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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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McDonald’s is a Big Loser at the Sochi Olympics

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Restaurant Ratings or Restaurant Rankings– How Do You Choose?

review-trackers-food-and-restaurant-review-monitoring

 

Who’s number one?

Restaurant rankings are a relatively new measure of gastronomic greatness.
Reviewers always rated restaurants, often using the shorthand of 3 stars or 2 forks, thumbs up or down, going back a century to the first Michelin guides. Then Zagat came along with its 30-point rating scale that moved us away from entire classes of restaurants toward individual glory, and a decade ago we got the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the list that made household names out of Spain’s elBulli and Copenhagen’s Noma, and has quickly become a dominant player in global media coverage of the industry. Most of the user-submitted review sites like  Yelp, Urbanspoon, Open Table, and Trip Advisor use a combination, aggregating and averaging the individual ratings to create best of and top ten lists.

Ratings and rankings are not interchangeable.
Both methods have their proponents, and both have their inherent flaws.

Ratings ask you how much you like it.
In theory, everyone is using a common scale of measurement, and applying that scale to different dining experiences with consistency. Of course the reality is something very different: reviews reflect the critics’ quirks, biases, and grudges. Their health, the weather, their mood, even the outfit they’re wearing can affect how a meal strikes their fancy on any particular day. Ratings don’t require a unique score for each restaurant and there’s a tendency to cluster the scores in a very narrow distribution. Researchers have also found that response styles differ systematically by culture, for instance Indians tend toward more extreme scores, both good and bad, while most Asian respondents are more moderate, and French reviewers tend to be be more positive than the less-generous Dutch.

Rankings ask you to compare it with all the others.
In their simplest form, rankings can feel very natural. We all have a basic impulse to make comparisons—it’s easy to distinguish a preference for pound cake over angel food, or to say that you like In-N-Out burgers better than Five Guys. But what if you’re choosing between pound cake and blueberry pie and rice pudding and mango sorbet and chocolate chip cookies? Or a French brasserie, an Italian trattoria, a steakhouse, and those same burger joints? Rankings can get difficult in a hurry.

It’s much more taxing to rank a group of restaurants than to rate them. Psychologists say that when you get past three choices most people start to get sloppy and even arbitrary with rankings. While the cognitive effort required to rate a group of restaurants is linear—the same mental process is independently repeated for each—the work of rank-order reviews rises almost exponentially since each additional choice has to be compared to every other one on the list. Once a list tops seven entries, the whole process can go off the rails.

Good food is subjective.
The ratings and rankings of restaurant reviews have their place, but there’s no substitute for a place at the table. Dining experiences are shaped by individual genetics and gender, historical and cultural influences, mood, emotions, context, and hunger. Reviews can create expectations and even guide the experience, but no two people can ever truly taste in the same way.

 

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SXSW Makes Room at the Table for Food

 

 

[image via bonappetit.com]

[image via bonappetit.com]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in cyberculture, media, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

Bad News for Clumsy Eaters Everywhere

The wildly popular YouTube science series Vsauce has a wake-up call for kitchen klutzes who put their faith in the 5-second rule.
You know the one: the freshly buttered piece of toast slips off your plate and falls to the floor.
The floor looks clean. It landed buttered-side up. The dog didn’t lick it.
Looks fine to me!

It’s time to invoke the 5-second rule, the polite fiction we like to believe that says if we are quick enough, we can still eat food that’s hit the floor. We pick it up, scrutinize it, maybe brush it off or blow on it, and tell ourselves that a few seconds isn’t enough time for contamination to occur; and proceed to eat it.

Surveys have shown that most of us abide by the rule at least some of the time: 50% of men and 70% of women invoke it on an as-needed basis. Parents of young children are the most ardent practitioners, constantly popping dropped bottles, pacifiers, and snacks into the mouths of their precious offspring.

The Vsauce video will have you rethinking the rule.
The fact is your dropped toast attracted plenty of floor bacteria in the very first fraction of a millisecond of contact. Five seconds in and somewhere between 150 and 8,000 bacteria are clinging to its surface. Just how much nastiness gets scooped up depends mostly on the moisture content and surface geometry of the toast, and on the condition of the floor. Time is a factor—after a minute the bacteria level can go up ten-fold—but with so much instant contamination, it’s hardly worth quibbling over the extra seconds.

Vsauce gives the 5-second rule a seriously unappetizing debunking.
We learn that salmonella can live for days on even a clean and dry kitchen floor, and that fewer than a dozen salmonella microbes can give you headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting. Nastier still is this tidbit: 93 percent of shoes have fecal material on them.
And trust me, nothing beats video for vivid, stomach-churning presentation.

Maybe it’s time for a new 5-second rule.
Next time you drop something, take those 5 seconds to reflect on the squirming microbes and poopy shoes you saw in the video. At the end of those five seconds, decide if it’s still worth eating.
Sadly, even if it’s chocolate.

Posted in cook + dine, food safety, media | Leave a comment

The Sweetener Formerly Known As…

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It worked for Prince.

By now you’ve probably heard about the public relations disaster that is the sweetener formerly known as high fructose corn syrup.
After years of waging a losing battle to convince the American public that HFCS is not really so bad, the Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the FDA for an ‘alternative labeling declaration,’ preferring the more natural-sounding moniker ‘corn sugar.’

Name changes are a common practice in today’s marketplace .
When a name—for one reason or another—just isn’t working, the strategy is to regroup, rebrand, and relaunch. We’ve seen it in the corporate world: who even remembers that AirTran was once ValuJet, an airline best known for safety violations and fatalities? Philip Morris hoped to distance itself from tobacco when it became Altria; the Nashville Network added CSI reruns to its low-rent lineup and reinvented itself as Spike TV; and then there is Sean Combs, patron saint of name changes, aka Puff Daddy, er Puffy, I mean P. Diddy, or is that just plain Diddy?

The food world has a long history of name changing.
Consumer tastes, diets, perceptions, and health concerns are constantly shifting, and food names and brands have had to be especially mutable to survive.

How Sweet it Was.

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Posted in food business, food knowledge, media | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Words and Pictures: Illustrated Food Blogs

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We have camera flashes going off in restaurants. Food blogs are full of lush, color-saturated close-ups of food at its most delicious: the drizzle of olive oil glistens atop a gorgeous plate of ripe tomatoes; the charred flecks of the bruléed sugar crust has us practically listening for the crackle as spoon meets custard.

Illustrated food blogs can feel like a relief after the sensory overload of too much food porn. […]

Posted in blogging, media | 4 Comments

The Epicure’s Farm-to-Table Artisanally-Crafted Post of Over-Used Food Terms

[image via Madison Magazine]]]

They are trendy or inane, over-worked or over-wrought, misused and abused. These are the words that grate on our nerves.

Artisan

Wheat Thins artisan crackers? (Can’t you just picture them painstakingly rolled out and hand-cut by the master bakers of Kraft Foods Global, Inc.?) How about artisan flatbreads from DiGiorno’s Frozen Pizza? Like you’re back in the piazza in Naples. And pre-washed and bagged artisan salads? We’re not sure how lettuce can be artisanal, but leave it to Fresh Express, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chiquita Brands, L.L.C., to figure it out.

Mixologist

It’s true that a well-mixed drink is the result of a kind of happy alchemy. But bartending as a scientific discipline? We don’t tip the guy that runs the particle accelerator at the FermiLab, and we aren’t looking for the next Appletini that will cure cancer.

Veggies

Just say the whole word. It’s not all that onerous. Ditto for sammies (sandwiches), resto (restaurant), breakie (breakfast), chix (chicken), and apps (appetizers).

Nom nom for foodies

Let’s add to the list any word that sounds like it was coined in a nursery school (crispy, yummy, comfy, et al.).

Restaurant reviewer jargon

Toothsome; mouth-feel; authentic; playful; sauces that are napped; and dishes that are tucked into— does anybody speak like this? Can we make them stop writing like this?

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Culinary cliches: which ones bug you?

Read Gigabiting’s take on the cringe-inducing “F” word.

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Posted in food trends, media | Tagged , | 9 Comments
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