Online Auctions Let You Snag the Ultimate Dinner Party Guest

Pop Culture lats Supper via Adara Tiana

Pop Culture Last Supper via Adara Tiana


Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik

Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik


Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello

Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello


Who’s on your fantasy dinner party guest list?
You know the parlor game: if you could invite anyone, living or dead, who would have at your dinner table? 
As you go around the room and name your names, there are some predictable results. Jesus, Steve Jobs, Marilyn Monroe, and the Dalai Lama are classic choices; J.K. Rowling and Barack Obama are often mentioned as are Warren Buffet (who wouldn’t want some investment advice?), Gandhi (more meat for the rest of us), and Martin Luther King Jr. to say grace. So will someone’s sixth grade teacher and a great grandpa who died in a war. The rest of the table would probably be filled out with intellectuals and sex symbols, favorite writers, athletes, and Hollywood stars.

Online celebrity auction sites can fill the seats of your dream table.
Recent auction winners have supped with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Hugh Jackman, Snoop Dogg, the cast of The Big Bang Theory, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and primatologist Jane Goodall. The celebrities like to participate because the proceeds go to a charity of their choosing, while bidders relish the chance to hobnob with their heroes.

These are the kinds of opportunities that normally are relegated to the well-heeled and well-connected attending pricey galas, but online auctions make them available to anyone willing to pony up the right price. Some of the sites operate with a standard auction model with the spoils awarded to the highest bidder. Others are more raffle-like, collecting thousands of small donations and choosing the winner in a random drawing. The auctions donate from 80-100% of the proceeds to charitable organizations.

Current auctions are offering a salumi-filled cocktail hour with Mario Batali and a bike ride and ice cream date with Bono. For a lowball bid you can have lunch with Judge Judy, whose reserve price has yet to be met.

Check out Charity BuzzPrizeoHollywood Charity Auctionand Omaze where you’ll see ongoing auctions for all kinds of social engagements with sports figures, politicians, artists, rappers, rockers, technology wizards, business leaders, and plenty of Hollywood stars.

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A Most Perfect Recipe





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Is ‘Orange Is The New Black’ really just a cooking show set in prison?


image via Lionsgate Television

image via Lionsgate Television


The question was first posed on Digg, further probed on Slate, and is hotly debated in fan sites and viewer forums.
In the first season, Netflix released recipe cards for some of Red’s iconic dishes from the Litchfield Penitentiary. The show’s producers announced the fall publication of Orange Is the New Black: The Cookbook. And this summer the Crazy Pyes dessert truck will be touring through cities in the U.S. and Mexico.
Maybe we already have our answer.

The culinary motif serves as character development.
Flashbacks of a juice fast and a heritage breed turkey at Thanksgiving tell us everything we need to know about Piper’s privileged, pre-prison, boho-Brooklyn lifestyle. It’s a shorthand reveal to the class and cultural differences that we understand will make prison so jarring and traumatic for someone like Piper. We see the flip side in another inmate, Taystee Jefferson, whose nickname comes from her love of a cheap treat dispensed from urban ice cream trucks. Taystee is so comfortable in the prison setting that she sabotages her own parole so that her release is revoked and she can return to Litchfield.

The kitchen is the seat of prison power.
Piper learns early on that it’s not about pleasing the warden or the guards; her fate is really in the hands of  Red, the hard-edged Russian mob-connected inmate who runs the prison’s kitchen. Soon after her arrival Piper crosses Red by criticizing the food. Piper is starved out until she begins to understand the social order and the need to adapt and capitulate in order to survive.

Food is the show’s currency.
In real world prisons, instant ramen noodles are estimated to be an $80 million underground economy as the currency of the incarcerated. At Litchfield Penitentiary, Snickers bars can buy an abortion, a coconut cake can be traded for sexual favors, Krispy Kreme donuts buy the election to the prison’s advisory council, and Alex tries to buy Piper’s forgiveness with cornbread. The prison value of a well-made dessert inspired the cafeteria outburst that inspired the Crazy Pyes truck: hoping to make Piper her ‘prison wife,’ the inmate known as Crazy Eyes throws pie at a rival. When Piper rejects her advances, Crazy Eyes describes the lengths she’d gone to win Piper’s heart with the already-classic breakup line: “I threw my pie for you!”

TV characters have always inspired food-based kinships with  their viewers.
Published decades after Andy of Mayberry went off the air, Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook was a genuine hit, selling 900,000 copies. Jerry Seinfeld raised the profile of the babka and the Sex and the City characters help turn Magnolia Bakery into a global cupcake powerhouse. Unlike those loving culinary tributes Orange is the New Black’s prison food chic pushes the boundaries of good taste, both literally and metaphorically. A former inmate of the Federal Prison Camp in Danbury that’s fictionalized in the series is protesting what she perceives as exploitation of the incarcerated. She’s organizing demonstrations at Crazy Pyes appearances, which you can track through her twitter handle @PrisonGray053, which references the last three digits of her inmate ID number.

You can experience the real thing at a handful of prisons across the country that open their cafeterias and visitor centers to the public (once you’ve passing the metal detector, security clearance, and relinquished contraband and your drivers license) like the  Yelp-reviewed Fife and Drum at the minimum-security Northeast Correctional Center in Concord, MA, and Trenton, NJ’s (In)Mates Inn, with its 14 FourSquare check-ins. You can also book weddings and bar mitzvahs held on the prison grounds and catered by the incarcerated courtesy of the Garden State Correctional Facility in Yardville, NJ.

Or look for one of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary’s Prison Food Weekends.
This year’s popular annual event at the historic prison-turned-museum served up Nutraloaf, the controversial dish that’s dole out as a disciplinary action to rule-breaking inmates in place of regular meals. It’s a food so vile that its constitutionality as a cruel and unusual punishment has been successfully challenged in the supreme courts of nearly a dozen states. Admission included samples of Nutraloaf variations from different regional penal systems, served with recipes and tasting notes.







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The Food Porn Index Asks: Kale or Cronuts?



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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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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Waking Up to Breakfast Beers

Rooster logo via BeerBreakfast.com

Rooster logo via BeerBreakfast.com


Brewers have turned their attention to one of the few underserved market segments: morning beer drinkers.

The eye-opener, the hair-of-the-dog, the morning brewskie
Beer for breakfast was once the domain of problem drinkers and spring break partiers.
It’s as if there was an unwritten law that liquor marketers wouldn’t try to mess with the social standard of the booze-free morning. Not any more. There’s a whole slew of new brews aimed at getting you out of bed.

Founder’s Brewing calls its Breakfast Stout ‘the coffee lover’s consummate beer’ with ‘an intense fresh-roasted java nose,’ and the recommended food pairing with Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout is a bowl of granola. Wells and Youngs brews a Banana Bread Ale; Terrapin’s Wake ‘N Bake is more bake than wake at 8.6% alcohol, but it’s infused with high-test Jittery Joe’s coffee beans; and Rogue Brewing might have created the ultimate breakfast combination with its Voodoo Donut Bacon Maple Ale.

Defenders of the morning quaff point to its traditional standing in many cultures.
In earlier centuries, beer was the default breakfast beverage of the British, when coffee and tea weren’t widely available and safe drinking water was hard to come by. Hong Kong stockbrokers like to fortify themselves with a morning pint before the market opens, and instead of a coffee break, Eastern Europeans have always favored beer for their mid-morning brotzeit, or second breakfast. Beer is high in carbs, loaded with empty calories, and its soporific effects can derail your morning get-up-and-go; but swap the alcohol for sugar and you’re basically looking at the nutrition profile of many breakfast cereals.

Others shudder at the the thought.
It might be beer ‘o clock somewhere, but not everyone has the stomach for an eye-opening jolt of bitter carbonation. It also strikes many as irresponsible behavior, from a health and addiction perspective. Morning drinking is considered a sign of addiction; it can be a gateway to more daytime drinking, and leads to higher rates of alcohol-related liver disease and dementia.

Have your own breakfast of champions.
The Wall Street Journal recommends food and beer breakfast pairings that it claims ‘can be as perfect a breakfast accompaniment as O.J.’

Brubar is the breakfast bar for beer lovers. It’s the creation of a home brewer who marries malty beer flavors with a non-alcoholic energy bar.

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Kudos and Criticism for Chipotle’s Farm Ad

It’s been 2 weeks and the buzz still hasn’t died down.
Fast food marketer Chipotle Mexican Grill ran a doozy of a commercial during the Grammy Awards. The company went all out for its first national ad buy, a 2 minute spot during which it screened a short film celebrating sustainable agriculture.

Back to the Start uses stop-motion animation to tell the tale of a small-time farmer who transforms his family farm into an industrialized animal feeding operation, then sees the error of his way and returns to his former small-scale methods. It starts out as a sweet little Fisher-Price playset of a farm, green and lush with a single red barn and open pastures where a handful of spotted cows and plump pink piggies roam freely. Then it scales up to a gray landscape of bloated animals, crowded warehouses, and mechanized feeding lines with sludgy feed and a rainbow of chemical supplements. The soundtrack comes from Willie Nelson singing a mournful rendition of the Coldplay tune The Scientist: “Science and progress/Don’t speak as loud as my heart/Nobody said it was easy/No one ever said it would be so hard/I’m going back to the start.”

The film succeeds on many levels.
It’s playful but unsettling. It confronts the horrors and pitfalls of concentrated, mechanized agriculture, but does so without the stridency and gory shock tactics of most animal rights messaging. It’s simple but not dumbed down.

The critics began chiming in while the final frame was still flickering on TV screens.
Proponents of Big Agriculture blasted the message as a ‘prescription for worldwide hunger,’ claiming that they make the tough calls regarding animal husbandry on our behalf. In a New York Times opinion piece, Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst warned that our political correctness actually backfires because it drives small farmers out of business because only “big multistate operations will also be able to afford to make the changes, or will at least have the political sway to resist them.” He also questions Chipotle’s assumption that a pig would prefer a pasture to a warehouse. Have there been “porcine focus groups,” he wonders, with “response meters designed for the cloven of hoof?” “… for all we know, pigs are ‘happier’ in warm, dry buildings than they are outside. And either way, the end result is a plate.” [If Mr. Hurst’s name is ringing a bell, perhaps it’s because he first made a name in the food world as the author The Omnivore’s Delusion, the anti-foodie screed he penned in response to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma]

Chipotle also drew criticism from members of the food reform community. Chipotle, whose motto is “Food with integrity,” has demonstrated a deep commitment to the humane treatment of animals, but has come under fire numerous times for ignoring the unethical and abusive labor practices of some of its vendors. Some also have a cynical view of a corporation that has co-opted a movement and turned it into a marketing tool.

It’s true that we can’t presume to truly know what’s inside a pig’s mind. It’s also true that Chipotle mixes self-interest with the environmental message. But ultimately, it’s the message that matters. Back to the Start addresses deep and important issues about the food supply, and Chipotle succeeded in bringing them to the attention of a broad national audience.


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I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know…

Ken Jennings' brain via Villard/Random House


You can be the life of the party;
Or the world’s leading authority of an esoteric knowledge domain;
Or know the special pleasure that comes from stockpiling obscure facts because some day they might, just might, be useful—and that day arrives.

We love trivia.
And because we love food, we love food trivia most of all. […]

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Food Gone Wrong

Quentin Maraschino

Food can be funny.
Cake Wrecks tapped into this big time. Documenting the sad, silly, creepy, and inappropriate from the world of professional baking, the Cake Wrecks blog has more than one million followers on Twitter and was turned into a bestselling book.

Cake Wrecks is not alone out there.
Following are some of my favorite internet sites documenting the entertainment value of food.

TasteStopping is subtitled Feasting on Seconds. Home to the fuzzily focused and the poorly lit, the crumbly and the goopy, TasteStopping features unflattering posts that have been “rejected, declined or otherwise spurned” by Tastespotting, FoodGawker, PhotoGrazing, and other food photography sites.

Food Network Humor invites you to “Cook with them. Laugh with us.” It satirizes and parodies the ripe-for-parody-and-satire shows and stars of television’s Food Network. “Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake? Ina Garten’s endless circle of gay-only friends? Giada’s hideous over-enunciations of every Italian word?” Food Network Humor takes spot-on potshots and deflates egos with the affection of a true fan.

The Museum of Food Anomalies calls itself an online exhibition of the Art of Regular Food Gone Horribly Wrong. With categories like Creepy Creatures, Conjoined, Religious Artifacts, and the catch-all Indescribable, this is where you’ll see the Virgin Mary banana chip, carrots shaped like human feet, and a smiley face calzone.

Food’lebrities combines celebrity names with food terms and images to create hybrid puns. Rieseling Witherspoon, Chive Owen, Jack Pickleson, Papaya Angelou, Nicoleslaw Kidman- the puns can be silly, tortured, esoteric, or inspired- and indescribably funny.

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out some of the sites for yourself; and send along any favorites of your own.


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