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

sriracha

NIMBY-Stamp1

 

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.

Posted in community, cooking, Entertainment, recipes | Leave a comment

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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Fruit_Bowl

 

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.

 

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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 Change.org, 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 Change.org where you can add your name to the 285,000 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 GunBurger.com (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.

 

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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.

 

 

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

http://packagespeak.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/0222-campbells-Go-Soup-235x300.jpg

 

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 | 1 Comment

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

Rich or Thin? Pick One

 

How did rich and fat become rich and thin?
We tend to forget that this has not always been so.

Richer, thinner, smarter.
What if you could change one thing about yourself. Which would you choose?
A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

The complete poll results are:

richer    43%  
thinner  21%
smarter 14%
9% seem to like themselves just fine, and another 12% picked other qualities

Thinness was, for most of recorded time, the fate of the lower classes with their inadequate diets and physical labor. Traditionally, only the rich could afford to be well-fed. Fat was a status symbol.

Not any more. The terrible irony is that these days, thinness is a luxury reserved for the rich. As income and education falls, obesity rises– both the rate of obesity and the amount of excess weight. The poorest Americans, those living below the poverty level, are the most likely to be morbidly obese.

The underlying causes are many, especially for the urban poor who see pork rinds and Dr. Pepper for sale on every corner but have to leave the neighborhood to find a head of lettuce. In general, the lower your income, the fewer the food options, and the less likely you are to cook your own meals or exercise. But the real culprit is our out-of-whack food system that makes it possible to sell highly refined, fat and sugar-laden, processed foods at far lower prices than fresh, whole foods.

Poverty is fattening; fat is impoverishing.
According to The Fat Studies Reader, obese women earn 9% less than the height-weight proportionate, are half as likely to have attended college, and are 20% less likely to have a working spouse. They’re also more likely to have health issues that lead to missed work, lost wages, and less professional advancement. It’s a dense web of poverty-obesity-poverty; an endless cycle of cause and effect and cause and effect.

Richer, thinner, smarter. Pick one and the others pick you.

The Rich & Thin Club claims to simultaneously whip your waistline and your bank account into shape by monitoring calories coming in and dollars going out. It theorizes that small, unnecessary, everyday indulgences are the undoing of both. Calculators demonstrate the impact of 10 years of Starbucks lattés or restaurant appetizers in terms of accumulated pounds versus an early mortgage payoff or the compounded interest of savings. It’s an eye-opener.

Posted in community, health + diet | 1 Comment

It’s Not Online Dating. It’s Social Pairing.

 

image via SituEating

 

Socialize with your social network? What a concept.

Social pairing takes all those profiles and all that location-based data and creates real-world connections. KLM lets you choose your airplane seatmate from LinkedIn or Facebook, and Ticketmaster does the same for concert tickets. But nothing pairs like social networks and food. Food is the original social media juggernaut. Our dining history is documented in OpenTable and Foursquare, our likes and dislikes are recorded in reviews on Yelp, we tweet about our favorite dishes, and post pictures to our Facebook profiles.

Despite all of our online communities—or maybe because of them—we yearn for offline connectedness, and food is the natural place to find it. Great or humble, the best meals are the ones we share with others. New social pairing applications are leveraging existing networks and creating new ones to add genuine social engagement to our social media connections.

Group dining sites like GrubWithUs and BlendAbout facilitate something like a smörgåsbord of blind dates. More low-key, with fewer strings attached than traditional dating sites, the dinners are held after work on non-date nights, and typically bring together a table of eight. Dinners can be strictly social or tagged for specific hobbies or industries, and diners link their RSVPs to photos and profiles.

GetLunched is on its way to the U.S. on the heels of its UK success. It integrates LinkedIn profiles into old-fashioned business networking. Job hunters, advice-seekers, brainstormers, and collaborators can extend a lunchtime invitation that specifies ‘I’m Buying,’ ‘You’re Buying’ or ’50/50,’ depending on the value exchange of the meeting.

Personally, I enjoy a table for one; just me and my meal—no extraneous conversation, no one asking me to switch to the tuna because they’re already ordering the lamb, no presumptive fork sticking into my dessert. But it would appear that many women don’t.  It makes them feel awkward or lonely, dredges up painful memories of the middle school cafeteria, or they could be traveling in a country where it’s frowned upon or even dangerous. Men are strictly banned from the women-only social pairings of Invite for a BiteMaiden Voyage, and Global Dinner Network.

Zokos calls itself a ‘collaborative party platform’. It takes the group beyond restaurants with DIY potluck dinners, picnics, tailgate parties, and cooking classes. You can designate yourself as host or guest, and zokos brokers the invitations, collects the ‘chip-in’ costs, and oversees menu contributions so you don’t end up with 8 pasta salads.

If the hours-long commitment to a meal with unknown companions is too much for you, how about a cup of coffee? Over Coffee pairs up compatible coffee drinkers, and plans to open their own bricks-and-mortar café to bring together strangers for caffeine and conversation.

For another take on not dining solo, check out Gigabiting’s Shoulder to Shoulder with Strangers: Dining at the communal table.

Posted in community, social media | Leave a comment

Drinking Liberally: This Ain’t No Tea Party

Are you wearying of the Republican primary marathon?
Sure, it was amusing at first watching the Perry and McCain gaffe machines, but lately all the fun has gone out of it. The incessant finger pointing and negative advertising is enough to try the patience of even the most committed political junkie.

This would be a fine time to connect with your 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 227 Drinking Liberally chapters in 47 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.

Think about the last Republican debate.
You probably sat at home with your head ready to explode from the especially inflammatory and preposterous candidate statements. Instead, you could have gone to a Drinking Liberally debate-viewing party where everyone is welcome to vent their outrage among friends, boo at the screen with every mention of Obamacare or debt ceiling, and empty their glass when Ron Paul talks about the Federal Reserve.
Drinking Liberally makes activism fun.

Promote democracy one pint at a time.
Find a Drinking Liberally gathering near you.

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.
Conservatives don’t have nearly this much fun.

Posted in community, diversions | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Would You Trade Your McMansion for a Cup of Coffee?

How’s this for a cultural shift: most Americans would forgo square footage for a house near a Starbucks.
For generations of strivers a big house was one of the most important emblems of status, a four bedroom jacuzzi-tubbed signpost along the roadway to success. The Jeffersons were movin’ on up; the Clampetts got their Beverly Hills mansion with a ce-ment pond in back. Now, it seems, you’re a nobody if you can’t walk out the front door and get a latte.

According to the Community Preference Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 77% of Americans say that walkability is an important factor in their housing decision, and they prefer nearby restaurants over schools, churches, parks, and movie theaters. 88% say that they would choose a smaller home in a neighborhood with nearby amenities over a larger home where they have to drive everywhere.

If you’ve ever lived in a highly walkable neighborhood, you already know what a beautiful thing it is. It gives you convenient access to the daily destinations of life. If you’re lucky, you can walk to school or work. If you’re even luckier, there are groceries, a decent bakery, and the all-important cup of coffee within walking distance.

A premium coffee vendor is no small thing to a neighborhood. It speaks to the area’s economic and cultural vitality; it signals that the neighborhood has arrived. A successful cafe can add to a neighborhood’s momentum, drawing in more businesses and raising property values, an upswing cycle that realtors and civic associations refer to as the ‘Starbucks Effect.’

You can learn the walkability rating of any home or business. Walk Score 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.

Check your Walk Score and see how it matches up against some of these 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.

 

Posted in community, home | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Supermarket Waste: Where Does the Old Food Go?

image via Scary Mommy

The out-of-date yogurt cartons, the dented cans, the misshapen potatoes that shoppers passed over.
There’s a lot of activity behind the scenes and after hours at your local supermarket. Employees strip the shelves of brown bananas, opened boxes, broken jars, and stale muffins. They take the past-peak quality produce and meats to the deli or the salad bar and recycle them into prepared foods. They also remove packaged foods approaching their expiration dates—still perfectly good, but who’s going to buy a 5-pound block of cheese with 3 days left?

The good news is that more food than ever is finding a second life.

Wholesalers and supermarket chains have set up reclamation centers that operate as clearing houses for products considered unsaleable by the stores. The centers are filled with Christmas cookies in January, Valentine’s chocolate in March, and a year-round assortment of products that are nearing their sell-by dates or have packaging that has since been updated by the manufacturer. Much of it is shipped off to dollar stores and discount grocers, two categories that have become important to the food chain in our current economic state. There you’ll find an ever-changing assortment of foods—items discontinued by manufacturers, unfamiliar regional brands, foods labelled for export, and plenty of familiar and even high-end products all offered at highly discounted prices.

Food banks are another outlet for unsaleables, and most supermarket chains and reclamation centers participate in some sort of hunger relief program. The passage of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages participation by protecting the stores and distributors from criminal or civil liability around issues of food safety. The FDA also enthusiastically supports the practice and has even emphasized that other than baby food and formula, most food expiration dates refer to the point when a product’s taste, texture, color, or nutritional benefits start to deteriorate rather than the point when you need to worry about the product’s safety.

Americans waste a lot of food—more than 40% of  all we produce. According to the The Natural Resources Defense Council if we wasted just 5 percent less food, it would be enough to feed 4 million Americans; 20 percent less waste would feed 25 million. This is indefensible at a time when both food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continue to rise.

On his Wasted Food website, Joanathan Bloom has a lot to say about food waste and what we can do about it.

AlterNet grades the food waste handling of Wal-Mart, Safeway, and other top grocery chains.

 

Posted in community, shopping | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Q: Should Food Stamps Be Used to Pay for Fast Food?

 

image via SoapBlox

A: Yes. It alleviates hunger and avoids demeaning and intrusive Nanny State regulations.
A: No. It’s a blatant money-grab by the fast food industry at the expense of the health of our neediest and most vulnerable.

Hunger advocates are howling over fast food giant Yum! Brands’ campaign to allow low income Americans to use food stamps at its Taco Bell and KFC restaurants. Anti-hunger advocates feel that any increase in the availability of food is a good thing.

It’s a nice chunk of change to go after.
The number of Americans who use food stamps is now close to 46 million—that’s 15 percent of the population—with almost $65 billion to spend on food. The program (properly called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it’s been stamp- and coupon-less for years, but the ‘food stamp’ name stuck) currently places purchase restrictions on alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, vitamins, and hot, prepared food. Chips, candy, soda—all fair game.

Yum! Brands is trying to put a common sense spin on it, and groups like the Congressional Hunger Center and the Coalition for the Homeless are backing the fast food lobby. With five fast food outlets for every supermarket in the country, they argue it’s a convenient option, especially for the elderly, disabled, or homeless. And food stamps can already be used in convenience stores and gas stations, places not known for healthy options.

On the other side of the argument, health advocates have the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their corner, and that’s who funds the food stamp program. They feel that we can’t afford to be indifferent to the quality of the food. Access to fast food, with its often alarmingly high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, should not be expanded for low income populations that are plagued by high rates of obesity and diabetes. And for those trapped in a sedentary lifestyle, like the elderly and disabled, these foods are especially insidious.

According to the Food Stamp Act of 1977:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, in order to promote the general welfare, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.
Clearly, the policy is not referring to access to the KFC Double Down, but is it really better to go hungry?

 

Posted in community, fast food, food policy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

For $500 You Can Be a Restaurant Seatholder

 

image via Bruno Fosi Industrial Design

Restaurant reservations have never been easy to come by in New York.
When the neighborhood is trendy (TriBeCA), the executive chef is a big deal (Daniel Patterson of San Francisco’s Coi), and the cocktails are overseen by a legendary bartender (Dale ‘King Cocktail‘ DeGroff), you’re either waiting a year or so for the place to cool down or dining at 5:15, six weeks from next Tuesday.

The team behind The Elevens is counting on that kind of buzz; in fact they’re banking on it. A good 6+ months from the spring 2012 opening, they’re looking to sell $1 million worth of something they call seatholderships. For $500 you can be one of 2,000 seatholders. That one-time investment will get you ‘priority’ reservations, a 25 percent discount on everything you order (and up to 3 guests, if you’re paying), and access to special events. They’re also promising to put some of the business decisions up for voting by seatholders.

The team behind The Elevens says that selling seatholderships is not just about the money, and certainly with all the accolades trailing them (James Beard Foundation awards, Michelin stars) one would assume there were other funding options. They are hoping to foster “a convivial community of compatriots… camaraderie with the staff and fellow regulars… a sense of proprietorship… of belonging.” And you can get a table on Saturday night.

An early draft of the food and cocktail menus are posted on the website, along with a little do the math section to show seatholder savings over 10 years. As of this writing, 84 seatholderships have been purchased.

 

 

Posted in community, restaurants | 1 Comment
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