cyberculture

There Really is an ISIS Jihadi Cookbook- because even a Mujahideen marches on its stomach

image via Blazing Cat Fur

image via Blazing Cat Fur

 

ISIS is actively recruiting women to help with the domestic side of holy war. 
The jihadists are on social media outlets scouting for western women willing to travel to Syria to cook and clean for “Allah’s soldiers.” And not just any western women; they seek women who are “interested in explosive belt and suicide bombing more than a white dress or a castle or clothing or furniture.”

The self-proclaimed Islamic State established the Al Zawra women’s auxiliary group and tasked it with bringing new recruits up to speed.
It’s a jihadi-style finishing school for the women of ISIS, offering tips on snagging a warrior husband (sample tweet: “Marriage in the land of jihad: till martyrdom do us part,”), and instruction in such diverse subjects as sewing, Sharia law, weaponry, and battlefield first aid. The group has a worldwide following through its YouTube channel, Twitter feed, and Facebook account, and dozens of personal member blogs and Facebook pages spew English language propaganda (not all are reachable from U.S. computers).  

Special attention is given to cooking, with recipes for a “hungry mujahideen” released online as part of the Al Zawra Media “jihadi cookbook.”
Animated clipart cooking videos and elaborately detailed step-by-step photography accompany the recipes. Most dishes are simple foods that hit the spot during a break in the daily rampaging.

Date mush snack balls are described as “a quick recipe for a mild appetite to be eaten with coffee or with water and eaten at any time, especially during the intermission in battles. They contain significant calories, and will extend the power and strength of the Mujahedeen, God willing.” A more extended lull in the war against the infidels means it’s time for pancakes. It’s a western-style recipe (1 egg, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, 1 Tbsp oil, 4 tsp sugar, salt) served with honey. According to Al Zawra, pancakes fit for a terrorist should be cooked in a non-stick pan.

It’s the ordinariness that makes it surreal. 
The girls and young women of ISIS have Tumblrs and Instagram accounts like teenagers everywhere, but they gossip about husbands attaining martyrdom and share unrecognizable niqab-clad selfies. Their internet memes are less cats more suicide vests, and cooking lessons come from horrifically brutal terrorists. 
Al Zawra truly represents the banality of evil.

 

 

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Madison Avenue Makes Way for a Girl


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The Morton Salt Girl beat back the Keebler Elf, the Energizer Bunny, Mr. Clean, and the Jolly Green Giant to take her place among the most celebrated icons of advertising.
They were all vying to be this year’s inductee to the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame. The winner was announced in conjunction with Advertising Week, the industry’s annual, New York-based celebration of ads and agencies.

The Morton Salt Girl was the odds-on favorite in this year’s contest.
The umbrella-toting miss is celebrating her hundredth anniversary this year and she wasn’t shy about playing the nostalgia card for publicity. She teamed up with another century-old icon for the double centennial celebration of Morton Salt Girl Day at Wrigley Field, and has been strutting her stuff from coast to coast for 100 Parties.100 Cities.100 Days

Little Salt Girl; big social media maven.
A few years ago the Walk of Fame selection process shifted from the advertising community to a public vote, landing squarely in the Morton Salt Girl’s wheelhouse. Her classic pose was endlessly repinned on Pinterest pages and copied for an Instagram look-alike competition. Her timeless yet constantly evolving image was profiled in a sentimental YouTube documentary.  And she furiously worked to get out the vote on Facebook and Twitter, imploring her fans with the campaign slogan Make it rain! Make it pour! Vote Morton Salt Girl and raise her score! The elf, the bunny, and the bald man didn’t stand a chance.

The Morton Salt Girl broke through the glass ceiling to join her male counterparts on the Walk of Fame.
Just one other woman has made it—the weirdly enthusiastic Flo of Progressive Insurance got the nod in 2012. Certainly nobody expected to see a young girl rise from the old boys’ network of the food sector, with its long list of male inductees that includes esteemed heavyweights like Mr. Peanut, Colonel Sanders, Orville Redenbacher, Tony the Tiger, Juan Valdez, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

The Morton Salt Girl (and yes, that is her only name) has increased brand awareness, generated revenue, and withstood the test of time. Now she’ll have a permanent place on New York’s sidewalks. You can visit her along with the other iconic figures of branding at the Advertising Walk of Fame on Madison Avenue between 42nd and 50th Street.

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Food Rules to Get You Through the Winter

rules

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan crammed a world of food choices into those seven words. During the summer months of stone fruits and heritage tomatoes we’re all believers. But Labor Day has come and gone, the farmers markets will soon pack up their tents, and Pollanesque choices will start to dwindle. What will we eat then?

Pollan compiled a list of rules to back up his simple edict.
A mention of the project on his blog resulted in literally thousands of reader-submitted suggestions. He culled and compiled to create the easy-to-digest principles and instructions of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

It’s no easy feat to navigate the landscape of modern food.
We want our food to be nutritionally sound with no trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or growth hormone. The sodium should be low and the carbs complex. We want our food growers and manufacturers to trade fairly with their vendors and pay a living wage to their employees. They should conserve energy, limit emissions, and recycle. And somewhere in there we also want our food to taste good.

Ultimately, Michael Pollan settled on 64 food rules.
It’s mostly common sense guidance: Avoid foods you see advertised on television (#11); Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk (#36).
So go aheadEat your colors (#25); treat treats as treats (#60); and best of all, break the rules once in a while (#64).

Posted in blogging, diet, sustainability | 2 Comments

Man Crowdfunds $65,000 Bowl of Potato Salad

handout

 

No, you weren’t redirected to The Onion.
A few days ago, a Columbus, Ohio man launched a Kickstarter campaign with a modest $10 funding goal. He described the project simply as “I’m making potato salad. Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.” At $65,274 and counting, let’s just say that he can make any kind he damn well pleases.

Are you wondering why no one has tried this before?
Kickstarter potato salad couldn’t have happened without a recent rules change. Kickstarter streamlined the approval process with its new Launch Now option, and it eliminated a ban on ‘fund my life’ projects, although the site retains the right to shut down any active campaign it later deems unsuitable. And yes, this transition has opened the floodgates with dozens of newly launched, no-frills campaigns for things like a $20 batch of coleslaw, $12 bacon cupcakes, and a $3 pancake that’s sent through the mail.

Of course not everyone can expect to achieve potato salad levels of success.
That campaign had the good fortune to launch during the lull of a holiday weekend when a slow news day garnered it a little media attention, thousands of Facebook shares, and its own Twitter hashtag. It also happens to be a clever skewering of the Kickstarter sensibility that brought us projects like the world’s largest jockstrap, hand-knitted beards, and Grilled Cheese Jesus. The joke’s not on the thousands of people who have signed on to fund potato salad; they’re funding it so they can be in on the joke.

 

Posted in cyberculture, funny | 1 Comment

From Dot-Com to Dot-Whatever

image via Hypographia

image via Hypographia

 

The internet is too big to be contained by .com, .net, .org, and .gov.
The organization in charge of internet addresses is pushing a major expansion in domain name suffixes. Brands can now apply to own their own domain suffixes like .pepsi or .nike, and there will be keyword suffixes like .dating, .travel, and .football

For years we’ve been making do with just 22 suffixes, plus a few dozen country-specific ones like .uk  and .fr for Britain and France, but the floodgates have been thrown open. According to NetNames, thousands of new suffixes have been applied for, with nearly every large company in the U.S. and western Europe planning to transition within the next three years. There’s already a new universe of domains using Cyrillic, Arabic, and Chinese characters, and fierce competition has risen as Google, Amazon, and other online giants vie for prized suffixes like .book, .store, .app, and .cloud.

Côtes du Rhône, Napa Valley Chardonnay, Chateau d’Arsac-Margaux: to wine lovers, these names speak volumes.
The wine industry is very particular when it comes to labels—there are varietal names, vineyard names, winery estate names, and geographical appellations. They define grape varieties and winemaking practices, topography, climate, soil, traditional methods, and sourcing of ingredients. French wine labeling relies on a classification system that dates back to 1411. The evolving standards for American wine regions are newer but no less critical to the industry’s integrity and economic success. The requirements link each bottle to a particular location where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, all of which speak to specific characteristics, production standards, and the quality of the product.

The new suffixes pit domaines against domains. 
On both sides of the Atlantic, winemakers are fighting to keep out new domain name suffixes 
and vow to boycott them if they’re issued. They fear that the new domain names will open the door to misrepresentation, fraud, and counterfeiting. Think of Champagne versus the world of lesser sparkling wines: everything from pruning to vineyard yields to the degree of pressing to release dates has been codified. The Champagne label has been legally protected for centuries, extending into more than 70 countries and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. But those legal protections don’t extend to internet governance, so pretty much anyone with the requisite $185,000 purchase price can go out and register the domain name suffix and affix it to any old bottle of fizzy plonk. 

The names and reputations of the world’s great wine regions and varietals might be priceless, but unscrupulous cyber-squatters will no doubt test the limits.
They’re lining up to buy the most illustrious and treasured of the appellations. They expect to ‘flip’ them for profit to legitimate wine industry constituents, or hold them and extort usage fees. 

What’s in a domaine name?
History, terroir, reputation, quality.
What’s not in a domain name?
Transparency, accountability, oversight, legal protection, global international agreement.

Learn about the new domains from the issuing agency: the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, cyberculture | Leave a comment

Thousands Go Hungry as Instagram Crashes

via The Meta Picture

via The Meta Picture

 

It was around 1:30 pm on Saturday when Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing platform, experienced a worldwide outage.
Selfies went un-shared, cats did the cutest things that you’ll never get to see, and cruelest of all, no food photos could be posted just as weekend brunch time was peaking.

The thwarted Instagrammers found a supportive community on the still-working Twitter where they soon sent #instagramnotworking to the top of the trending topics. Much of the turmoil was centered around a philosophical conundrum not unlike the classic inquiry into perception and reality posed by the question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

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There were expressions of anger

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and of frustration

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Some tweeted out tales of resilience and ingenuity

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and others completely folded under the pressure

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Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. In the wake of the Instagram Crash of 2014, we have to ask: what about the unexamined meal?

 
 
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Chefs on Twitter: Why Do You Want to Follow Them?

image via Bon Appetit

image via Bon Appétit

 

Really, why would you read the 140 character musings of chefs?
It’s not a rhetorical question and I’m not asking it snarkily. Chef twitter streams are as individual as cooking styles, and some chefs are as adept with social media as they are with a boning knife while others careen from mundane to puerile like a bad banana split. 

The first thing you have to ask is why is the chef on twitter? 
The chefs themselves have their own varied reasons for tweeting. Some tweet within an inner circle of other chefs, sharing support and tips and keeping tabs on far-flung colleagues. Others expand the circle to include friends, fans, and loyal customers to create interest and build loyalty. Twitter can be a platform for the personal and political agenda of an activist chef, or it can increase a restaurant’s bottom line when it’s used as a promotional tool or a barometer that gauges customer satisfaction.

Then there are the brand-building celebrities.
Their tweets don’t originate from the depths of a steamy kitchen but from the carpeted offices of social media managers. Instead of the off-the-cuff remarks of a chef with two thumbs and a smartphone, you’re getting a twitter stream that’s maintained by a marketing professional who analyzes the demographics of followers (who can number in the millions) and crafts targeted messages that hone a chef’s public persona and plug their line of cookware.

Now ask yourself what do you want out of it?
You can find out about tonight’s dinner specials, put in your two cents about a recent meal, get some industry insider commentary, or see what your favorite chef eats for breakfast. You can rub online shoulders with a high-flying celebrity or be a fly on the wall of the bistro down the block. Twitter can bridge the gap between cook and customer, chef and fan. Once you know why you would want to follow a chef, here are some lists that will help you find one that fits the bill.

The 15 Most Followed Chefs on Twitter
The Huffington Post presents the big dogs.

Michelin Starred Chefs
ElizabethOnFood focuses on European restaurants with lists of Nordic Michelin starred chefs on Twitter and British and Irish Michelin starred chefs and restaurants on Twitter. @MichelinGuides publishes a list of starred chefs from their New York, Chicago, and San Francisco guides.

11 Flavorful Celebrity Chefs on Twitter
Mashable considers these to be the tastiest feeds out there.

The Archetypes
Zagat 
divides celebrity chefs into five categories: The Real Me, The Highly Edited, The Retweeter, I Am Who You Want Me to Be, and The Politicos.

118 Twitter Feeds Every Food Activist Needs to Know
Not just chefs but also farmers, writers, researchers, and policy makers, this exhaustive list comes from Food Tank.

Yahoo Food! gave us an April Fool’s Day gift of 7 Funny Foodie Twitter Accounts.
There’s the absurdist @coffee_dad, the inane @tofu_product, the tongue-in-cheek fetishism of @daily_kale, and other feeds that parody and skewer our foodie culture.

Who Chefs are Following on Twitter
Restaurant Hospitality magazine’s list of chef-recommended feeds.

14 Chefs and Their Very First Tweets
They all had to start somewhere, and Grub Street shows us where.

 

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SPAM Defies the Odds to Emerge Triumphant

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

 

Is SPAM, dare I say it, trendy?
Recent headlines tout the mystery meat as hipster approved and are heralding its comeback at hip New York restaurants. House-made artisanal renditions are showing up on charcuterie plates, and it appears straight from the can as the featured ingredient in a Quickfire Challenge round on Top Chef

SPAM: a gelatinous block of porky luncheon meat.
Spam: a steady e-mail assault of erectile dysfunction ads, entreaties from Nigerian princes, and replica watch offers.

It’s hard to imagine a brand surviving this kind of association, but Hormel SPAM is doing just fine, thank you very much, not just surviving but thriving.

Hormel used to be awfully touchy on the subject.
In the mid 1990′s they watched their once-proud brand become synonymous with a detestable digital menace. They cried foul, suing a chunk of Silicon Valley for trademark infringement. A Hormel spokesman explained the company’s position with a statement on their website: “We are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, ‘why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk e-mail?’

In 2001 their worst fears were realized.
That’s the year that ‘spam’ made it into the Oxford English Dictionary— not as a luncheon meat but as “The practice of sending irrelevant, inappropriate, or unsolicited postings or e-mails over the Internet, esp. indiscriminately and in very large numbers. Still, after years of legal debate, the judges of the Trademark Board came down on the side of the tech companies. They ruled that the brand wasn’t truly damaged because no one confuses the internet application with a canned meat product.

For all of Hormel’s anguish, SPAM seems unmarred by the negative association.
Born in the Great Depression, SPAM is an emblematic food in America’s hard-times pantry. It’s so closely linked with vagaries of the economy that it’s been suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank should track SPAM sales as an economic benchmark. After a sluggish stretch, SPAM roared back during our last economic downturn and has been posting record sales and profits ever since.

SPAM has finally made peace with the internet.
In 2012 the brand introduced Sir Can-A-Lot, an animated spokescharacter with his own YouTube channel. He’s a little tin can of a knight who’s on a crusade to rescue your meals by infusing them with some pink processed meat. SPAM also has a presence on all the usual social media sites, and lists more than 3,000 mostly ill-advised recipes on its website.

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The Food Porn Index Asks: Kale or Cronuts?

Foodpornindex

 

Without the internet the cronut would be but a gleam in Dominique Ansel’s eye, bacon would be a lowly breakfast meat, and the ramen burger would have stayed on its own side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Nothing can blow up a food phenomenon like the internet. Social media gave traction to introductions like the Taco Bell Dorito-chipped taco (a billion sold in its first year) and Tastykake’s Birthday Kake Cupcake flavor (21 million photos and hashtags in its first 2 weeks), and even gave kale its 15 minutes of internet fame.
The Food Porn Index wants to see more kale, fewer cupcakes.

The Food Porn Index tracks the food we’re sharing online.
It trawls Twitter and Instagram looking for hashtagged mentions of fruits, vegetables, junk food, and keywords like ‘snack,’ ‘condiment,’ and ‘fried,’ tallying a few hundred million in the six weeks since the site launched. It keeps a realtime count of two dozen items and regularly updates the standings as the numbers toggle between healthy and unhealthy foods.

It’s lively, mesmerizing, and well-worth a few minutes of your time. It might even be good for you—according to a Harris Interactive poll conducted in conjunction with the site launch, of Americans who use social media, 51% claim that seeing photos of fruits and vegetables motivates them to eat healthier.

 

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

olivertwist

Please Sir, can I have some more quinoa?

 

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

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

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

quinoa

 

 

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

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

 

A visual guide to eating quinoa:

do not eat

do not eat

eat

eat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David-Lynch-Cooking-Video

 

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

 

50shades quinoa

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

The Procrastinator’s Guide to Restaurant Reservations

sign via Chefville

via Chefville

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in cyberculture, restaurants | 1 Comment

McDonald’s is a Big Loser at the Sochi Olympics

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Food Storytelling: The (Old) New Genre

image via ManayunkDish.com

image via ManayunkDish.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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A Hacker in the Kitchen

image via Beauty Through Imperfection

[image via Beauty Through Imperfection]

 

Hackers have a bad reputation.
We think of disaffected teenagers looking to circumvent security measures and wreak a little havoc on society, and of bottom-rung hoodlums in former eastern bloc countries trolling online for passwords and credit card accounts. 
Actually, that kind of nefarious tampering is not hacking. It’s more properly referred to as cracking.

Hacking is in fact a higher calling.
In the classic sense of the term, a hacker is a fixer, a tinkerer, a lover of processes. The original Internet Users’ Glossary defined a hacker as ‘a person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.’ Wikipedia’s definition goes so far as stating that ‘Hacking entails some form of excellence.’

Hackers are everywhere.
The term has been co-opted by groups outside of the tech community to describe any kind of clever, non-traditional improvement to process and productivity. Pick a noun, follow it by ‘hack,’ Google the combination, and you’re bound to find a community sharing tips and hints and suggestions.

Kitchen hackers are hacking in the pure sense of the word.
They devise elegant solutions to clumsy processes. 
The following is a sorted, selected, and edited list of websites offering food, cooking, and kitchen hacks. Think of it as a kind of list hack.

Life Hackery claims to ‘hack your life into shape.’ It offers up time-tested kitchen wisdom with its list of 50 Amazingly Helpful Time-Tested Tips for the Kitchen.

Tip Nut has 34 Handy Kitchen Measurement Hacks & Tidbits that free you for improvisational cooking.

Instructables offers step-by-step instructions for esoteric projects like making rainbow vodka with Skittles and edible shot glasses from gummi bears.

DIY Life will whip your kitchen into shape with its instructions for things like stove top tuneups and new uses for aluminum foil.

Cooking for Geeks and Cooking for Engineers are full of clever cooking shortcuts. Both are pitched toward the seriously enquiring mind as they delve into the why along with the how.

Food Network Magazine rounds up the best hacking advice from the network’s roster of television chefs.

Did you know that you can make perfect hard-boiled eggs in the oven or that a rubber band can keep apple slices from turning brown? Kitchen Hacks is brimming with pragmatic saves and shortcuts about buying, growing, cooking, preserving, and eating food.

Table Matters hacks into kitchen appliances and equipment, breathing new life into muffin tins, crockpots, and immersion blenders.

The granddaddy of life hacking sites is, of course, Lifehacker, which tackles a wide range of food, cooking, and kitchen topics.

Posted in appliances + gadgets, cyberculture, food knowledge | Leave a comment

The State of the ‘F’ Word

foodies gif

animation via Foodies Distributors

     When the word first appeared in the early 1980’s, who would have thought it would be used as a slur? Foodie has a pleasingly egalitarian ring to it with none of the haughtiness of gourmet or the implied gluttony of gourmand. It’s not effete like epicure, and doesn’t suggest the scholarliness of a gastronome.

The first foodies were rebels. They broke with the old-guard, with its formality and its singular attachment to French cuisine. Appreciation of food and wine was taken out of its context of formality. A Chinatown noodle joint could achieve the same stature as haute cuisine on the Upper East Side. A single peach could be as sublimely pleasurable as a Grand Marnier soufflé. The true foodie could properly enjoy both.

Somewhere we lost our way.
The genuine passion of early foodies gave way to hype. Food became an over-heated emblem of status and lifestyle as a new breed of foodie giddily scampered after the shiniest new thing. They weren’t looking for genuine gustatory exploration and experiences; they were collecting superficial foodie trophies to post on their Facebook walls.

The backlash was a foregone conclusion.
The
New York Observer coined the phrase ‘foodiot’ to described these tiresome gastro-diarists: ‘They used to talk about sex and politics and TV shows. Now they can’t stop yapping about what they’re shoving down their pie holes.’ The Atlantic challenged the self-involved elitism of the food obsessed, calling foodie bashing a ‘moral crusade.’ Then came the smart, snarky blog Shut Up, Foodie! that announced its arrival on the scene with these words: ‘Attention, locavores, omnivores, urban butchers, backyard beekeepers, cheese fanatics, and conspicuous consumers of consuming: Your chickens won’t save the world and we don’t want the life story of everything on the menu. We don’t care what you eat–we just want you to lower the volume. Also, please stop talking about ramps.’

We’re 20 years into the era of runaway foodism.
First We Feast
 chose this moment to take stock. They ask the question: What does the word foodie really mean in 2013?
Responses come from many of the chefs, media editors, and television personalities who define contemporary food culture.
Go to State of the Union where they sound off on pop culture, ingredients, and lexicography.

 

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Food Photography: Over-Exposure Turns Us Camera Shy

food art via Dan Cretu

cucumber camera via Dan Cretu

 

Food porn is a modern sacrament.
There was a time when saying grace was a standard, pre-dining ritual. Now nobody eats until the plates are photographed.
Instead of blessing food, we document, catalog, upload, tweet, and post it.

Bad form or bad photos?
There are questions of form, especially when camera flashes pepper a dining room, but it’s mostly a problem of scale.
The numbers tell the story: nearly 100 billion photographs have been uploaded across various social platforms. What began as foodie fabulousness on display has expanded to include every mundane snack, sip, nibble, and nosh.

The backlash has arrived.
Too many meals have sat cooling, too much ice cream has melted. Enough with the tripods and filters and chair-perch gyrations. I don’t care if it ruins your shot. When the food arrives, I want to pick up my fork without delay.

There are snarky websites like Pictures of Hipsters Taking Pictures of Food, and the Hungry Channel spoof that documents the fallout when restaurant-goers ask to take photos of the plates of fellow diners and then haul in massive lenses and lighting equipment. Even Apple parodied the phenomenon with its clever iPhone5 ad touting the phone’s ability to capture quality images in “whatever dimly-lit, exposed brick, no reservation, basement restaurant your friends care about more than each other.”

Not merely idle sniping, there is a scientific basis for feeling fed up with food pics. Researchers call it sensory boredom. They’ve found that looking at too many photographs of food can dull your pleasure in the foods they depict. When you’ve seen one too many photos of salty snacks, you’ll lose interest in that bowl of pretzels because your sensory experience of saltiness is already satiated.

Your photographs can add up to more than gustatory navel gazing.
The new Feedie app turns your food pics into real food for needy children. 
The pet project of Mario Batali and a slew of Hollywood celebrities, Feedie has signed up an ever-expanding universe of restaurants that will trade your photo sharing for a donation to the non-profit Lunchbox Fund, an organization dedicated to providing a daily meal to extremely poor and at-risk school children. When a diner uses the Feedie app to upload a photo to their social networks, the participating restaurant will donate the equivalent of one meal to the Fund.
It’s a good cause; your dining companions can’t complain, even if you use a flash.

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, restaurants | Leave a comment

Put Your Facebook ‘Likes’ to Work

image via NewLikes

image via NewLikes

 

The Facebook ‘like’ button is one of the most valuable technological innovations of our lifetime.
It’s the keys to the kingdom, the feature that turns social networks into something more than the sum of its users, the revenue generator that adds billions to Facebook’s coffers, and the engine that propelled Facebook’s IPO into the stratosphere.
You (yes, you) are creating enormous wealth. So why don’t you have something to show for it?

recently settled class action lawsuit against Facebook lays this all out for us.
Facebook was fined $20 million for putting users in Sponsored Stories without their permission, and is required to add some transparency to the process. The lawsuit shows us how a little click of the thumbs-up icon is turning us into unwitting, unpaid product endorsers. Our actions are plugging products to our social network; our names and profile photos are integrated into Sponsored Stories and advertisements that appear on our friends’ pages. Facebook even has the right to show the ads with our names and pictures on sites other than Facebook.

We’re the ones holding all the cards and we don’t seem to know it.
The products get our personal endorsements. Facebook gets the ad revenue. We’ve become the ads, but we’re shut out of the equation.

The like button is clicked so often that in a year the number of likes adds up to whatever the big number is that comes after billions. And those endorsements are especially big business for Facebook since they’ve been shown to influence purchase decisions at three times the rate of straight advertising. Fortunately, we’ve got Swaggable shaking up the model.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of liking it, Swaggable wants to make sure you get a little something for your effort.
Swaggable hooks you up with free products that are matched with your preferences. You pay nothing, not even shipping costs, and manufacturers send you free product samples. They hope you’ll continue to do what you’re already doing—share your opinions with your social network. You’re not obligated to write a review, and you’re expected to be honest about the products so that your opinions can maintain a semblance of impartiality.

A good chunk of the brands that Swaggable represents are specialty foods. You sign up via Facebook, telling Swaggable what types of products you’re interested in, or you can make specific requests for products you want from their current offerings, with new ones added every week. Samples are full-sized retail packages of mostly new and trendy foods, and Swaggable highlights categories like organic, fair trade, vegan, and non-GMO.  Right now they’re sampling brownie bars, mango chips, spiced nut mixes, wasabi salad dressing, and a few dozen other products.

Swaggable puts a little pinkie finger on the scale to shift the balance of power a tiny bit toward us.

 

 

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The Food Network is History, Tastemade is the Future

cookingshowstvs

 

Matlock. Murder She Wrote. The Food Network.
The Food Network has gotten old. The shows are stale, the hosts have overstayed their welcome, and the audience is sliding into middle age.
Along comes Tastemade.
It’s a multi-channel network on YouTube that’s not just aiming to host the next generation of food shows. Tastemade wants to be the future of programming for the modern media age. It’s instantly global, social, and available anytime, anywhere. See the difference?

One year-old Tastemade is not just any old startup but is already a force to be reckoned with.
Tastemade creates original programming but the bulk of its content comes from networked partner channels. It has assembled a network of more than 100 food channels seen in over 200 countries and across multiple networks and devices. It’s got serious money behind it as well as the backing of serious players from technology and media, including early investors in TiVo and Netflix. There’s also a wildly popular app that storyboards users through the making and uploading of their own one-minute mini food shows. It takes just a few minutes and nothing more than an iPhone or iPod to create a restaurant review or cooking demo that’s shared with a global audience.

If you’re much older than a millennial you might not get it.
It sounds like a lot of unpolished content to slog through when you could just tune into a little Rachael Ray or Chopped on TV, but Tastemade speaks to an overall shift in viewing patterns. YouTube is the dominant go-to website for a generation raised on visual computing, even routinely used for content searches in the same way that older audiences rely on Google. But younger generations are still hooked on the traditional format of episodic television entertainment, and they look for more than the random aggregation of the YouTube universe. Tastemade finds the viewing sweet spot with a combination of TV-length, serialized shows plus digital media creation and discovery.

The Food Network was launched twenty years ago and it immediately won us over with a roster of talented chefs and cooks who entertained us by sharing their knowledge and passion for food. In recent seasons the real cooking has taken a backseat to inane competitions, product placements, dumbed-down instruction, and loutish celebrity hosts. 
Tastemade’s multi-channel platform is squarely aimed at a new, global generation of food lovers, but the fresh, truly food-centric content belongs in everyone’s future.

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, Entertainment | 2 Comments

Hormel SPAM vs. E-mail Spam

 

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

 


SPAM: a gelatinous block of porky luncheon meat.
Spam: a steady e-mail assault of erectile dysfunction ads, entreaties from Nigerian princes, and replica watch offers.
It’s hard to imagine a brand surviving this kind of association, but Hormel SPAM is doing just fine, thank you very much, not just surviving but thriving.

Hormel used to be awfully touchy on the subject.
In the mid 1990’s they watched their once-proud brand become synonymous with a detestable digital menace. They cried foul, suing a chunk of Silicone Valley for trademark infringement. A Hormel spokesman explained the company’s position with a statement on their website: “We are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, ‘why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk e-mail?’

In 2001 their worst fears were realized.
That’s the year that ‘spam’ made it into the Oxford English Dictionary— not as a luncheon meat but as “The practice of sending irrelevant, inappropriate, or unsolicited postings or e-mails over the Internet, esp. indiscriminately and in very large numbers. Still, after years of legal debate, the judges of the Trademark Board came down on the side of the tech companies. They ruled that the brand wasn’t truly damaged because no one confuses the internet application with a canned meat product.

For all of Hormel’s anguish, SPAM remains unmarred by the negative association.
Born in the Great Depression, SPAM is an emblematic food in America’s hard-times pantry. It’s so closely linked with vagaries of the economy that it’s been suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank should track SPAM sales as an economic benchmark. After a sluggish stretch, SPAM roared back during our current downturn and has been posting record sales and profits for the last five years.

SPAM has finally made peace with the internet.
Last year the brand introduced Sir Can-A-Lot, an animated spokescharacter with his own YouTube channel. He’s a little tin can of a knight who’s on a crusade to rescue your meals by infusing them with some pink processed meat. SPAM also has a presence on all the usual social media sites, and more than 3,000 ill-advised recipes on its redesigned website.

 

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Nose to Tail Starts With the Head

HeadCheese

 

Let’s start by getting the ‘head’ and ‘cheese’ business out of the way. 
Yes, it’s made with a head; usually that of a pig, but sometimes from a calf, cow, or sheep (good to know if you keep kosher).
No, there isn’t any cheese involved (the lactose intolerant can relax). The name evolved from the Latin word forma—a basket or box used as a mold—most often to compress and form cheese curds but also for meat terrines; as forma, and then fromage, became the word for cheese, the molded meats were swept along.

Said head is plucked and shaved, the earwax is cleaned out, and it’s simmered for hours— skin, snout, eyeballs, tongue, and all. The cooked meat is seasoned and packed into a mold along with the collagen-enriched stock (from all the bone and cartilage) which gels as it cools.

Looking at a well-constructed slice of head cheese can be like peering through a stained glass window with its mosaic effect of shimmering aspic dotted with suspended jewels of braised pork bits. At its finest, a slice of head cheese is tender meat and wobbly gelatin that melts on the tongue. Bad headcheese can be grayish, dry, and pasty, studded with the occasional bristle or tooth missed in straining, but that’s another story…

Any cuisine that cooks with pork has a version of head cheese, since when it comes to the pig’s head, it’s pretty much head cheese or toss it. In Germany it’s called sülze, it’s queso de puerco in Mexico, giò thủ in Viet Nam,and formaggio di testa in Italy. The Brits call it brawn and in the southern U.S. it’s known as souse. You probably eat more head cheese than you realize a slice can be snuck into a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or served as a salumi alongside its charcuterie cousins.

Your kitchen will look like the set of a slasher flick, but it’s otherwise not that difficult to make your own head cheese. So if you ever find yourself in possession of a whole pig’s head and a dozen or so friends willing to share in the results (that’s why they’re your friends), you’ll be amply rewarded with pounds of the stuff.

London chef Fergus Henderson’s cookbook The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating was an instant classic of  ‘nose to tail’ cooking. The book inspired the blog Nose To Tail At Home documenting the efforts of home cook/blogger Ryan Adams as he bravely cooks his way through the book, one pig knuckle or rolled spleen at a time.

 

Posted in blogging, cook + dine, food knowledge | 2 Comments
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