Tag Archives: recession

The Dine and Dash is Back

Just because your unemployment has run out and you’re living in your parents’ basement doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things in life.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the traditional dine-and-dash is flourishing in these recessionary times.
No mere adolescent prank, customers of all stripes are slipping out without paying, stiffing owners and servers at restaurants all along the dining scale. There are surreptitious walkouts, made easier by waitstaff cutbacks. Some customers will ring up a big bill and exit without signing the credit card receipt, leaving the restaurant with little proof when the charge is later contested. And of course there will always be diners who refuse to pay for the steak, already eaten but incorrectly prepared, or the wine that they drank but insist was inadequate.

Like a platinum AmEx with no limit.
There is an element of trust that is unique to the restaurant business. No collateral is given, no credit check is run, identification isn’t even demanded; yet a restaurant is willing to feed you in advance of payment with no chance of recovering the meal if the bill is unpaid. It basically extends instant credit to all its patrons.

Dine-and-dash and the law.
Failing to pay a bill is not normally a crime, but if the presumption is that the customer never intended to pay the check, it’s considered criminal fraud. And when the tab is high enough, it can be a felony. Some restaurant owners will deduct the loss from the server’s wages presumably to incent employees to police their customers. In fact this is a violation of federal labor laws.

When it pays to be a nobody.
In the annals of true crime, few are as idiotic and incomprehensible as the tales of the celebrity d-and-d. Maybe they think that it’s payment enough to grace us with their presence. Restaurant owners tend to see things differently. Celebrities who have been caught in the scam include run-in regular Jeremy Piven, lovin’ the free cheesecake Foxy Brown, is he broke or just drunk Dennis Rodman, left them holding the [grocery] bag Adam Sandler, and the crown-forfeiting Miss Teen Louisiana, who probably could have pulled it off in any of the other 49 states.

What would you do?
ABC News hired three actors to play hungry teens, and two more to portray a diner waitress and her manager. Each time the same scene was played out, there were a few stares and raised eyebrows, but otherwise none of the diner’s patrons reacted when the teenagers brazenly strolled out without picking up the check. But when the customers saw the waitress’s distress, there were repeated offers from other tables to pay the unpaid tab, and customers who were willing to speak on her defense to the manager.

Watch the full episode of What Would You Do? at ABC TV.

Read about the exploits of America’s most prodigious dine-and-dasher. By the time the police caught on and put an end to his crime spree, he had amassed an arrest record that ran 133 pages.



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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?


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Paying More, Getting Less: Your Incredible Shrinking Groceries

[image via Slow Poke Comics]

 Coming soon to a supermarket near you…

Two Musketeers candy bars, Demitasse-a-Soup, Product 18 cereal.
It’s not your imagination; your groceries really are shrinking. Everything but the prices.

Hellmanns’s mayonnaise, Skippy peanut butter, and Tropicana orange juice are among hundreds of national brands that have shrunk their packaging in recent months. An 8 oz. Dannon yogurt now weighs in at 6, while the 6 oz. Yoplait dropped to 4. Kellogg slimmed cereal boxes by an average of 2.4 oz., and Wrigley’s 17-stick PlenTPak is not so plenTiful at 15. Mission prefers to play a shell game with its tortillas, dropping 2 from the 10-pack, then adding 2 to the 8-pack and calling it a ‘bonus;’ kind of like the ‘extra’ hour we get for daylight savings time.

Portion reduction, short-sizing, eco-friendly packaging—whatever they want to call it, it’s just a way of flying under the radar with price increases.

At least a dozen eggs is still twelve.

We are losing our benchmarks. A pint of Häagen-Dazs is now 2 oz. shy of that measure, and the former half gallon carton of Dreyers or Breyers ice cream has taken two separate hits to get to the current 1.5 quart size. The old one pound can of Maxwell House or Folgers coffee now weighs in at around 12 oz., just like a supermarket bag of Starbucks beans, in case you thought you were getting a full pound. Some reductions are more troubling than others—it’s problematic when you can’t squeeze two decent sandwiches out of the smaller size can of Starkist tuna, while four fewer Double Stuf Oreos will hardly be missed.

It’s not that we begrudge the manufacturers their profit margins. They are feeling the squeeze, coping with the rising cost of ingredients plus high fuel prices. Holding the line on supermarket pricing through down-sized packaging can make the product more attractive to budget shoppers. What irks is the disingenuousness; the sense that the manufacturers are pulling a fast one when they tout their new ‘value-added redesign,’ or ‘slim-ship enviro-packaging.’

As the frequently resized Alice said to the Wonderland caterpillar:
I’m not particular as to size, only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.

The shoppers’ advocacy site The Consumerist will keep you up to date on shrinking grocery items with its regular feature, Grocery Shrink Ray.



Posted in food business, shopping | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Food Movement Will Occupy Wall Street Next Weekend


It’s our turn!
Next Saturday, advocates of food justice will be descending on the Occupy Wall Street encampment.

The connection
The food system is linked to Wall Street in ways that impact us personally and directly, as well as globally and ephemerally.

The scale and scope of the agribusiness monopoly puts the giants of Wall Street to shame.
While the 10 largest banks hold 54% of the nation’s assets, a mere 4 food companies churn out 75% of breakfast cereals, 75% of snacks, 60% of cookies, and 50% of ice cream. Inputs like seeds and pesticides, the mills and slaughterhouses that process foods, and even the supermarkets are similarly concentrated in a few hands, and they hold our nation’s food policy in a vise grip.

Then there is Wall Street’s effect on food prices.
The same deregulation that made the stock market volatile also increased price volatility in agricultural markets. Speculators have only been allowed to freely trade in food futures since 2000. Farmers used to trade in futures to guarantee a stable price for their future harvests; now agricultural commodities are just one more investment vehicle for speculators looking to squeeze out short-term profits, putting downward pressure on wages and pushing up prices.

When Occupy Wall Street protestors talks about the 1% and the other 99%, the gap between rich and poor is seen in starkest relief in terms of hunger and deprivation. 17 million school-aged children are underfed, nearly 1 in 5 Americans relies on food stamps, and half of all babies are born into households receiving government food subsidies.

Next Saturday’s demonstration is not just for food activists, or even activists who care about food. It’s for all of us who understand that to change the food system, we need systemic change in the institutions, regulations, and corporate influence that stand in the way of a healthy and just food system.



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Burgernomics: The Big Mac Index

image via Say It Ain't So, Joe

Yes, there’s endless news of the economy’s continuing slide into oblivion. But there’s another reason to be pessimistic: have you seen the price of a Big Mac?

A Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you go. Same sesame seed bun, same special sauce, same double beef patties. It’s a truly global consumer product comprised of the same tradeable goods and non-tradeable services worldwide. It should, in theory, cost roughly the same anywhere in the world.  Swap your dollars for the local currency, and the four dollars that got you a Big Mac in Des Moines should still buy you a burger in Kuala Lumpur, give or take a few Malaysian ringgits.

In fact we don’t have burger parity. Buy a Big Mac with Ukrainian hryvnias and you’ll pay less than two dollars; spend some Norwegian kroner and it will set you back more than eight dollars.

The Big Mac Index, compiled annually by The Economist, is designed to test the theory of burger-buying parity. It demonstrates the purchasing power of consumers around the globe by converting the world’s currencies to a hamburger standard. The fair-value benchmark– the point where there is purchasing parity between the nations– is the exchange rate that has every consumer world-wide paying the same price for a Big Mac. If you’re paying more than the benchmark price for a Big Mac, it tells you that you live in a country with an overvalued currency.

The burger barometer .
The ‘raw’ index is adjusted for GDP per person as a more meaningful guide to currency under- and overvaluation. The closer the adjusted index gets to zero, the closer a country comes to burger parity. The larger the difference, the more expensive it is, in real buying power, to purchase a Big Mac; a smaller number tells you the burger is a  bargain.

A look at the chart, below, and it’s clear that you pay a premium for special sauce in Latin America; the Brazilian real is the world’s most overvalued currency, with the Colombian and Argentinian pesos not far behind. The British pound is running almost even with the dollar, while the overvaluation of the euro zone seems to hint at the currency struggles of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. And for all our griping about the devalued Chinese yuan, when it comes to burgers, China’s currency is surprisingly close to its fair value against the dollar.

The Big Mac Index is undeniably simplistic. But it does make exchange rate theory a bit more digestible.



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How Did Rich and Fat Become Rich and Thin?

Richer, thinner, younger, smarter; what if you could change one thing about yourself? Which would you choose?

A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

We tend to forget that this has not always been so.

Thinness was, for most of recorded time, the fate of the lower classes with their inadequate diets and physical labor. Traditionally, only the rich could afford to be well-fed. Fat was a status symbol.

Not any more. In fact the polar opposite is now true: as income and education falls, obesity rises– both the rate of obesity and the amount of excess weight. The poorest Americans, those living below the poverty level, are the most likely to be morbidly obese.

The underlying causes are many, especially for the urban poor who face high concentrations of fast food outlets and low concentrations of grocery stores, plus limited time for exercise or access to outdoor space. But the big culprit is our out-of-whack food system that can sell highly refined, fat and sugar-laden, processed foods at far lower prices than fresh, whole foods.
The terrible irony is that these days, thinness is a luxury reserved for the rich.

For the record, the complete poll results are:

  • richer    43%
  • thinner  21%
  • smarter   14%
  • younger   12%
  • and 9% seem to like themselves just fine.

Visualize the caloric bang for the buck: see why a Big Mac costs less than a salad (spoiler alert– it’s the federal subsidies).

The Rich & Thin Club claims to simultaneously whip your waistline and your bank account into shape by monitoring calories coming in and dollars going out. It theorizes that small, unnecessary, everyday indulgences are the undoing of both. Calculators demonstrate the impact of 10 years of Starbucks lattés or restaurant appetizers in terms of accumulated pounds versus an early mortgage payoff or the compounded interest of savings. It’s an eye-opener.


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Shut Happens: Which Restaurant Will Be Next to Fail?










Restaurant closings. Those are the real signs of the times.
In recent months, Sbarro, Perkins, Marie Callender’s, Fuddruckers, Steak and Ale, Bakers Square, Bennigan’s, Old Country Buffet, Pizzeria Uno, and Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse have all filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Employees, investors, suppliers, and customers are all wondering, who’s next?

Even in the best of times, restaurants are a risky business. In a recession, empty tables and stalled prices cut into thin profit margins; combine that with the rising food costs we’re seeing, and the margins are squeezed on two sides.

The restaurants that went belly-up all had some things in common: all were national chains; all were in the quick or casual dining sector, a cut or a few above fast food; and with the exception of the pizzeria chains, all were marked by mediocrity and a sameness of menus. Each was conceived differently— Bennigan’s was modeled as an Irish pub, Perkins as a bakery/luncheonette, Charlie Brown’s fancied itself a classic, clubby steakhouse—but you could walk into any one of them and order shrimp tempura, a buffalo chicken wrap, and a chipotle-flavored something.

Who’s cooking, who’s flaming out?
The Street, an online media company that covers investing and finance, compiled a Bankruptcy Watch list of the 14 restaurant chains with the greatest likelihood of failure in the coming months. From least to most risky they are:

14. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
13. Sonic
12. Ruby Tuesday
11. Carrols Restaurant Group (operates Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana, and Burger King franchises)
10. Einstein Noah Restaurant Group (Einstein Bros., Noah’s, and Manhattan Bagels)
9. O’Charley’s (O’Charley’s, Ninety Nine Restaurant, and Stoney River Legendary Steaks)
8. Ruth’s Hospitality Group (Ruth’s Chris Steak House and  Mitchell’s Fish Market)
7. McCormick & Schmick’s
6. Bravo Brio Restaurant Group (BRAVO! Cucina Italiana and BRIO Tuscan Grille)
5. Domino’s Pizza
4. DineEquity (IHOP and Applebee’s)
3. Morton’s The Steakhouse
2. Wendy’s/Arby’s
1. Denny’s

Not to worry—even if the worst-case scenario plays out 14 times, striking everyone on the list, we’re still left with plenty of mediocre chain restaurants where we can go to satisfy a yen for nondescript, chipotle-flavored something.

Visit The Street for the details outlining each company’s potential for bankruptcy.


Posted in food business, restaurants | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Arrested for Feeding the Homeless

adj \əb-ˈsərd, -ˈzərd\
1: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous
2: having no rational or orderly relationship to human life

—from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

12 members of the all-volunteer, anti-hunger group Food Not Bombs have been arrested for feeding the homeless in an Orlando, Florida park.
That’s right; it’s illegal to feed the poor and hungry.

Food Not Bombs, after obtaining the appropriate permits, began distributing free food every Wednesday in Orlando’s Lake Eola Park in 2005. More recently, the City Council passed an ordinance limiting any group that holds a food sharing-event that attracts 25 or more people to two events per downtown park per 12-month period. The Food Not Bombs members, who were handcuffed and loaded into a police van, will each face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Several U.S. cities, including Las Vegas, Nevada, Santa Monica, California, and Wilmington, North Carolina have adopted ordinances limiting the distribution of free food in public, with many more considering similar legislation. Most have restricted the time and place of food handouts, hoping to discourage homeless people from congregating and, in the view of officials, ruining efforts to beautify parks and gentrify neighborhoods.

The criminalization of homelesness.
The ordinances are aimed at the broader blight of public homelessness. The cities have already tried to shield their citizens with selective enforcement of anti-camping policies and public intoxication laws. Failing that, they are switching tactics and criminalizing the activities of good Samaritans, religious groups, and other humanitarian efforts.

According to the United States Conference of Mayors, in 2010, requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 24% in cities across the country. At the same time, resources are dwindling as financially strapped state and local governments cut their funding to aid agencies. It’s estimated that about one-third of the need is not met, and the the shortfall between demand and resources keeps growing.

The right to food is a well-recognized, basic human right. It’s protected by over 100 instruments of international law, and guaranteed by the domestic constitutions of many of the world’s nations.
But not ours.

Free the Orlando 12!
Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to nonviolent social change. It shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world. And the group’s name? It answers the question:  With over a billion people going hungry each day how can we spend another dollar on war?

You can download the full Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness from the United States Conference of Mayors.



Posted in food policy, local foods | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Ups and Downs of Food Shopping

.A girl’s gotta eat.
The economy might be slowing, but not our appetites.
We’re not eating any less, but we have made budget-driven adjustments to what we eat, how we shop, and where we are having our meals. We have rediscovered inexpensive root vegetables and made hanger steak the new ribeye.

Even though we’re eating out less, we still hunger for variety in our food choices. We’ve been using some of those restaurant savings to buy unusual grocery items and specialty prepared foods that give a bigger bang for the buck. But now, with rising fuel prices, we have to take a closer look at those specialty items. For all the steps forward taken by America’s food culture, we still count on a lot of imported goods; especially on the high end of our shopping lists. It might be time to re-evaluate our affinity for prosciutto di parma and Basque cheeses, and reconsider some home-grown country hams and domestic farmstead cheddars.

Taking the “Fancy” out of Fancy Foods.
Specialty foods used to be synonymous with gourmet. It meant exotic and pricey, preferably imported from France: think escargots, truffles, and Roquefort.
Today’s luxury food purchase is likely to be more quotidian: organic butter, heirloom tomatoes, or hand-rolled pasta. We’re choosing to pay a premium for the quality associated with the care and attention of small batch production of even the most humble of ingredients. Cheeses are artisanal rather than imported. Pastured chuck roast commands a higher price than conventionally-farmed tenderloin..

Drinking Up; Drinking Down
We’re making similar choices when we drink. Wine consumption continues to rise, as it has for fifteen straight years, but sales have been dropping precipitously as we trade down to more domestic wines and lower-priced imports.  Modest indulgences like specialty sodas and teas, where the price at the upper end represents a fairly small jump from their conventional counterparts, are faring well in the current economic environment. And while beer sales are slumping overall, the craft beer category from micro-producers is soaring.

Rolling Past the Perimeter
While we are allowing ourselves some small indulgences, the recession has given new life to grocers’ most basic offerings; those unsexy canned, jarred, and packaged staples found in the middle aisles of the supermarket that form the basis of inexpensive family meals. We’ve rediscovered the bulk foods aisle, coupons, and most of all, private label store brands.

What the Kids are Up To
The Gen Y 20-somethings are entering the workforce and becoming consumers in their own right and doing it their own way. They have grown up with global influences that have broadened their palates and blurred distinctions between mainstream and specialty foods. And unlike their elders, this first “Starbucks generation,” doesn’t flinch at paying four dollars for a specialty coffee drink. Small luxuries like lattés are to them an everyday experience. They seem unfazed by current economic woes as they continue to be the top consumers of premium chocolates, fancy chips and crackers, and quick-cook items that require limited cooking skills.

The Chocolate Cure
There can be unhealthy side effects to this economic downturn. People drop their health club memberships to economize and eat cheap, filling, but less healthy foods. Chips, donuts ,and peanut butter have all seen sales spikes in recent months. Fast food chains have seen their sales buoyed by the recession. A new phrase, recession obesity, was recently coined to describe this phenomenon.

The best antidote to all the turmoil is to buy chocolate— the finest most outrageously expensive chocolate you can find. It costs too much to do too much harm, but you’ll still feel completely indulged.

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The Old Dine-and-Dash is Back

Just because your unemployment has run out and you’re living in your parents’ basement doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things in life.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the traditional dine-and-dash is flourishing in these recessionary times.
No mere adolescent prank, customers of all stripes are slipping out without paying, stiffing owners and servers at restaurants all along the dining scale. […]

Posted in food business | Tagged , | 5 Comments

My Life as a Foodie Carpetbagger

A girl’s gotta eat.

The economy has slowed, but not my appetite.
I’m not eating less, but I have made adjustments to what, where, and how I’m doing it.
I eat out less often and cook and entertain at home much more. I still want variety in my food and dining choices, but now my extravagances are more likely to be inventively prepared takeout and specialty grocery items.

Call me what you will: a carpetbagger, a profiteer, an opportunist. All I know is that with a little creativity, resourcefulness, and flexibility, the current economic climate can be a foodie’s salad days. […]

Posted in food business, food trends, shopping, social media | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How Did Rich and Fat Become Rich and Thin?

image via Mannequin Madness


Richer, thinner, younger, smarter; what if you could change one thing about yourself? Which would you choose?

A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

We tend to forget that this has not always been so. […]

Posted in food policy, health + diet | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Food or Candy: are you smarter than a legislator?


If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…

We manage to breeze through Halloween. Any 5-year old can set you straight. So why are state legislatures struggling with the definition of candy?

Retail food sales have traditionally been exempt from sales tax, which were deemed cruel and regressive. In recent years, as cash-strapped states look to plug up budget deficits, candy taxes have become the go-to revenue source. Already this year candy or soda taxes have been proposed or passed in more than a dozen states.

Food or Candy: how well do you know your sweet treats? (answers appear below)*

  1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
  2. Twizzlers Red Licorice
  3. Gummi Bears
  4. Jordan Almonds
  5. Snicker’s Bar
  6. Kit Kat
  7. M&M’s Peanut
  8. Milky Way
  9. Three Musketeers
  10. Nestle’s Crunch

On June 1, when the candy tax goes into effect in Washington, state residents will be paying a little more for Good and Plenty and licorice whips, but not licorice buttons or drops. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar– taxable; Hershey’s Cookies ‘n Creme– tax exempt. Reese’s pieces and Butterfinger bars are taxed but the stick versions aren’t.

Food or Candy? Walking the thin, sweet line is an audit manager in the Washington State Department of Revenue who has been charged with the all-important determinations. Each flavor of jelly bean must be individually parsed. Decisions must be made about bulk buying and boxed assortments. This is one state auditor whose job is safe for a very long time.

Absurd, arcane, and just utter nonsense, hair-splitting categorizations have been assigned to 3,600 items, although word is that one candy distributor just dropped a list of 11,000 Japanese imports on his desk. Whether you’re  a fan of Mr. Goodbar or Sour Patch Kids, you can check the status of your favorite sweets with the Washington State Taxable Treats Database.

*answers: odd numbers are candy; even numbers are food, except for 4.Jordan Almonds and 8.Milky Way: Jordan Almonds are candy except for the white ones, which are food; Milky Way bars are food except for the dark chocolate version, which is candy.



Posted in food policy | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Up and Down: recession winners and losers

   image courtesy of Food Mayhem


The recession marches on.

Unemployment is still too high; consumer spending is still too low. And have you looked at the financial sector lately?

While discretionary spending on groceries and restaurants is down overall, there are some signs of life. Health, convenience, small luxuries, and qualities that can can lead to future savings; these are the features that seem worth opening wallets for.


http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3253/2652939425_ddef7fb3fd.jpg Up: home-brewed coffee.

We’re dusting off the Mr. Coffee or replacing it with a single-cup brewing system. Even Starbucks got in on the act launching Via Ready Brew instant coffee. When we do go out for coffee, it’s likely to be a 99¢ cup from a fast food outlet. Could $4 lattes be a thing of the past? […]

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Slow Your Roll: anti-energy drinks

image courtesy of flickr

Remember 2007?

Unemployment was low and the Dow was high. We were mainlining energy drinks— $7 billion worth— just to keep up. If the party wasn’t stopping then neither were we.

These days, we’re all frazzled nerves. We’re looking to be soothed. We need something to bring us down from the ledge of our own anxiety. […]

Posted in food trends | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Prime Time for a Steak


They say that every cloud has a silver lining.

A byproduct of the dismal state of the economy is the glut of prime beef on the market. The high-end steakhouses that normally snap up the best grades of beef have been especially hard hit as corporate expense accounts and special occasion diners grow ever more tight-fisted. Prime beef has been showing up in warehouse clubs and local supermarkets, often at prices comparable to those for the lower-graded choice beef. […]

Posted in cooking, shopping | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Mini-Size Me

image courtesy of MarcWellness.com

image courtesy of MarcWellness.com

Bucking the Big Gulp theory.

The venti coffee at Starbucks. The big tub of popcorn at the movies.

It’s a basic law of restaurant economics: overhead is fixed, ingredients are cheap. Why not pile a little more on each plate? It’s win-win; the customer pays a little more for the super-sized portion and the restaurant clears a little more profit. But the recession is changing all that. Smaller portions at lower prices are in.

Portion control pays a big dietary dividend. Over the course of a year, you’ll lose about a pound for every 10 calories you cut from your daily intake. Cutting 100 calories is as painless as substituting tortilla chips for potato chips, a bagel for a donut, mozzarella instead of Swiss.

Bigger isn’t always better!

Here are some online resources to help you boost your portion awareness:

NutritionData.com is a good place to start. Its Daily Needs Calculator will recommend values for key nutrients based on your age, body mass index, and activity level.

Epicurious.com has a directory of portion control products like food scales, food scoops, and serving guideline place mats and plates.

Visual Cues can help you estimate proper portion sizes (baseball-sized vegetable servings, thumb-sized cheese, and 4 stacked dimes for fats).

Divine Caroline has a pictorial essay depicting food portion trends over the last few decades.

How portion savvy are you? Take the interactive Portion Distortion Quiz sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.


Posted in food trends, Health | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

We Could All Use a Little Luck in the New Year


If Friday the 13th is unlucky, then 2009 makes a lot more sense. We had 3 of them on this year’s calendar– the greatest number possible in a 12 month cycle– and for too many of us, 2009 was a real doozy. In the coming year we see our one and only Friday the 13th in August.


Posted in holidays | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Putting your money where your mouth is


image courtesy of Saving with Shellie

Blame Thoreau.

In the mid 1800’s he engaged in an experiment in simple living and self-reliance, moving into a small, self-built cabin on an isolated piece of land outside of Concord, Massachusetts. Lacking a blog, Thoreau documented his experiences in the American classic Walden; or Life in the Woods.

The present-day conceit of this form of social experimentation has become all too familiar. Temporarily adopting some nouveau-Thoreauvian form of deprivation (the minimalism of No Impact Man or the stringency of the 100 Mile Diet), the blogger is able to transcend the wasteful, destructive consumerism that is the lot of so many of us. […]

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The Champagne Bubble


Champagne has always been prone to cycles of boom and bust. It takes many long years for production to be established, but demand fluctuates with the vagaries of the economy.

Earlier this decade the Champagne industry saw three straight years of record sales, mostly due to exports to the booming economies of China, Russia, and India. Demand was so strong that France’s appellation system approved an historic expansion of nearly forty new growing areas to be added to the Champagne region.

Then the economy stalled. The customer for entry-level luxury wines evaporated. Conspicuous consumption– the bling that had fueled high-end Champagne sales– fell out of fashion. As the euro rose against the currencies of France’s trading partners, demand fell further. It was like a perfect storm for Champagne. […]

Posted in food business, shopping | Tagged , , | 2 Comments
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