cyberculture

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

The Slow Web. Why Stop at Slow Food?

 

Greywell Road image via Sebastian Ballard

Greywell Road image via Sebastian Ballard

 

The Slow Food Movement taught us to reject the creep of fast food and industrial food production so that we can rediscover and reclaim the pleasures of traditional food and cooking.
The Slow Web Movement aims to do the same for the internet.

The Slow Web isn’t a longing for dial-up.
Don’t let the name fool you; nobody wants to slow down your internet connection or take away your smartphone. The movement wants to keep the speed and efficiency of technological gains but find the human rhythm within it that allows for authentic personal connections and deeper engagement with content.

Just as fast food fills us with empty calories, the Fast Web is feeding us the fat, carbs, and sugar of the internet.
It serves up clickable lists and slideshows, infographics and timelines that target our basest appetites for gossip, scandal, eye candy, and stupid pet tricks. It’s short and sweet and goes down easily but is hardly a full meal.

The Fast Web also fuels its own feeding frenzy.
Think of how a communication exchange used to work. Information was provided in something like real time by the media or shared by someone in your circle. Maybe the interaction allowed for some give-and-take—questions, clarification, and the like—but your response could usually be held until you were ready to release it. You would exit real time for an hour or a day or a week when you could reflect and reconsider before formulating a response and committing it to a letter, a conversation, a phone call, or an email.

The Fast Web shrinks the feedback loop down to a nanosecond.
Online responses follow hot on the heels of real time, and if you don’t keep up you’re out of the loop. There’s no time to ponder but who needs to when communication is reduced to smiley faces, LOLs and WTFs? Have a question? That’s what FAQs are for. Craving more interaction? Then click it, pin it, like it, tweet it, or share it.

The How Much Information? project from the Global Information Industry Center found that in 2009 we typically confronted around 100,000 words on screens and 34 gigabytes of information every day. While it’s the most recent study of its kind, it comes from a era when we still thought ‘apps’ meant cheese and crackers and the world had yet to discover Instagram, Pinterest, and the iPad; no doubt our consumption is even greater today.The abbreviated feedback loop of automated algorithms and canned responses is all we have to keep us from drowning in a sea of data.

The Slow Web Movement is concerned with the ways that this erodes our attention spans and devalues our online interactions. We consume vast quantities of information but do so in an endless stream of insubstantial snippets. It all lacks depth and heft, context and analysis. We can’t possibly devote the time to ponder and noodle; to put something down and return to it later with fresh eyes and insights. All of the clips and snippets and soundbites will always be information and never become knowledge.

The founding Manifesto of the Slow Food Movement was written as a call to “defend ourselves against the universal madness of ‘the fast life’… against those who confuse efficiency with frenzy...” It calls ‘the fast life’ a virus that “fractures our customs and assails us even in our own homes.” Substitute Facebook for a McDonald’s hamburger and it’s clear that cyberculture  is infected with the same virus. It’s also easy to see why the Slow Web Movement has latched onto food as their model: just as with food, we need to restore communication and human interaction to their former positions as cornerstones of pleasure, culture, and community.

The movement is young, but there’s a groundswell of support.
The Slow Web Movement is explained more fully in the classic TED Talk In Praise of Slowness; it was a featured topic at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival; and even one of the Fast Web’s big winners, Arianna Huffington, has been stumping for the movement, advocating for a slower, more substantive news cycle.

Does this whet your appetite for more than the junk food diet of internet memes and viral videos?
You can get a taste of the Slow Web by downloading the Instapaper app and installing a read-it-later bookmark, and then loading it up with articles from Longreads, a collection of the best longform writing from current issues of publications like The New Yorker, GQ, The New York Times, Gawker, The Believer, Vanity Fair, and anything else that catches the editor’s eye.

 

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What’s For Dinner? Ask Your Phone.

via Run Wifey Run

 

Our days are filled with decisions. 
From the trivial to the life-altering, it’s been estimated that most of us make about 70 conscious decisions to get through the day, and dozens more that are too mundane and rote to penetrate our consciousness. 

Some really smart people think it’s best to ration out their mental energy. 
Albert Einstein was known for wearing the same clothes everyday, surmising that his brainpower could be put to better use than matching his socks to his shoes. Steve Jobs streamlined with his signature blue jeans and black turtleneck. It’s the same thinking behind Mark Zuckerberg’s uniform of t-shirts, flip flops and hoodies, and Barack Obama says he pares his wardrobe down to only blue or grey suits to avoid making any more decisions than he already has to, even citing research that shows that too many choices can lead to decision fatigue and degrade the ability to make future decisions.

There’s a new wave of decision-making applications that let us outsource the choosing.
You’re probably not launching a tech revolution or laying the groundwork for nuclear fission, but you still might want to take a few decisions off your plate. For the insecure, indecisive, or just plain over-whelmed, there are apps that can tell you what college to attend or stocks to buy or they’ll choose the next novel you’ll read. There’s a decision-maker for drafting a fantasy football team and another that tells you what sex position to use. But for many of us, at the end of a long workday all we want is someone to tell us what to do for dinner.

Most of the apps started out as shopping aids—snap a few selfies from the dressing room and let your online friends pick your new jeans—but creative users quickly turned them into menu planners. There are randomizers like coin tosses or a roll of the digital dice; apps that rely on complex algorithms based on your preferences and history; and crowd-sourcers that collect the opinions of friends or recommendations of strangers from outside of your social circle. Upload a menu, list the contents of your refrigerator, take some photos, or toss out polling questions, and let them decide for you.

SeeSaw’s dinner decisions come from your own panel of personal advisors while Thumb draws on the wisdom of the masses but lets you choose the collective demographic that’s polled for a given decision. Ding! takes the agony and office politics out of group takeout orders, and when all else fails, shake your iPhone and the UrbanSpoon decision-maker spins a roulette wheel to pick a restaurant.

What’s for dinner? It’s a decision that can stymie the best of us.
AppCrawlr has compiled a list of the top 200 decision-making applications, sortable by topic and decision-making methodology.

 

Posted in cook + dine, cyberculture, phone applications | Leave a comment

Wanna Bet? Online Gambling Meets Weight-Loss

 

dietbet-3

 [a few examples of current DietBet challenges–the stakes are getting high]

 

What are the odds that your diet will work?
DietBet
 challenges you to lose 4% of your body weight in four weeks and has you put your money where your mouth is. The service sets up a weight-loss competition, everyone throws money into the pot, and at the end of the 28 days it’s split among the players who reached the goal.

The obvious question: How do you verify?
48 hours prior to the scheduled start of the game, all participants have to upload two photos to DietBet: one full-body shot of the user standing on a scale and one showing the scale’s weight readout. The photos are reviewed by a team of DietBet referees. If they suspect foul play, they’ll request a video weigh-in, a Skype video chat, or a verifiable live weigh-in at a location like CVS or Walgreens. Authentication is repeated at the closing weigh-in, and if a participant doesn’t agree to the audit, the bet is forfeited to the rest of the dieters.

Next question: Isn’t this gambling?
Gambling involves betting on a game of chance or a future contingency—a horse race, a football game, the spin of a roulette wheel—events that are fundamentally beyond our control. DietBet is not viewed as illegal gambling because your weight is considered to be entirely under your control. Some might say that’s debatable, but the outcome of a diet is definitely not left up to chance.

Money and peer pressure are powerful motivators. 
They’re what’s behind employer-sponsored wellness programs, when coworkers work out together and track progress by corporate departments. DietBet brings the combination to online social networks. Users can post weight data and photos, updates and comments about their progress, and link it to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. And it works. DietBet claims that 90% of participants slim down, even if they don’t always reach the 4% target, losing an average of 5.4 pounds.

The money talks but the public shaming is viral. 
Recent studies at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Michigan Health System both confirm the motivating effect of financial incentives on dieters, and the five- and six-figure pots that DietBet attracts can go a long way toward strengthening resolve. The group dynamic can be equally powerful, and it provides both carrot and stick. The platform offers positive motivation and a supportive community with dieters sharing workout tips and recipes, and forums where participants can get advice from nutritionists, fitness coaches, and physicians. But the very public nature of a dieter’s progress can also lead to a failure that’s broadcast throughout their social networks. DietBet reports that the most socially engaged players are also the most successful, perhaps fearing public humiliation, losing an average of 20% more weight than those who don’t post to social networks.

DietBetters ante up with a bet from $1 to $99, and the service keeps 20% of the total as an administrative fee. More than 250,000 pounds have been lost through the application and total winnings are in the millions, with many dieters signing up for multiple rounds. To keep things friendly and safe, the pot is always split equally among all players that hit the 4% mark, and anyone who loses more than 12% of their body mass is disqualified.

 

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Quirky, Creative, Cool: The Latest Food Projects from Kickstarter

 

handout

Some say that Kickstarter’s gone downhill.
There’s controversy (should celebs be trading on fame to fund pet projects?). There’s scandal (a would-be dating guide author who advocates for sexual violence). There’s scam (a Kobe beef jerky ripoff funded 50 times over).

You could call it a victim of its own success.
The crowdfunding site for creative projects has only been with us since 2009 but has already funneled $600 million into 44,000 projects. It took nearly three years for a Kickstarter funding campaign to hit the $1 million mark; today you might see multiple projects reach it in a single day. And as a real sign of success Kickstarter parodies are popping everywhere: on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, in the pages of the Onion, on the sketch comedy show Portlandia, and all over the internet.

For all its growing pains it’s still the same old Kickstarter.
The competition is stiffer, the pitches have gotten slicker, but it’s still the funding platform that brought us the world’s largest jockstrap, hand-knitted beards, and grilled cheese Jesus. It continues to be the go-to funding channel for artists and dreamers, and you can find plenty of creativity, ambition, eccentricity, and just plain awesomeness among the food projects that are current vying for your patronage.

I’ve personally never played a food-themed game. They lack the literateness of Scrabble and the gameplay seems far from the addictive pace of Angry Birds, but they’re awfully big on Kickstarter so maybe I’m the exception.
There’s VivaJava: The Coffee Game. Players try to stay one step ahead of the competition as they hunt down the best coffee beans in the world. Each pulse-pounding roll of the dice brings a crucial decision: roast or research? In BEEF: The Game, you’re a cow trying to puzzle your way out of a slaughterhouse without bumping into Meatjoy the butcher. Extra points for rescuing cow companions. Wok Star is a race against the clock in a bustling Chinese restaurant. You have to get past pushy investors, fussy reviewers, and demanding customers while you rush to prep ingredients and stir fry the menu items. The player with the lowest calorie count is the winner for each round of Mealtime Sabotage. But look out because while you’re busy assembling a healthy meal from the recipe cards, your fellow diners are scheming against you, wielding sabotage cards of butter and bacon.
It makes perfect sense that another Kickstarter hopeful seeks funding to open GameHaus Board Game Cafe.

The cookbook category is currently a gloomy little corner of Kickstarter.
If a zombie virus ever contaminates our food supply, and said virus is spread to humans who consume meat and dairy products, we’ll be really glad that the vegan-zombie cookbook Cook & Survive! received its Kickstarter funding. Less of a longshot, but still a title we hope to never need is The Unemployment Cookbook: Abundant Eating on a Frugal Income.

There are sweets to cheer you up.
There’s the cinnamon roll and cookie hybrid known as the Cinnarookie, and The S’mores Campfire Kit which comes packed in a pyramid shaped kindling box that can be upended and lit on fire. Playa Paleteria hopes to bring its popsicle cart to Burning Man this summer, so while they only need $800 for fruit pops, if they can pull in an extra $1,400 they’ll add lights and a kickin’ sound system. And since someone is always going for a record on Kickstarter, there’s a group looking for backers as they attempt the World’s Largest Cup of Boba Tea with a straw that tops out at a height of 12 feet.

A couple of project pitches come from the urban agriculture movement.
The Duluth Grill Parking Lot Orchard has ambitions to shoehorn an orchard in among parked cars without giving up any parking spaces. Farmstead Meatsmith plans to cruise around in a rolling slaughterhouse and butcher shop, Potential backers should know that in the founders’ opinion, “there can be nothing more threatening to the billion dollar industry of meat fabrication than the ten dollar bill freely given in love.”

After popsicles, ‘smores, and zombie cuisine, we could probably benefit from The Skinny Mirror. Clever curving produces a funhouse-like effect that subtly slims your reflection. The maker claims that a peek at The Skinny Mirror (with the affirmation You are beautiful locked inside each frame) when you’re on your way out the door will boost your confidence and improve your self-image. All this and pledges start at just one dollar.

There are currently 194 food-related funding looking for funding on Kickstarter.
You can learn crowdfunding basics at Kicking Around Any Ideas? from Gigabiting’s archives.

 

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Online Auctions Make Fantasy Dinner Parties a Reality

 

Pop Culture lats Supper via Adara Tiana

Pop Culture Last Supper via Adara Tiana

 

Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik

Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik

 

Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello

Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello

 

Who’s on your fantasy dinner party guest list?

We’ve all played the parlor game: if you could invite anyone, living or dead, who would have at your dinner table?
As you go around the room and name your names, there are some predictable results. Jesus, the President, Steve Jobs, John Lennon, Einstein, or the Dalai Lama will make someone’s list. Maybe Warren Buffet would show up (who wouldn’t want some investment advice?), Gandhi (more meat for the rest of us), and Martin Luther King Jr. to say grace. So will someone’s sixth grade teacher and a great grandpa who died in a war. The rest of the table would probably be filled out with intellectuals and sex symbols, favorite writers, athletes, and Hollywood stars.

Online celebrity auction sites can pretty much fill your dream table, and the proceeds generally go to charity.
Currently you can arrange to have lunch with Gloria Steinem, cast members of the Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons, or with Francis Ford Coppola at the winery he owns in Napa Valley. You can dine with the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, have cocktails with Quincy Jones, or go to tea with primatologist Jane Goodall

Most of the sites operate with a standard auction model with the spoils awarded to the highest bidder. Omaze has a more raffle-like, and more democratic, process collecting thousands of small donations, usually under $10, and choosing the winner in a random lottery. The auctions donate from 80-100% of the proceeds to charitable organizations, usually chosen by the celebrities.

The hottest date right now—and it’s not even dinner but just for coffee—is with Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. The auction was first posted in April offering a cup of Joe and an hour of Mr. Cook’s time with an estimated value of $50,000. It reached $190,000 in the first day, and has since skyrocketed to $605,000 (placed by an anonymous bidder known only as J********n) with four days to go.

Check out Charity Buzz, EBay Celebrity, Hollywood Charity AuctionCharity Folks, and Omaze where you’ll see ongoing auctions for all kinds of social engagements with sports figures, politicians, artists, rappers, technology wizards, business leaders, and plenty of Hollywood stars. For the right price, or sometimes just a little luck, you can fill the dinner table of your dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mobee Turns Smartphone Users Into Mystery Diners

image via OC Review

image via OC Review

 

If there’s one thing that unites us all as a people it’s a collective love of free food.
And of course everybody’s a critic. That’s why the life of an undercover mystery diner sounds so appealing. Mobee is offering it to all of us with a new app that rewards users who will visit retailers and restaurants incognito and provide feedback.

Mobee is looking to turn the secret shopper industry on its head with a social media twist.
Traditionally, secret shoppers are used by companies to keep tabs on the customer experience. Usually an outside consultant maintains a small army of shoppers and diners, some trained critics, some ordinary members of the public, and regularly dispatches them to client locations where they pose as customers. When it’s a restaurant, they’re there to report on everything from hostess greetings to over-salted soup to bathroom cleanliness. The visit may be tightly scripted, and there is usually a long and detailed questionnaire that the shopper completes after the experience. Discreet note-taking may be allowed, but the diner can’t bring the script or other paperwork to the table, and the turn-around time for the post-dining debriefing can be hours or days.

Mobee’s founder Prahar Shah looked at a multi-billion dollar industry that still runs on paper and pencil, and he saw an opportunity.
Research showed that each outlet of a dining chain like Panera or Starbucks can spend $200 a month for surveys from four or five mystery diner visits. Factor in the  millions of customers who are already offering free feedback through recommendation sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon. Shah founded Mobee on the idea that a phone-based model enlisting an army of unpaid critics can gather more data for less money, and do so with greater accuracy and faster delivery than the standard industry practice.

Mobee slices up a full-length secret shopper assignment into bite-sized visits it calls missions. Each consists of 5 to 10 questions focusing on a specific aspect of the customer experience, and might request a photo. Since ordinary customers incessantly tap and snap with their phones, it can all performed in the open and transmitted in real time (the target restaurant market is casual and quick-serve— the behavior is basically standard rudeness). Users aren’t reimbursed for purchases but are paid in digital credits of generally $5 or $10 that can go into Amazon, iTunes, or PayPal accounts.

Mobee is live in Boston, where more than 30,000 missions have already been performed, and a national (and later international) roll-out is in the works.

The Mobee app is available for the iPhone, with an Android version coming soon.

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Online Wine Shopping: Let the Algorithm Do the Picking

image by Jomphong via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

image by Jomphong via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Would you trust a computer to choose your wine?
There’s a new generation of wine sellers counting on it.

Wine has been a tough sale online.
Wine shopping is daunting even in a traditional, bricks and mortar wine shop, where most customers wander the aisles a while and then end up grabbing an old favorite, an eye-catching label, or whatever’s on sale, with finger’s crossed that it won’t disappoint. It can be even more overwhelming online where the selection is inexhaustible and you don’t have store displays to cue you. Add to that a regulatory maze of interstate shipping laws, and by 2007, online sales were a piddling 3% of retail wine sales.

In the last few years, the internet has blossomed into a virtual vineyard.
Wine has benefited enormously from the rise of social media. There are thousands of online wine groups sharing tasting notes, alerting members to flash sale sites like Lot 18, and holding virtual wine tastings where on the count of three everybody uncorks and sips the same bottle. You can order wine for your Facebook friends through that site’s birthday reminders, and even Amazon, twice burned by failed wine-selling ventures, has jumped back in.

To succeed online, wine sites have to be more than just digital catalogs. Wine is consumed experientially, and in that sense its purchase has more in common with music or movies than with, say, a pair of shoes. That’s why the new generation of wine sellers looked not to Zappo’s but to Netflix for their sales model. And the secret sauce of the wildly successful video service is in the predictive algorithms that fuel their recommendations.

Online shopping has always run on recommendation engines.
The innovation was pioneered by Amazon, where now you’ll find them integrated into every inch of the shopping experience. From the home page through to the last click at checkout, Amazon beseeches you to consider ‘Frequently Bought Together’ items, ‘Customers Who Bought this Item Also Bought,’ and the less persuasive ‘Customers Who Viewed this Item Also Viewed,’ as well as ‘Sponsored Links,’ ‘Product Ads from External Websites,’ and a sidebar of  ‘More Buying Choices.’ Amazon’s algorithms skew toward building recommendation lists from items ordered by similar customer profiles. All the come-ons feel a bit like a traveling salesman with a foot stuck in your front door telling you about the vacuum cleaner your neighbor just bought.

Wine, like DVDs, requires more finesse.
Using its peer-to-peer comparative algorithms, Amazon derives a reported 10% of its book sales through recommendations on the site, while at Netflix recommendations drive 75% of the video viewing. Netflix accomplishes this through its algorithms, which turn an infinite buffet of data into a highly personalized, user-friendly experience. Instead of comparative recommendations, it builds individual profiles based on each customer’s individual preferences. It’s constantly throwing DVD titles at you, always asking your opinion about what you watch both on the service and elsewhere. Like Netflix, the new wine recommendation engines run on ratings. They build taste a profile based on what you’ve enjoyed in the past, and continually tinker with the profile as you rate your new wine purchases. And unlike Netflix, where the queue can get clogged with the entire Toy Story oeuvre, you don’t have to share this with your kids.

I’ll have what the MacBook Pro is having.
Try one of the new digital sommeliers:

Wine start-up Taste Factor, which compares the complexity of its recommendation engine to NASA, is like a custom wine-of-the-month club. Sign up for the subscription service and you get a starter pack of wine to rate. Your feedback establishes a tasting baseline, which is refined after subsequent monthly shipments, each of which is uniquely chosen for you.

Instead of NASA, Club W feels more like an online dating service. You start with a questionnaire—not about wine but lifestyle questions and details like how you take your coffee. The screen fills with potential matches, and you choose the ones that look good to you.

WineSimple also starts with a quiz to build each individual consumer taste profile. The geo-servicing phone app doesn’t sell wine, but it lets you know when you’re in a shop or restaurant that carries one of your recommended bottles.

 

 

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

Vine: The New Food Porn

 

You’re looking at clips from Vine, Twitter’s 6-second looping video app that’s the latest social media phenomenon.

A lot can happen in 6 seconds.
There’s a widely held belief in internet marketing circles that you have less than 10 seconds to make an impression—hook ’em fast or they’ve already moved on to the next site. Vine gives its creators 6 seconds of sound and video to amuse and entertain, share some knowledge, or tell a simple story. The brevity hobbles some and inspires others; you can end up with a frenetic unwatchable mess or a mini-masterpiece. Worst case, it’s still only 6 seconds.

Porn, lol cats, and food— the usual suspects take up residence.
Vine is a quick and dirty app that makes it incredibly easy to record brief video clips and share them on social networks. Within days of its launch, the porn hordes had jumped right in. Go figure. Pornographic video clips threatened to dominate the early content mix, nearly derailing Vine’s release, as they did with close cousin Chatroulette. Twitter and Vine’s guidelines don’t exclude pornography, but it does violate Apple’s terms of service for the App Store, and when a particularly nasty clip was featured as an ‘Editor’s Pick’ in the Vine app, Apple pulled the product from the App Store’s virtual shelves. Twitter quickly raised the minimum age limit to download the Vine app from 12 to 17; it shot to the top of the free app charts and has has stayed there ever since.

Vine has all the hallmarks of a lasting social media outlet. It’s easy to use and easy to unleash the results on Twitter and Facebook. The early flowering of porn has taken a backseat to the mainstream mainstays of bloopers, sports highlights, celebrity postings, the antics of cats and babies, teenaged girls showing off the contents of their closets, and food. Lots of food. There’s so much food porn on Vine that it’s been disparaged by some as ‘Chefroulette.’ Home cooks are showing off their knife skills, recipe sites are adding how-to segments, and the still-life of a dinner plate has given way to a video of clip of a meal’s progression of courses.

Vine’s video creation options are ON and OFF. You touch the screen to shoot and scroll to play. The app takes the raw footage and ambient sound, stitches together sequential shots, and loops them back on themselves. Its extreme limitations are seen as a challenge to unlock the creative potential of the 6-second snippet, and Vine has given rise to a new art form of imaginative visual arrangements, laugh-out-loud sight gags, and especially jaw-dropping stop-motion food animations that take advantage of Vine’s one and only, but surprising powerful, tool—the on-off switch.

There are lots of ways to explore Vine– even without the app:
Vinepeek is a live stream of un-moderated, newly-posted Vines. You’ve been warned.
All Around the Vines streams live but can be sorted by the hashtag #food.
Vinesmap shows geotagged Vines and plots them on a world map.
Vineroulette loads a full-screen collage of dozens of videos, sortable by subject.
VinesZap loads a preview grid of nine Vines. Click on what looks good.
Vinecatsbecause sometimes you need a break from all the food Vines.

 

Posted in cyberculture, diversions | 1 Comment

Oh Cap’n! My Cap’n!

Capn_Crunch

 

Does Cap’n Crunch have more lives than Tony the Tiger?

Back in 2011, the rumor mill started grinding with an article in AOL’s Daily Finance. A reporter noted that Cap’n Crunch cereal was nowhere to be found on the Quaker website. The article’s speculative title asked the question Is Cap’n Crunch Easing Quietly Into Retirement?
The piece was a rumination on the challenges facing the brand: its shrinking market share, public criticism of food companies that market to children, and White House pressure to make healthier products. It concluded that this is a pretty good time for the Cap’n to maintain a low profile.

The blogosphere then took that thread of speculation and ran with it:
Cap’n Crunch Retires (Seattle Post-Intelligencer); Cap’n Crunch sails into obscurity (Today on MSNBC); Cap’n Crunch Retirement (Yahoo! Buzz).
Fox News, as is its wont, took it a step further, fabricating a political angle: Food Police Kill Cap’n Crunch (Fox Nation)inspiring headlines in conservative blogs like Obama’s Soggies Force Cap’n Crunch Into Early Retirement (AsianConservatives.com), and Cap n’ Crunch: Michelle Obama Forces Captain Crunch’s Retirement?(Conservative BlogsCentral).

This spring Cap’n Crunch is sailing back from the brand equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.
Beginning May 7th he’ll be hosting his very own YouTube talk show set in a giant cereal bowl aboard his old ship, the S.S. Guppy. In the language of the Pepsico press release, the show’s content is described as a mix of ‘interesting guests, topical banter, and comedy sketches.’ The Cap’n’s faithful companion Sea Dog will serve as his on-set sidekick. The show’s official teaser can be viewed here. New videos will be added to the YouTube channel every other Tuesday through spring and summer.

Count Chocula could not be reached for comment.

 

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, Entertainment | 1 Comment

Restaurants Gear Up for the No-Show Season

Dear Harvard grads who cancel your large party CONFIRMED reservations at the last minute ‘something  just came up’, have fun ruling the world.

–tweet sent last May from the Twitter account of Cambridge, MA restaurant Rendezvous (@RendezvousCS)

It’s almost May, the month that brings warm weather, spring blooms, Mothers Day, and restaurant no-shows.
Fickle diners are a restaurateur’s worst nightmare at any time of the year, but the problem peaks in May with college graduation dinners.

Restaurants in cities with large student populations are thrilled at graduation time when families and friends descend on local venues for commencement celebrations. In cities like Boston and Philadelphia, the ceremonies at nearby colleges and universities can give restaurants their biggest nights of the whole year. The problem is, as J. Erin Reilley, general manager of Boston’s Bondir puts it: “Graduates and their families are notorious for flakiness regarding celebratory dinner reservations.”

There’s a penchant for multiple reservations. It can happen innocently when different family members don’t communicate about different bookings and they only learn of overlaps at the last minute. More often it’s intentional with someone trying to hedge their bets with the family’s taste buds. According to Bill Curry of Philadephia’s Cafe Nola: “[Students] will call five or six places and make reservations. Then when their parents get to town, they decide where they’ll go.”

The impact of even a single empty table can be significant in an industry where average profit margins run as low as 3% to 5%. Restaurateurs know that things can happen: a flight is delayed, someone gets sick, the babysitter cancels. But when research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business tells of an average no-show rate of 20% for restaurants in large cities, they also know that the real problem is rudeness.

And no one is immune. On a recent evening, two groups of diners didn’t claim their reservations at Noma, the celebrated Copenhagen restaurant considered by many as the best in the world. With just 12 tables and a tab that hovers around $500 per person it took a real bite out of the night’s business. The next morning, chef and co-owner René Redzepi tweeted: ‘And now a message from the Noma staff: to the people of two different no-show tables last night,’ accompanied by a picture of staff members showing their middle fingers. It was quickly deleted by cooler heads, but of course the retweets carried the message for days.

After a similarly rough night, another fed up restaurateur, this one from Los Angeles’ Red Medicine, turned to Twitter to publicly call out the customers who failed to show up for their booked tables:

redmedicine

Restaurants are experimenting with cancellation fees, reservation deposits, mandatory telephone confirmations, and the Twitter ‘name and shame.’ Of course the only real solution is for diners to realize that a little courtesy goes a long way.

 

Posted in cyberculture, food business, restaurants | 3 Comments

The Best Twitter Feeds for Food Lovers

[image courtesy of City Food Magazine]

[image courtesy of City Food Magazine]

 

The name Twitter was chosen by its founders because the dictionary defines it as “a short burst of inconsequential information.”
With a seven year history and a half a billion users no one’s calling Twitter inconsequential, but its tweets remain as relentlessly random and trivial as ever.
But Twitter opens a portal to the inner life of the food industry—the chefs, kitchens, patrons, and dishes—better than any other form of social media.

Twitter blurs the line between amateurs and professionals.
It gives a six-degrees-of-separation kind of connection to friends, strangers, and celebrities. It provides access, takes you behind the scenes, and invites you to join conversations that would be otherwise unavailable to you. The talk can be inane, aggravating, and inappropriate. It’s uncensored and often filled with more typos and grammatical incorrectness than you would think is possible in 140 characters. But there are also plenty of twitter feeds in the food world that are filled with focused, cogent, impassioned talk. 

Time Magazine just released its annual roundup of the best Twitter feeds. 10 food feeds made this year’s list.

  • Time calls the cookbook author and New York Times food writer Mark Bittman Twitter’s most-followable food wonk (@markbittman)
  • We can always use a little more snark from the author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain)
  • The former food critic for the New York Times, former Editor in Chief of the late, great Gourmet Magazine, Ruth Reichl has a way with words and food (@ruthreichl)
  • Combine Ruth Reichl’s stylings with Anthony Bourdain’s profanity and you get the parody mash-up Ruth Bourdain (@RuthBourdain)
  • Sure, he tweets about food, but celebrity chef and Top Chef  judge Tom Colicchio is also passionate about ending hunger in America (@tomcolicchio)
  • Foodimentary’s fun facts and food trivia provide a daily dose of esoteric web weirdness (@Foodimentary)
  • Pioneering food critic Gael Greene keeps the legend alive (@GaelGreene)
  • Jordana Rothman is irreverent, irrepressible, and knows everything there is to know about eating and drinking in New York (@jordanarothman)
  • She’s Alice Waters. That’s reason enough, but now you can also follow the effort to rebuild Chez Panisse after its devastating fire (@AliceWaters)
  • Pete Wells brings imagination and quotability to his role as Dining Editor at the New York Times while regularly unleashing the critical hounds of hell on New York restaurants. He shares even more in short form on Twitter (@pete_wells)

Oops, they missed a few.
There’s plenty of expertise out there; a good Twitter feed informs and entertains. The author that can cloak knowledge in humor and personality is the one I want to read. And if they can regularly accomplish all of that in under 140 characters, that’s a Twitter feed I want to follow. Here’s a few feeds that were overlooked by Time but made the cut for Gigabiting:

  • You can’t talk west coast food without including the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer. He’s in his third decade at the Chronicle where he heads the nation’s largest newspaper food and wine program, and he tweets great pics (@michaelbauer1)
  • Jonathan Gold is another essential part of that west coast conversation. He’s quick and quippy and relishes his role as the self-named ‘belly of Los Angeles’ (@thejgold)
  • Follow Food Curated’s Liza de Guia’s tweets like a trail of breadcrumbs through what’s new and happening in the Brooklyn artisan food scene (@SkeeterNYC)
  • I love you Amanda Hesser, and I feel like you love me too. That’s because the Food52 founder gets personal, accessible, and interactive with her feed (@amandahesser)
  • You’re on Twitter because you want to be connected. Nobody understands that better than Danielle Gould, the force behind Food+Tech Connect (@dhgisme)

You’ll find dozens more food-related feeds worth following among the Shorty Awards nominees. This is the fifth season for the awards recognizing the best in social media, and the food category leaders are jostling for the top prize. Winners will be announced in April, so there’s still time to nominate your personal favorite, cast a vote, or just look for some new folks to follow.

 

 

 

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The World’s Most Expensive ____________(fill in the blank)

[image via TrustedHealthProducts.com]

[image via TrustedHealthProducts.com]

Who else is fed up with the world’s most expensive food’ trend?
I’m talking about the $450 pizza (topped with lobster thermidor and black cod) or the $295 hamburger (made with white truffle butter-infused Japanese Wagyu beef and black truffles served on a gold-dusted roll capped with creme fraiche and caviar).
What a waste. Such fine ingredients are assembled but the goal is not to offer a magnificent dining experience but merely a budget-busting one. It’s doubtful that the dishes even originated with a chef. These are shameless stunts perpetrated by restaurant publicists, and most don’t even taste good.

The restaurateur as P.T. Barnum.
The more gimmicky and outrageous the stunt, the more it’s re-posted, re-pinned, and re-tweeted. And not just by the hype-hungry Buzzfeeds of the world: last December’s Most Expensive Christmas Dinner (a gold leaf-wrapped turkey served with 100-year old wine decanted through a filter of diamond dust) got plenty of column inches from traditional media like Time, ABC News, and the Washington Post. This kind of fleeting fame propels ever more short-sighted restaurant owners into the fray of culinary one-upsmanship.

There’s no question that the world of the one-percenters can be a fascinating place of lavish spending and culinary indulgence that the rest of us can only dream of. But this current fascination is not about elite and refined dining; it’s meals for one percenters with 99-percent tastes. It’s pub food like a $760 Scotch egga $1,565 rendition of the peasant chicken stew coq au vin, and even a $17 ‘Diva’ corn dog made with sweetbreads, bone marrow, truffle, and foie gras. And it’s impossible to keep up with the high-stakes most expensive hamburger category where there seems to be a revolving door to the title from all the jostling for preeminence.

Let’s say you want to set a new world’s record.
To make it official you need to go through the ‘Set a Record’ service on the Guinness World Records website. Once the category and methodology have been approved, verification of the feat requires signed statements from two witnesses plus photographic evidence, or the record-setter can pay for the presence of an official Guinness adjudicator. You can see the appeal from the restaurant’s standpoint: it’s a small investment, a quick and easy process, and if they hit it just right it’s a public relations bonanza.

These stunts have worn out their welcome.
Even at their best they’re one-offs based in novelty. Now, absent the novelty we’re left with a joyless can-you-top-this desperation. That plus a bad taste in the mouth from the realization that the world’s most expensive kebab costs as much as the per capita income of a Ugandan.

 

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SXSW Makes Room at the Table for Food

 

 

[image via bonappetit.com]

[image via bonappetit.com]

South By South West rolls into Austin this weekend.
The wildly influential set of film, technology, and music festivals and conferences will screen about 300 feature films and shorts; more than 2,000 musical acts will perform at showcases; and the biggest names and brightest minds in emerging technology will captivate audiences at hundreds of interactive sessions.
Care to guess what all those artists and thought leaders will be talking about?

At last year’s SXSW, the online media monitors at Meltwater Group identified around 300,000 Twitter conversations (the social network of choice for festival attendees) taking place in social spaces surrounding SXSW. According to Meltwater’s data, most of that social bandwidth was buzzing about food. Food tweets outnumbered tweets about performances, events, and panels at a rate of three to one.

In the early years of SXSW, food appeared mostly to help soak up all the free beer flowing at the festival. The interactive conference didn’t host its first panel on food blogging until 2009, but each year since has seen a steady increase in food-related topics. Food themes are scattered liberally throughout this year’s conference sessions tackling topics like the niche food blog, the culture of ‘pop-ups,’ product branding for artisan producers, and the ways that technology can enhance the food shopping experience. A strong line-up of keynote speakers includes the founders of Whole Foods and Panera, and the provocative New York restaurateur Eddie Huang who will headline a panel titled The Social Media Chef.

The food scene outside of the Austin Convention Center is also a major draw.
More than 18,000 attendees have already registered for this year’s inaugural food crawla self-guided walking tour through some of downtown Austin’s notable eateries. Food trucks show up from as far away as Los Angeles—that’s a 1,400 mile trek in a rolling kitchen—for a spot at the annual Street Food Fest. So many marketers are looking to put their wares in front of the SXSW crowd that there’s a guide to all the free food and drinks.

From apps to check the ingredients in your cereal box to online reservations and new payment methods, technology permeates the way we consume and experience food like never before. Follow the happenings at SXSW to see how industry stakeholders are leveraging technology to help the food system become more efficient, entertaining, healthy, just, and sustainable.

You can’t make it to Austin? No problem. Many of the showcases, speaker panels, and interactive keynotes will be streaming live at  sxsw.com/live. You can also follow the festival via official SXSW social media:

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Crowdsourcing: You Pick the Flavors

you-decide

Crowdsourcing is bigger than ever.
Pepsi, Lincoln, and Dannon all used it for their Super Bowl ads. We recently saw an indie music star crowdsource his tattooYahoo’s CEO crowdsourced her baby’s name, and an online mob of Monopoly fans convinced Hasbro to dump the iron, a game piece since the beginning, and replace it with a cat.

The food world is especially cozy with crowdsourcing .
Everyone eats, and everyone has an opinion about what they eat—witness the ever-expanding online universe of food discussion boards, reviewing sites, dining guides, and food blogs. The target market is already doing the work; crowdsourcing campaigns are just a way for food marketers to tap into all that passion, creativity, and collective intelligence.

Crowdsourcing pioneer Ben & Jerry’s has always relied on customer input. Even before the world had taken to the internet the company was selling ice cream flavors born from customer suggestions. In 2009 Ben & Jerry’s made it official with a crowdsourcing contest called Do the World a Flavor. They were looking for the next Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey, or Chubby Hubby, bestselling flavors that were all suggested by customers, and highlighting the company’s use of fair trade ingredients in its ice cream. The winner was Almond Delight, a caramel ice cream with praline almonds and a caramel swirl (later renamed Dulce Almond due to trademark issues), chosen from 100,000 entries.

Beer is social by its very nature, but brewers haven’t quite figured out the fit with social media. The Boston Beer Company used virtual sampling to develop a new beer through its Sam Adams Crowd Craft Project. Budweiser, though, wanted true sensory feedback for its crowdsourced Black Crown brews and combined local tasting events with online feedback through Budweiser Project 12.  Heineken clearly wants to engage online but doesn’t seem to want its customers anywhere near the beer. So far the company has turned to the crowd to create a pop-up nightclub and to design a commemorative anniversary bottle, but it hasn’t relinquished control over what’s in the bottle.

By contrast, Dunkin’ Donuts seems happy to hand over the keys to the donut shop. Their website and Facebook page periodically feature interactive donut-building tools that invite customers to get creative. Dunkin’ even paid $12,000 apiece to the online originators of Toffee For Your Coffee (glazed sour cream with Heath Bar chunks) and Monkey See Monkey Do-nut (banana filling, chocolate icing, and Reese’s Cup shavings).

Glaceau VitaminWater boasted of the first Facebook-created flavor. While not a purely virtual creation, the ‘Flavor Creator Lab’ monitored social media chatter on sites like Google, Twitter, Flickr, and Foodgawker. The application tabulated  tweets, blog posts, images, and searches to create a list of the 10 most buzzed-about flavors, and then let its Facebook followers vote for their favorite. The winner was a caffeinated black cherry-lime blend that was aptly named Connect.

Facebook has spoken. It said Cheesy Garlic Bread, Sriracha, and Chicken & Waffles. What? No Cajun Squirrel?
It’s the final phase of the mother of all crowdsourcing campaigns.
Snack food giant Frito-Lay put out the call for a new potato chip flavor on its Lay’s Facebook page, offering a million dollar bounty for the winner. Within a matter of weeks there were nearly four million submissions; they were whittled down to the three finalists. This week bags of Cheesy Garlic Bread, Sriracha, and Chicken & Waffles chips began shipping to stores nationwide.

From now until May 4th you can vote for your favorite flavor to become a permanent addition to the Lay’s product line. The two runners-up will each get $50,000, and the inventor of the top vote-getter will win the $1,000,000  prize or 1% of this year’s sales of the flavor. So far, Sriracha is looking like the odds-on favorite. You can vote via Facebook, Twitter (with hashtags #SaveGarlicBread#SaveSriracha, and #SaveChickenWaffles), or by texting VOTE to 24477.

The Lay’s campaign is new to the U.S., but in 2008 Frito-Lay held the first of it chip flavor competitions in the United Kingdom for its Walkers brand. Finalists Chilli & Chocolate and the aforementioned Cajun Squirrel were bested by the winning Builder’s Breakfast, tasting of bacon, sausage, and eggs. A 2009 Australian campaign produced the winning Caesar Salad-flavored potato chips, India went for Mango-flavored chips in 2010, and in 2011 Serbians chose Pickled Cucumber.

You can see all the global chip flavor winners at Ad Age.

 

 

 

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, food business, snack foods | Leave a comment
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