food knowledge

Vicarious Goal Fulfillment: when all that kale gives us the go-ahead to eat more junk.

image via Huffington Post UK

image via Huffington Post UK

 

Back in January McDonald’s took potshots at the superfood bandwagon. A TV ad opened with a trigger warning: “All vegetarians, foodies and gastronauts, kindly avert your eyes.” The camera moved in for a loving, lingering Big Mac closeup while the voice over assured us that McDonald’s will never pander to health food trendinistas with added quinoa, soy, Greek yogurt, or kale toppings. Fast forward a few months to May and the launch of McDonald’s new kale and egg white breakfast bowls. Has the company done an about-face? Is McDonald’s truly aiming to become a more “modern, progressive burger company” likes its CEO announced in this month’s worldwide webcast event?  Or is McDonald’s using kale as a gateway drug to lure us on a path to fast food addiction?

Yes, gateway drug. A leafy green like kale can actually encourage junk food binging.
You know that junk food can be addictive— sugar, salt, and fat can light up the brain in the same way as heroin and cocaine. Food is actually considered a supernormal stimulus—it goes straight for the reward center in the ancient, instinct-driven region of our brains that evolutionary biologists call the reptilian brain. If we let our instincts take over we’d all be junk food junkies. A modern desire to self-regulate is the only thing standing between us and those animal urges.

Something else happens in our brains when kale gets in the way.
Healthy foods in close proximity to junk food can actually weaken resolve and derail self-regulation. Scientists call the phenomenon vicarious goal fulfillment. It 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. Or the fleeting thought of ‘Hmm, I could have a salad. 

Here’s how it works:
One day there’s a menu with just two items—a hamburger and french fries. Some diners order burgers, some order burgers and fries.
On another day the menu has the same burgers, the same fries, and now there’s a side salad. Some diners will stick with their original orders, some will add a salad, and some will switch from the burger-and-fries to the burger-and-salad. You’d expect to see fewer fries in total compared with the previous day, but it doesn’t work like that. 
When a healthy option is added to a fast food menu, french fry orders rise- sometimes they actually triple. And it’s not just with salad vs. fries; 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.

The mere presence of healthy options encourages us to make unhealthy choices.
It’s an ironic kind of indulgence, but there is a certain logic to it. The virtue conferred by the salad seems to give 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.

McDonald’s kale bowls–gateway drug or healthy fast food?
It’s possible that the new menu items reflect the company’s noblest intentions. It’s also possible that they’ve read the same studies that we have.

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Summer Camp Teaches Women and Gays to Eat Like Real Men

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In a marriage of equals, who gets to hold the BBQ tongs?

Women are out-earning their husbands and gays can legally wed in 37 states, but we’re all still bogged down by the sexual politics of meat.
That’s why Belcampo Meat Co., a Bay Area-based restaurant-butchery group, is hosting a series of summer ‘meat camps’ exclusively for these groups.

Meat is the food of men.
It’s a cultural cliché that just won’t die. Meat-eating suggests power, vitality, and virility. In ancient societies, a successful hunt was an emblem of manhood, bringing status and signaling readiness to marry. Male-centric carnivorism continues to be unapologetically perpetuated in places like Esquire Magazine’s Eat Like a Man column and cookbookthe Food Network’s Meat Men tv series, and the men-only events sponsored by the global ManBQue lifestyle group.

By contrast a meatless regimen is seen as mild and anemic.
Early 20th century pediatricians would recommend a vegetarian diet to limit masturbation in young boys, and today’s vegetarians are still viewed as somehow dissipated. There’s all that tree-hugging bunny-cuddling compassion; it’s not necessarily girlie but they’re compromised as manly men. Even vegetarians rate their own kind as less masculine.

Meat Camp is three days of cutting, chopping, salting, and grilling, hold the machismo.
Less Iron John, more HGTV, guest housing on the grounds of Belcampo Farm has been arranged by Shelter Co., practitioners of the art of what’s known as ‘glamping.’ Individual tents, each with its own full bathroom, are outfitted with luxurious touches like cowhide rugs and high thread count linens on proper beds, and are visited by twice-a-day housekeeping. In between meat-based workshops with names like Bird and Bunny Immersion and Chopstravaganza, the Meat Campers can schedule massages or choose yoga and stretch classes.

All this preciousness comes at a price to match. Meat Camp will run you $3,750 for three days, less if you glamp in a shared tent. 

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7 Foods to Feed Your Creativity

via Sara Lazarovic from The Last Meals Of 32 Famous People

via Sara Lazarovic from The Last Meals Of 32 Famous People

 

 

Neuroscientists have asked Can you eat your way to creativity?
Highly creative individuals show us that there are many ways to feed the creative muses. Steve Jobs was an on-and-off fruitarian. Walt Whitman liked to start his day with oysters, and Beethoven would wake up and count out precisely 60 beans for his morning cup of coffee. Oliver Sacks almost always lunches on herring and black bread, while midday for the filmmaker Ingmar Bergman meant cornflakes and strawberry jam. Thomas Wolfe had a prodigious appetite and would write standing up in the kitchen with the top of the refrigerator as his desk. The pianist Glenn Gould fasted every day and visited a diner each night for the same meal of scrambled eggs, salad, toast, juice, sherbet, and decaf coffee.

Their dietary habits don’t tell us much.
Highly creative personality types are complex and paradoxical individuals, but clearly there is no single dietary pathway to creative thinking. And this jives with recent research confirming the way in which multiple neural pathways and cognition contribute to the creative process.

For years we believed in a theory of left brain/right brain thinking; that logical, practical, analytical types are left-brain dominant, while creative and artistic types are right-brain dominant. A universe of psychological testing, career planning, team building, and self-help publishing has evolved around this theory, which we’re now learning is a bunch of hooey. Rather than staying in a single hemisphere, brain processes are widely distributed throughout the different regions, and in fact it’s the crossover connections that get creative juices flowing.

What that tells us is that we have to feed the whole brain.
There’s no single pathway to creativity. You want to keep all your synapses firing through every step of the creative process from incubation to illumination to verification. Fortunately, there are foods that can protect the brain from damage, counteract the effects of aging, ward off mental disorders, and enhance cognitive abilities. Here are the big seven:

1.Coffee
Nothing fuels and sustains a brainstorm like coffee. It gets the creative juices flowing and keeps them there by blocking the biological receptors that tell your body when it’s time to quit. The expectation of coffee’s effect is so powerful that you can get a placebo-like boost from decaf disguised regularor even just the sounds of a coffee shop, a phenomenon that’s given rise to the ambient sound app Coffitivity.

2. Dark Chocolate
Just a few bites of dark chocolate gets you three hours of increased blood flow to the brain. Three hours! Since sugar is sheer poison for the brain, you want to look for chocolate with a high cocoa content- say 85% -to crowd out the added sweetener. The combination of caffeine and antioxidants helps fight fatigue and improve mental acuity, and the anti-depressive qualities of chocolate can give their own boost to creative thinking.

3. Nuts
Nuts improve the clarity of your thinking by increasing the delivery of oxygen to the brain. Walnuts are best and almonds and hazelnuts are pretty good. There’s less evidence for peanuts, pecans, cashews, and chestnuts.

4.Oily Fish
Fish oil is a well-documented brain food—the brain just loves those omega-3 fatty acids. But did you know that the fattiest fish, like salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines, can actually give you a bigger brain?

5. Water
Water also boosts brain volume. You want to keep the organ plumped up and hydrated for better blood flow. Good brain hydration is especially valuable to visual artists since it seems to give the biggest boost to visual and spatial thought processes.

Blueberries.
Blueberries can hold back the clock on brain function. They seem to prevent the kind of nerve cell degeneration that’s associated with aging to maintain youthful qualities within brain cells. Hours after eating just a handful of berries, an older brain’s stamina, concentration, and even motor functions and learning capacities are more like their youthful equivalent.

7. Alcohol
Alcohol gets you to the aha! moments
. By impairing executive functions and relaxing inhibitions, alcohol creates a more hospitable environment for creative thoughts. Writers become unblocked, Mad Men get their catch praises, and nobody should operate heavy machinery.

 

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You Are What You Digest

happy couple via Man/Beer Love

happy couple via Man/Beer Love

 

It’s said that you are what you eat, but it’s really so much more about what you digest.
There’s synergy in the foods we eat. The more we learn about that synergy, the more we understand that the sum of what we eat is not just the total of our individual food choices. One plus one does not equal two when it comes to health, well-being, and nutrition.

Food Pairing is the name of this game.
Guacamole with salsa, tomatoes cooked in olive oil, tea with lemon; some foods taste better when they’re eaten together. In the same way, certain foods eaten in combination can make the sum of the meal healthier than the individual ingredients.

Taste can even unwittingly be a factor. It seems that nature has arranged things so that many of our favorite complementary flavors are also the most powerful food pairings. Guacamole’s fatty acids make you absorb five times more of the healthy beta-carotene and lycopene found in salsa; olive oil helps the body absorb key carotenoids from the tomato skins; and the vitamin C in lemons increases the absorption of tea’s natural antioxidants.

Ceasar salad is another naturally synergistic combination. Olive oil and a bit of cheese boost the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients found in romaine lettuce—and it has to be a full fat dressing to work. When’s the last time a nutritionist has shared that bit of good news? Other natural affinities that happen to be good-for-you pairings include sushi, where the vinegar in the rice neutralizes 35% of the glycemic impact of the carbs in the rice, so you’ll feel fuller longer without the spike and plummet of your blood sugar levels; and hot dogs with sauerkraut. Fermented vegetables, like the cabbage in sauerkraut, improve the absorption of animal proteins and bolster digestion-friendly probiotics in your body that help build up your immune system.

Here are some other high-impact food pairings:

  • Rosemary + Steak: The acids in rosemary prevent the formation of carcinogens on grilled meats.
  • Eggs + Cheese: The vitamin D in eggs optimizes the absorption of calcium from the cheese.
  • Beer + Nuts: A beer or two plus a handful of nuts can reduce your risk of heart attack.
  • Spinach + Lemon: You’ll absorb six times as much iron from the spinach.
  • Garbanzos + Beet Greens: The vitamins in the beans maximize magnesium absorption from the greens, and we could all use a little extra magnesium; the mineral is responsible for modulating anxiety levels, and nearly three-quarters of us are depleted.
  • Orange Juice + Oatmeal: The real breakfast of champions, the combination doubles the artery-cleansing powers of either on its own.

Get more mileage out your food. Elaine McGee, author of Food Synergy, teaches power food strategies inWeb MD’s Top 10 Food Synergy Super Foods.

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It’s Bubba Yum Yum, The Potentially Fatal Paleo Cookbook for Babies.

Pebbles Flinstone and Bamm Bamm Rubble via Hanna-Barbera

Pebbles Flintstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble via Hanna-Barbera

 

The world has seen its share of silly, dubious, and downright dangerous fad diets, but usually the kids are spared.
Paleo, though, is no mere diet; it’s a way of life. If you’re not familiar with the paleo (a.k.a. caveman) diet, its followers mimic what they believe were the eating habits of hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era, before the advent of agriculture and domesticated animals. That means pasture-raised meat and nuts and roots are in; milk, beans, potatoes, and cereal grains are out. The movement recommends going barefoot, getting dirty, aligning sleep to sun cycles, and workouts that involve less running and more heavy lifting.

Paleo enthusiasts like to point out that humans back then didn’t suffer from problems like diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or cardiovascular disease. They argue that it’s because early man had an inherently healthier diet, a leap of logic that ignores a slew of pesky factual details. At the top of that list would be the paleolithic life expectancy marked by ungodly rates of infant mortality and bodies riddled by infectious diseases and parasites. Few adults made it out of their 30’s leaving little time for any age-related ailments. Still, the diet has made it into the mainstream with a big boost from celebrity adherents like Megan Fox, Uma Thurman, and Tom Jones, NBA players Grant Hill and Steve Nash, and a good-sized chunk of the NFL.

051822-45247694-753f-11e4-b46b-0f98bfb215c4safe_imageNow comes Bubba Yum Yum from a notable pair of paleo-proponents: famed Australian chef and fluoride-denier Pete Evans (left) and the autodidactic toddler nutritionist Charlotte Carr (below left; that’s her son Willow with the let-me-out-of-here countenance). The book is currently cooling its heels in a kind of publishing limbo, its release date held up to allow further review by the medical community and public health agencies. Promotional materials describe the book as “a treasure trove of nutritional information and nourishing paleo recipes that are guaranteed to put you and your little one on the path to optimum health.” Some in the press have described that path as leading to “loss of appetite, dry skin, hair loss, bone pain, fissures in the corners of the mouth and failure to thrive.”

The book contravenes most national health guidelines with ingredients like undercooked eggs and added salt. It excludes highly recommended protein sources like beans, grains, dairy, and soy. In its most controversial passage, the book asserts that a recipe for a beef bone and liver broth is the best available alternative to breast milk.

It’s not all dubious evolutionary science and crackpot theories.
Paleo-style eating appropriately emphasizes whole foods, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. And who couldn’t benefit from less processed food? Even so, the likelihood of a release date is waning as health professionals pile on to accuse Bubba Yum Yum’s authors of ignorance and irresponsibility. The head of the Public Health Association in the authors’ native Australia went even further: “In my view, there’s a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead…”
Don’t expect to see that as a blurb on the back cover.

 

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Regulating junk food will make the tobacco battle look like a walk in the park.

via US Department of Health & Human Services

via US Department of Health & Human Services

Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed.

–from  the opening address of the sixty-seventh session of The World Health Organization’s AssemblyGeneva, Switzerland, May 2014.

Tobacco and junk food—here’s how they’re the same:
We all know that both are bad. It’s a universally-accepted truth that tobacco and junk food are implicated among the leading causes of premature death and chronic disease.
Both are incredibly addictive. Last year the American Medical Association officially classified food addiction as a disease. Eating junk food triggers physiological changes and neural responses; in the food -addicted (estimated to be one of us in twenty) the brain’s response is virtually indistinguishable from that of smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice.

Here’s why junk food is more perilous:
Tobacco is sabotage, and every smoker knows it, but food is supposed to be good for us.
Tobacco is a binary choice—to smoke or not to smoke. Eating is not a discretionary activity; food is sustenance. While cigarettes can be avoided, food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. How long do you think abstinence would last if former smokers were offered a pack of cigarettes at every meal?

You can argue that junk food is a choice, but is it really?
There’s no scientific or nutritional standard to separate the junky stuff from the healthy foods. Junk food has no official classification or designation in the food industry, the medical community, or governmental agencies. Some say that if you have to ask it’s probably junk. Or they’ll point to the classic pornography definition that relies on prevailing standards: you know it when you see it. Until there’s an acid test or even basic agreement on a simple definition, we can’t be sure of our choices, and more importantly, there’s no way to regulate it.

It’s not as simple as avoiding the unholy trinity of salt, sugar, and fat.
You can’t just draw a line in the sand. Pixie Stix and Doritos are easy, but most foods–even those with a surfeit of the reviled ingredients–have some redeeming nutritional value. Rarely are calories truly empty. There are also plenty of foods–think of nuts, olives, and dark chocolate–that could qualify as junk food for their salt, sugar, or fat levels but are decidedly healthy. Truly dangerous ingredients and additives like artificial trans fats, nitrites, and food dyes should be banned, but mostly we just need to know what’s in our food; we don’t want to be told what we can eat.

The World Health Organization gets it right when it argues for the highest level of global agreement and collective action in dealing with junk food.
It’s also right that there are lessons to be learned from the world-wide effort to reduce smoking like warning labels, stringent advertising guidelines, and limited access to child-oriented media. Like tobacco, taxes should be hiked on unhealthy food products with the revenue funding healthcare and health education, and agricultural subsidies should be distributed to align with our nutritional goals: cheap broccoli and pricey high-fructose corn syrup.

Where the WHO gets it wrong is comparing junk food to cigarettes. Junk food is so much worse.

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

The Surprising Names Behind the Brands You Trust

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Give Just 18 Minutes to Our Most Critical Food Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Posted in diversions, Entertainment, food knowledge | Leave a comment

You probably encountered a dozen pig by-products before you even left your house this morning

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

 

Your world is awash in pig parts.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig by-products make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin derived from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt, garlic salt and spice blends. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig by-products. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

We have a right to know.
Do you keep kosher or follow the rules of halal? Are you vegan or vegetarian? Or are you just, like any sane person, interested in knowing the substances and ingredients that you consume and are exposed to in daily living?

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 19,000 entries.

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

Wake Up and Smell the Rat Meat: Stop Buying Chinese Food Imports!

 

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It wasn’t easy choosing a headline. 
I could have gone with the noodles infested with maggots or the baby food with more lead than a gallon of old gasoline. Then there’s the used cooking oil reclaimed from sewers and the shrimp that are raised on a diet of pig feces. I wanted a headline that will make you ask why we still import food from China.
I’m thinking that rat meat sold as lamb could do the trick.

China hit a new record this year: in the first three quarters of 2014 more of its food production was deemed unfit for human consumption than fit.
In recent months we’ve seen 11,000 cases of norovirus among schoolchildren served smoothies and fruit salad made with diseased frozen strawberries, and American restaurants frying with Chinese-made ‘vegetable’ oil that was actually extracted from the fat of animals like cats and foxes. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Burger King were all ensnared in a massive tainted meat scam that involved expired meats that were ‘freshened’ with bleach and relabeled for shipping.

If you think that you’re not eating Chinese food imports because you don’t frequent fast food outlets, think again. They make up 80% of America’s tilapia, 51% of cod, 49% of apple juice, 34% of processed mushrooms, 27% of garlic, and 16% of frozen spinach. Reading labels is not enough: American food companies are generally required to label only where their products are packaged or processed, not where the ingredients come from. A Swanson frozen dinner or a can of Campbell’s soup can contain 20 different ingredients from 20 different countries with no mention of this on the label. When you open a can of Bumble Bee tuna or Dole fruit, or pour your child a glass of Mott’s apple juice, you’re likely eating foods from China. All-American brands like Kraft, Lay’s, Pepsi, and General Mills all buy from Chinese growers and producers that harvest and process with lower labor costs than almost anywhere else.

Many more food violations see the light of day because of Wu Heng, the Upton Sinclair of China. 
Gelatin made from leather scraps, melamine in milk, pork that’s chemically transformed into beef—these are some of the scandals that first came to our attention through Wu Heng’s muckraking website Zhi Chu Chuang Wai. The name translates to Throw it Out the Window, a reference to an incident in which then-president Theodore Roosevelt tossed a sausage out of a White House window after reading Sinclair’s The Jungle, chronicling the horrors of the U.S. meatpacking industry. Wu and his staff of volunteers have identified and documented nearly 4,000 separate incidents of substandard, unsanitary, and unsafe food production, mostly deliberate, and most fueled by greed, ignorance, and corruption.

It’s gotten so bad that wealthier and savvier Chinese citizens are shunning their own local foods. 
They’ve sent food imports from the U.S. soaring to new heights by shopping at large grocery stores, like Walmart or the French chain Carrefour that offer foreign brands and a greater guarantee of quality control over domestic products. 

Can somebody tell me why the U.S. still imports food from China?

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Restaurant Slang — Learn to Speak Their Language

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Restaurant people are truly a different breed.
They look different, with their own clothes and tattoos. They keep their own hours, heading to work when most of us are heading home, and going out when we’re going to sleep. The industry has its own rites and rituals, its own rules, and its own language.

Dining room jargon–

BOH: Back Of the House; the kitchen, walk-in, or any other area where you don’t deal with customers; BOH also refers to the people who work there. FOH: Front Of the House is the bar, the dining room, or anywhere else the staff deals with customers, as well as the people who work those areas.

[ _ ]-Top: describes the table’s seating– a 4-top seats four; a 2-top seats two but is better known as aDeuce, and a Hi-top is a tall table like you’d find in a bar area.

Covers: the count of meals served; multiply the tops by the Turns (the number of seatings at a single table) and you’ll get the total covers.

What they call us–

Diners are called Campers when they linger too long at the table, or Cupcakes when they’re flirting with staff. If it’s an open kitchen there are probably a few other coded descriptors.

PPX is an Extraordinary Person–it might be written on the ticket to signal VIP treatment. It’s not just for celebrities and high rollers; someone might write NPR on a ticket to tell the staff that Nice People Are Rewarded too.

There are numerous unprintable phrases to describe a bad tipper; some of the kinder ones are Stiff andFlea.

Kitchen jargon–

After you place your order, the kitchen might print out Dupes; these are duplicate tickets frequently printed in multiples on color-coded paper to signify courses. The dupes are hung on the Rail or theBoard where they’re considered On Deck.

If your server has checked the Low Board they know the Count of a particular menu item; if it’s 86’edyou’re out of luck. In a hurry? The cooks will be told it’s On the Fly, and they’ll Fire the dish immediately.

When multiple cooks are working different components of a single dish they’ll call 3 Out or 5 Out to signal to the others that they’ll be ready to plate their items in the stated number of minutes. All Daycounts the number of dishes that the cook is readying at that particular time, as in ‘I’ve got 2 lamb and 3 risotto all day.’

Cooked orders go from the Line to the Pass, a long counter surface where they’re plated and picked up by servers. If the kitchen is In the Weeds with too many dupes, the orders won’t be Coming On Up as quickly as they should. Conversely, if the waitstaff is Slammed the orders can sit there Dying on the Pass.

Learn to speak their language and who knows—the next time you’re at your deuce in the FOH, you just might find yourself comped like a real PPX.

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Is Hot Honey the New Sriracha?

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Can you remember your first Sriracha?
Remember the way a tiny hit of heat and sweet perked up whatever it was that you were eating?
You started slow—a squirt in the stir fry, a dab added to marinades. Then you branched out: a few drops in dips and dressings, a steady squeeze into scrambled eggs, a swipe of the basting brush on meats headed for the grill. Was there nothing that couldn’t be improved by this marvelous elixir?

Chili-infused honey takes you back to that wondrous moment.
Like all great condiments hot honey is a utility player. Squeeze it on vegetables, drizzle it over noodles, mix it into dressings, dips, and sauces. It’s a no-brainer on biscuits and cornbread, and a revelation on pizza and cured meats.

Like Sriracha, hot honey has a craveable sweet-spicy balance.
Hot honey tends to be the tamer of the two, unless it’s made from a blazing-hot chili pepper, and it doesn’t have Sriracha’s garlic punch. But honey has greater depth of flavor than Sriracha’s added sugar, and the addition of vinegar both moderates the sweetness and contributes to its complexity.

Both condiments are all-American culinary hybrids.
Most of us saw our first red rooster bottle of Sriracha in an ethnic restaurant. Probably Thai or Vietnamese, but it could have just as easily been Chinese or Mexican. The sauce is clearly in the Asian camp, but of indeterminate provenance, and Sriracha’s creator, a Los Angeles-based Vietnamese immigrant born to Chinese parents, likes it that way, even printing the bottle’s label in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish. Hot honey is also a polyglot mutt, inspired by a Brazilian condiment used on Italian pizza, and then reborn in Brooklyn artisan kitchens.

Hot sauce is the rare food that crosses geography, cultures, and demographics.
A one-two punch of sweet-hot only broadens the appeal, and the blockbuster potential of chili-infused honey has a few condiment makers scrambling for market position. Mike’s Hot Honey is the grandaddy of the category with a four year company history and an addictive elixir in a recognizably honey-style squeeze bottle. MixedMades’ Bees Knees is the upstart. They’ve been bottling their version for less than a year, but have captured a sizable share of the fledgling market with distinctive packaging and a premium price. Then there’s the wildcard. A primetime network viewing audience watched sixteen-year old Henry Miller win television’s Shark Tank with his spicy honey line called Henry’s Humdingers. He ended up turning down the Sharks’ offer ($300,000 for a 75% stake in the company), and is struggling to fulfill orders, but it was an auspicious launch.

A smidgen turns into a dollop, a smear becomes a slather.
Hot honey could soon be keeping company with salt and pepper at every meal.

 

 

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Is It PawPaw Time Already?

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                            This is a pawpaw →

 

It’s a delicious fruit with a flavor best described as mango-meets-banana.
It’s native to North America, a tropical fruit that grows in a temperate zone, and is found in 26 of the United States.

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The pawpaw is the official state fruit of Ohio.

 

 

09-pawpaw1←It’s celebrated in festivals

It has its own song→Paw Paw Patch

and a lovable mascot ↓

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So why have you never had one?

It’s because farmers can’t figure out pawpaw harvesting9-2152710-bun171213paw1_t460
They ripen unpredictably and at varying rates even on a single tree. And when the fruit is ready it just drops to the ground.

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and they don’t travel well
Pawpaws bruise easily and rot within the first 72 hours after picking.

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and because pawpaw blossoms smell like wet carpet
Backyard gardeners aren’t too keen on growing them either.

 

Pawpaw is an autumn delicacy that is both fleeting and elusive. And you know you really want to try one. Here’s some help with tracking it down:

NealWppsNeal Peterson is the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of the pawpaw. He has cultivated and patented numerous pawpaw varietals and on his website he shares a list of sapling nurseries and fruit retailers the sell them.

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Ohio food artisans are selling a taste of the pawpaw with products like pawpaw jam, mead, and beer. Or visit Logan, Ohio for a pawpaw facial at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls.

Explore the pawpaw resources available through Kentucky State University, home to the world’s one and only full-time pawpaw research program. It also hosts a very active Facebook community of pawpaw lovers.

Of course you can always strap on the Bean boots and go pawpaw foraging in one of the woodland pawpaw ranges in the U.S

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There’s a Whole Lot of Ranch Dressing Out There

 

Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design

Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design

 

If you’re looking for a Philly cheesesteak you’re more likely to find one at the Jersey Shore than in Philadelphia.
Try New York for a Maine lobster. Or Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or New Jersey—it appears on more menus in more restaurants in each of those states than in its native Maine.

Co. Design, the design blog from Fast Company Magazine, teamed up with the food industry data collectors at Food Genius to create a map of each state’s most distinctive foods. Populations are mobile, supermarkets are national, and the same chain restaurants dot the landscape wherever you go. Their map looks at the ways in which new and traditional local cultures, economies, availability, trends, and convenience leave distinctive food fingerprints all around the nation.

The foods that made the cut might not be the most prevalent in each state, but they are the most uniquely loved.
Co. Design wanted to measure the relative popularity of each state’s food choices, to find what is distinctive and unique about those choices when compared with the rest of the country. That meant that they had to level the influence of ubiquitous and cookie-cutter fast food and chain restaurants. So no matter how popular and dominant the chains are, the multitude of Waffle Houses, McDonald’s, and Olive Gardens were just counted once for each state.

Here are some of their findings:

As a nation, we love our peppers, which seven states own as their most distinctive ingredient. New Mexico is alone in claiming the green chile, found on the menus of 51% of all the restaurants in the state but only in 2% of restaurant dishes in the rest of the country. The jalapeño is king pepper in Colorado and Texas, Ohio likes its banana peppers, and Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia favor the milder green bell variety.

While lobster is shipped far from its native waters, most coastal states are showing love for their local catches. Haddock stays in Maine and New Hampshire, crab cakes still rule in Maryland, crawfish in Louisiana, grouper in Florida, Walleye in Minnesota, and prawns top the western states on the mainland while Hawaii has its ahi.

America is awash in ranch dressing. It’s the most beloved regional treat in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama, Kentucky, Vermont, and West Virginia, and Nebraskans included it in their generic preference for what they simply call ‘dip’.

On the Co. Design website you’ll find an interactive version of the map that lets you explore the top 5 dishes and menu terms for each state.

A Gallup-Well-Being poll from earlier this year ranked all 50 states based on their residents’ emotional and physical health and healthy behaviors. Do you care to guess how the ranch dressing states fared?

 

Posted in community, food knowledge, food trends | 1 Comment

How to Survive the Imminent Global Kale Shortage

Got Kale? t-shirt available on Amazon

Got Kale? t-shirt available via Amazon

 

This time the threat of a kale famine is real.
Back in April we heard about a kale-specific, spray-resistant superbug. The devastating pest was rumored to have piggybacked on a Whole Foods delivery where it spread from Berkeley backyards to the rooftop farms of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We only relaxed when we noticed that the news broke on April 1st—it proved to be merely a clever April Fools Day prank from the editors over at BonAppétit.com.

Now we have top agricultural suppliers reporting that they’re running out of kale seeds, and it’s no joke. Seed breeders are tapped out and need about ninety days to replenish their stocks. The shortage will be felt first by farmers who will go three months with no new kale seedlings, and then this fall it will start to ripple through the food supply.

We have only ourselves to blame. 
A few short years ago, Pizza Hut was the single largest consumer of kale in the U.S., and they weren’t even serving it; it was treated as an inedible garnish used to decorate their salad bars. Today kale is on the menu of any restaurant worth its hand-harvested fleur de sel, and food manufacturers are tossing it into soups, chips, soft drinks, and even popsicles. In 2013, kale became so ubiquitous in the trendy quarters of Brooklyn that the New York Times proposed it as the borough’s official vegetable, and 257 sets of parents brought a bouncing baby boy named Kale home from the hospital. 

Kale is a true ‘superfood.’
It’s a low calorie, nutrient dense, brain-boosting, heart healthy, do-no-wrong vegetable. But it’s not the only one; it just seems to be the one with the best PR. The coming scarcity has food media and agri-prognosticators prowling farmers markets and produce aisles for another long-neglected root or tuber or leafy green that can be plucked from obscurity and readied for its close-up.

Grist is pulling for kelp.
Kelp is an extraordinary source of a iodine, an essential nutrient that’s missing from most every other food, and seaweed farms don’t use up resources like land or fresh  water.

NBC’s Today Show recently plugged amaranth. 
The health food crowd already knows that the seeds make for a potent grain; less well known are amaranth greens which are rich in iron, protein, and calcium.

Modern Farmer thinks we can learn to love prickly pear cactus.
It already grows like a weed in arid regions of the west and southwest and is loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Early studies also suggest that it can cure hangovers and may be an effective treatment for diabetes.

Zagat asks “Are Carrots the New Kale?”
Its many aggregated reviews point to a growing fan base among chefs and diners alike.

Prevention Magazine has high hopes for kalettes.
It’s a new hybrid vegetable that’s a cross between brussels sprouts and kale, and you’ll be seeing it everywhere by this winter. The combination takes kale’s potency down a notch, but there’s still plenty of powerful nutrition in the kalettes, and the little frilly little sprouts are more cook-friendly than big, unruly heads of kale.

There’s plenty of room at the table for another kale-like superfood.
The kale apocalypse is coming, but America’s next vegetable sweetheart is out there somewhere.

 

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Pizza-nomics

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There are three prices every true New Yorker tracks: rent, subway fare, and the price of a slice of pizza.
Rents are famously crazy, but pizza and subway rides are stabilized by an economic axiom known as the New York Pizza PrincipleThrough a strange and delicate interplay of metropolitan financial markets, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

Comparing apples and oranges seems easy next to pizza and subway rides.
To an outsider, the relationship might seem arbitrary, but not to a New Yorker. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

This economic law has held with remarkable precision since 1964, when either one could be had for 15 cents.
Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since. The parallel is all the more uncanny when you consider the intervening decades of transportation and street food turbulence. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system, and pizza parlors have battled low-carb diets, the gluten-free craze, and a food truck invasion. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to the ingredient costs of flour, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.

The Pizza Principle suggests that New York City residents should be bracing for a fare hike from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
According to Zagat’s Pizza Week survey, the average regional price of a slice is $2.96 while a single ride on the subway is lagging at just $2.50. Similar pizza price 
inflation has preceded every single subway fare adjustment since these things have been tracked.

New Yorkers looking for a bargain can use Cheazza, an app that hunts down cheap slices around town.

Wherever you are, he number-crunching app Pizza Slice Price lets you compare prices of slices, topping, and whole pies so you can find the best deal. 

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Great Moments in Bottled Water History

Some of us are old enough to think of bottled water as a recent phenomenon. We remember a time when water was something drunk straight from the tap, and we marvel at the $12 billion that’s now spent annually on this country’s bottled water habit. Here are some special moments from the decades-long journey, courtesy of the bottled water industry.

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It’s the little green bottle that conquered America. So chic, so French, Perrier was introduced to this country in 1976, ushering in the modern era of bottled water.

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Evian, another French spring water, comes to the U.S. in 1978, marketed as a luxury brand with a premium price tag. The ah ha moment with the name comes soon after.

Aquafina

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Truly a Great Moment in Bottled Water History, PepsiCo begins a national rollout of Aquafina in 1994. Labeled with snow-capped mountains and the tagline Pure Water, Perfect Taste,” the bottles are filled with regular tap water that’s been filtered and purified. Aquafina goes on to become America’s top-selling brand of bottled water.

More of that American exceptionalism is on display as The Coca-Cola Company offers up Dasani, its own brand of processed tap water to compete with rival PepsiCo.

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Coca-Cola campaigns to reduce what it calls “tap water incidence.” In 2000, the company launches the H20No website (since removed) instructing restaurants workers in the art of upselling bottled beverages, and tried again in 2010 with a program called Cap the Tap.

In 2001, PepsiCo names a new division president of U.S. Beverages. She promises Wall Street that “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.”

 

brighthouse-concorse-mapAn undeniably Great Moment in Bottled Water History took place on September 15, 2007. It was also a big day for the 45,000 fans of University of Central Florida football who were attending the first home game in the school’s long-awaited and just completed stadium. Under the clear skies and 90°+ temperatures of a central Florida autumn, 78 people were treated for heat-related illnesses, 18 requiring hospitalization, as over-heated fans learned that their new $54 million stadium had been built without a single drinking water fountain.

 

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After 4 billion or so years on Earth, water is finally declared ‘organic’ in 2011. Never mind that water is an inherently inorganic substance—it’s not alive and never was—Welsh bottler Llanllyr even claims extra purity because not only are their fields certified organic, but nuns have lived above the source for centuries. 

 

bolt-980x462PepsiCo tags water as the enemy in 2012’s brand-integrated mobile game, Bolt!. Treacherous water droplets hinder the progress of Olympic star Usain Bolt as he maneuvers through the popular game. Only Gatorade can help him win the race.

 

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In June, 2014, Los Angeles restaurant worker Mark Riese becomes the first ‘water sommelier’ on national television when he’s a guest on Conan O’Brian’s late night talk show.

 

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer market for bottled water. We buy 31 gallons for every person in America; that means we drink more bottled water than beer, milk, or fruit drinks—more than every other beverage except soda. We continue to make history.

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Lard Ass? Why, Thank You!

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

Saturated fat is back.
2014 will be the third consecutive year that Americans purchased more butter than margarine. We’re up to an average of 23 sticks of butter a year—a 40 year high but still a far cry from the 72-stick average of America in the 1920’s.

Butter’s decline can be traced to wartime shortages in the 1940’s. Margarine stepped into the void, bolstered by patriotism and specious advertising. It had already surpassed butter when the 1970’s brought a new barrage of health claims and anti-butter propaganda that bolstered margarine’s reputation and guaranteed its reign for four more decades.

Today we have a complete reversal in both nutritional science and consumer preferences.
The myth of fat-clogged arteries has been exploded, and Americans have a ferocious appetite for natural foods. Margarine has regained its pre-war identity as a cheap, generally disreputable product of inferior quality and flavor, and butter is back on top. But butter is not the only great fat that’s been misunderstood.

The health and dining trends that gave a boost to butter have also set the stage for a lard comeback.
Lard has spent decades in the culinary cellar. All animal fats got a bad rap, but lard was especially vilified. We recoiled from its fat profile, flinging epithets like lard ass and tub of lard. In fact, by any estimation, lard is a healthier fat than butter. It’s lower in saturated fat (40% to butter’s 60%), and it’s higher in the monounsaturated fats that seem to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL), and raise the good (HDL).

Lard’s flavor is completely neutral–not even a hint of pig–but oh, what it can do for food.
Deep fry with lard and your potatoes will be airy with a golden shatter; fried chicken emerges with a crunch that belies its perfectly moist interior. Lard-cooked beans and vegetables caress your mouth like velvet; tortillas are wondrously supple. Lard brings a surprising lightness to baked goods. Cookies have a crisp delicacy, and its contribution to the structure and texture of pie crusts is legendary.

Sometimes the right food arrives on the scene at just the right time. It’s looking like this is lard’s moment. 

 

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Let’s All Play the “Would You Rather” Game

 

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It’s a party game, a conversation starter, and an internet meme.
It poses a dilemma in the form of a question.
Would you rather give up the internet or lose your sense of taste?
Would you rather sweat mayonnaise or have Cheetos dust permanently stuck to your fingers?

The game can be fantastical or mean-spirited. It can show a path to self-improvement or contain a veritable Sophie’s choice of unbearable options. A good round of “Would You Rather” should make you laugh, and cringe, and think. 
Would you rather speak every language fluently or be able to communicate with animals? 
Would you rather h
ave legs the size of fingers or fingers the size of legs?

The chicken-or-beef version of the game goes a little something like this:

Would you rather consume carcinogenic heavy metal arsenic or a hormone-interrupting anabolic steroid?
The FDA withdrew its approvals for most forms of arsenic-laced chicken feed in 2013, but a new study from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) found the poison still showing up in 55% of supermarket samples and 100% of fast food samples.
The growth-promoting steroids are given to virtually every single conventionally-raised beef and dairy cow—at least in this country. The practice has been banned for years in much of the world.

Would you rather condemn a chicken to a lifetime in a cage of less than a square foot or a cow to be castrated without anesthesia or pain relief?

Would you rather get salmonella from a chicken farmer or E.coli from a beef processor?
It’s perfectly legal for farmers to ship out salmonella-contaminated chicken. E. coli. requires a bit more patience. It’s found in the intestinal tracts of cattle and isn’t usually transferred to the meat until cutting, grinding, and packaging.

Would you rather eat chickens that eat slaughterhouse remains or cows that eat poultry waste?
Factory production of chicken and beef is a continuous system of waste into food into waste into food… A single cow can eat as much as three tons of poultry waste in a year before its waste circulates back to the chickens.

That last one was a trick question.
Since cow and chicken by-products keep circulating  between facilities, when you eat one you’re really eating both.
And here’s another trick question. The trick this time is that neither option is a good answer.
Would you rather eat conventionally-raised chicken or conventionally-raised beef?

 

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, health + diet | Leave a comment

If You Only Get One Fart App

Mr. Nice Hands

Mr. Nice Hands

 

Go on, search for fart app.
You’ll be stunned by what you find (assuming you’re not a 9-year old boy and this is a first for that particular search term). At last count the App Store was offering 1,068. There’s iFart, U-Fart, and Who Farted?? There are motion-detecting fart apps, random fart generators, and apps that let you compose melodies with a farting orchestra. Even Google Glass has its own GlassFart app.

Flatulence humor is universal and timeless. It’s a frequent comedic device in the ancient plays of Aristophanes, and one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is basically an extended fart joke. Modern humorists from Mel Brooks to the South Park guys to Louis C.K. have all mined the comedy gold of wind breaking. With fart app technology, the mobile engineering brain trust is leveraging the applied science of accelerometers, GPS, bluetooth, and digital audio loops to give us the 21st century whoopie cushion. 

Amid the juvenilia of apps like SimonSaysFart, the FartHarmonica, and BunnyFarts (available in StinkyWinky or SmellyMelly editions), one app stands out by creating a teaching moment with the appeal of scatological humor. Fart Code scans the barcode of any food label to identify the farty ingredients within. The app’s fartometer determines the gas-producing potential; benign foods get the all-clear signal, while active ingredients produce fart noises and vibrations emulating the appropriate digestive response ranked on a scale from stinky to toxic. If you are a 9-year old boy, you can share a link to your fart with your social network. The rest of us might just take it as actionable data for menu planning.

 

Posted in diversions, food knowledge, phone applications | Leave a comment
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