diversions

Thousands Go Hungry as Instagram Crashes

via The Meta Picture

via The Meta Picture

 

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

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

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There were expressions of anger

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and of frustration

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Some tweeted out tales of resilience and ingenuity

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and others completely folded under the pressure

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

 
 
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The Food Porn Index Asks: Kale or Cronuts?

Foodpornindex

 

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

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

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

 

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Caffeinated Communal Cat Companionship

image via Chonostöff

image via Chonostöff

 

There are a lot of obstacles on the path to opening the first U.S. cat cafés.
Cat allergy sufferers and animal welfare organizations need to be placated. There are health codes to navigate. And of course there’s the matter of the litter boxes.

What, you might be wondering, are cat cafés?
A cat café is just what it sounds like: a hot beverage, a little nosh, and a whole bunch of kitty cats. Popular in Japan—40 in Tokyo alone, at last count— the bizarre trend first spread to about a dozen European cities and now it’s arrived on our shores. The Bay Area is leading the way with the soon to be open Cat Town Café in Oakland and San Francisco’s KitTea, while Los Angeles, Portland (OR), Montreal, and Vancouver have cat café projects in various stages of development.

In Japanese cities, where household pets are a rarity, the cafés are seen as a kind of relaxation therapy. There are specialty cat cafés featuring specific breeds, or just black cats, or all fat cats. Japan also has rabbit cafés and goat cafés, and currently there’s a penguin bar craze sweeping the country. The phenomenon travels remarkably well: Paris’ Le Café des Chats is already a roaring success with weekend slots booked up to three weeks in advance, and in London, within hours of the announced opening, the website for Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium crashed as 3,000 cat fanciers tried to book at once.

Commingling the species.
Some locales permit customers to mingle freely, cappuccino in hand, with the felines in residence, while other health codes require a separation between food-ordering areas and cat-interaction space. All of the cafés have human-free zones to enable kitty timeouts for the inevitable bouts of hissing, shedding, hairballs, or other calls of nature. The best of them maintain strict human-animal ratios and keep tabs on feline happiness through cat behavioral consultants.

Now if we could just do something about all those LOL cat memes…

 

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Place Your Bets: It’s Bracket Time

 

Bracketology Cake via Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen NCAA Basketball Tournament Recipe Booklet

Bracketology Cake via Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen NCAA Recipe Booklet

 

Why should basketball fans have all the fun?

Every year around this time food lovers and sports lovers are both overcome with the same impulse. I’m talking about their shared compulsion to turn everything into a tournament bracket. It’s blueberry vs. corn in March Muffin Madness and parm vs. wings in the Final Four of Chicken. There’s a beer bracket and a booze bracket, Munch Madness and Starch Madness, and a bracket ranking of the campus food for each of the NCAA tournament teams.

Some say the madness is out of control.
We have breakfast joints vying for Morning Meal Madness in San Antonio and Oklahomans choosing the top state fair food-on-a-stick for Food Fair MadnessAnd we hardly need a bracket to tell us that Thin Mints are the top dog of Girl Scout Cookies.

There are also some rather specious competitions out there.
There’s something fishy about the Southern Food Bracket over at Garden & Gun Magazine where Duke’s Mayonnaise bested Tabasco, and Moon Pies never made it out of the first round of southern brands. Then there’s the Bar Food Bracket: should Zagat voters really have the final word on fried pickles and jalapeño poppers? And who made the brackets in the Fruits and Vegetables Tournament? The banana pepper is a number one seed? Really?

Nothing ignites passions and stirs debate like the annual condiments tournament, this year’s courtesy of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. Past condiment contests have brought legendary matchups like ketchup vs. dijon mustard, and surprises like satay sauce’s unexpected run to the Elite Eight. We’ve been introduced to regional long-shots like chow chow and Pickapeppa, and they’re still debating Nutella’s 2011 disqualification for being an edible candy.

You can find more alternative brackets at Sports Grid’s meta Bracket of Brackets: In Which We Bracket All The Best Non-Basketball Brackets So Far, or create your own at The Bracketizer.

 

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An ‘X’ in Espresso is Like Nails on a Chalkboard

Alphabet_soup

 

Something in me snaps when I see an ‘x’ in espresso. 
Or an extra ‘r’ in mascarpone. The salad is ‘Caesar,’ not ‘Ceasar,’ and nobody tops off a meal with a ‘desert’. In my opinion, malaprops and misspellings are reasons enough to eat elsewhere.

Yes, we all make little mistakes sometimes. And it’s true that excellent spelling skills are seldom a prerequisite for a restaurant job. But no, I will not lighten up; not until every misplaced ‘x’ has been eradicated.

Butchering should only take place in the kitchen. 
There’s no room for creative expression when it comes to menu spelling. Get it wrong and it undermines your credibility and leaves doubts about your expertise. If you can’t spell it right, how can I trust you to cook it properly?

Wrong tells me that you couldn’t be bothered to check. It makes me wonder what else you couldn’t be bothered with, like trimming the tough stems from the spinach or washing your hands.

I’m not saying it’s easy.
Menus can be an etymological bomb fields. They can challenge even the word-nerdiest diners and restaurateurs (no ‘n’ in that one!) with their technical jargon and regional and obscure foreign phrases. It’s what makes food terms such a favorite of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

For the final word on menu language, pick up a copy of The International Menu Speller with its 10,000 alphabetically arranged names of dishes, ingredients, culinary techniques, and nutrition terms, all correctly spelled and accented. You’ll need it for the next round of the Cooking Edition of Scrabble.

 

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Chef: A Food Film With Credibility

Chef had its premiere at the SXSW festival, and early word is that it gets it right.
The film, about a chef who resets his career by opening a food truck, comes with foodie bonafides. Jon Favreau, who portrays the eponymous chef, learned his kitchen chops from L.A. chef Roy Choi, the Los Angeles restaurateur who is credited with reinventing street food. Choi’s resumé includes leaving behind his own fine dining kitchen to pioneer the current food truck craze.

Chefs are rarely satisfied with movies about chefs.
They complain that there’s too much cinematic eye candy, the details are bogus, and there’s never enough of the unique culture of the professional kitchen with its comradery and competition, ego and submission, artistry and forearm burns. Chef’s often cite Disney’s Ratatouille as the movie that comes the closest to capturing the industry’s sacrifice, striving, and ethos—and it’s an animated rat in the kitchen!

Filmmakers will never stop trying.
Among the vicarious pleasures that sell movie tickets, food is up there at the top of the list along with sex and violence. All three are fetishized, idealized, larger-than-life screen themes, but food is the one that we can most closely approximate in our real lives. Favreau, who also directed Chef, has even said ‘I shoot food the way Michael Bay shoots women in bikinis.’

Food can also cut right to the heart of a character.
We see the commitment and sacrifice when we watch Rocky Balboa gulp down raw eggs, and we immediately understand that ice water flows through the characters’ veins in Goodfella’s when they horrifically brutalize Billy Batts and then swing by Mama’s house for a late night supper. Could anything take the place of the exposition provided by the bag lunches of the Breakfast Club? The privileged girl’s bento box, the soup thermos and crustless sandwich of the nerd, the Pixy Stix and Cap’n Crunch sandwich of the oddball—it’s like cinematic shorthand. A quick peek tells us everything we need to know.

Plotlines and characters are forgotten while food scenes linger in the imagination.
They captivate, seduce, and make us drool. Think of the iconic scene in Big Night: the two chef-brothers, desperate to save their struggling restaurant, are banking everything on the success of one special meal. They’ve cooked their hearts out creating an elaborate layered pasta dish baked inside a domed pastry crust. You’re holding your breath as the siblings carefully lift the dish to reveal the timpano, and at that moment there’s an audible exhale from the audience; a sigh of relief, a moan of pleasure.
If we’re lucky, Chef will give us one of those moments.

 

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McDonald’s is a Big Loser at the Sochi Olympics

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Food Storytelling: The (Old) New Genre

image via ManayunkDish.com

image via ManayunkDish.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

image via Visual Photos

 

The coffee break is a highlight of the workday 
The 2013 Workonomix Survey of workplace spending reports that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit. That’s a $1000 a year on 9 to 5 coffee. Most consider it money well-spent.
Younger workers (ages 18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the workweek as their older colleagues ages 45+: $24.74 vs. $14.15; men outspend women: $25.70 vs. $15.00.

The coffee break is a vaunted worker tradition. Legend has it that the world’s first coffee break took place around 1000 A.D. in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Long before the power and pleasure of the coffee plant had been discovered, a goatherd noticed his goats dancing around after eating its red berries. Following the goats’ lead, herders began indulging in the berries to stay awake during the long, boring stretches of watching the herds.

The coffee break first appeared in the U.S. in Stoughton, Wisconsin (home to the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival held every August) when the wives of 19th century Norwegian immigrants agreed to cover their husbands’ work shifts on the condition that they be allowed morning and afternoon breaks to go home to tend to household chores and brew up coffee. It was formalized as a workplace ritual in 1902 at the Barcolo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, NY (rather appropriately, the manufacturer of Barcalounger recliners). In 1964 the coffee break was etched into U.S. labor history when negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers nearly broke down over the practice. Other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits, and a 5% raise, but it was the coffee break that nearly brought about a strike. 74,000 workers at Chrysler came within an hour of walking off the job when the company relented and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.

Did you know…
the espresso machine was invented in 1901 by an Italian factory owner as a way of speeding up his employees’ coffee breaks?  The first espresso machine, the Tipo Gigante, used a combination of steam and boiling water forced through coffee grounds to make a cup of coffee quicker than any other method in use.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break App. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

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Two New Magazines Mix Food and Fashion

Egg Dress designed by Agatha Ruiz De La Prada

Egg Dress designed by Agatha Ruiz De La Prada

 

You’d expect it to be the unholiest of alliances.
In the Venn diagram of life, food and fashion aren’t supposed to intersect— food is what fashionistas avoid so the fashion will fit. Isn’t hunger supposed to be the ultimate fashion accessory? As Kate Moss once said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Two new crossover magazines are proving otherwise.
There is some common ground. Both food and fashion are seasonal and colorful. They can be stylish or trendy, and they both photograph well. Purists may grumble but the coalition gives a much-needed boost to the food publishing business. While most print media spent the last few years struggling with online challengers and a balky economy, fashion magazines have been busy breaking sales records for advertising pages. Food gets to hang onto fashion’s coattails with this new category of mashup publications.

cherry-bomb-magazine

 

 

Cherry Bombe thumbs its nose at Kate Moss with a breezy, sample-size-be-damned approach to food. The magazine’s founders have their food industry bona fides, but they also worked together at Harper’s Bazaar, and that’s what on display. Cherry Bombe has the look and feel of a traditional fashion magazine, from the cookie-baking supermodel on the inaugural cover to the glossy, stylized photography inside.

alla-carta-collage

 

Alla Carta’s founders say that they bring together food and fashion (and art and design) by exploring the social act of eating. The publication’s fashion-related interviews, editorial content, and photo spreads revolve around meals; good food and good design pull it all together.

There’s one more thing that ‘foodies’ and’ fashionistas’ have in common: both groups detest those fatuous and disparaging nicknames.

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Would You Eat Cheese From Michael Pollan’s Belly Button?

Would you eat cheese from this man's belly button?


Would you eat cheese from this man’s navel?

 

It’s the ultimate foodie trophy: cheese cultured from the bacteria in Michael Pollan’s belly button.
Food writer Michael Pollan made his personal contribution to an art exhibit in Ireland called ‘Selfmade’ that explores the way we interact with our microbial landscape. The exhibit pushes us to consider our uneasy relationship with pungency and aroma—so celebrated in food yet reviled in our own bodies.

Bacteria samples were collected from artists, scientists, anthropologists, and cheese makers, including Michael Pollan’s navel lint and artist Olafur Eliasson’s tears. Other contributions came from inside noses, mouths, armpits, and between toes. Each of the 11 samples became the basis for a different cheesemaking starter culture, which is basically any bacteria that can produce lactic acid.

Washed-rind molds and blue veins get all the attention, but it’s mostly the nature of the microbial population that gives a cheese its flavor and texture and produces its aromatic compounds. The unique bacterial signature of each human donor truly resulted in 11 different cheeses of varying character.

If you ever thought that a cheese smelled like stinky feet, you were scientifically correct—human bodies and cheese both hoard similar microbial populations. The exhibit crosses the boundaries between culturally defined ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ smells. Its creator hopes that we’ll question why we choose to eliminate some of them with antiseptic and pair others with a 2012 Riesling.

‘Selfmade’ runs until January 19, 2014 at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin.

 

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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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Four Generations are Sampling the Supermarket Music

plentyofcolour_magnets_1

shopping list magnets via Harrington & Squires

 

Here’s something I’ve been wondering: am I getting old or is the supermarket music getting better?
The standard easy listening mix of Kenny Rogers and vintage Doobie Brothers always felt like I was being held hostage in a dentist’s waiting room. But not lately. While no one’s going to mistake the deli counter for a DJ booth, the music has gotten decidedly  hipper. A recent shopping trip yielded a little Major Lazer, a Warpaint track, and a David Bowie remix tucked between the Whitney Houston and post-Aja Steely Dan.
Who do they think is shopping in my neighborhood supermarket?

There are four generations all pushing shopping carts through the same aisles.
The Millennials, born between 1982 and the early 2000′s, are now reaching the age of paychecks and shopping lists. 
They follow the solidly adult Gen Xers, born between 1961 and 1981, the middle-aged Baby Boomers, and the retired seniors known as the Silent Generation.

As an added twist, life stages are not as linear as they used to be.
Life stage and generation used to be pretty much the same thing. Milestones like marriage and buying a first home were fairly constant events that marketers could count on. Today you’ll find new parents in their 40′s and young adults still living at home long after the traditional age of household formation. Juice boxes and jars of prune juice, diapers and denture cream—they’re all commingling in shopping carts. There are spending differences between age groups, but they matter less than they used to.

Supermarkets brand themselves with their playlists. 
They know that store atmospherics matter, especially when it comes to differentiating themselves from the competition. Music is a fast, cheap, and flexible way for a store to shape its environment. But it’s a delicate balance: with so many generations in the shopping mix, the stores are challenged to find the right music mix. The trick is to appeal to one age group without alienating the other three.

My neighborhood supermarket has clearly put the Millennial Generation in its crosshairs.
I live in the big college town of Boston, with BU dorms just down the block from the market, so that comes as no surprise. How about you? Listen up. You’ll learn who’s shopping in your supermarket.

 

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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.

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Thanksgiving and Hanukah: A Mash-Up of Biblical Proportions

grant-wood-american-gothic-1930

American Gothic Thanksgivukkah via The Modern Tribe

 

It’s never happened before, and won’t happen again for 80 millennia.
Thanksgiving Day and the first day of Hanukah fall on the same day this year. 
November 28th, 2013 is going to be epic.

You already know that the Jewish calendar is screwy.
Some years the big fall holidays pop up around Labor Day, and sometimes we’re juggling Rosh Hashona and the World Series. And this year, the daffy dating gives us a once-in-an-eternity collision.

The standard calendar has leap years. The Jewish calendar has leap months.
A standard year is based on one circuit of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The orbit actually takes 365 days plus about six hours; we add February 29th every four years to catch up to those extra hours.
The Hebrew calendar is based on 12 lunar months, each of 29 or 30 days, but with a nod to the 365 day solar year. Sticklers will note that a moon cycle is 28 days, but it takes an extra day or two to chase the Earth while it’s orbiting the Sun. Still, 12 lunar months only add up to 354 days, so every few years the Jewish calendar plays catch-up by inserting a 13th month (7 out of 19 years, to be exact).
Got that?

Hey sticklers, here’s another one for you.
The mathematically inclined are scratching their heads. It looks like the cycle should repeat every 133 years (7 x 19), so how can this be the first time we’re seeing this overlap?
It’s because even with all the leap year tinkering, the Hebrew calendar is still a little bit off. The Jewish year is 3½ seconds too long, so Chanukah is drifting a tiny bit ahead of Thanksgiving every year. It’s picking up a day every 217 years, and at that rate it’s about 80,000 years before the calendars are back in sync.

Once every 80,000 years sounds about right. Both holidays have traditional meals that sit like lead in the belly. You really don’t want to eat them in the same week very often. In fact back-to-back feasts are so daunting a prospect that most Jewish households plan to combine the two into a single gala event that’s been dubbed Thanksgivukkah.

Pilgrims and rabbis. Turkey and latkes. Cornucopias and gelt.
You’ll soon be staring down a double barrel of hybrid holidays. You’re going to need help.

Kitchen Daily and Chabad.org have collections of American Hanukkah Thanksgiving recipes, while noncooks can find caterers offering Thanksgiving brisket with all the trimmings.

Manischewitz launched an online contest for short videos about Thanksgivukkah, and a Jewish congregation on Long Island is holding a recipe competition.

There’s no shortage of holiday merchandise. Of course you’ll find the usual t shirts, sweatshirts, and greeting cards. You can fill your menorah with autumnally-hued candles and your dreidel with kosher candy corn. Extravagantly trim your house with single-season menornaments (menorah + ornament) and menurkeys (a turkey menorah with tailfeather candleholders), while the more practical-minded might opt for a double-duty cook’s apron. The dreidel side reverses to turkeys, giving it life beyond Thanksgivukkah.

After dinner you can gather Grandma and the kids for an old-timey game of Thanksgivukkah Bingo, courtesy of sisters Dana and Deborah Gitell. The holiday’s most enthusiastic boosters, Dana owns the trademark and URL to Thanksgivukkah.

Get ready. Thanksgivukkah is coming….

Posted in diversions, holidays, Thanksgiving | 3 Comments

Portly Pet Owners Produce Pudgy Pets

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[Winners of the  ‘I Look Like My Dog’ contest from Cesar Select Dinners]

 

If every dog has its day, then the fat ones have next Wednesday.
October 9 is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

Our pets, just like their human owners, are fat. About half of all dogs in American homes are overweight or obese, which can lead to very human health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and joint problems. In the same way that one dog-year translates to seven human-years, dog-pounds have a much larger human equivalent. For some breeds, a single dog-pound can translate to as much as 25 excess human-pounds in terms of its physical toll.

Dogs share their owners’ lifestyles.
A generation ago, the notion of overweight pets would have struck us as ludicrous. But today we live increasingly in yard-less apartments and we build suburban developments with no sidewalks. Dogs are couch potato companions, joining us in front of TVs and computer screens. Walks are brief, primarily for the elimination of waste, and the dogs are left behind when we get our own exercise at the gym.

We project our foodie-isms onto our dogs.
You can buy dog food in locally-sourced, seasonal, organic, vegan, and slow food varieties, like the Well Fed Dog’s Salmon and Pumpkin Dinner, which uses only organic Scottish salmon ($9.95 for a 16 oz. serving), and Succulent Chicken poached in garlic-infused lobster consommé from Petropic’s Hawaiian-themed Tiki meals ($4.29 for a 14.1 oz. can). Even Purina has its Chef Michael’s Carvery Creations line that comes in flavors like brisket and braised short ribs (99¢ for a 3 oz. can).

The fact is that dogs have a mere fraction of our taste buds, and they will pretty much eat anything—they’re known to be especially fond of socks and cat feces. But these high-protein, high-fat diets suit more than just the dog owners’ culinary sensibilities—the easily digestible foods combined with little exercise mean that there are fewer calls of nature, and walks can be less frequent.

We have also come up with pet obesity solutions that mirror our own.
Jenny Craig diet has partnered with Nestlé for a proprietary regimen, Project:Pet Slimdown, and Pfizer Pharmaceutical markets Slentrol, an FDA-approved prescription weight-loss drug for dogs. There are Jog a Dog canine treadmills and Thank Dog Boot Camp workouts. And just like human weight-loss methods, the failure rates are high.

Fat owners make fat dogs
The twin obesity epidemics are tightly entwined. Studies show that we are as indulgent with our dogs as with ourselves.
We need fewer calories in the bowl and more miles on the feet. It’s the best advice for both dogs and owners. You and your dog will still look alike, only better.

What kind of dog would you be?
The doggie equivalent of a 217 pound 5’ 9” man is a 90 pound Labrador retriever. If a 12 pound Yorkie were human she’d be a 5’4″ women who weighs 218 pounds. The Pet Weight Translator can turn you into a dog, and vice versa.

Posted in diversions, health + diet | Leave a comment

Nearing Thanksgiving, Our Sexiest Smelling Holiday

 

image via Sensing Architecture

image via Sensing Architecture

 

Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower.

Research performed at the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago discovered that certain food smells are like olfactory Viagra, significantly increasing blood flow to the penis for men and to the vagina for women.

Thanksgiving—the sexiest holiday?
Men are easy, pretty much turned on by all food smells, but pumpkin pie is special. In combination with other foods, the smell of pumpkin pie increases penile blood flow by 40%.

Top scents for men:
pumpkin pie (especially with a lavender chaser)
black licorice with doughnuts
pumpkin pie with doughnuts
Pizza, buttered popcorn, and cinnamon buns round out the list of top turn-ons. Cranberry and chocolate were the least favored, with response rates as low as 2%.
 
Wouldn’t you know it?
The female sexual response is not so simple. While pretty much any food scent is arousing to men, women are more discriminating, turned on by some and turned off by others.
Top scents for women:
Good & Plenty candy combined with cucumber
Good & Plenty candy with banana bread
Pumpkin pie, coffee, vanilla, and grilled meats also do the trick for women.
Mood killers
While men have little to no response to less-favored fragrances, women actually have negative responses, exhibiting a reduced flow of blood to the genitals. Turn-offs for women include cherries and barbecue, except for the ladies of Atlanta and Houston who are inexplicably stimulated by these scents.
Love is in the air. You just need to sniff it out.
 

 

Posted in diversions, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

7 Geeky Gadgets Where Pizza Meets Technology

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It’s a well-known fact: computer geeks love pizza.
In the technology business it’s said that if you need more productivity from your software development staff, you just hand out free t shirts and buy them pizza.
Why pizza? Because it’s delivered at all hours. Because it can be eaten with one hand while the other’s on the keyboard. And because it allows developers to make nerdy puns about pi and pie.

When pizza meets technology.
This is what happens when twin passions collide:

 

Dip Hop lets you play pizza toppings like a keyboard. It uses the very cool Makey Makey invention kit to convince your computer that the toppings are piano keys. The pizza sauces conduct a tiny bit of electricity; dip a slice into the sauce and you make a connection—and music. 

Domino’s, well-known for its commitment to speedy delivery, is testing a pizza delivery helicopter drone it calls the Domicopter.  The lightweight aircraft is eco-friendly, never gets stuck in traffic, and there’s no driver to tip.

pizzacompass

 

Pizza Compass is just what it sounds like.
The app’s pizza slice is a directional pointer to nearby pizzerias. It  provides maps, opening hours, and links to reviews.

 

 

pizzamagnetLots of pizzerias hand out refrigerator magnets, but only Red Tomato’s is bluetooth-enabled. It’s preset for your favorite pizza; just press the pie to place an order. Alas, you need to be within delivery range, and Red Tomato is located in Dubai.

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Pizza Hut passed on the refrigerator magnets and made an app for the XBox game consoleYou can place your order with the game controller, voice input, or Kinect gestures. After all, who’s really standing around the refrigerator until after the pizza arrives and they’re grabbing a soda?

 

 

dominostrackerDomino’s piloted a webcam program that lets you see your pizza as it’s being made. They haven’t rolled it out in all the locations, but you can still monitor your pizza’s virtual progress with the Pizza Tracker app.

nasa-3d-print-pizza

NASA is making plans for the first pizza dinner in space with the construction of a 3D food printer for the International Space Station. ‘Ink’ nozzles print layers of liquid pizza dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings, and the whole thing bakes on the printer’s heated surface. Until Domino’s and Pizza Hut can colonize space, it’ll have to do.

Posted in diversions, fast food, gadgets, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

Playing for the Vegan Team in the NFL

image via Zazzle

 

It’s not easy being green in the NFL.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is the latest pro-football player to find out. He joins a small but growing list of NFL vegetarians and vegans that includes Tennessee Titans guard Deuce Lutui, Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Cowboys fullback Tony Fiammetta, and Detroit Lions running back Montell Owens.

Players eat about 6,000 protein-dense calories a day to meet the physical demands of the game. Traditionally they load up on steak and eggs, burgers and shakes, and a heavy dose of fast food on road trips. It can be done with a diet of greens, beans, grains, and nuts, but it takes real commitment. They need to consume around twice the normal amount of protein to rebuild muscles undone by football. But once an athlete cracks the code of seitan and soy-based protein powders, there are real advantages to a plant-based diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control, NFL linemen have a 52 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population. The high fiber plus a load of antioxidant vitamins and minerals from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can boost blood and oxygen flow for improved heart health. This also makes plant-based foods superior to meat when it comes to repairing torn muscles and tendons, speeding up the recovery from training stress and injuries. And the complex carbohydrates in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can help with intensity and endurance on the playing field because they convert into fuel quicker and with fewer demands on the body than meat.

The bigger challenge is the pushback—hostility even—from teammates, fans, coaches, and the media when players bump up against the gridiron gospel of brute power, vitality, and virility.

Real men are supposed to eat meat.
It’s a cultural cliché that just won’t die: those who eschew animal-sourced foods are, if not exactly girlie, compromised as manly men. A meatless regimen is seen as mild and anemic, and worst of all, it speaks of compassion. Vegans are tagged as sensitive souls—cuddling bunnies, awash in emotionalism; not exactly the qualities of a fearsome tackler.

No poster child for a compassionate diet.
Still, vegetarians in the NFL go a long way toward dispelling stereotypes. A bulked-up physique speaks of the robust healthfulness of the vegan diet. Even a brutish reputation is a myth-busting rebuke to the old stigma of the vegetarian as gentle tree-hugger.

Football fans can go cruelty-free too: see PETA’s list of the Top 5 Vegetarian-Friendly NFL Stadiums.

Check out The Protein Myth explained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to learn more about athletic performance and plant-based diets.

 

 

Posted in diversions, vegetarian | Leave a comment

The Food Network is History, Tastemade is the Future

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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
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