meat, falling somewhere between a hamburger and a sloppy Joe; and New Jersey has its sliders, although Kansas claims White Castle as its own. There are hamburgers that call out for a road trip like Minnesota’s legendary cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucys, and the dry-aged ground beef burgers from New York’s Peter Luger Steakhouse. And there are states we prefer to just drive straight through without stopping like Tennessee where Dyer’s deep fries its hamburgers in cooking oil that they proudly claim has not been changed in over 100 years. Order a cheeseburger and it gets a second, cheese-melting dunk in the century-old grease.

You can let The United States of Burgers be your guide, or design your own burger pilgrimage with help from Burger GPS, a mobile app from hamburger expert George Motz that directs you to all the best hamburgers from coast to coast.

The results from the National Burger Survey show how we really like our burgers.

[image via Zazzle UK]

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Life Has Become One Continuous Snack

It’s official: we’re a nation of noshers. 
We kick off the day with breakfast—no skipping that most important meal of the day—but then we pretty much leave our mouths open and graze straight through to dinner. So says the most recent analysis of government data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES).

grazingWe graze.
In the late 1970’s, 40% of Americans said that they didn’t typically eat between-meal snacks. With 3 meals a day for most, the average number of eating occasions was 3.9 per day. Today we’re skipping more meals but snacking so frequently that we have pushed daily eating occasions up to 10. Just 4% of Americans say they don’t regularly snack, with most reporting 3 or more snacks a day.




What lunch break?
Americans are  now more likely to skip lunch than breakfast. 85% reported eating breakfast the previous day, while only 80% reported eating lunch.





We like pizza. A lot.
In the late 1970’s, just 6% of kids and teens and 3% of adults reported eating pizza the previous day. Today those numbers have more than tripled for all of us, with 10% of adults and 20% of 2-19 year olds reporting a pizza snack or meal in the last 24 hours.





We eat pitifully little fruit. 
That’s been consistent. Since the late 1970’s, fruit consumption has held steady at 0.9 portions per day, and that includes fruit juices.



broccoli yuck


More of us are eating our vegetables.
Just not so many of them. While 25% of Americans today report eating fruits or vegetables in the previous 24 hours, the average is just a combined 1.9 servings in a day. In the 1970’s only 12% ate their fruits and veggies, but they typically consumed 2.6 portions.



100 drink choices


Got milk? Not much.In the 1970’s, 64% of the population (children and adults) had  drunk a glass of milk in the previous day. Today the majority of Americans, 54%, don’t regularly drink milk.





You can find the full report at the National Health and Nutrition Examination SurveysNHANES is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has produced vital and health statistics for the nation for 50 years.






Posted in community, health + diet | 1 Comment

We Can Do This. We Can Get Yellow Dye Out of Kraft Mac & Cheese.

swatch-yellow5      swatch-yellow6

Meet Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow.

You can thank them for the foil pouch of day-glo cheese powder that comes in every box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Every box in the U.S., that is. Kraft reformulated the recipe for the European market replacing the artificial dyes with natural, plant-based ingredients like paprika and beta carotene. The dyes are gone because European consumers revolted over potentially harmful side effects and demanded that the company remove them.

Both of these yellow dyes are man-made chemicals derived from petroleum.
The additives have been linked to a host of disturbing side effects like asthma, eczema, and migraines, in addition to hyperactivity and learning impairments in children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that both dyes are also contaminated with known carcinogens. And they serve no purpose beyond the aesthetics of bright orange cheese, contributing nothing to the nutritional value or safety of food.

They’re not just in the blue box of Kraft.
It’s estimated that a young child with a taste for fast- and processed foods could be eating as much as a pound of food dye every year. Well beyond the usual suspects like purple Popsicles and rainbow Skittles, you’ll find food dyes in a staggering array of foods like canned fruit, fresh oranges, hot and cold cereals, pizza crusts, chocolate milk, salad dressing, lemonade, ginger ale, cookies and bread, chips and crackers, even matzoh balls. Oy veh.

Where, pray tell, is the FDA?
The Food and Drug Agency calls the shots when it comes to food additives, and it has a long history of calling them wrong. Looking at Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow, the agency acknowledged the sizable body of research linking the colorings to behavioral changes in children, but the advisory panel tasked with their review called the evidence inconclusive and recommended that the agency continue its hands-off approach to the additives. Of course FDA approval is hardly a guarantee of safety. The agency’s site lists 91 previously approved artificial dyes that are now banned. And bear in mind that countries throughout Europe weighed the same ‘inconclusive’ evidence against potential health consequences and have banned most artificial food dyes.

We don’t need to wait for the FDA.
Earlier this year, consumers targeted brominated vegetable oil, an additive that prevents flavorings from separating in Gatorade. After studies linked the FDA-approved ingredient to neurological disorders and altered thyroid hormones, a petition requesting its removal circulated on, collecting more than 200,000 signatures. In January Kraft announced that because of the feedback it was reversing its earlier decision to retain the substance and would be replacing Gatorade’s brominated vegetable oil with a more acceptable emulsifier.

It worked for Gatorade. Now let’s get the yellow dye out of our mac & cheese.
Visit where you can add your name to the 360,000 that have already signed the petition demanding that Kraft stop using dangerous food dyes in its Macaroni & Cheese. You can also bring the fight to the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Facebook page, where thousands of consumers have already chimed in with their comments.


Posted in community, food policy, food safety | 1 Comment

Fun Facts About Guns in Bars and Restaurants

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz


There’s a lot of talk about gun control at the state and federal level. Let’s talk about guns on a personal level that affects all of us: in bars and restaurants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in beer + wine + spirits, community, food policy | Leave a comment

The U.N. Wants You to Buy Funny Food


image via The Mutato Project

image via The Mutato Project


‘Funny’ is their word.
Let’s call it like we see it. We’re talking about ugly fruits and vegetables; the two-legged carrots, blotchy apples, crooked cucumbers, and lumpy lemons. They’re the culinary misfits that are culled by the farmer in the field, tossed out by the supermarket produce department, and if they make it far enough, passed over by consumers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The U.N. is taking on the global leadership, partnering with consumers, producers, and governments to address waste issues in the food system. It’s just launched Think.Eat.Save, a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of food waste issues and facilitating cooperation across society’s producing and consuming sectors.

Posted in community, food policy, sustainability | Leave a comment

Airbnb for Home Cooking


It’s called the new sharing economy, collaborative consumption, the peer-to-peer marketplace.
The success of Airbnb cemented the intersection of online social networking, mobile technology, the DIY movement, and the heightened frugality of lingering economic uncertainties. If you want to borrow or rent someone’s apartment, bicycle, car, lawnmower, designer handbag, parking spot, or any number of random household goods, you can find a marketplace to do it. There’s also plenty to eat in the sharing economy.

There’s also plenty to eat in the sharing economy.
There are underground food markets—quasi-clandestine events that remake the traditional farmers market into a tribal gathering of would-be chefs, food entrepreneurs, and food adventurers; they are to the indie food world what a rave is to the music crowd. There are food swapping events, where no money changes hands but you bid with bags of your homemade granola for someone else’s jars of jam, home-brewed vanilla extract, or hand-rolled pasta. And there are businesses trying for a piece of the market like Feastly, that turns your home cooking and dining room table into a restaurant for the night, and Gobble, that sells and delivers your meals to local customers.

Food sharing is an idea whose time has come.
It’s recession friendly; it earns a little income for the cook, and is generally cheaper (and healthier) than store-bought or restaurant takeout. It suits our interest in alternative dining seen in the wave of food trucks and pop-up restaurants that’s been gaining steam in recent years. It also dovetails with the interest in artisan foods, providing a showcase for cooks and a platform for food entrepreneurs to build their customer base.

But is it legal?
Bear in mind that even Airbnb—which facilitates $500 million worth of transactions annually and has a company valuation of $1.3 billion—stands on shaky legal ground. If you are a renter listing your home on Airbnb you’re probably violating your lease; if you own, you’re probably breaking zoning and other laws for operating an unlicensed inn.

The standard rule in most of the U.S. is that if you bake some cookies in your kitchen, you’re welcome to share them with friends, family, and neighbors; you can bring the cookies in to work to share with coworkers; you can exchange them at swaps and potlucks. But unless your home kitchen is commercially licensed, what you typically can’t do with your cookies is sell them for money. Some local authorities turn a blind eye to blatant violations like underground markets, while others crack down on even the most benign sales, resulting in incidents like St. Cecelia’s pie-gate, when a Pennsylvania state health inspector shut down three elderly, pie-baking church ladies at a lenten fish fry.

State and local legislatures are being prodded to loosen up regulations, especially when it comes to low-risk foods like fruits jams and baked goods. More than half of the states have so-called cottage food laws governing home food production, and a few more have laws pending, but individual cities, towns, and counties can add their own layers of bureaucracy and regulations.

Before you sell, consult the state law database at The Sustainable Economies Law Center.


Posted in community, food policy, home | Leave a comment

Gigabiting’s Polling Data


According  to the latest poll, I’m sick of talking about the election.
It was a rather small sample size of one likely voter, but the margin of error is a convincing 0.0%.

I know I’m not alone.
The incessant finger pointing, political spin, and negative advertising have tried the patience of all of us. The parade of media talking heads gave us the soul crushing minutiae of nonstop analysis. And it’s not your imagination, there really are more polls than ever before.

Only true political junkies wake up on the morning after the election with an appetite for what’s next.
Fortunately, an insatiable thirst for political discourse can be slaked by a local chapter of Drinking Liberally.

Drinking Liberally is an informal, nonpartisan social gathering where left-leaning individuals can go to share a drink and a little political chit chat.

There are currently 233 Drinking Liberally chapters in 46 states plus a few overseas chapters for expats. Each meets at a regular bar or pub and at a regular time each week or month. Drinkers aren’t necessarily policy wonks, or even members of the Democratic Party, and progressive political discourse tends to be just a starting point for a night out with like-minded friends and strangers.

Drinking Liberally is a project of Living Liberally, an organization that builds progressive communities through social networks and events. You can also engage through the political comedy fans of Laughing Liberally, attend a film with Screening Liberally, have a good meal and conversation with Eating Liberally, and discover progressive authors with Reading Liberally.


Posted in community, diversions | Leave a comment

Shelter from the Storm: Food as a Touchstone

image via the Stamford Advocate


Electricity, transportation, communications, and food.
These are the major challenges to the residents of storm-struck regions in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. They can’t do much about flooded subway stations, power outages, and downed phone lines. Food is the only one that can give them back some control over their lives, and so they cling to it as comfort and consolation.

The post-Sandy foodscape
Traffic jams are putting a kink in the food supply chain, and plenty of perishables were lost in the blackout, but there have been no wide-spread shortages. Supermarket shelves are kept reasonably stocked, organizations that feed the homeless and hungry report that they are not turning anyone away, and the restaurants that have managed to remain open have been able to offer at lease an abbreviated version of their menus, even if they have to resort to the black market to do so. Some of the hardest hit towns in Jersey have had their calls answered by a tri-state assortment of food trucks.

Even in the powerless zones of lower Manhattan, restaurants are keeping their doors open, sometimes in defiance of health department regulations. They’re importing fresh food from uptown or keeping it on dry ice; cooking over wood and gas, and setting up charcoal grills on the sidewalks. Candles and lanterns light tables while cooks and servers are outfitted with hands-free head lamps. Without the ability to process credit cards, and neighborhood ATMS out of commission, many are feeding the locals for free.

More fortunate residents stocked up, hunkered down, and when schools and offices closed, they found themselves with a staycation on their hands. Instead of reaching for the emergency supplies of granola bars and powdered milk, they pulled out soup pots, slow cookers, and pancake griddles. They hadn’t borne the brunt of the storm, but stress was high and nerves were still rattled.

It’s not called comfort food for nothing
For those in Sandy’s path, food became the gastronomic equivalent of a cozy sweater under a yellow slicker.
Residents of the Northeast were all over the cooking blogs this week making ‘comfort food’ a top search term. There were tweets about ‘Sandy snacks,’ and polls like the Village Voice’s What Are You Cooking During Hurricane Sandy?, Time Magazine’s What Did You Eat in the Hurricane?, and The New York Times’ What Is Your Hurricane Comfort Food? 

Eat out and pitch in:
Restaurants around the country are holding benefit events with the proceeds going toward hurricane relief. Visit Eater where they continue to update the list as new restaurants sign on to the cause.



Posted in community, restaurants | Leave a comment

We Should All Eat Like Hipsters (and I mean that unironically)


Campbell’s announced the launch of its hipster-ish line of soups, and the world responded with snark.

The new Go! Soups brazenly raid the hipster oeuvre. You see it in the packaging with its hand-crafted fonts and quirky Millenial models. It shows in the website stocked with irreverent slogans and lolcats where nutrition labels should be. And especially in the soups with their trendy flavors and ingredients like quinoa, chorizo, Moroccan spices, and coconut curry.
Campbell’s has been roundly mocked for its naked pandering and cultural appropriation.

Hipster culinary culture has always been an easy target.
It can be precious and pretentious with its small-batch alder-smoked Himalayan sea salt caramels and secret coffee handshakes of burr grinders, cuppings, and pour-overs. It is, in turn, both elitist and juvenile; hipper-than-thou but captivated by grilled cheese sandwiches. We can take our potshots (and there are plenty of smug, tedious, and irritating targets), but we also need to acknowledge the worthy substance of hipster foodism.

As a group, hipsters just might be the most knowledgeable eaters on the planet.
They have worldly, globalized palates and demonstrate discernment and sophistication in their food choices. They often embrace contrarian diets—vegan and vegetarianism; raw foods; pro-soy; and gluten- or dairy-free—but they can have profound knowledge of the implications and can credibly rationalize these positions.

Hipsters are great food voluptuaries.
All the shared instagram pics and meal-time tweets are not just notches in their vintage whiskey leather belts. They are discriminating sensualists who rightly savor the citrus and tobacco notes of a Mast Brothers 74% Dominican cacao bar and marvel at the tender crumb of a well-crafted white peach and rosemary scone. The mark of the true hedonist, hipsters don’t shy from indulgences but take their pleasures in carefully chosen doses—the better to fit into those skinny jeans.

Hipsters are fighting the good food fight.
They adhere to a culinary narrative that Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma dubbed ‘supermarket pastoral.’ The artisan-made pickles and the free range label on the Whole Foods chicken represent the labors of heroic family farmers who are battling the GMOs and monoculture of corporate agribusiness. The hipsters shop and eat within their cosmopolitan enclaves of visionary butchers and worker-owned collective bakeries, and they see themselves as modern-day urban homesteaders, filling Ball jars with honey from backyard bees.

We might mock their romanticized pretensions, but the fact is, the hipsters are getting it right.
They shun factory farmed meats and chemical-laden processed foods. They participate in building local economies and reviving regional food traditions. Mealtime for them is not a base act of mindless feeding at the fast food trough but a creative, communal endeavor balancing the pleasures of indulgence with mindful moderation.

You know what to look for: a curbside huddle of fixed-gear bicycles; a mustachioed barista manning the Japanese pouring kettles of an independent coffee roaster; a quirky pub with no sign in front and handmade bitters at the bar. You found the hipster habitat. You probably won’t find any of Campbell’s Go! Soup at the neighborhood grocery coöp, but good food is sure to be close by.



Posted in community, food trends, funny | 3 Comments

Paul Ryan: Definitely Not a Foodie…


The Weienermobile on Capitol Hill via Oscar Mayer’s Hotdogger blog


…but yes, he did drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

As always, here at Gigabiting, we look at our world through the lens of food. Mitt Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his running mate posed a bit of a quandary. Ryan’s best known connection to food is the guns-and-butter paradigm of his proposed budget which offsets billions of dollars in future Defense Department spending with drastically reduced funding for food stamps, food safety inspectors, and farmers. The Ryan Plan is so damaging to social programs benefiting our poorest and most vulnerable citizens that it prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to publicly blast the devout Catholic for not just tearing holes in the nation’s safety but for his “shredding of the nation’s moral obligations.”
These are not the actions of a man with an abiding love and respect for food.

We also know that Paul Ryan is not much of a cook. He leaves D.C. on weekends for family time in Wisconsin, and on his night to cook, according to Edmund Halabi, owner of Janesville’s Italian House Restaurant, he swings through the drive-through for some take-out. Halabi tells us that tortellini with meatballs is a particular favorite ($15.75 for a family-sized half-gallon tub plus $2.55 for a side of meatballs).

Interestingly, nearly all of Paul Ryan’s early, private sector work experience was in the food industry, although not in the most inspiring of jobs and establishments. He flipped burgers at McDonald’s during high school (as did one in five of all U.S. workers). During a college summer stint as an Oscar Mayer salesman he helped launch the Lunchables brand of pre-fab school lunches and got to drive the 27′ fiberglass Wienermobile. And when Ryan first arrived in Washington as an unpaid intern in the office of then-Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten, he paid the rent by moonlighting as a waiter at a Capitol Hill Mexican restaurant.

Paul Ryan’s sole interest in food seems to be expressed through his deep attachment to his home state of Wisconsin. He’s a a fifth-generation resident living on the same block as his childhood home, where he honors the local food traditions of simple cheeses, Friday fish fries, and the sacred combination of beer and brats (sausage steamed in beer served with more beer). Like a good native son he goes ice fishing in the winter and bow hunting for deer in the fall. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announcement of Ryan’s 2000 wedding to Janna Little describes the groom as “an avid hunter and fisherman who does his own skinning and butchering and makes his own Polish sausage and bratwurst.”

Ryan touched on these food themes during an emotional homecoming this weekend following the Romney announcement. With eyes tearing and voice cracking, he spoke of his undeniable connection to the local delicacies as he addressed the thousands who turned out for a hometown hero’s welcome:

I like to hunt here, I like to fish here, I like to snowmobile here. I even think ice fishing is – interesting. My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, and a little Spotted Cow, Leiney’s, and some Millers.

If beer, cheese, and sausage are truly coursing through Paul Ryan’s veins, there just might be hope for him after all.


Posted in community, food policy | 1 Comment
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