Tag Archives: Food

Friday poetry: Two short ones featuring food

Haiku Ambulance
Richard Brautigan (1950)

A piece of green pepper
off the wooden salad bowl:
so what?

This is just to say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams



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Food inflation is here!

Chips are disappearing from bags, candy from boxes and vegetables from cans, the New York Times warned this week. With rising costs of production and an economy that continues to lag, food inflation has arrived.

It’s not just the increase in costs for food baskets, and it’s not just Michelle Obama’s push to skinny-size America. The great American recession has hit food producers as hard as it’s hit the rest of us:

It’s called “chiseling,” and this time it doesn’t refer to your washboard abs — at least not directly. Chiseling is the practice of selling marginally smaller packages for about the same price.

If market demand doesn’t cover increased production costs for that same 6-ounce can of tuna, the manufacturer has to sell a 5-oz can. Chiseling is smart business. The alternative is to keep failing to cover costs for those same 6 ounces, and eventually go out of business.

Chiseling isn’t just smart business; the policy aligns perfectly with government priorities. First Lady Michelle Obama wants a national size-awareness campaign? Great; smaller packages mean fewer calories. Green initiatives pushing for less packaging? Fantastic; smaller boxes use less cardboard.

For consumers, food is about feeding ourselves and our families. Food producers see the market differently. Green interests, the diet industry, subsidies for sugar and wheat — these are all major hurdles manufacturers have to balance, or else face going out of business.

The US pays about $20 billion a year to farmers in direct farm subsidies. Our $60 billion/year diet industry grows about 6% annually.

With so many mixed market cues it’s a wonder the food industry hasn’t already undergone major restructuring.

The diet industry is business. Non-fat yogurt purveyors want to help dieting folks lose weight, but if everyone were happy with our girths there’d be little market for less-flavorful yogurts.

Same goes for the greenies. Ostensibly their goal is to get us all back to prehistoric emissions levels — but by printing their message in magazines and airing “green” TV ads they contribute to just the emissions build-up they caution against.

Get-fit incentives should counsel consumers to breeze right past the diet industry’s push towards unsustainable calorie counts into the healthy territory of moderation. Instead we’re seeing growth at the extreme ends of the spectrum. A nearly- $60 billion/year diet industry grows over 6% annually, while the super-sized fast food industry tops $170 billion. Just today Denny’s introduced their new maple bacon sundae for their all-bacon, all-the-time festival, “Baconalia.”

Americans are the fattest people in the world. Food production in this country is among the most artificially inflated in the world.

Smaller package sizes are frustrating for hungry folks, but small steps towards portion size deflation beats market collapse and another supersize bailout any day.

Chiseling is the first step towards more reasonable growth in America.


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Unfair to compare DC food without including suburbs

Making the rounds today is an interview with a Philadelphia chef claiming that Philly food is “head and shoulders above” DC food.


It’s simply not fair to compare food options in DC proper without expanding to the entire metro area. All the good food is in Virginia.

DC is a city that American founders established as a non-permanent residence. For two hundred years, DC residents have struggled with high taxes and no state representation. Of course the most entrepreneurial folks choose to live in the Beltway but outside DC limits.

Because DC is so transient, competitive District dwellers have extremely short attention spans. Any DC resident knows that when a resident hailed for its chef opens, you should try it within the first three months, before that chef takes a new gig and leaves the restaurant to sous chef underlings (just this week Againn lost its chef to a new venture).

Here’s some unscientific supporting data. Renting a 2-br townhouse in downtown DC costs an average of $2600. In Fairfax that same 2-br runs about a thousand dollars less per month (thanks, Rentometer).

Who can afford rent that’s so damn high? Lawyers.

Teeny DC has about 277 lawyers per 10,000 residents. Virginia has about 9.5 lawyers/10,000 residents. And Maryland? Maryland has only 9.4. Guess how many lawyers open their own delicious restaurants?

For an even less scientific method, take a look at Tyler Cowen’s excellent ethnic dining guide. Cowen splits his time between beltway Virginia and urban DC. His is perhaps the most consistent and discriminating food guide in this area. I have been following this foodie haven for four years now and I can confirm that nearly all ethnic foods — Ethiopian being the distinct exception — are simply better in Virginia.

Churchkey's "Luther" sandwich, the #1 sandwich in America!

Sure, it’s easy to hate on our poor statehood-free District of Columbia. Our nation’s capital reflects the mores of our nation, which includes importing goods and keeping the gears free for idealism.

DC gets all the delicious food we need from surrounding Beltway producers. Parts of the District are awash with mediocre business luncheries, while fantastic restaurants spring up in denser residential areas like U St. and Dupont. Perhaps if DC were more state than nanny all of the excellent lunch truck options could nudge our average food option quality up a bit.

Maybe there are cities with better food options than our fair capital. But it’s unfair to compare DC food without including in that comparison DC’s greatest strength: our delicious suburbs.


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What’s in a Name: Corn Syrup Goes Corn Sugar

Would corn syrup by any other name taste as sweet?

Tired of its bad rap, America’s favorite subsidized industry is changing its ways.  Not by creating a better or more sale-able product, mind you, but by embarking on a new, highly-subsidized marketing campaign!

The Corn Refiners Association has deemed “high fructose corn syrup” a tainted phrase, and is seeking FDA clearance to change the name to “”corn sugar.”

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“We hope to erase consumer confusion,” said Audrae Erickson, president of the Washington, D.C., trade group, which has been waging a two-year campaign to dispel the growing perception among some consumers that the corn industry’s sweetener isn’t as natural as sugar.

You may have seen the trade group’s advertising campaign trying to sway public opinion, and attempting to convince food manufacturers–from Starbucks to Kraft Foods not to remove high fructose corn syrup from its list of ingredients and replace it with “real sugar.”

Notorious for actually diminishing consumers’ ability to metabolize food, the sweetener formerly known as High Fructose Corn Syrup first appeared on the market in the late ’70’s.  Hefty sugar tariffs imposed in 1977 drove food producers to seek substitutes for natural sugar.

American manufacturers now use high fructose corn syrup to sweeten most consumer products.  Coke and Pepsi use natural sugar in all of their sodas abroad, but stick to cheaper corn syrup in the US.  Many nutritionists even blame this concentrated syrup for spikes in American obesity and lagging health.

Wikipedia blurbs health studies on HFCS’s health impact:

Two experiments done by Princeton University fed rats water sweetened with either HFCS or table sugar (glucose) but kept food calories the same for all rats. The study found that rats who consume water sweetened with HFCS gained 48 percent more weight then water sweetened with sucrose despite an identical caloric intake.

The second experiment monitored the rats’ overall health for six months and found that rats who consumed HFCS developed signs of metabolic syndrome. It also found that every HFCS rat became obese while not every sucrose rat did. This study has been cited as causal proof for obesity in America since the HFCS rats had worse outcomes then the sucrose rats.

Yet corn remains among the most protected products in the American economy.  In 2005 alone the American government propped up the corn industry to the tune of $10,121,533,998.

That’s ten billion government dollars — those are our taxes — on top of whatever market demand — that’s our preference — yields for ethanol, sweetener, etc.  In other words, we’re willing to pay some amount, but through a series of rationally ignorant loops we wind up paying corn farmers ten billion dollars more than market yield to farm more corn.

How many jobs might be created or saved if those corn farmers moved to jobs where they’d be putting more into the economy than they’re taking out?

When it comes to the sweet stuff, it’s transparently bad juju for the corn industry to embark on a subsidized ad campaign to trick Americans into eating more unhealthy high fructose corn syrup.  Let’s  tear down those tariffs instead and see what the market really wants in terms of nourishment.

Fact Sheet re King Corn

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Wacky Wiki: Tarrare

A friend found this bizarre Wikipedia entry:

Tarrare (c. 1772 – 1798) was a French showman and soldier, noted for his unusual eating habits. Able to eat vast amounts of meat, he was constantly hungry; his parents were unable to provide for him, and he was turned out of the family home as a teenager. He travelled France in the company of a band of thieves and prostitutes, before becoming the warm-up act to a travelling charlatan in which he would swallow corks, stones, live animals and whole apples. He then took this act to Paris where he worked as a street performer.

On the outbreak of the War of the First Coalition Tarrare joined the French Revolutionary Army. With military rations unable to satisfy his large appetite, he would eat any available food from gutters and refuse heaps but his condition still deteriorated through hunger. Suffering from exhaustion, he was hospitalised and became the subject of a series of medical experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, among other things, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies, and swallowed an eel whole without chewing.

General Alexandre de Beauharnais decided to put Tarrare’s abilities to use, and he was employed as a courier by the French army, with the intention that he would swallow documents, pass through enemy lines, and recover them from his stool once safely at his destination. Unfortunately for Tarrare, he was unable to speak German, and on his first mission was captured by Prussian forces, severely beaten and underwent a mock execution before being returned to French lines.

Chastened by this experience, he agreed to submit to any procedure that would cure his appetite, and was treated with laudanum, tobacco pills, wine vinegar and soft-boiled eggs. The procedures failed, and doctors were unable to keep him on a controlled diet; he would sneak out of the hospital to scavenge for offal in gutters, rubbish heaps and outside butchers’ shops, and attempted to drink the blood of other patients in the hospital and to eat the corpses in the hospital morgue. After falling under suspicion of eating a toddler he was ejected from the hospital. He reappeared four years later in Versailles suffering from severe tuberculosis, and died shortly afterwards, following a lengthy bout of exudative diarrhoea.

More bizarre Tarrare facts at the Wiki link, if you’re, um, hungry for more.

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The Sixth Taste

Salty, sweet: study says fat is the sixth “taste”. (Yahoo! News)

People sensitive to the taste of fat tend to eat less of it and are less likely to be overweight, according to Australian research that found human tongues can detect fatty tastes.

Researchers at Deakin University, working with colleagues at the University of Adelaide among others, found that fat was the sixth taste people can identify in addition to the five others — sweet, sour, salty, bitter and protein-rich.

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Just a Li’l Food Porn

French toast, it seems, is my comfort food. During exams I find myself adding eggs (my favorite protein source) to everything. This season is no exception. Last year I always chopped onions into eggs and grilled the drenched toast on the Foreman grill; this year it’s been more about variety.

The best iteration so far has been the first one. I give you: The Greek Pizza French Toast.

Pizza French Toast

Greek Pizza French Toast

As you can see, it’s so delicious I couldn’t manage to wait until after taking the picture to try a bite.

If you can find me another food whose preparer can so easily control both nutrition (fat, calories, portion) and the mushiness/crispness factor I’ll consider switching from French toast. But for now crockpot mash has gone the way of last year’s tuna craze, and French toast is the only way to my heart.

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