Pope Francis and Wine: His Cup Runneth Over

Pope Francis enjoys a taste during communion in St. Peter's Basilica via patheos.com

Pope Francis enjoys a taste during communion in St. Peter’s Basilica via patheos.com


Vatican City consumes more wine per capita than anywhere else in the world—and its number one citizen is no slouch.
The Pope’s paternal grandfather was a winemaker near Asti in Piedmont, Italy, and as a child he grew up drinking bottles shipped to Argentina from the family vineyard. As the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, he loves a good wine metaphor (he compares a heart that isn’t luminous to bad wine, while grandparents are likened to a fine vintage) and extolls its celebratory virtues (“Imagine drinking tea at the end of a celebration. No, it’s not good! There is no party without wine!”).

The meek may inherit the earth but Pope Francis preaches that “The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love.”
He’s not talking about altar wines used in the celebration of the Eucharist “There’s very little sacramental wine that’s good,” according to the Rev. E. Frank Henriques, an Episcopal priest who is the author of The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine, but there’s no reason it can’t be. Roman Catholic canon law governs the making of sacramental wine, and pretty much the only requirements are that it be unadulterated and naturally fermented from pure, fresh grapes. It can be red or white, dry or sweet, and even fortified. Basically any naturally produced wine fits the bill, but most churches rely on a handful of bulk winemakers who label their product for ceremonial use after its purity has been formally pronounced by a bishop of the vineyard’s diocese.

Pope Francis is known to take pleasure in off-the-altar wines. Earlier this year a Vatican gathering of wine producers, oenologists, wine journalists, sommeliers, and representatives of Italy’s gourmet associations awarded him a diploma as an honorary sommelier, honoring his elevation of wine “not just in relation to its Christian symbolism but also to its hedonistic aspect.” And he so thoroughly enjoyed his namesake Cabernet FRANCis, a gift from Napa Valley’s Trinitas Cellars, that his cardinals had to relinquish their own gift bottles to beef up the Pope’s supply of the limited commemorative bottling.

Wines of the Papal visit
While in Washington, Pope Francis will be served a 1986 Harbor Mission Del Sol made from California Mission grapes that were originally planted in the Sierra foothills by Franciscan friars. America’s oldest (143 years) sacramental winery, upstate New York’s O-Neh-Da Vineyard, is supplying wines for the New York leg. So far there’s no word yet on vintages or varietals to be served when the Pope lands in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, but there will be no fewer than 10 specially brewed beer (some made with holy water) to greet the pontiff, Philly style.


image via Philadelphia Brewing Company

image via Philadelphia Brewing Company

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A Blessing and a Curse: The Supertaster Gene


Extra tastebuds on your tongue? You could be a supertaster.


Most of us are born with around 10,000 taste buds on our tongues; many more and you’re a supertaster.

Supertasters perceive far more subtle and nuanced flavors than the rest of us. It’s a genetic trait, like being endowed with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision. It’s found in about 15% of the population, and the ranks include countless wine connoisseurs (wine writer Robert Parker famously insured his own supertasting taste buds for a million dollars) and a disproportionate number of chefs. But it’s a mixed blessing. Assertive flavors present more vividly— salt is saltier and sugar is sweeter. A bitter beer can be off-putting. Hot peppers can be punishing. Hardly a garden of gustatory delights

Supertasters tend to prefer orange juice to grapefruit, green beans to broccoli, spinach to kale. They have a penchant for creamy, fatty foods but as a group are thinner than the general population. Supertasting is found in more women than men, and more Asians and African-Americans than Caucasians. Supertasters are likely to be known as picky eaters as children, but many of them will grow up to be good cooks, mastering techniques that will mute unpalatable tastes.

It’s all in the tongue.
There are two genetically determined traits that distinguish supertasters’ tongues. One is the greater number of taste buds densely packed into each square inch of the tongue’s surface. This gives greater sensory capacity, leading to more precise sensing of flavors. The second trait is the perception of a particular chemical compound (6-n-propylthiouracil known as PROP). Vegetables like  brussels sprouts and kale are loaded with it, and most people get a slightly bitter taste from the dark greens. About a quarter of the population sense none of the bitterness, and supertasters are overwhelmed by it.

Does this sound like you? There are a few tests to determine if you possess either of the attributes of a supertaster.

Bland, vile, or somewhere in between? Test your sensitivity to the bitterness compound. The Supertaster Test Kit contains two sets of PROP-infused strips and a detailed test guide.

For an easy home test, swab a little food coloring on your tongue and check the number and concentration of taste buds.

Take this quick and easy quiz about food preferences to see if you could be a supertaster.




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Has the High Price of Eggs Got You Down? Rent a Chicken.



Egg prices have more than doubled in most of the country and there are more increases to come.
An avian flu outbreak that struck farms in egg-producing mid-western states has led to the deaths of more than 48 million chickens causing wholesale prices to skyrocket—a record-breaking 85% jump in May alone. Because most of the affected birds were egg-laying or breeding chickens as opposed to those raised for meat, it’s wreaked havoc on chicken economics. For the first time ever, eggs are a more expensive form of protein than chicken breasts.

Measures for these desperate times.
The egg shortage forced the Whataburger chain to abbreviate its breakfast service, Rita’s franchises substituted eggless soft-serve for its signature frozen custard, and Chinese-American Panda Express tried putting the yellow in its fried rice with corn kernels. But for everyone with a backyard there’s another option: chicken rentals.

People lease cars because it’s less hassle and commitment than ownership; same with chickens.
There’s a slew of poultry leasers out there with regional and even national presence like Rent the Chicken, Rent-a-Chicken, The Easy Chicken, Urban Chicken Rentals, Coop and Caboodle, and Rent a Coop. They all follow pretty much the same formula: For around $150 a month, they deliver two or more hens that are of egg-laying age, a portable chicken coop, food, bedding, and supplies to last the rental period, and an instruction manual. The rental season usually runs from late spring to early fall, the prime laying season with long daylight hours and warmer temperatures when a chicken produces about an egg a day. At the end of the rental period, the leasing company comes to retrieve the whole setup,

Poultry leasers report that about half of their renters have grown so attached to the chickens that they opt to purchase them outright rather than return them for the winter. These are backyard farmers who got hooked on the fresh eggs, the feathered pet-like creatures, and some serious locavore bragging rights. Others are relieved to hand back filthy, shrieking fowl that barely edge out snakes in cuddliness, and are prone to ailments like poultry mites and pasty butt.

For those inclined toward the latter version of avian husbandry, you can always lease your own little piece of the farm while keeping your fingernails clean with Rent Mother Nature. There are no laying hens but you can lay claim to a beehive in the Catskills, an oyster bed on the Puget Sound, a lobster trap off the coast of Maine, or a pistachio tree in the Arizona desert, and for one season the harvest is yours. You can lease a dairy cow and the farmer will ship back wheels of cheese, the sap from your stand of sugar maples comes to you as syrup, and the wheat from your leased acre of farmland is milled into flour. Rent Mother Nature sends out periodic progress reports during the growing season, and many of the farmers welcome personal visits from lease-holders. There’s a minimum guaranteed bounty with a roll-over to the next season if it’s not met, and your larder will overflow if there’s a bumper crop.


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Your Social Media Profile Rendered in Ice Cream

Which Gelato Flavor are You? PSFK is a Cocoa Rambutan Tangelo
You’re Sweet and Cool and Kind of Nutty.
You’ve already been assessed by Myers Briggs, done your colors, read your horoscope, and found your spirit animal. Now you can fine tune your personality typing with your own custom-matched gelato flavor.
Talenti Gelato launched a campaign called Flavorize Me that purports to create a flavor profile based on your social media profile.
It looks at your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts and analyzes keywords within your profiles and posts to identify compatible tastes. Then it matches those tastes with corresponding ingredients to create a custom flavor.


Flavorize Me creates a personalized ‘science-ing of your flavor,’ a mathematical breakdown and graphical representation of your results. Are you more sour than sweet? Maybe you’re molasses-sweetened with a balsamic vinegar glaze. Or you could be a well-balanced orange ricotta cinnamon toast. Or a spicy clove muffin peppercorn. Flavorize Me has a 25,000 keyword database and an algorithm that can create 50 million unique flavors.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 5.03.57 PM.png

The campaign runs until August 2, and in September Talenti will announce which six personal flavors will be going into production, with free pints for the winners. Until then, you can peruse the unique creations shared on Twitter using the hashtag #flavorizeme.


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Food Emojis: Look What You Can Do With Them!

Smile, You're Speaking Emoji by Zohar

Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji by Zohar Lazar


Emoji is the fastest growing language the world has ever seen.
That’s right, language. It’s syntactic enough that the UK Guardian printed an emoji transcript of President Obama’s last State of the Union Address, and the Library of Congress recently catalogued its first emoji title, Emoji Dicka faithful translation of the Melville classic. Four in ten of us have sent messages entirely made up of emoji, and only 2 in 10 texters can finesse meaning and nuance well enough to completely go without.

Food emoji 101
Emoji is overseen by the same Unicode Consortium that creates worldwide standards for all of the computing industry’s encoding and representation of language. Since emoji originated in Japan, it makes sense that many are emblematic of that country’s culture. Nowhere is this more obvious than with food emojis where symbols include a bento box imgres-3, fish cake imgres, and rice ball imgres-2. New emoji characters are regularly added as part of wider updates to the Unicode Standard, and recent additions reflect the growing influence of American texters.  The last batch included the burrito imgres-4, cheese wedge imgres, hot dog imgres-1, popcorn images, and the taco images-1, which made the cut after Taco Bell advocated for its inclusion, collecting more than 25,000 signatures on a Change.org petition. Never satisfied, food-loving texters and bloggers are constantly sharing their wishlists for the next round of emoji introductions. First We Feast nominates the red Solo cup, the Chinese takeout container, and portraits of notable food celebrities; Thrillist wants to see a waffle, a pretzel, and a shot glass; and everyone’s wondering what, no bacon?

Emojis are catalogued in the Emojipedia which currently lists 59 in the food and beverage category.
Here’s what you can do with them:

  • You can search the recipe archives of the New York Times by emoji,



or cook with a Bon Appétit Magazine emoji recipe.


  • Follow the emoji diet profiled in The Atlantic.

…This diet is essentially the opposite of Atkins. Of the 59 food emoji, eight incorporate rice, and 11 are desserts…



  • Recreate your favorite food emojis as their real-world correlates,


           or as Rice Krispie treats.

images-1 11377823_677687572376014_1983125150_n

  • Wear your favorites as a sweatshirt.




The Unicode Consortium has named six new food emojis that are being considered by the Unicode Technical Committee for inclusion in the next update scheduled for mid-2016. They are croissant, avocado, cucumber, potato, carrot, and yes, finally, bacon.



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More Men Grocery Shop, Few Reports of Testicle Shrinkage

notepad from Guajolote Prints

notepad from Guajolote Prints


It’s big news to retailers: men are no longer the hapless dolts of the household.
They can finally be trusted to walk into a supermarket with a list and walk out with more than chips, bacon, and beer.

Just a few years ago stores were rolling out man aisles.
2011 was the year that men first surpassed women as the likely primary shopper of their household and retailers were scrambling for ways to broaden their man appeal. Studies were commissioned and theories were trotted out, and they latched onto the old chestnut of men as hunters and women as gatherers. Shopping was seen as a modern adaptation of our species’ ancestral skills and the theory goes that man has no interest in strolling the aisles. He’s programmed to treat the supermarket like a prehistoric hunter; he should get in and out quickly and stay in safe territory. These days instead of a gazelle one in ten men is on the hunt for a good under-eye cream to reduce puffiness, but the male ego still needs reassurance that they’re not performing ‘women’s work.’ Stores like Target, CVS, and Wal-Mart established their man aisles as safe havens within their stores where men wouldn’t have to encounter troubling lady things like Tampax and mustache bleach, or be led astray by probiotic yogurt and frilly tarragon leaves.

Gone are the days of dopey dads and ‘honey-do’ lists.
Grocery shopping is now evenly shared in most households, and among millennials it’s predominantly a male domain. And except for their resistance to coupons (most men say it makes them feel like a cheapskate), their shopping habits and patterns are nearly indistinguishable from women’s. Men and women grocery shop with the same frequency and spending differences are narrowing. They’re in a virtual lockstep when it comes to engagement and concerns for the role food plays in the household’s well-being. They choose fresh ingredients over processed the same rate, and assign similar values to local foods, nutrition quality, and branded goods.

As the stereotypes fall, so go the man aisles.
When we shop for food for ourselves and our families, we’re driven by needs that transcend gender. It’s nice to see the supermarkets finally got the memo.




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Compliments of the House? Teaspoons, Napkins, Sweet’N Low Packets: These are not on the takeout menu.

restaurant retribution via Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry Sanders endures restaurant retribution via Curb Your Enthusiasm


Diners are notorious for pilferage.
They waltz out the door with silverware, glassware, and salt shakers stuffed into pockets and handbags. They load up on bottles of hot sauce, straws, and thick stacks of paper napkins. Artwork disappears from walls and flowers from from tables. Restrooms have their own subculture of thievery with patrons treating it like a Costco run, stocking up on toilet paper and cleaning products.
If it’s not nailed down…and sometimes even when it is.

This not about need. You’ll find sticky-fingered diners in every class and category of restaurant. Sizzler gives up a lot of steak knives but so does Peter Luger. Particularly exalted locales are often especially targeted. The Stockholm hotel that hosts the Nobel Prize winners’ banquet replaces silver teaspoons by the hundreds after every awards ceremony, and the restaurant at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria runs a no-questions-asked amnesty program for larcenous guests with troubled consciences. But troubled consciences are rare; whether it’s a handful of condiment packets or a logoed coffee mug stashed in a coat pocket, most pilferers tell themselves that it’s practically a victimless crime.

Restaurant thieves have a knack for rationalizations.
They shift responsibility to the restaurant: ‘If they didn’t want me to have it they wouldn’t have put it out’; or ‘They want the PR.’ They’ll call it a ‘memento of a special occasion’ or justify the theft because ‘it has my initials on it.‘ There are brazen ‘collectors’ who display stolen treasures in gilt frames and china cabinets, and serial scroungers who boast that they haven’t bought their own coffee creamer in years.

Who among us doesn’t grab a few extra Starbucks napkins for the glove compartment? Or a handful of mints from the bowl? What about those teeny, tiny Tabasco bottles you sometimes see? Aren’t they perfect when you bring lunch from home? Whether it’s a handful of condiment packets or a logoed coffee mug stashed in a coat pocket, the perpetrator is convinced that the moral stakes are low; it’s not like you’re stealing an old lady’s handbag. Restaurant thievery has been called a crime of the moral majority, committed by otherwise upstanding citizens.

Neon signs, plumbing fixtures, taxidermied animals, novelty urinal mats: read about the most epic, outrageous, and audacious acts of restaurant thievery in Eater’s ongoing series Shit People Steal.




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Virtual Reality? How About Virtual Lasagne?

Virtual Reality can create a world without calories or food intolerances. 
Diabetics can eat donuts, dieters can indulge in fried chicken, Jews can eat bacon, and every child can have peanut butter—and it’s all sugarless, low calorie, kosher, and allergen-free.

Virtual Reality is not pie in the sky. 
VR devices are already a reality with Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR headsets, and major tech players are gearing up with strategic partnerships and billion dollar acquisitions. While food scientists work out the fine points of virtual taste and texture, developers are bringing VR food applications to market.

The Russian Tea Room via YouVisit

The Russian Tea Room via YouVisit Restaurants


YouVisit Restaurants offers VR tours of an impressive list of New York City restaurants. It’s more 3-D tour than fully immersive experience, but the application is free and they’ve signed up hundreds of restaurants including iconic locations like The Russian Tea Room, Tavern on the Green, Delmonico’s, and Le Cirque.




CyberCook Taster calls itself “the next evolutionary step in cooking media.” It’s designed to “tackle the disconnect” between what we read and watch and what we actually cook. The app combines a hyper-realistic kitchen simulation with hands-on, interactive elements.

laboratory pie, Project Nourished

laboratory pie, Project Nourished


virtual reality pie, Project Nourished



Virtual Reality meets molecular gastronomy at Project Nourished, developed by the West Coast think tank Kokiri LabThe project utilizes sensory inputs through a VR headset, external food detection and motion sensors, and aromatic diffusers. The physical food is crafted mostly from algae, seaweed, fruits, vegetables, and seeds bulked up with hydrocolloid polymers and gums, while the simulated dining experience transforms the substances into a savory and sumptuous meal. The plate says ‘vegan, lo-cal, gluten-free’ while the brain is duped into perceiving steak and cheesecake.

Tastes are relatively easy to recreate. Textures are much trickier. The lab-created meals are essentially jello-like substances enhanced with salt, sweeteners, and flavor compounds. Early simulations have focused on foods like steak, lasagna, and fruit pies—all foods with large, regular surfaces and simple geometry—that are easiest to mimic and work well with the sensors.

the digital interface of taste over internet protocol

Taste I/P: the digital interface of taste over internet protocol


The ‘Taste I/P’ approach to Virtual Reality removes physical food from the equation. 
It borrows from the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) methodology that’s used for the delivery of voice communications over IP networks. Instead of voice messages, Taste Over I/P formulates XML-based taste messages that can travel within existing communications frameworks.

It’s earned the nickname ‘the digital lollipop’ because the transmitter communicates with tiny electrodes that are placed on the tongue. The electrodes receive electrical currents that stimulate the tongue’s heat, sensation, and taste receptors tricking the brain into perceiving flavors. The technology could make it possible to send a taste of cake with a Facebook birthday greeting, or for a television chef to share real time tastes with a viewing audience.

Virtual Reality has a long way to go before it’s the truly immersive, ultra-sensory media experience demanded by food applications.
But the early signs point to its enormous potential, both culinary and clinical, and these early glimpses whet the appetite.

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When Life Gives You Lemons… The Snow Edition



via ReBloggy


You’ve shoveled, plowed, and salted it, but there’s still plenty of snow on the ground.
49 states began this month with snow cover, and in some places a new foot and more has fallen since (yes, Hawaii, I’m talking about you). As picturesque and pleasing as holiday snow can be, the honeymoon is over for most of us in January; by March we just want it gone.

Maybe the problem isn’t the snow. Maybe it’s us.
It’s possible that the snow hasn’t overstayed its welcome; perhaps we’ve just run out of imagination in dealing with it. Instead of thinking of snow as an inconvenience or a nuisance, maybe we should treat it like just another backyard surplus, like an overgrown rosemary bush or too many zucchinis in the garden. In which case, it’s time to rifle through the old recipe box and see what we can come up with.

Food.com has a recipe for Snow Cake that calls for 2 cups of freshly fallen snow to be folded into a batter of sugar, shortening flour, and milk.

The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association offers Sugar on Snow, a kind of maple candy made by pouring heated syrup over packed snow. It forms glassy sheets of chewy taffy that they claim pairs best with sour pickles.

Paula Deen recommends Snow Ice Cream, an easy three ingredient mix of vanilla, sweetened condensed milk, and snow.

Traditional farmhouse cooks swear by Snow Pancakes, claiming that new snow makes  for an exceptionally light and fluffy version.

Wherever there’s snow, you can bet that someone’s making a sno-cone: Hawaii has shaved ice, Filipinos have the halo-halo, in Guatemala it’s called granizada, and in Taiwan it’s the bao bing.

Falling snow is as pure as most drinking water, and usually cleaner than rainwater, which picks up more pollutants and particulates as it makes its way from cloud to ground. Certain dangerous algae can exist in snow at extremely high altitudes, but most snow is perfectly safe to eat and if it’s cooked in a recipe, that should take care of most micro-organisms.


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The Terroir of the Shopping Mall Food Court


Alaskan food court favorite Hot Dog on a Stick


Mall dining is much more than a shopper’s pit stop.

There’s an uninspired sameness to mall stores.
Close your eyes and you could be in any mall, anywhere, with the same overstuffed department stores at each end and the predictable mix of national retailers and ear-piercing kiosks. But if you’re looking for a sense of place, you just need to head to the food court. In between the ubiquitous soggy pizza and cinnamon buns you’ll find surprising expressions of regional preferences, and even, dare we say it—terroir.

Terroir, which is usually used to describe wines, is that ineffable sense of place that comes from the sum of the effects of a local environment. It takes in geography and geology, climate and heritage, class and culture. Instead of Mosel Riesling and Loire Valley Muscadet, shopping mall terroir is embodied in regional affinities for grilled subs, bubble tea, and cheese steaks

Terroir is where you find it.
While many restaurant chains are named for localities, they can be surprisingly popular outside of their namesake regions. Boston Market and Uno Chicago Grill are both more beloved in Mid-Atlantic states than in hometown malls, while Moe’s Southwest Grill and Ted’s Montana Grill are Southeast favorites. The Great Lakes embrace Texas Roadhouse in greater numbers than native Texans, while Jersey Mike’s Subs are all but shunned in the Garden State but have become a favorite on the West Coast. California Pizza Kitchen and South Philly Steak & Fries both are true to their names, and everyone everywhere loves A&W All-American Food.

Cupcake and donut bakeries are disproportionately represented in New England malls. Mid-Atlantic shoppers take more bagel and bubble tea breaks than anyone else, and in the Great Lakes they like to sit down with a bowl of soup. Southwesterners like to nosh while they shop with gelato and roasted nuts. They line up for buffets in the Plain States, and a single mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania is home to five separate Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel outlets.

Mall food courts are so much more than Cinnabon and Sbarro. See what you’re missing with Thrillist’s coverage of lesser-known delicacies: REGIONAL FAST-FOOD CHAINS THAT NEED TO BE EVERYWHERE, IMMEDIATELY.



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Actually, Grandma Isn’t All That Good a Cook

                              [grandmothers and their cooking- images via Gabriele Galimberti]


According to a CNN/Eatocracy poll, Grandma’s cooking is pretty hit-or-miss.
21.5% report ‘wonderful’ food coming out of both of their grandmothers’ kitchens, but most rate at least one of their grandmas in the range of ‘decent’ to ‘yuck.’

Does it even matter?
Nonna, Bubbe, Grammy, Abuela– Grandmother in every language is synonymous with warm and squishy feelings. It’s associated with the soft focussed nostalgia of childhood celebrations, family gatherings, and traditional dishes. So what if Grandma over-cooks and under-salts everything?

Grandma probably doesn’t know from whole grains, goat cheese, and fresh ginger. She started cooking when lettuce meant iceberg, the best coffee came ground in a can, and yogurt was strictly for health nuts. But she also wasn’t cooking with mono- and diglycerides, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, modified food starch, and the multitude of flavorings, preservatives, and texturizers found in today’s food. We call it ‘whole food’ when we cook without processed and refined ingredients; grandmothers just call it food.

Scientists theorize that feeding grandchildren has essentially transformed human evolution.
The grandmother hypothesis looks at the role of grandmothers in the early history of our species. It says that healthy, long-lived grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren, freeing their daughters to produce more children at shorter intervals. This meant that grandmothers with the greatest longevity ended up feeding the most grandchildren. Those descendants, who also carried the longevity gene, went on to enrich the gene pool of our ancestors. Recent simulations run by the Anthropology Department at the University of Utah suggest that 60,000 years of Grandma’s cooking has added 20 years to our lifespans.

With In Her Kitchen, the Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti celebrates the breadth of grandmothers’ cooking. He visited 58 countries, documenting family matriarchs and their traditional meals in a multitude of cultures and contexts. Each is photographed with a symmetrical arrangement of ingredients paired with a second image of the completed dish. Click through the images for a brief biography of each woman as well as recipes for each dish.

All those proud grandmas in their kitchens; you can’t help but smile. Who cares if any of them can really cook?!



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The Surprising Names Behind the Brands You Trust



The average American supermarket carries nearly 40,000 products.
It sounds like myriad options until you realize that most of them—estimates run as high as 90%—come from fewer than a dozen companies. Acquisitions and consolidation have left us with Unilever-Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, ConAgra-Hebrew National kosher salami, and PepsiCo-Sabra hummus, and all but 15 of the nation’s organic food processors are in the hands of multinational giants.

The melding of brands matters.
When you buy Sweet Leaf organic tea you’re a customer of a company that funds initiatives to block GMO labeling; the parent company of your Morningstar Farms veggie patties is party to the mass destruction of rain forests. Stealth ownership of brands means that your carefully spent grocery dollars are ending up in the hands of the top 10 food and beverage producers who together emit more greenhouse gases than Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway combined. If you care about poverty and hunger, child labor, living wages, women’s rights, and climate change, then you should care about who really owns the brands that are lining the shelves of your supermarket.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign rates the social and environmental policies of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. The top 10 companies are megacorporations whose products are sold virtually everywhere on the planet. Millions of people, most in poor countries, rely on them for employment in agriculture and production. Their policies and business practices shape national economies and influence lifestyles for billions of global citizens. Oxfam evaluates the companies according to seven criteria: corporate transparency, women’s rights, labor practices, farming practices, land use, water use, and pollution. While some companies are doing better than others, overall it’s a fairly bleak portrait of the food system.

Oxfam’s campaign highlights the massive reach and global influence wielded by just 10 companies. If these industry leaders can be prodded to use their power responsibly, they could play a major role in the world-wide fight against hunger, poverty, inequality, and climate change.

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Makers and Hackers: Here’s Your Refrigerator



The FirstBuild co-creation community debuted a really smart refrigerator at CES 2015, the giant, global consumer electronic fest that landed in Las Vegas this week.
FirstBuild‘s industrial designers, scientists, engineers, and fabricators partnered with GE Appliances to reimagine household appliances. The ChillHub is the collaboration’s first community-generated product launch.

The ChillHub refrigerator isn’t just smart; it’s hackable.
It’s got WiFi connectivity, 8 USB ports, and is compatible with a Best Buy-full of other appliances, gadgets, sensors, and control systems like Nest and OneCue. But the real draw is that it’s all open-source. The source code, circuit board, and the mobile app are free and available to anyone that wants to tinker, modify, or customize the fridge. In keeping with the open-source spirit, creators are encouraged to design 3-D printable ChillHub accessories and share the templates with other owners who can download, print, and assemble their own products.

Dozens of different accessory components are currently in various stages of production, some still in the concept phase and others that are already distributed through the FirstBuild website. There are diet trackers, bacteria-killing lights, an egg tray that hard boils your breakfast, and an in-fridge safe to keep medicine out of a child’s reach. Coffee brewers and smoothie makers are big, as are dispensers (milk, beer, soda), butter (softener, stick cap), and anything that makes bad refrigerator smells go away.

Visit FirstBuild.com to see the the ChillHub and its many user-created accessories, from the frivolous to the functional.




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3 Friday the 13ths in 2015. We could all use some lucky New Year foods.




February, March, and November—each brings us a Friday the 13th.
That’s the greatest number that can possibly fall within a calendar year.

Many New Year’s revelers will try to balance the bad juju with lucky foods.
These are foods that symbolize health, long life, prosperity, fertility, love, and forward progress. Summon your own good luck for the coming year with some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world.

Beans, peas, and lentils
Legumes are symbolic of prosperity in many cultures because they’re thought to resemble coins when they’ve been cooked. They’re often paired with pork, which has its own lucky associations, so the combination makes for a most propitious meal. Italians eat sausages and green lentils just after midnight. Germans usually eat their New Year’s legumes in lentil or split pea soup with sausage. Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed peas cooked with ham, is a tradition in the American south.

Cook your noodles carefully. Chinese traditions suggest that the longer the noodles, the longer the life. Uncut, unbroken noodles are eaten as a symbol of longevity at birthday and New Year celebrations. The Chinese new year doesn’t begin until February 19th, but some January 1 noodles can’t hurt.


il_340x270.682282337_rqn1Round or ring-shaped foods
The shape represents a year coming full circle. Mexicans eat the ring-shaped rosca de reyes cake, the Dutch eat the donut-like ollie bollen, and in Greece, families bake a lucky coin into the round vassilopita cake. Pomegranates are especially auspicious—a round fruit filled with round seeds.

Fish makes frequent appearances on New Year’s tables. There’s herring at midnight in Poland, boiled cod in Denmark, and the Germans not only feast on carp, they also put fish scales in their wallets for a successful new year. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest. Chinese tradition dictates that a whole fish should be served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good year, from start to finish.

In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year. Are this year’s grapes sweet or sour? The taste gives a clue to the character of each of the coming months. Spanish state television broadcasts the New Year’s chimes and nearly 4 million pounds of grapes (in little 12 grape packets) are sold in the last week of the year.imagesWhat Not to Eat

  • Lobster
    Lobster is considered a poor choice for a new year’s meal because lobsters move backwards and could lead to setbacks, regrets, and dwelling on the past.
  • Chicken
    You don’t want your good luck to fly away.
  • White foods
    The Chinese avoid eggs, cheese, and tofu, because white is the color of death.

And never clean your plate. A little leftover food will usher in a year of plenty and guarantee a stocked pantry.




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Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like Custom, Edible, and Anatomically Correct


Your name on a Christmas stocking is so old school.
Custom gifts that use digital imaging and 3D printing will put a contemporary spin on personalized holiday gift-giving. 



Choc-Edge will render your face (or Santa’s) in dark, milk, or white chocolate. Just send in a photo; custom molds start at $80.




Parker’s Crazy Cookies turns your likeness into a caricature of fresh-baked goodness. The design process costs $25 for an initial proof and three revisions, and then you can order all the cookies you need for your holiday cookie swap.



A 3D scanner maps you from head to toe to create a detailed silicone candy mold that renders you as a gummy mini-me .



Fondant doppelgänger cake toppers aren’t just for June weddings. Like Butter creates plenty of custom, edible sculptures (starting at $60) in the days leading up to December 25th.



Send in a photo and Chocolate Dreams will re-create it in chocolate. They’ve made a subspecialty of so-called exotic designs that they claim are ‘not for the fainthearted.’

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Give Just 18 Minutes to Our Most Critical Food Issues



It’s nearly Thanksgiving; the whole country already has food on the brain.
Why not take 18 minutes out of the long holiday weekend and watch a food-focussed TED Talk?

For the uninitiated, TED Talks fall under the heading of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading.’
That’s the slogan of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conferences that spawned the speaker series. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and U2’s Bono were among the earliest presenters, and as the talks spread into topics of food policy, food politics, hunger, and nutrition, food-minded individuals like scientists, policymakers, chefs, and activists joined the list.

TED Talks are required to clock in at under 18 minutes.
These are big thinkers presenting big and often complex ideas. The time constraint challenges them to consider form and format, resulting in narrative arcs that engage and enlighten while remaining concise. TED Talks are often snappy, savvy, and powerful, and presenters often point to theirs as the best speech of a lifetime. 
Many are so compelling that even in a post-turkey tryptophan-induced stupor you should make it to the end.

A cheat sheet to some of the best of the food-focussed TED Talks:

Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell follows the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce to make a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.

See why 11-year old Birke Beahr says, ‘Now a while back, I wanted to be an NFL football player. I decided that I’d rather be an organic farmer instead.’

New Urbanist/Architect Carolyn Steel looks at the ways in which food has historically shaped our cities, and why our current relationship with food is severing that connection.

Chef Dan Barber begins by fretting about the fish choices on his menu and ends falling in love with a fish.

Michael Pollan speaks from the plant perspective in a TED Talk that leaves us questioning Darwinism and human consciousness.


TED Talks are always free and can be accessed through a multitude of apps and media outlets including YouTube, iTunes, Netflix, and the TED website.
Visit TED for links to all the different ways you can watch.


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And You Thought Tofurkey was as Weird as Thanksgiving Could Get

Just when we’re recovering from the fall onslaught of pumpkin spice flavored everything, here come the Thanksgiving flavors.



Have the saddest Thanksgiving ever with the poultry version of everyone’s favorite block of porky luncheon meat.



You won’t end up with a sink full of dirty dishes when you serve Thanksgiving dinner in a cone. Seasonal flavors from Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw ice cream shop include sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, hazelnut rosemary stuffing, and goat cheese pumpkin pie. The entrée scoop features fried turkey skin brittle in a base of turkey fat caramel.

medium_image-54662ffb4170701480030400-coalescedYou can replicate the entire feast in potato chips. Boulder Canyon Foods has a lineup that includes cranberry, stuffing, turkey and gravy, and pumpkin pie, all in chip form.


New York’s Zucker Bakery doesn’t stop at a little pumpkin glaze for their Thanksgiving donuts. Try sweet potato with marshmallow or spiced pumpkin filled with gravy.



Pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts make their annual appearance. Pumpkin appears too, if only as a trace (<2%) ingredient.

Thanksgiving beverage pairing hasn’t been the same since the Jones Soda Company discontinued its legendary holiday pack. The assortment varied from year-to-war, but think green bean casserole, buttered mashed potato, and Turkey & Gravy, all rendered in sugary carbonation. There are readily available alternatives like Pinnacle‘s pumpkin pie vodka and the sweet potato lager from Fullsteam BreweryOr you can always order up another round of pumpkin spice lattés.


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A Device that Distills Coca-Cola into Clean Drinking Water



The Real Thing is a Dutch art installation that challenges us to think about priorities within our consumerist culture.
The multidisciplinary artist Helmut Smits sought to make a statement about “a world in which drinking water can be harder to come by than Coca-Cola.” With input from the Synthetic Organic Chemistry group of the University of Amsterdam, he created a reverse osmosis filtration system that turns a bottle of Coke into a purified bottle of clean water.

Coca-Cola is everywhere.
The company likes to brag that it operates in more countries than the United Nations (200 to the UN’s 192). Coca-Cola’s network of bottlers is the world’s largest and most widespread production and distribution system. It’s estimated that 95% of the world’s population can identify an unlabeled Coke bottle just by its iconic (and patented) contoured shape.

Coca-Cola’s reach extends to even the dustiest little towns in the most remote regions of every continent. The residents might not have access to potable water, but they have Coke. They have Coke in drought-stricken regions of India, even though the production of a liter bottle of Coca-Cola can use up to nine liters of clean drinking water. They have Coke in impoverished regions of Africa, where Coca-Cola is the beverage of choice because it’s priced below the cost of clean water.

Coca-Cola has been trying to spruce up its image, championing various sustainability and community-building initiatives.
Critics see the effort as window dressing; a fleeting social commitment of convenience while billions continue to flow to advertising in developing countries.
The Real Thing installation reminds us that residents of the world’s poorest nations need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.



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Why Feminists have Demonized Michael Pollan


image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers

image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers


Food is, without a doubt, a feminist issue.
Of course it’s inherently a human issue, but women have uniquely complicated—too often tortured, even—relationships with food. And now the DIY ethos is adding a new wrinkle to the gendered dynamics of mealtime.

Women, especially young women in their 20’s and 30’s, are embracing a new kind of domesticity. The 21st century preoccupations of backyard chicken-keeping, artisan food businesses, and grassroots food activism are dominated by female practitioners. While men still rule in professional kitchens making up 93% of executive chefs, women spend three times as many hours in home kitchens as the men in their lives, making 93% of food purchases and cooking 78% of dinners.

Feminists versus Femivores
This new breed of crack homemakers is disparagingly labeled as femivores. They’re seen as opting out of feminist causes to focus on canning local peaches and raising gluten-free children. These are the passionate, educated, progressive-minded women who, in an earlier era, would have been marching on Washington and pushing against the glass ceiling at work. Instead, they’re organizing cookie swaps and campaigning to legalize raw milk.

Michael Pollan is the feminists’ whipping boy.
The publication of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is considered a turning point for feminism. A manifesto for the new age of homesteading, it’s the touchstone for new domestics, giving social legitimacy to tomato-canning, bread-baking, and stay-at-home motherhood. Since the burden of homemaking has, for time immemorial, fallen to women, feminists charge Pollan with giving rise to a new form of enforced domesticity that’s as insidious and as detrimental to the economic lives of women as the social constructs of the 1950’s.

Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pigas a Salon headline asked, or is it the more nuanced Femivore’s Dilemma, put forth by The New York Times? The debate rages on in the femisphere. 
Here are some of the best blogs that explore food politics through a feminist lens: 
The Feminist Kitchen
The F Words (food & feminism)
Sistah Vegan
New Domesticity


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Madison Avenue Makes Way for a Girl


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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