Tag Archives: social media

How to be a Food Geek

[image courtesy of Consumer Eroski]

Food Geeks should not be confused with Foodies.
Foodies talk about past and future meals while eating the current one. They know the pedigree of the eggs they eat and will carry heirloom tomatoes like a newborn baby. They can be profoundly interested and even technically proficient in one or many aspects of food (cheese, restaurants, cooking, wines), but the focus is squarely on the pleasures of the table: the food they eat, the people they share it with, the memories they create and the ones they recall.

Food Geeks are an entirely different animal.
They not only admire a crusty baguette, they can tell you if it’s due to enzymatic browning or lipid oxidation. They measure ingredients in grams and will serve caviar with white chocolate knowing that they match on a molecular level. Food Geeks appreciate the art of cooking while they embrace the science.

In the world of geeky niches, Food Geeks are a little more socially-acceptable than Gamers and Gadget Nerds but not as cool as Music or Movie Geeks. At least according to Gizmodo’s Socially-Acceptable Geek Subgenre Scale, Food Geeks have a middling rank between top-of-the-heap Finance Geeks (Math Nerds turned cool… who’s getting a wedgie after calculus class now,  jocks?) and the bottom-dwelling human/animal fantasy-hybridists known as Furries.

Food Geek Essentials
Food Geeks are well-represented online (no big surprise).

  • The patron saint of Food Geeks is Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, a classic tome of gastronomic science first published in 1984. His blog, the Curious Cook is a must-read for any self-respecting geek.
  • Another essential bookmark is the molecular gastronomy blog Khymos. The blog is the creation of a Norwegian organometallic chemist (a fairly typical career among Food Geeks); don’t ask about the blog’s name unless you want a lesson in Greek and Arabic etymology (also fairly typical).
  • Ideas in Food showcases playful experimentation with food, reflecting the culinary rather than scientific backgrounds of its bloggers.
  • When Food Geeks just wanna have fun, they play a round of TGRWT. Short for They Go Really Well Together, the players start with the hypothesis  that if two foods have one or more key odorants in common, they might pair well in a dish.
  • Show some geek pride with a food-themed t-shirt.
  • Lifehacker has instructions for the Top 10 DIY Food Geek Projects.

You can mingle with the Food Geeks through the Facebook page and Twitter feed of FoodGeeks.com. And keep an eye out for TGRWT— the results from the last round should be posted any day now.



Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge, Science/Technology | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

This Blog Has Been [Redacted]

Internet Piracy Proposals in Congress
It’s a cause that got those bitter rivals, Google and Facebook, to put aside their differences and join forces.
It inspired a coalition of internet giants that includes Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL and Zynga, to jointly draft an open letter to members of Congress. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have both officially come out against it, and even the Wall Street Journal ran an anti-legislation opinion piece this week.
Obviously, it’s a big deal.

Congress introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on October 26th. It sounded like a good idea; who wouldn’t want to stop piracy? Let’s do something about all those rogue websites operating outside the U.S. that traffic in scams and counterfeit goods. Let’s fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property so that the creators get their due. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not such a good idea. In fact the introduction of SOPA sent a chill down the spine of all of us who pay attention to these things.

Some call SOPA the end of the internet as you know it.
Perhaps that’s a tad dramatic. But just a tad.

SOPA creates insanely over-reaching new standards of liability for copyright violations. The upshot is that any website could be sued or shut down for any copyright infringement found in any of its content coming from any of its users. Facebook would be responsible for every entry posted by every random user. User review sites like Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes would be held to the same standard for each comment and review posted to them. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube would find that their liability extends to even copyrighted music playing in the background of home-made videos.

SOPA backs up the new standards with a deeply flawed system of enforcement. When a copyright is thought to be violated, the rights holder can sue the website for infringement. Internet service providers would be compelled to shut down servers, and search engines would have to block addresses. Advertising networks and credit card processors would have to disengage. An entire website could be shut down for  a single bit of material unknowingly uploaded to the site, and all of this could take place in advance of a court hearing or trial.

The bill moved through the House Judiciary Committee in mid-November, and will be introduced to the floor for a vote before the end of the year. Both sides have strong bipartisan support, so the outcome is anybody’s guess.

If you’re just waking up to this issue now and want a complete analysis, a good place to start is The Center for Democracy and Technology which has published The Stop Online Piracy Act: Summary, Problems and Implications, or go see the key points boiled down in the summary infographic produced by AmericanCensorship.org.

You can read the full text of H.R.3261 Stop Online Piracy Act at the Library of Congress website.

If it comes to this:
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a staunch opponent of the bill, will add the reading of your name to a filibuster to stall the vote.


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The Yelp IPO. Who Wants In?

Yelp is going public.
Last week the business-review website operator filed with the SEC for its initial public offering. Sometime in early 2012, you should be able to buy publicly traded shares of Yelp stock. But will you want them?
We can’t seem to make up our minds about Yelp.

We love Yelp.
It’s the mother of all review sites. We barely remember a time when we ate out without consulting it.

We hate Yelp.
Like the old adage says: Everyone’s a critic. On Yelp that includes the uninformed, the unqualified, and the perpetrators of unchecked spelling and grammar.

Yelp is a runaway success.
Yelp draws 61 million monthly visitors to its database of 22 million user reviews.

Yelp is a failure.
Losses total $32 million and counting. Some believe Yelp can never turn a profit.

Merchants can’t make up their minds either.
Exposure on Yelp can drive real traffic to small businesses. Amid a sea of competing delis and pizza joints, a couple of good Yelp reviews can make all the difference. But merchants complain about the lack of transparency to Yelp’s review filter that selects what’s posted publicly, and have suspected that the filter is manipulated to benefit paid advertisers. Class-action lawsuits have been filed that accuse the company of extorting ad fees in exchange for withholding negative reviews.

Then there’s Yelp’s love-hate for Google.
Google may be the pipeline to Yelp’s customer base, but these days there’s not a lot of love passing between the two sites. A few years ago, Google paid Yelp for access to its review database to populate Google Places, a local business add-on to Google Maps. After that agreement ran out, Google tried to buy Yelp, and when the offer was turned down, Google continued to mine Yelp’s pages, without payment, for unlicensed content.

This fall Google bought the Zagat reviewing brand, removed most of the pay wall and pitted it directly against Yelp. Yelp has seen its content pushed to the bottom of online searches as Google tinkers with rankings to favor its own Zagat results. Since more than half of all of Yelp’s traffic comes from Google searches, this could be a disaster in the making for Yelp.

Unconditional love for Yelp’s IPO.
Yelp is the Web’s de facto reviewing authority with killer brand recognition, millions of devoted Yelpers, and a ready-made stock symbol (YELP). Despite grumbles from readers, lawsuits from retailers, and imploding tech partnerships, the IPO is expected to be a great success. Groupon’s recent public offering demonstrated that investors will line up to buy a piece of an over-valued, unprofitable tech company with a shaky future.

More detail about Yelp’s IPO can be found in the S-1 registration statement the company filed with the SEC.


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Dirty Bathroom, Dirty Kitchen: a.k.a. The Potty Post

image via MyDoorSign.com

Talk about an appetite killer.
We’ve all been there. Literally. The dirty restaurant bathroom that makes us wonder about the kitchen. If they couldn’t be bothered to keep the bathroom clean…

A recent poll by Cintas, a provider of restroom supplies to the restaurant industry, found that 79% of respondents would avoid a restaurant if they knew the bathrooms were dirty. 88% of them agreed that the state of the restrooms says something about the kitchen’s hygiene, and 94% said if they personally encountered bathroom nastiness, they wouldn’t return.

Looking beyond the yuck factor
Clearly there’s spillover in our minds, but there is actually no hard data to support a connection between a dirty bathroom and a dirty kitchen. According to Douglas Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University and publisher of the BarfBlog, health inspectors will take note of the general state of a restaurant restroom and include impressions and any obvious violations in the report, but they don’t pull out the swabs and test kits like they do in the kitchen. Professor Powell is a big believer in the power of hand-washing to compensate for other inadequacies, and recommends that customers speak up if there’s no soap or hot water, or if they see slipshod washing by restaurant workers.

We rate the chefs, the ambiance, our favorite dishes; why not the bathrooms?
That’s the question asked by the developers of Bestroom, a new smartphone app that helps you find and rate restrooms in restaurants, Starbucks, and other public places.

Another start-up, although I’m not holding my breath for this IPO, is CLOO’. Short for community plus loo (with an apostrophe mark to represent a GPS marker), CLOO’ is a location-based social media app that gives you a private option when the public restroom is unacceptable or unavailable. CLOO’ searches through your social networks to locate potential, nearby hosts who, for a small fee, will allow you to drop by and relieve yourself in their bathrooms. The company calls this “turning a stranger’s loo into a friend of a friend’s loo;” what would you call it?

Cintas, the company behind the poll, gives an annual award for America’s Best Bathroom. Winners receive a plaque and a permanent spot in the Cintas Hall of Fame. Previous winners have been found in hotels and restaurants, a casino, a college, and the Fort Smith, Arkansas regional airport. This year’s nominees included an eco-friendly Brooklyn Cuban restaurant that flushes its toilets with reclaimed rainwater, a Las Vegas casino men’s room with urinals set into authentic, graffiti-covered sections of the Berlin Wall, and a Presidential porta-potty made for Barack Obama’s inauguration. You can find this year’s and past years’ winners at America’s Best Restroom Hall of Fame.



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Steve Jobs: The Food World Pays Tribute

The Food World has a soft spot for Steve Jobs.
No, he was not a ‘foodie;’ in fact he had little interest in the distinct pleasures of the table.
His ties to the industry are indirect, his influence is almost incidental.
He was never really one of us.
Even so, the visionary mind of Steve Jobs has touched the lives of diners, home cooks, and food workers everywhere.

Quick food facts about Steve Jobs:
He was a vegan since his college days, although he did eat sushi.
He briefly dabbled in fruitarianism (yes, an all-apple diet).
He often did his own grocery shopping at the Palo Alto Whole Foods.
He was partial to raw foods.
He frequently fasted, believing that digestion was burning up energy that could be better spent on work.
In his role as Pixar CEO, he convinced Disney to drop its McDonald’s Happy Meal toy tie-ins.
Earlier this year, he was ranked #5 on a list of the 50 most powerful people in food.

After technology, media, and entertainment, the food industry is where he had his greatest influence.
Here’s the way Steve Jobs is being honored and remembered by food communities online:

Restaurant Management Magazine looks at the transformative potential of the iPad for the restaurant industry.

Restaurant marketing site Restaurant Commando tells of the lessons learned from Steve Jobs’ marketing of the iPod.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thanks Steve Jobs for his role as one of the world’s most prominent advocates for vegetarianism.

Fast Casual shares ten lessons the restaurant industry can learn from Steve Jobs.

The Food Watchdog looks at the legacy of food apps.

Food Network Musings describes Steve Jobs’ influence on the home cook in everything from from recipe gathering to how we make shopping  lists.

The Daily Weston recognizes the range of Steve Jobs’ food-related contributions from party evites to Yelp reviews.

Serious Eats asks you to share your own thoughts, remembrances, and thanks in response to the question: “How did Steve Jobs change Food/Cooking?”

iEat. That’s why I mourn his passing.



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The Latest Food Startups: At the Intersection of Food and Technology

Foodia. Foodzie. Foodily. Foodbuzz. Foodspotting. Foodista. Foodtree. Foodler. Foodoro. Fooducopia. Foodcaching. Food-Ex.
Did I forget anyone?

It feels like every day there’s a new food and technology venture competing for our attention, and still, the food-related startups just keep coming. There is no end to the interesting and innovative ways we can now search for recipes and nutrition tips, track down rare ingredients and bargains, or find out where all our Facebook friends like to go out for dinner. It’s all good, but still, you have to wonder if we really need three different services that can page us when a table is available in a popular restaurant (No Wait, Textaurant, and ReadyPing).

Does it feel crowded in here to you?
Aren’t all the programmers, designers, and entrepreneurs supposed to be building up that ‘cloud’ computing thing? Instead, they’re poking around the food space and even bringing the capital with them. Money managers took notice in August when a chain of grilled cheese restaurants launched with an estimated $10+ million in funding from the same group that backed Google, Yahoo, and Pure Digital. Now every seed fund and venture incubator program worth its salt has at least a couple of food startups in its stable.

It shows no signs of slowing down. Here are some of the newest entrants focused on technology, innovation, and market trends in the food world:

MooBella has developed an ice cream-on-demand vending machine that takes 40 seconds to churn out a fresh scoop that can be customized with 96 different variations of flavors, mix-ins, and butterfat.

Tasted Menu has users rate, recommend, and review individual restaurant dishes to create a database of the best of the best (and worst of the worst) for each city it covers. It joins Foodspotting and Forkly in a crowded field of crowdsourcers.

You’ll never eat alone: Grub With Us plans family-style dinners for strangers to meet at restaurants (currently in 7 cities), and SpoonDate lets you arrange a spontaneous blind date based on location and food cravings.

Culture Kitchen hosts authentic, ethnic cooking classes taught by new immigrants.

Foodcaching consolidates offers from daily deals sites like Groupon and Living Social and turns them into a location-based treasure hunt for food and drink bargains.

Foodoro and Fooducopia have joined the old-timer, three-year old Foodzie, in the marketplace for buyers and sellers of hand-crafted foods that let you set up your own etsy-style shop.

Jeffrey Peden, founder & CEO of CraveLabs looks at why the food industry is so ripe for the tech invasion.

Looking for a piece of the action? Kickstarter is a funding platform that lets you in on the ground floor of start-ups for as little as $5. It’s currently seeking micro-funding for a caffeinated breakfast cereal, a maker of fancy cake kits for home bakers, a crowd-sourced cookbook, and a few dozen other food-based projects.

Food and Tech Connect is an information company that produces networking events connecting innovators—the entrepreneurs, technologists, researchers, policy makers, farmers, and producers—at the intersection of food and information technology. It’s the premier place to stay on top of what’s happening on the cutting-edge of the food world.



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First Date Groupon: Frugal genius or extreme cheapskate?


image via Jay I Kemp

It’s awfully tempting to use an online coupon on a first date.
With the right Groupon offer, you can offer a splurge that’s otherwise out of reach—the crème brûlée tastes just as rich at half price, right? Even if it’s just a neighborhood joint, you’re demonstrating thrift and fiscal savvy, and who wouldn’t want to see such admirable qualities in a potential mate?

Sorry, but most seasoned daters and relationship experts see it as a mistake. It’s considered cheap, tacky, and so unsexy. In the world of dating don’ts, it’s right up there with asking for a doggie bag.

I know what you’re thinking: who wants to date someone so obviously shallow and materialistic, with such disregard for your circumstances and best interests? Those are valid points, and the experts recommend you hang on to those thoughts for a future date, maybe the third or fourth. The best first dates are about mood, magic, and romance; a big dose of practicality wrecks the atmosphere and brings a couple down to Earth.

Groupon is working furiously to overcome the first date stigma.
The company conjures up its own first dates through its Date Assistant, a free matchmaking service for singles looking to couple up and redeem two-for-one offers. Groupon also brought together unattached-and-looking coupon clippers with an offer of $85 worth of speed dating discounted to $40, which set a Guinness World Record for the largest speed dating event in history.

And then there’s Grouspawn.
If a couple uses a Groupon coupon on a first date and subsequently produces a child, they may be rewarded with a $60,000 college fund. Two such couples will be chosen each year, which should help push them past that awkward first date moment—photographed hand in hand with the coupon and the day’s newspaper—when the relative strangers/prospective parents gather the requisite documentation. Just in case.

As a general rule, a relationship needs a firmer foundation before couponing can begin. Groupon on a first date and your crush may not respect you in the morning.



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I am Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card.

Hi! I’m Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card. You can download a picture of me to your phone and buy coffee with it. Seriously.


It’s true. You can use Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card to get yourself a free coffee. The real card lives in Jonathan’s wallet, but he has posted a downloadable copy that can be scanned at any Starbucks. An iced vanilla latte, a French press pot of Guatemala Antigua— name it. There’s no cost, no catch, no strings, no restrictions.

Jonathan Stark was curious about the concept of social sharing.
About a month ago he loaded $30 onto a Starbucks card and posted the image for his friends to use. They quickly turned it into caffeine, so Stark added another $50 and invited a few more friends. This time, the card wasn’t depleted. His friends were adding money as well as spending it, starting a twitter conversation in the process. So he created a program that allows coffee drinkers to check on the card’s balance, updated every minute, and encouraged users to share it with their friends.

Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card has become an experiment in anonymous collective sharing that turns a cup of coffee into an act of participation and social engagement. It’s kind of a high-tech version of the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny dish next to a cash register. Sure, you could order 8 pounds of French Roast and a round of venti frappuccinos for the office, but there’s a karmic toll to it; the same one that keeps you from dumping the whole take-a-penny dish into your pocket, even when you see a bunch of quarters peeking through the copper.

The card occasionally struggles to find its equilibrium between generosity and  moochers. As of this writing, a few hundred dollars is passing through the card every hour or so, with nearly half of the users also giving back.

Say ‘Hi!’ back to Jonathan’s card.




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Groupon: Like a one night stand for restaurants

[image via the Marketoonist]

Daily deal or deal with the devil?
It’s been hailed as a savior and slammed as a scourge of the restaurant industry.
It’s become a major force in dining, every month adding tens of millions of new subscribers.
As Groupon prepares to go public —in a hotly anticipated offering that could be the biggest initial tech company valuation ever—we have to ask: is this a good thing?

Here’s the deal:
Each day Groupon sends out an offer to its subscribers. It’s usually a discount of 50% or more off of products or services, heavily skewed toward dining and lifestyle categories. It’s activated only if Groupon delivers a specified number of customers to the vendor, encouraging subscribers to spread the word. Groupon and the seller split the proceeds, so at 50% off, a restaurant ends up with 25% of the offer’s value.

What’s in it for the restaurant?
Restaurant profits typically hover in the range of 5-7%, so it would appear that the owner loses his shirt on each Groupon sale. He’s counting on a few things to save him: the offer will bring in new customers who are converted to regulars; the Groupon customers will pay full price for menu items beyond the scope of the deal; and that a certain number of discount vouchers will be purchased but never redeemed before the expiration date (usually 6 months ahead). Rarely does it go as planned.

Usually the restaurant gets slammed immediately after the Groupon offer is floated, although often it’s just the regular customers coming in at discounted prices—a Wall Street Journal investigation found new customers to comprise as little as 10% of Groupon sales. When it has brought in substantial new business, the seller might struggle to maintain service and quality, alienating an original base of customers in the process. By virtue of their association with Groupon, you can assume that the new business is skewed toward bargain-hunters who are there for the cheap eats and will never return to pay full price for the same meal. The unredeemed coupons are often the only way a restaurateur makes a buck.

This is the restaurant equivalent of a one night stand. There’s a quick thrill from the initial rush of customers, but ultimately the brand is cheapened by the offer. This is not the way for businesses to build sustainable, customer relationships.



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Food Photos: Why we share; why we look.

If, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living, what does that mean for the unexamined meal?

Every meal, snack, sip, and chew…
We photograph, document, catalog, upload, tweet, and post.
Online food photos can be delectably compelling or hypnotically dull, and most are, in turn, some of each.

The interactive agency 360i examined the impulse to share our meals, and found that we are most often motivated by nothing more than gustatory navel gazing. Some people find that they become more adventurous eaters as they seek to jazz up the meals they share online; some find that it can keep them honest on a diet; but mostly it comes from a simple desire to share the routine, mundane activities of our lives.

The special occasion meal is also high on the list.
We photograph our food when we gather with friends, when we travel, when it’s a holiday, or when we finally got a reservation at the hottest new restaurant.

Then there are the exhibitionists.
They document food lust-inducing creations in the way others make sex tapes. The food porn-pushers bring us into their kitchens to follow every step in lingering, loving, color-saturated, hyper-idealized detail—the same visual language and techniques as the x-rated variety. Glistening jam-glazed pears might substitute for a gym-toned body, but it’s the same ego-driven desire to put their own fabulousness on display.

Is it bad form?
The food arrives at the table and the cameras come out before forks. Restaurateurs are conflicted. Of course they appreciate the exposure provided by diners who blog, but flash photography annoys the other customers. Some restaurants are now offering dedicated food blogger dinners complete with backdrops and light boxes right in the dining room.

Nearly 100 billion photographs have been uploaded across various social platforms, with food photos grabbing an ever-expanding share. Food photography can be provocative, social validating, or just plain tedious, but it’s here to stay.

You can download the full report Online Food & Photo Sharing Trends from the 360i website.


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Gwyneth versus Martha: Battle of the lifestyle gurus.

Two frosty blond celebrities. Two accomplished, ambitious, multi-tasking moguls.

Martha—the one we hate to love.
We roll our eyes at the laborious detail of her recipes, instructing us to bundle our asparagus with braided strands of chive, and arming us with stencils, X-acto knives, and a carpenter’s level to decorate cookies. We know that our chives, braided or otherwise, will never come from the herb garden  just past the cutting garden but before you get to the apiary.

But this is a woman who paid her dues. She’s the child of working class Polish immigrants who commuted to college from her aunt’s apartment. She’s a self-taught cook who built an empire from a little catering business that she ran out of her basement. She’s had a troubled marriage, a difficult child, and did a stretch in federal prison. We’re intimidated by the manic perfectionism and envious of the lifestyle, but we never begrudge her one smidgen of her success.

Gwyneth—the one we love to hate.
Hollywood dad, movie star mom, a posh and fabulous early life of exclusive schools, A-list family friends (Steven Spielberg is her godfather!), and vacation villas in Spain. She’s blond and willowy with a killer wardrobe, some not-too-shabby romances (Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt) before the rock star husband, and an Academy award while she was still in her 20’s.

And now she’s a food and lifestyle brand.
If you’re not acquainted with Gwyneth’s sideline, to bring you up to date: she dined her way across Spain, star chef (and friend) Mario Batali at her side, for a PBS television series; she started an online lifestyle magazine called GOOP, in which she instructs us to “nourish the inner aspect;” and she just published a cookbook.

The obvious problem is that unlike Martha with her ethnic striving and transparent self-reinvention, Gwyneth is not herself relatable, and she compounds the matter through blinkered entitlement that renders her incapable of relating to us. Her cookbook is packed with examples of her cluelessness, and its high-profile, celebrity-stacked launch and best-seller status set it up as a target for snarky critics who’ve made a sport of locating its most unintentionally funny line (sample: “I first had a version of this at a Japanese monastery during a silent retreat…”).

Her rundown of kitchen essentials includes Global knives (their smallest 3 in. paring knife retails for $60), a Vitamix blender ($400 for the low-end model), and a le Creuset Dutch oven (discounted to about $250 if you don’t care what color). Gwyneth allows that in a pinch you can substitute bacon for duck prosciutto, and brown rice syrup can stand in for agave nectar, but plenty of her ‘essential’ ingredients will have you scouring specialty stores, digging deep in your wallet, and wondering what the hell to do with an opened bottle of $40 ginger liqueur.

Not that Martha has escaped criticism. She’s plenty unapproachable for her steely manner and mania for perfection, and her elaborate, intensely detailed holiday meals with their hollowed-out-gourds as soup bowls and wreaths of 12,000 hand-strung cranberries have always been ripe for parody. She built an empire that is a testament to her ideal, and she’s the obsessive striver who personally sweated every detail.

By contrast, Gwyneth is building a testament to Gwyneth—to her own tastes and sensibilities. To her credit, she has fantastic style. It’s earthy but sophisticated, elegant and playful; but she is no less insufferable for it.

She’s also seen as a carpetbagger who gains entry to rareified lifestyle spheres through birthright and famous friends. It’s doubtful that she’s ever hand-strung even a single cranberry, although she was once given a cooking lesson with Jamie Oliver as a birthday present.

Could Gwyneth ever be the next Martha, or will her achievements forever be seen as celebrity dabbling? Time will tell.
Oh, and I hear that Eva Longoria has a new cookbook….



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Let’s Make a Deal

My This for Your That.
You did it as a kid. You had an innate sense of the relative value of a bag of Cheetos and could broker a win-win lunchroom exchange.

Swapping is back.
Combine the DIY ethic with social networks, add in a shaky economy, and the table is set for cashless food exchanges.

If you’ve ever made your own pickles or jam, the appeal of a swap is obvious. You spent a small fortune and an entire weekend on the project, leaving you with enough jars of a single condiment to last you two lifetimes. Connect with a dozen or so nearby DIYers and everyone gets to strut their culinary stuff and go home with a varied pantry’s worth of foodstuffs. Since swaps are held privately and no money changes hands, they are generally out of the purview of health and commerce regulatory agencies.

When a swap is dedicated to a single product the trading is self-evident—cookies for cookies, soup for soup. It gets fuzzy when there is no common food currency. I’m sure you make some kick-ass blueberry muffins, but they can seem awfully pedestrian next to Buddha’s Hand limoncello or confited duck legs. As the trading goes on around you, you might feel like the last kid left after the captains choose up sides in a neighborhood kickball game.

Putting your creation out there is inherently personal. Kitchen egos and credibility are at stake. At its best, with a community of like-minded home cooks with shared food sensibilities, a food swap ends up like a town hall meeting crossed with a village marketplace and a hint of the local pub. And you get to go home with your haul of lovingly-made, hand-crafted foods.

The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking guides you through hosting your own food swap, and provides links to ongoing events around the country.


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The WikiGullet Project: the new ‘Wikipedia’ of food

 image via Will Write for Food/Dianne Jacob


Who doesn’t love Wikipedia?
It’s vast, fast, and always up-to-date. It’s the first place we turn to settle disputes.
It’s also messy, quirky, and sometimes less than authoritative—very much a human product.

You too can have a hand in shaping the ‘Wikipedia’ of food.
Like Wikipedia, the WikiGullet Project aims to be a community creation, written an entry at a time by a broad assemblage of volunteers. […]

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Food for the Brain


Architect and food urbanist Carolyn Steel shows how modern cities have been shaped by food.
Malcolm Gladwell tells you why spaghetti sauce is a metaphor for happiness.
Self-proclaimed anti-foodie Fred Kaufman explores the extremes and excesses of our love affair with our stomachs.

It’s a far cry from the Food Network.

If you’re not already watching online lectures, you are in for a treat. Every aspect of food is dissected, studied, discussed, and celebrated by some of the world’s most inspired thinkers, writers, creators, performers, and policy makers. If you’re already a fan, I’ll point you toward the best of what’s out there.

As foodies, we are distinguished by our seemingly limitless capacity for all things food. We are curious, nostalgic, and hedonistic. We reflect on past meals and anticipate those in the future—and can do so while we are enjoying the current meal.

The range of online resources suits our appetites: there are food lectures on topics of sustainability, science, politics, health and nutrition, economics, and cultural issues. There is entertainment value and scholarliness. It’s all out there; so dig in.

Some of the best:

How about a 14-session kitchen chemistry course that uses Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen as its accompanying text? It’s available through the MIT Open Courseware project.

Judith Jones, Julia Child’s longtime publisher and editor, lets you know what Julia would have thought of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her on film. The talk took place at this year’s Boston Book Festival.

Cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman gives us a good talking to in a TED Talk, telling us what’s wrong with what we eat.

The historical significance of the potato, the ethics of selling dairy products in contemporary China; it’s all covered in the Edible History of Humanity.

Kosher Hollywood is a smart and entertaining lecture, with (heavy on Woody Allen) film clips, that looks at screen portrayals of the food-centered Jews.

You’ll find more lectures on a variety of food-related topics that they don’t go near on television:

TED Talks are always edgy, thought-provoking, and forward-leaning. Everyone from Michael Pollan to Jamie Oliver to Ann Cooper, the renegade lunch lady, has stepped up to the TED podium.

Free University Lectures Online has links to thousands of classroom lectures that are posted online.

FORA.tv goes beyond academia to stream talks from book tours, museums, and public lecture series.


Posted in food knowledge, health + diet | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Kicking Around Any Ideas?

Are you the kid with the lemonade stand or the one with the quarter?

Kickstarter is the place for both of you.

Kickstarter connects people looking for money for their business projects with people willing to kick in.
It’s not a loan; it’s not an investment. It’s more like micro-patronage with a bit of crowd-sourced business advice.

In a nutshell:
Budding entrepreneurs post a video with their pitch and funding requirements.
Patrons pledge the funds in increments as small as a few dollars and up to $10,000. Pledges are pooled until the goal is met within a specific time frame.

It’s all or nothing. The rejection message is two-fold: the public has weighed in with a poor funding response, telling the hopeful entrepreneur that it’s back to the drawing board for a better concept; and it’s clear that a start-up shouldn’t be launched without sufficient resources.

Patrons are generally rewarded in the form of project mementos or perks—recently a $10 pledge brought a snack bag from an organic nut roaster, and $120 pledged to an occasional spice club (like spice-of-the month but, you know, not as regular) got you a year’s membership, a spice named for you, AND a refrigerator magnet. No less important are the thrill of proximate inclusion in a creative endeavor, and the warm and fuzzy and oh-so-hip feeling that comes from contributing to a worthwhile endeavor.

Kickstarter is open to projects of all kinds, but food is a constant motif. Food is the third most popular of the site’s 19 categories, and one of the most successful, with a 56% funding rate. The proposals  skew heavily toward food trucks, cupcakes, and home canners—a sign of both the times and the company’s Brooklyn location. The average food project has a funding goal of about $5,000, although this summer saw the founding of a North Carolina craft brewer who raised $44,000. Other recent launches include a solar-powered mobile crêperie, construction of a pedal-operated machine that churns butter and powers a toaster, and an Illinois high school class that wants to publish a cookbook (watch the typos in the business plan, guys).

Get in on the ground floor.

Currently seeking funds:

  • Tails and Trotters, a Portland, Oregon chef-farmer partnership, is almost half-way to its goal of $10,000 with 8 days remaining. The team is developing a true Northwest prosciutto produced from pigs fattened on hazelnuts. $100 will get you a ham and a VIP invite to the opening of their retail shop.
  • The clock is seriously ticking for Leo & Co., mother and son organic dog biscuit makers. With one day and just a few hundred dollars to go, they’ll send you a biscuit personalized with your pet’s name when you pledge as little as $1.
  • $40 gets you a screen credit in the forthcoming documentary Pimento Cheese, Please, currently looking for another $1,800 to cover production costs.
  • Help restore a 60 foot long dragon costume for use in the Chinese New Years Parade in San Francisco. 13 days and $2,000 to go, you can pledge as little as $1, but $50 will get you your picture taken wearing the dragon’s head. Not the foodiest of ventures, but the group behind the costume provides funding to the SF Food Bank. And how awesome is that dragon’s head picture?!.

See all the projects pending at Kickstarter.

Do you have an idea kicking around? Learn how to post your own project.


Posted in cyberculture, food business | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Fish Out of Water: Expat Food Bloggers

image via Listicles

Don’t hate me because I live in Paris (or Istanbul, or Athens, or Shanghai, or Lucca….)

You’re an American living abroad.
As a food lover, your senses are attuned to the gastronomic potential. The new, the exotic, the unfamiliar; you’re like a kid in a candy shop. There are markets to explore, street foods to brave, unknown traditions to embrace, and cooking techniques to learn. […]

Posted in bloggers, Travel | Tagged , | 9 Comments

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

[image via Madison Magazine]]]

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


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


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


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

Nom nom for foodies

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

Restaurant reviewer jargon

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


Culinary cliches: which ones bug you?

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


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

Daily Deals for Dining: Groupon and its many imitators


Everyone loves a bargain.

Just 21 months old, the online social shopping service Groupon has signed up 12 million subscribers, adding nearly two million more each month. It’s grown to more than 1,000 employees, has been profitable since June 2009, and recently attracted a $135 million dollar round of investment from the venture capital group behind Facebook. (Gigabiting first looked at the Groupon phenomenon when it reached the one million subscriber mark) […]

Posted in cyberculture, restaurants | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Secret Life of Groceries

image via AppAdvice

Your Cheerios belong to a social network.

So do your Nestle chocolate chips, your Organic Valley Lowfat Sour Cream, and the box of Ronzoni linguine on your pantry shelf.

If you think about it, your groceries have always had a story to tell. The manufacturer provides a list of ingredients, nutritional content, what the package contents look like, where it was made, maybe a recipe or two if there is room on the box.

But what if that story wasn’t limited to the packaging? And the narration came from users? And the story could be told through images, video, tweets, and web links? […]

Posted in cyberculture | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Underground Food Markets: The New Speakeasies

Pssst… wanna buy some contraband pickles?

First came the informal but still legitimate businesses like food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and CSAs. Now we have the appearance of their unlicensed brethren: the home bakers, canners, pasta makers, meat curers, and foragers that make up an underground food scene that’s gaining steam in cities around the world.

Mmm… that’s so good, I bet you could sell it.

It used to be a compliment. Now it’s a business plan.

Take the growing DIY movement. Throw in a high unemployment rate, some entrepreneurial spirit, the promotional capabilities of social media, and a dash of hipster hype. You end up with something like Anarchy in a Jar (jam maker), Brazelton Price (demi-glace), Bundt (cake baker), and Charcuterie Underground (bacon and sausage). […]

Posted in food policy | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments
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