fast food

The Terroir of the Shopping Mall Food Court

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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.

 

 

Posted in fast food, local foods, travel | Leave a comment

Why, oh why do companies give the public access to unmoderated, real-time Twitter feeds?

Oops, they did it again. This time it’s Coca-Cola.
The company has pulled its #MakeItHappy brand campaign after it was used to tweet excerpts from Hitler’s Mein Kampf into sweetly innocuous cartoon images of kitty cats and happy hamburgers.

The #MakeItHappy campaign launched with an ad during the Super Bowl. 
Designed to combat the bullying and negative language found on social media, the beverage giant asked Twitter users to forward negative messages tagged with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. An automated algorithm would transform the words into cutesy ASCII cartoons and @CocaCola would retweet the images to its millions of followers with the message We turned the hate you found into something happy.

Coca-Cola, with its 100,ooo+ employees, seems to have launched it unmanned into cyberspace.
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Nobody at the company noticed when the famous ‘Fourteen Words’ slogan of white supremacist movements was turned into a happy little puppy that tweeted out “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”j8hqjk6ljn2sprtonorr  It was, however, noticed by the media pranksters at Gawker who created the Twitter handle @MeinCoke and fed a line-by-line reading of Hitler’s manifesto into the #MakeIt Happy algorithm, and then watched Coca-Cola’s official twitter account as it rendered Hitler’s words into smiling bananas and sunglass-wearing palm trees.

This is hardly the first Twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets: Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef? When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is!

Even Starbucks, a company that parlayed its usually spot-on social engagement to become the best loved online brand, has had its own stumble in cyberspace. The coffee seller created the seasonal hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out holiday greetings with a direct feed to a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum. Before it could be shut down, the unmonitored, uncensored tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup.

Missteps like these are not limited to the food world.
Screen_Shot_2014-11-13_at_9.51.33_PMThe New England Patriots celebrated reaching 1 million Twitter followers by thanking fans with custom digital jerseys—basically a photo of the back of a Patriots uniform with a Twitter handle where the player’s name usually appears. Patriots fans gleefully retweeted the automated images of irreverent and unsavory Twitter screen names until one fan’s hateful, obscenely racist Twitter handle finally shut it all down.

While the Patriots’ stunt was naïve and a bit misguided, what’s Bill Cosby’s excuse? The comedian’s website recently posted a link to a photo meme-generator and the message: Go ahead, meme me! Twitter followers were in no mood for poking fun at Jell-O pudding commercial or his penchant for wearing loud sweaters, and #CosbyMeme was quickly populated by darkly humorous evocations of Cosby’s decades of rape allegations. Who didn’t see that coming?

Twitter can be a powerful tool for brands to interact with their customers, but it also puts power in the hands of the public where it can all too easily backfire. Disgruntled customers and bystanders can shape or even hijack a promotional campaign to disastrous results. When a brand like Coke loses control of its own product’s narrative, things can go downhill in a hurry as the tweets are shared with their millions of Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….

 

 

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

Fast Food in the Age of Transparency

 

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It’s not as nasty as you think. That’s the message of McDonald’s latest ad campaign.

McDonald’s knows it has a serious image problem. Obesity, pink slime, Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me—the decades of exposés, headlines, and scandals have taken their toll. Since they can’t advertise their food as fresh, or healthy, or natural, or environmentally friendly, the company decided to go with It’s really not that bad.

McDonald’s has gone on a transparency drive called Our Food. Your Questions. They’ve produced video vignettes and infographics that explain the production process behind some of their most mystifying menu items like McRibs and McNuggets to show how something not found in nature can end up on your lunch tray. They’ve hired a host from TV’s Mythbusters to debunk some of the more persistent rumors, like the viral video of an ancient burger, so packed with preservatives that it refused to rot.

At the heart of the campaign is the online forum where customers can get real-time answers to their questions.
It’s where you’ll learn that their beef contains growth hormones but no worms, and that NOT ALL of McDonald’s salads are more fattening than their burgers. Special attention is given to questions about the notorious ‘yoga mat’ chemical. Yes, the rubbery additive is baked into most of their buns and rolls, but the spokesperson gives us a new way to think about the link to yoga mats: it’s like sprinkling ice on sidewalks in the winter; you don’t go around saying that you season your food with a de-icer, now do you?

Our perceptions may be malleable, but McDonald’s is McDonald’s is McDonald’s.
The problem with McDonald’s form of transparency is its toothlessness. The food remains fundamentally unhealthy, employees aren’t paid a living wage, and suppliers practice inhumane and unsustainable forms of agriculture. The hamburger meat continues to be pumped full of antibiotics to combat the filth of the crowded factory farming feedlots, and the eggs come from chickens that lived out their lives in locked battery cages.

This new openness might make McDonald’s appear less sinister, but consumer confidence and trust won’t be rebuilt until the company commits to taking a stand for healthy, sustainable foods. Companies like Starbucks, Panera, and Chipotle are winning the fast food wars not because they’re more transparent, but because they’ve taken a hard look at the quality and origins of the ingredients they use and have forged genuine change. As the nation’s biggest fast food chain and one of the world’s largest purveyors of raw materials, McDonald’s is in a position to make a real difference in how food is grown and the way the world eats.

Posted in fast food, food business, food safety | 2 Comments

Will Fast Food Ruin the Bánh Mì ?

image via Willamette Week

image via Willamette Week

 

The buzz on Bánh Mì is that it’s going to be the next big thing in fast food.
The time is right for these French bread-Vietnamese sandwiches, which some believe will become as much a part of the lunchtime vernacular as the sub or the wrap.

French bread was introduced to Vietnam in the late 18th century when the country fell under French colonial rule. Bánh mì (pronounced bun mee) began as the traditional, minimalistic Parisian sandwich of butter and ham or pâté on a baguette. When the French departed in the 1950’s, the Vietnamese kept the baguettes and liberated the bánh mì sandwiches from their colonial origins, replacing the butter with mayonnaise and perking up the meat fillings with native ingredients like fresh and vinegared vegetables, hot peppers, and cilantro.

The new classic bánh mì starts with a Viet-style French baguette. Usually made with some combination of white, wheat, and rice flours, it’s narrow and airy, more crackly crust than anything else. Colonial era holdovers like cold cuts and pâté can still be found, but most are filled with lemongrass-grilled or roasted pork, tofu, or chicken. There are always carrot and radish pickles, sliced jalapeño peppers, cilantro sprigs, fresh cucumbers, and a smear of mayonnaise. A properly-made bánh mì contains elements of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, creamy, and crunchy.

Americans were introduced to bánh mì when Vietnamese refugees arrived in the late 1970’s following the Vietnam War. Small bakeries were producing bánh mì for their communities, where they were first discovered by restaurant workers who appreciated the vivid flavors, startling textures, and low prices. Modern cooks pushed the boundaries of what was already a cultural and culinary mash-up, swapping out the traditional meat fillings for meatballs, bacon, American-style pulled pork, and hot dogs. They’re making breakfast bánh mì and bánh mì sliders, and adding contemporary garnishes like kale, arugula, Sriracha, and aioli.

Much of what you find today is little more than Asian-accented ingredients on a French baguette, which is precisely why the fast food world is showing interest. Today’s bánh mì hints at exoticism while remaining familiar enough not to scare anyone. The Chipotle chain has already stuck its toe in the bánh mì waters with its pan-Asian ShopHouse concept, but the real game-changer came with this week’s announcement that Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco BellKFC, and so much more, is diving in. God help us, the people who peddle waffle tacos and pizza nibbles with ranch dressing dip are giving the Yum! treatment to Vietnamese sandwiches.
The Saigon import turned insider secret could soon be just another fast food fixture, served up on a value menu with a 16 ounce Pepsi and a side of fries.

You can find the real deal in your town with the international bánh mì directory from Battle of the Bánh Mì.

Posted in fast food, food knowledge, food trends | Leave a comment

Just Because You Can Make It In a K-Cup It Doesn’t Mean You Should

Are you really stumped by soup?

PJ-BU294_OATMEA_DV_20140415113507Campbell-Soup-K-CupFor everyone who’s ever struggled with the complexities of Cup-a-Soup or instant ramen, Keurig®, the inventor/maker of the K-Cup® coffee pod has teamed up with Campbell’s® to bring us Fresh-Brewed Soup™ in pod form. Never has broth and noodles been so easy or had so many superscripts. You can also say goodbye to the onerous task of mixing water into a packet of instant oatmeal with the just-announced Keurig-General Mills partnership that will manufacture an oatmeal K-cup. Pans and stoves? Who are we, the Waltons?

Is is time to consider the possibility that food can be too convenient?
Have you looked around the supermarket lately? The garlic has been peeled, the pineapples have their cores removed, and the onions are already chopped. There are pre-cooked slices of bacon, pre-boiled eggs, and shrink-wrapped potatoes— washed and poked and ready to bake. When you tire of spreading cream cheese on your bagels just pick up some Bagel-fuls, and frozen Uncrustables come to the rescue when you forget the recipe for PB&J.

We’ve all bought our share of pre-washed salad greens and pre-trimmed baby carrots, but some of these packaged, processed shortcut foods boggle the mind. Taste and quality are compromised, they’ve lost nutrients and gained preservatives, and the price has risen exponentially. They take a minimally-packaged, shelf-stable food and transform it into a product that is encased in pouches, packets, and pods. They commit egregious culinary and environmental offenses in the name of ease and convenience.

The siren song of lazy food
One in five adults will drink a pod-brewed beverage today, and it’s not just coffee. Keurig makes K-Cups for tea and cocoa, and cold drinks like Snapple iced teas, lemonade, apple cider, and vitamin waters. And now oatmeal and soup. Where they’ll go next is anyone’s guess.

 

Keurig K-cup™ 5-Star Meals via Think Geek

Keurig K-Cup™ 5-Star Meals via Think Geek

 

 

Posted in coffee, fast food, gadgets | Leave a comment

Breakfast meets Dinner, Sweet Meets Savory. It Has to be Chicken and Waffles.

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Chicken and waffles, once a little-known regional oddity, has hit the big time.
It’s on the menu at IHOP. It’s a Lay’s potato chip flavor. National fast food chains are testing out a sandwich version (Burger King), chicken nuggets (Popeye’s), and a chicken-filled waffle-shelled taco (Taco Bell).

Brunchers everywhere are rejoicing.
Chicken and waffles brings together the fatty, meaty, saltiness of fried chicken, the sticky sweetness of maple syrup, and a rich, crisp waffle. The classic brunch dilemma— sweet or savory?— is a thing of the past.

It’s not clear who we should thank [some might say blame] for this inspired combination.
Some food historians see a link to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. Others cite southern soul food origins, pointing to the pre-Civil War kitchen of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello where his kitchen staff of slaves would have encountered the nation’s first imported waffle iron. The dish’s current popularity can be traced to its 20th century resurgence on both the east and west coasts. In New York’s Harlem, chicken and waffles was a staple on the menu of the Wells Supper Club. An after-hours gathering place for Jazz Age club-goers, the Wells legend tells us that the combination was a happy compromise made in the wee hours—it was too late for dinner and too early for breakfast, so both meals were served on a single plate. The dish hit the west coast in the 1970′s where it was equally well-suited to the midnight rambles of the local youth culture. Roscoe’s chain of soul food restaurants was a favorite late-night haunt of Los Angeles stoners and the Hollywood crowd. And now we have bastardized versions turning up on 99¢ ‘value menus’ at thousands of fast food outlets. If anyone is doubting its ascendancy, that’s all the proof you need.

The culinary mashup can still baffle the uninitiated.
Is it breakfast or dinner? Is it two dishes sitting side-by-side or should it be eaten as a single entity? With maple syrup, really? How about butter? Gravy? Hot sauce?

Yes to all!
Crunchy, juicy, spicy, crispy, fluffy, sweet, and salty, plus a hit of sticky maple—it’s a heck of a forkful.

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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

Should You Just Say No to Kale?

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You know by now that food can be addictive.
Studies have even shown that certain foods can light up the same region of the brain as heroin and cocaine. We’re told to stay away from things like chips and cookies because they’re loaded with the kinds of processed and refined carbohydrates that trigger our junk-food cravings. But other studies show that choosing healthy foods—leafy greens, fruits, and salads—can promote something called ‘vicarious goal fulfillment’ that convinces us to eat even more junk.

Picture two menus.
One menu offers burgers and fries. Some people will choose a burger only; some add fries to their burger orders.
The other menu has the same burgers, same fries, but it also offers a side salad. It seems logical that there are still some burger-only orders; some of the burger-only folks will now add a salad; some of the burger-with-fries will stick with fries; and some will switch from fries to a salad. You’d figure that the orders would go up by a few salads and down by a few fries.

It doesn’t work like that.
When a salad option is added, french fry orders actually increase. In fact three times as many diners will go for the fries when a salad is on the menu. Apparently the mere presence of healthy options encourages us to make unhealthy choices. The findings were the same, whether it was Oreos or fried chicken, salad or veggie burgers.

Researchers confirm that this ‘vicarious goal fulfillment’ happens when a person feels that a goal has been met if they have taken even a teeny, tiny step towards it. It’s like joining a gym you never get to, or buying an important book that sits on the shelf.
The fleeting thought of ‘Hmm, I could have a salad,’ is enough to satisfy dietary goals.

It’s an ironic kind of indulgence.
There is a certain logic to it. The researchers contend that the virtue conferred by the salad gave diners license to lower their guard. And the more self-disciplined an individual is, the more powerful the effect—the healthiest test subjects were actually the most likely to add fries from the second menu.

Kale as a gateway drug?
I’ll bet it’s news to you. But you can bet it’s not to the fast food industry.

 

Posted in diet, fast food, health + diet | Leave a comment

Who Would You Rather Work For: Apple or McDonald’s?

 

logo mashup via Perfect Image Group

logo mashup via Perfect Image Group

 

Fast food giant McDonald’s is notorious for paying low wages.
The company’s employment practices have been making a lot of recent headlines. First there was this summer’s protest—the biggest one to ever hit the industry— when workers in 50 cities walked out on their jobs calling for fair pay and the right to form unions. We saw McDonald’s respond to the mounting pressure with a widely ridiculed employee budgeting tool that allows a whopping $25 a day for food, child care, transportation, and clothing, and that’s if an employee gets a second 30-hour a week job on top of full-time McDonald’s employment. Then we learned that the company also runs the McResource advice line that steers employees to public assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

What about Apple?
It’s one of the best-known, most admired companies on the planet.
It’s created countless millionaires by richly rewarding corporate-level positions in engineering, design, programming, and marketing. But the majority of Apple’s nearly 50,000 U.S. employees work in Apple Stores. They might not be flipping burgers, but like McDonald’s workers, they’re members of the service economy, and most earn about $24,000 a year, an income that is within $1,000 of the federally-designated poverty level and which happens to be the same lowly amount used by the sample budget in McDonald’s financial planning tool.

McDonald’s and Apple are members of an exclusive club.
They are the nation’s largest and most profitable corporations that are also the stingiest. They’re keeping company with Walmart, although even Walmart pays its employees better ($26,000 on average), and Walmart pays out a greater share of its earnings to its workforce.

Not such golden arches…or shiny apples
In 2012, McDonald’s earned a profit of $8 billion. Divide that by the number of workers and the company made a profit of $18,200 from the labor of each employee after paying an average salary of $18,000.
In the same year, the phenomenally successful Apple Corporation posted a profit of more than $40 billion. Divide that by the number of workers and Apple raked in an astonishing $697,000 per employee.

Another thing they have in common: little hope for advancement.
According to the  National Employment Law Project, nearly one-third of all jobs in the U.S. economy are managerial, technical, or other professional occupations. By contrast, only about 1 in 50 fast food jobs is classified as ‘professional.’ There’s simply no room at the top for the army of low-skilled workers to aspire to.

Legions of young, college-educated true believers flock to Apple Stores where the job prospects aren’t much better. Yes, they’re working for an exciting, fast-growing, innovative company, but store employees soon realize that they aren’t in the tech industry. They’re retail workers, and a job in an Apple Store isn’t much different than ringing the register at the shoe store across the mall. Dozens of qualified candidates working on the sales floor are all vying for a few management opportunities, and the turnover is practically nil over at the high-paying Genius Bar. Most Apple Store jobs, just like those at McDonald’s, are low wage, menial dead-ends.

McDonald’s and Apple, fast food and technology. Both companies and both industries are America’s leading representatives to the global economy. Both are enormously successful businesses that pile up huge profits while they pay poverty level wages to the majority of their employees. 
Who would you rather work for? Is there any difference?

 

Posted in fast food, food business | Leave a 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.

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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.

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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

The Chick-fil-A Question: Should We Boycott?

image via Someecards

 

Don’t let anyone tell you that boycotts violate your First Amendment rights to free speech (that’s right, Sarah Palin, we’re talking about you).
In fact it was a boycott—the Boston Tea Party—that helped win us those rights by galvanizing the colonists’ discontent and growing patriotic sentiment, and linking them together into a resistance movement that ultimately grew into the Continental Army of the Revolutionary War.

Boycotts have a long and noble history of contributing to progressive social change. But is a boycott the right response to the Chick-fil-A controversy?

The proposed Chick-fil-A boycott is about more than just a disagreement.
A boycott can’t be just about opinions. If we stopped patronizing a business every time we were troubled by the beliefs or affiliations of its leaders, we’d find ourselves growing our own food and sewing our own clothes. And as advocates of the First Amendment, we shouldn’t be looking to deny anyone their Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. Plus we have to be sensitive to the collateral damage of lost wages for employees. But our grievances are not about a mere difference of opinions.

Chick-fil-A’s CEO chose to publicly announce its core corporate values and agenda, which happen to include millions of dollars in contributions to conservative Christian causes. How conservative, you ask? How about–

  • Exodus International—they cure homosexuality with prayers, although sometimes ‘reparative therapy’ needs a jump start from stun guns and something they call masturbatory reconditioning- and there’s an app for that!;
  • The American Family Association—when they’re not fretting about the blatant homosexual agendas of the PTA and Disney movies, they’d like to outlaw mosques on American soil, and ban Muslims from the military;
  • The Fellowship of Christian Athletes—didn’t Germany have one of these back in the 30′s?

The company also seems to give to pretty much any organization that works to defeat gay marriage initiatives: Focus on the Family, The Family Resource Council, the Ruth Institute (one man, one women, and we’d all be better off if that woman would just stay home and take care of her family), the Pennsylvania Family Institute (if we’d gotten rid of sex education we wouldn’t be dealing with this nonsense), the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund….and the list goes on.

A portion of the proceeds from every waffle fry and chicken-on-a-biscuit goes toward the advancement of those groups’ goals. For many of us, those goals are contradictory to our own faith and principles, as closely held by us as those of Mr. Cathy and Co. We can’t, in good conscience, contribute one flat dime to a corporate ethos that, to us, represents bigotry and intolerance. The values are different, but we are no less value-driven. That’s why we are left with no choice but to respond.

The next time you have a yen for a crispy chicken on a squishy bun, I hope you’ll go someplace where it doesn’t come with a side of ‘family’ values.

 

 

Posted in fast food, restaurants | 1 Comment

It’s a Hamburger Nation, and We’re Just Living in It

 


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 Hamburger America, the film, the book, the blog, the photo gallery, the app

We’re not just a hamburger nation; we’re a bigger and a better hamburger nation than we were just a few short years ago.

We have burger momentum across the boards.
The old-school, classic burger joints are thriving in small towns and downtowns. At the same time the ‘gourmet’ burger has found a legitimate place on high-end menus where it’s being made from fresh grinds of prime beef cuts and served on quality breads and buns. They’re being accompanied by a dizzying array of pickles and condiments that are crafted with renewed creativity and attention to detail. There’s even a fast-food burger revival led by chains like  In-N-Out, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Smashburger, The Counter, and Shake Shack, all serving serious but unpretentious burgers.

Much of the credit for the better-burger boom goes to George Motz.
He’s not a chef or a butcher or a restaurateur. He isn’t a farmer or a cookbook author. But he’s done more to spread the gospel of the better-burger than all of them combined.

Hamburger America is Motz’s James Beard nominated documentary film that tells the stories of eight unique hamburger restaurants (well, joints) around the country. They’re all real mom-and-pop places that have been around 40 years or more, and the food at each one has nearly as much character as the characters who populate them.

Hamburger America (the book) is a state-by-state guide to the 150 best hamburgers in America. It’s an essential read for burger lovers and seekers, and the pilgrimages it has inspired have raised the profile of dozens of struggling businesses, helping to preserve our hamburger heritage.

Burger Bites is Motz’s web series of short films. Each episode explores a single locale or subject like Kate’s First Burger (That’s right, 27 and she’s never had one, and no, she’s not a vegetarian) and Odd Griddles and Techniques (poached hamburger?!).

Hamburger America (the blog)– further exploits.

Burger GPS –wherever you are, this mobile app will direct you to the best burger.

He’s also busied himself devising hamburger heritage curriculum for colleges and founding wildly successful food film festivals in Chicago and New York.
Next up—Burger Land, a hamburger-focused series being filmed for the Travel Channel.

According to Technomic, 48% of us eat at least one burger a week. Just three years ago, that number was 38%.

You’ll find links to the book, the film, the blog, and more at Hamburger America.
The Burger Land pilot will air on the Travel Channel on September 2 at 7:00 and 7:30.

 

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Fast Food Workers Tell Us: These are the Menu Items You Don’t Want to Eat

image via Anarkismo.net

 

A Reddit user posed the question:

What is the one menu option at your employment that you would recommend people never eat?

In the first 24 hours, more than 6,000 restaurant workers responded.
They warned us of vegetarian items that aren’t, and tell us why we don’t want the ‘steakhouse-style’ burger for dinner. They told us about bug-infested soda nozzles, ice machine slime, and instructed us on why you never want to order a milk shake on a Saturday. It’s a roundup of food safety lapses, dietary lies, and Jungle-like tales of the food service underbelly worthy of Upton Sinclair.

Grilled Chicken
If you think you’re saving on calories and fat, think again. Those who work the grills talk of slathering chicken breasts in so much liquified margarine to keep them moist and prevent sticking that burgers and fried chicken can actually be healthier options.

Tuna and Chicken Salad
Restaurant workers report sightings of mayonnaise that spends the whole day at room temperature, and unsold chicken nuggets that are stripped of breading and re-purposed in salads.

Fountain Drinks
Soda nozzles and ice dispensers are seldom cleaned until they’re clogged—with bugs, hair, congealed soda syrups, algae—and anything else that might have accumulated or fallen in. The flipside is no better— a recently cleaned soda machine can have so much of the cleaning solution lingering in its reservoir that it dispenses a dose of anti-bacterial chemicals with the first few batches of servings.

Saturday’s Shakes
An ice cream-less mix frozen in an automated shake machine hardly qualifies as a treat any day of the week. But at some fast food outlets, the employees say that they are instructed to save all the spills and runoff that accumulate in the machine’s well, collect it for the week, and then load it back into the shake machine for a second Saturday go-round.
Why Saturday? Because it’s the health inspector’s day off.

Self-Serve Communal Condiments
You really don’t want to know.

‘Steakhouse-Style’ Burgers
A lot of the fast food chains recently added upgraded hamburgers to their menus. Often made with a higher grade of beef and fancy toppings, they command a premium price, and most outlets sell very few until dinner time. Which means, we are told, that the ‘steakhouse’ burgers from the lunch shift can have a six-hour session under warming lights to become the ‘steakhouse’ burgers of the dinner shift.

These are the eyewitnesses.
These are the people who flip the burgers, scoop the fries, and refill the straw dispensers.
And these are the foods that they won’t touch.

 


Posted in fast food, food knowledge, food safety | 1 Comment

Fast Food Chains Push Soda for Breakfast

 

The vaguely mimosa-like Mountain Dew A.M.


Some rules really aren’t made to be broken.
Like the one about eating a healthy breakfast. It’s not like it’s one of the Geneva Conventions, but this is important stuff none the less. Which is why the latest promotion from three major fast food chains has mothers, nutritionists, public health advocates, and dentists cringing: at Steak ‘n Shake, a 28-ounce morning Coca-Cola lands you a free breakfast taco; Sonic’s ‘Morning Drink Stop’ features 99-cent sodas; and Taco Bell is test marketing a proprietary concoction called MTN Dew A.M., combining soda and orange juice.

There have always been those who like a cold, sharp, fizzy jolt of caffeine in the morning, but it took the breakfast menus at fast food restaurants to bring it into the mainstream. Soda is rarely served with with home-cooked breakfasts—perhaps it’s Mom’s influence that has kept it to less than 3% of the time. Go out for breakfast though, and it’s five times as likely that soda will be ordered.

This isn’t the first time that food marketers have tried to chip away at the morning soda taboo. Coca-Cola launched a major Coke in the Morning ad campaign in 1988, and the next year Pepsi pumped up the caffeine for a trial run of a morning cola dubbed Pepsi A.M. As recently as 2008, Coca-Cola was running print ads showing a Diet Coke can wrapped in a take-out coffee sleeve with the tagline ‘Good Morning.’

Wake up and smell the soda
Too much soda makes people fat and sick. And if tooth decay, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease aren’t enough, there are plenty of other reasons not to drink soda.

 

Read Gigabiting’s Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Drink Soda

 

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Those Aren’t Fries on Chick-fil-A’s Value[s] Menu

a show of support from the conservative Christians at the American Family Association

 

Wendy’s gives you a chocolate Frosty™.  Arby’s makes it curly fries. Chick-fil-A has its own take on the Value Menu, serving up crispy chicken on a squishy bun with a side of ‘family’ values.

Chick-fil-A has never made a secret of its faith-based agenda. The company closes all its restaurants on Sundays and has openly (often discriminatorily and sometimes illegally) factored a potential employee’s marital status and civic and church involvement in its hiring process. It also gives millions of dollars in contributions to conservative Christian causes.

How conservative, you ask?

  • Exodus International—they cure homosexuality with prayers, although sometimes ‘reparative therapy’ needs a jump start from stun guns and something they call masturbatory reconditioning- and there’s an app for that!;
  • The American Family Association—when they’re not fretting about the blatant homosexual agendas of the PTA and Disney movies, they’d like to outlaw mosques on American soil, and ban Muslims from the military;
  • The Fellowship of Christian Athletes—didn’t Germany have one of these back in the 30’s?

The company also seems to give to pretty much any organization that works to defeat gay marriage initiatives: the Council of Conservative Citizens (while they’re at it they’d like to get rid of marriage between races too), Focus on the Family, The Family Resource Council, the Ruth Institute (one man, one women, and we’d all be better off if that women would just stay home and take care of her family), the Pennsylvania Family Institute (if we’d gotten rid of sex education we wouldn’t be dealing with this nonsense), the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund….yes, the list goes on.

Chick-fil-A has been in the liberals’ cross hairs for years. The bigotry and intolerance of its conservative corporate ethos has sparked a series of boycotts, mostly from LGBT communities, and in recent months protests have sprung up on college campuses. The Universities of Delaware, North Texas, and New Orleans, Mississippi State. Bowling Green State, Northeastern, and NYU have all debated Chick-fil-A’s place on their campuses, with some of the school administrations choosing to suspend business operations or ban the chain from their premises.

The privately held, family owned Chick-fil-A is certainly free to flex its evangelical Christian muscles, just as we are free to decide that Chick-fil-A leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

 

Posted in fast food | 13 Comments

Burgernomics: The Big Mac Index

A ride on a city bus costs more than $7.00 in Oslo but only 7¢ in Mumbai.
The same iPad 2 that sells for over $1,000 in Buenos Aires can be picked up for half that price in Bangkok.
But when we really want to understand purchasing power, we look at global Big Mac prices.

A Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you go.
The McDonald’s Big Mac is an ideal indicator. With a few accommodations to local tastes, it’s the same sesame seed bun, same special sauce, same double beef patties, made to identical specifications by all of the company’s franchisees around the globe. Unlike transit or tablet computers, the Big Mac includes inputs from a wide range of local area sectors from agriculture to advertising, and hires a mix of white and blue collar workers.

A theory of burger-buying parity
The Big Mac Index has been published annually in The Economist since 1986. The index demonstrates the purchasing power of consumers around the globe by converting the world’s currencies to a hamburger standard. Purchasing parity would mean that every consumer world-wide is paying the same equivalent price (in their local currency) for a Big Mac. If you’re paying more than the fair-value burger benchmark, you live in a country with an over-valued currency; conversely a cheap Big Mac signals an under-valued currency.

Travel across the European continent and the power of currency valuations comes to life. A mere 17 Ukrainian hryvnias (the equivalent of $2.11) gets you a burger in Kiev; hungry in Hungary and you’ll spend 645 forints ($2.63), while in Copenhagen the same Big Mac costs more than double that amount ($5.37) in Danish krones.

The Big Mac Index locates most of the world’s under-valued currencies in Asian countries—no big surprise to anyone who shops at big box discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco where more than 90% of the merchandise can come from China. Taiwan, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, and Hong Kong are all under-valued by more than 40%. India, home to the index’s cheapest burger, the $1.62 Maharaja Mac, also has the cheapest currency, the 60% under-valued rupee. Switzerland and Norway top the list with the priciest Big Macs, quadruple the cost of an Indian burger ($6.81 and $6.79), and the most over-valued currencies (62% ).

You can see the full data set here.

 

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The Yin and the Yang of Twitter Hashtags

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

Fast food restaurants are working the Twitter hashtags.
For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #JapanEarthquake or #JustinBieberHaircut, but last year Twitter started selling spots on the list. About $120,000 buys a promoted trend, and everyone from Al Jazeera (#ArabSpring) to Starbucks (#Starbucks) has sponsored a hashtag and promoted it as a trending topic.

Fast food restaurants are drawn to Twitter.
It’s an inexpensive and immediate way to create a buzz and promote a menu special. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. At its best Twitter creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging; at its worst, well, it also creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging.

Twitter campaigns gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories last week with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets:  Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef?  When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock. Come on Wendy’s, #HeresTheBeef, on a Meatless Monday, no less? Some might say you got what was coming to you.

Hardly isolated incidents, we’ve seen plenty of fast food twittering gone awry. There have been some obvious missteps: Subway, not exactly known for its down-home cookin’ was derided for its hashtag #SUBWAYAllStarBBQ; and Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?

It’s an axiom of marketing that customers share bad experiences far more often than they praise the good ones- consumer research has shown that bad:good ratio to be 5 to 1. When a customer shares online, you can multiply those numbers by their Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
Between their own tweeted gaffes and hashtags that are hijacked by disgruntled customers, companies are powerless to control their promotional narratives.
Maybe fast food restaurants should just lay off the Twitter hashtags.

 

 

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Subway is Bigger than McDonald’s, But is it Better?

image via NMA.TV

Subway has given McDonald’s a good thumping.
About a year ago Subway surpassed the long time leader in restaurant count, and McDonald’s has been choking on Subway’s dust ever since with a mere 33,000+ locations to Subway’s nearly 36,000.

Subway owes much of its success to its image as a healthy alternative to the traditional fast food meal of burger and fries. The chain gets a lot of traction from its ‘Eat Fresh’ slogan, and especially from an innovative ad campaign promoting a weight loss angle through spokesman Jared Fogle who reportedly lost 245 pounds by exercising and eating only Subway sandwiches. The company now has a lucrative hold on the minds of fast food eaters as the virtuous option.

According to the marketing researchers at Decision Analyst, more Subway customers than any other quick-serve restaurant patrons (42%, versus a low of 3% for Taco Bell) choose the restaurant because of its selection of healthy offerings. Subway also rates highest in consumer trust; in fact it’s the only one of these restaurant with more people who ‘completely trust’ their nutritional claims than ’do not trust’ them (again, Taco Bell is in the cellar with just 7.5% of consumers putting faith in their claims).

Subway says its better, and we believe it’s better, but is it really?

The truth is, you can eat a low-cal, low-fat meal at either chain, albeit one loaded with hormones, pesticides, preservatives, and sodium. Both chains offer their share of options, though McDonald’s selection of snack-sized wraps and salads feels meager and skimpy next to Subway’s assortment of meal-sized 300 calorie subs. But Subway more than holds its fat-laden own when it comes to core menu items. The chain’s top-seller is the B.M.T., short for Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest; the 6 inch version, at 450 calories, is on par with McDonald’s Big ‘N Tasty, and the best-selling meatball marinara sub, also in the small size, tops the Big Mac by an (un)healthy margin. Opt for a 12 incher- even chicken or tuna- and you can be eating a thousand-calorie sandwich. Get it on Subway’s honey oat roll and the bread alone snags you more than 500 calories.

Researchers have also found something they call a ‘health halo’ associated with a Subway meal. Consumers are so familiar with Subway’s claims as the healthier choice that they will underestimate the calories they are actually consuming. The misperception that they are being ‘good’ influences them to be ‘bad’ with other food choices: studies have shown Subway diners to be more inclined to justify an order of chips or dessert, and one study’s participants ended up consuming 56% more calories than those eating at McDonald’s.

Basically, eating at any fast food restaurant is like jumping out of a window. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the 30th floor or the 40th; the net effect to your health will be pretty much the same.

 

 

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The Cheeseburger Footprint: Can you be green and eat fast food?

Nike shoeburger via LOL Gallery

Can you be green and eat fast food? Some fast food chains are better than others, when it comes to their environmental impact, but is a cheeseburger always going to be ethically challenged? We know about the carbon footprint of the greenhouse gases produced through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation—the normal activities of our day-to-day lives. What about our cheeseburger footprint?

Each year, the green-living website Greenopia rates the environmental impact and healthy dining characteristics of popular fast food chains. The rankings are based on factors like sustainable building design, integrity of the supply chain, and participation in recycling and composting programs. We learn that McDonald’s is greener than Burger King, and Subway is doing a better job than Taco Bell. Good to know, yes, but this still doesn’t answer the question, Can you be green and eat fast food?

Can fast food ever be green?
Fast food chains generate tremendous amounts of waste. Recycled or not, no other dining format can touch its levels. And once you peel back the wrappers and packaging, you have the food miles and greenhouse gases, and the salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup of factory farmed, heavily processed foods.

Fast food will ultimately hit the wall when it tries to go green.
We, the customers, are hooked on fast, cheap, and convenient. The fast food giants can improve their use and disposal of packaging materials. They have the clout to push food producers toward more sustainable options that are organic, fairly traded, and additive-free. But the high volume, low cost model will always dictate the terms and impose its own limitations. Processed travels better than fresh, fruit-flavored is cheaper than fruit, and a Big Mac is still going to cost less than a salad. Getting it ‘to go’ will always mean wasteful packaging, and cars will continue to idle in drive-through lanes.

Let’s go back to the original question: Can you be green and eat fast food?
There are plenty of anti-waste crusaders and Slow Food advocates who would answer with an emphatic, unequivocal ‘no;’ that even the greenest of fast food options run counter to their missions, producing more waste and carbon emissions than home cooking served on real dishes. But isn’t that like telling the owner of a Prius that hybrids are pointless, or even counterproductive, because they still burn fossil fuels?

While it’s true that a bicycle is a greener, more ethical option than any car, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone and in all circumstances. As an alternative, a hybrid car is a laudable, pragmatic solution, and even a catalyst for change—the presence of each one on our roads helps promote a worthy message in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, most of us won’t be giving up our quick, inexpensive meals eaten on the fly any more than we will quit driving. So when we opt for fast food, we need to patronize those chains that are making a true effort to minimize their impact on the environment, the ones given a 3- or 4-leaf rating by Greenopia’s fast food ratings.

Choosing to eat even the most ethical, sustainable fast food is an imperfect option in the same way that a Prius is an imperfect vehicle, and the self-righteous among us might challenge the ‘greenness’ of the choice. But it represents distinct, incremental progress and creates public awareness that just might be the catalyst for further change on our way to a greener future.

Just how bad is fast food’s impact on the environment? It’s all broken down for you in the Cheeseburger Footprint.

 

Posted in fast food, sustainability | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Q: Should Food Stamps Be Used to Pay for Fast Food?

 

image via SoapBlox

A: Yes. It alleviates hunger and avoids demeaning and intrusive Nanny State regulations.
A: No. It’s a blatant money-grab by the fast food industry at the expense of the health of our neediest and most vulnerable.

Hunger advocates are howling over fast food giant Yum! Brands’ campaign to allow low income Americans to use food stamps at its Taco Bell and KFC restaurants. Anti-hunger advocates feel that any increase in the availability of food is a good thing.

It’s a nice chunk of change to go after.
The number of Americans who use food stamps is now close to 46 million—that’s 15 percent of the population—with almost $65 billion to spend on food. The program (properly called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it’s been stamp- and coupon-less for years, but the ‘food stamp’ name stuck) currently places purchase restrictions on alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, vitamins, and hot, prepared food. Chips, candy, soda—all fair game.

Yum! Brands is trying to put a common sense spin on it, and groups like the Congressional Hunger Center and the Coalition for the Homeless are backing the fast food lobby. With five fast food outlets for every supermarket in the country, they argue it’s a convenient option, especially for the elderly, disabled, or homeless. And food stamps can already be used in convenience stores and gas stations, places not known for healthy options.

On the other side of the argument, health advocates have the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their corner, and that’s who funds the food stamp program. They feel that we can’t afford to be indifferent to the quality of the food. Access to fast food, with its often alarmingly high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, should not be expanded for low income populations that are plagued by high rates of obesity and diabetes. And for those trapped in a sedentary lifestyle, like the elderly and disabled, these foods are especially insidious.

According to the Food Stamp Act of 1977:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, in order to promote the general welfare, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.
Clearly, the policy is not referring to access to the KFC Double Down, but is it really better to go hungry?

 

Posted in community, fast food, food policy | Tagged , | Leave a comment
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