Food Archives

July 30, 2013

NY Times coverage of the Farm Bill

On the New York Times's National News page today, these two headlines appear right next to each other:

NY Times on the Farm Bill

That's 5 million people that would lose food stamp benefits if the House version of the Farm Bill passed. (The food stamps budget is still part of the Farm Bill.)

Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture sent out over $10 million in subsidies to 1,000 farmers that had been dead for over a year, and $22 million in crop insurance payments to 3,400 people who had been dead for over two years. In order to deal with this, the Government Accountability Office suggests the USDA runs its list of farmers through the wonderfully diabolical-sounding "Death Master File" before it gives more public money to dead people.

Help poor people get enough food, or subsidize dead farmers to grow commodity corn that gets turned into high fructose corn syrup. Gee, Congress, quite the political conundrum you've got there.

March 13, 2013

Soda: sugar, water, and a ton of money

Beyonce's Pepsi campaign

There's a great article in the Times today, one of many they've done about the failed soda size limit law in NYC, about the relationship between the soda industry and civil rights groups that spoke out against the policy. It isn't exactly news that companies like Coke and Pepsi are big supporters of the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, National Council of La Raza, and the US Hispanic Leadership Institute, and in some cases have been for decades.

What's so great about today's article are the quotes from leaders at these organizations, and spokespeople from soda companies, expressing their shock and outrage that anyone could think that there's any connection between a company giving money to an organization, and that organization's public support of the company's political agenda.

Check this out:

  • "We never ask our foundation or community relations partners to engage in public policy issues on our behalf," said Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for PepsiCo. "The nature of these relationships is focused on diversity and inclusion."
  • Katelyn Jackson, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said in an e-mail, "The suggestion that our community philanthropic efforts are motivated by something other than good will is grossly inaccurate and ignores our history of true partnership for well over a century."
  • "We don't support soda taxes and things like that, any kind of grocery taxes, because we think they hurt our community more than helping," said Christina M. Martinez, spokeswoman for the US Hispanic Leadership Institute. "We have a great partnership with PepsiCo."
  • Coke and Pepsi have given over $10 million to La Raza, and executives from each company serve on La Raza's board. And guess who La Raza's anti-obesity program's sponsor is? Pepsi! "They are a company that produces some very healthy products," says their Senior VP for Programs.

I don't blame these organizations for taking corporate money--they have programs to run and are doing important work. But to suggest that there's no connection between the source of an organization's revenue and the policies they support or oppose is incredibly naive and delusional. My point is that soda companies have essentially bought themselves credibility by funding civil rights organizations that represent diverse communities, who then speak publicly in support of soda companies's political goals. These companies have been doing this forever, starting when Coke wanted to shed its image as a racist company back in the mid-20th century.

Of course, soda companies also spend a fortune on marketing, a financial bludgeon that overwhelms relatively tiny investments in research on the effects of soda on public health, and the budgets of nonprofits trying to educate people in their communities about what happens to you if you drink loads of soda.

Then there's Beyoncé. She's gotten a lot of flak for her $50 million deal with Pepsi, especially since she also served as a spokesperson/danceperson for Michelle Obama's Let's Move anti-obesity campaign. But let's be honest: Beyoncé has endorsed Pepsi for many years. And McDonald's. She obviously has no problem shilling for unhealthy crap. Maybe she wasn't a very wise choice for a White House campaign promoting healthy food.

But the point is, soda companies don't do this stuff by accident. Their product is basically sugar, water, and food coloring, so they have extensive profits to spend on making people want to drink their stuff, and co-opting the respectability of popular celebrities and admired civil rights groups.

I pretty much agree with Justice Tingling who ruled against the soda size limit. And I love his wonderful name. Bloomberg's proposal was capricious, legally nonsensical, and doomed to fail--there's no legal category of "sugary drinks" that includes things like soda, but not things like chocolate milk. Our government doesn't regulate sugar like it regulates tobacco and alcohol, and until it does, it's going to be hard for cities or states to make laws limiting public consumption of sugar. Until the ATF becomes the ATFS (maybe change it to FATS?) they might not get anywhere. It also might help if organizations that speak for disenfranchised people stopped pretending that money doesn't affect what they say and do.

October 4, 2012

Horror candy

Combining two of life's greatest pleasures, horror movies and candy, Cadbury has come out with a funny series of ads for its exciting new candy: Screme Eggs. These have been available in the UK since last Halloween, but it looks like we're just getting them for the first time.

Here's my favorite ad, a riff on werewolf/mummy movies, complete with egg gore:

And a good zombie-attack/"Thriller" video one:

And an apocalyptic news cast:

The ads are all on Cadbury's Creme Egg Canada YouTube channel, so I doubt they'll be aired in the US. (Too scary?) Since they were made for Canada, there are both French and English versions, but conveniently, the only line of dialogue in either language is "goo". The international language of candy snot.

Here in New York, they're priced at a borderline outrageous $1.00 per egg, and the only real difference from the regular Creme Eggs is that the cream/snot on the inside is green instead of yellow. And they're still so ridiculously, brain-meltingly sweet that they produce the all-too-familiar sequence of symptoms:

1) euphoria
2) delirium
3) disorientation
4) nausea

Maybe it's best to just stick to the ads.

August 27, 2012

Next deadly campaign in Iraq: American food

Iraq fast food

The US military may have ended its war on Iraq, but US pizza is just getting started. In the most promising indicator that Iraqis are ready to end their chapter of violence and conflict, Baghdad residents have embraced the kind of high-calorie, artery-busting fatty fast food that Americans have shoved into their gaping pieholes for decades. As the leader of a local private equity firm opening new restaurants says, "Iraq is a virgin market."

The restaurants serving this food have created some delightful new names to market the previously unknown levels of gluttony that Iraqis can now enjoy while they slowly destroy their health. The AP reports:

Among the latest additions is a sit-down restaurant called Chili House. Its glossy menu touts Caesar salads and hot wing appetizers along with all-American entrees like three-way chili, Philly cheesesteaks and a nearly half-pound "Big Mouth Chizzila" burger.

"We're fed up with traditional food," said government employee Osama al-Ani as he munched on pizza at one of the packed new restaurants last week. "We want to try something different."

The traditional Arabic restaurants long popular here now find themselves competing against foreign-sounding rivals such as Mr. Potato, Pizza Boat, and Burger Friends.

And my favorite Baghdad restaurant, which demonstrates the durability and ingenuity of American branding: Florida Fried Chicken.

A doctor at a Baghdad hospital warns of the downside of the fast food craze, probably after watching the Americans occupying his country stuff their faces with crap for the last 10 years: "The opening of these American-style restaurants ... will make Iraqis, especially children, fatter."

Welcome to the first world, Iraq! Manufacturers of hypertension medication and elastic-waist pants share your enthusiasm for Western culture.

April 18, 2012

Why we love eating crap

Junk food in grocery stores

It's become very fashionable to talk about the concept of "food deserts" as an explanation for why so many Americans, especially poor Americans, don't eat healthy food and are overweight. The thinking goes, if poor people had access to fresh produce and other healthy food, they would eat better, and be less fat. But they don't have access, so they eat Ding Dongs and pork rinds and whatever you can get at a liquor store snack rack.

Personally, I think this line of thinking is garbage, which is why I'm so psyched about an article in today's Times about the myth of the food desert and access/inaccess to healthy food as a predictor of weight problems. Two new studies basically debunk two big ideas that went into the "food desert" myth: that poor urban neighborhoods don't have grocery stores, and that living close to a grocery store makes it less likely that you'll be overweight.

Turns out there are just as many grocery stores in poor neighborhoods as in rich ones, and proximity to a grocery store has no bearing on thinness or fatness. The scientists involved didn't propose an explanation for this, but I have a few of my own. First, EVERYBODY LOVES TO EAT CRAP. Also, JUNK FOOD COMPANIES SPEND BILLIONS ON ADVERTISING.

It really bugs me when people in positions of power talk about how to change poor people's eating habits, as though poor people are powerless to make good decisions about what they want, and if a kind benefactor just paid for a bunch of green carts selling fruits and vegetables (like we have all over NYC now) poor people will gratefully enrich their diets with wholesome produce and stop having diabetes and heart disease.

Look at rich people, who supposedly have ample access to fruits and vegetables and pretty much anything else they want! Have you seen a menu at a fancy restaurant lately? With all the expensive and totally unhealthy pork belly hash and the duck fat tater tots and dates wrapped in bacon and peanut butter and, God help us, fried pizza?

The fact is, whether we have nice produce at our grocery stores or not, and whether we shop at Whole Foods or at a corner store, we as humans still love to eat greasy, fatty, sugary garbage. We can't help it. As Cintra Wilson once wrote, left to our own devices, people would consume nothing but bacon, cans of whipped cream, and Starburst.

The other problem is grocery stores themselves--even in rich neighborhoods in New York, I see anemic looking pink tomatoes and gnarly wilted lettuce and shriveled green beans all the time. Gristede's sucks whether it's in Washington Heights or the West Village. It's not like "nice neighborhood" or "grocery store" means "decent produce" in this city. And you can bet every store's shelves are well stocked with an impressive selection of Pringles™.

But changing people's behavior is a whole lot harder than just installing some green carts, if you're concerned about healthy eating. Plus it might mean looking critically at how rich people behave, which I seriously doubt is any better than poor people in terms of Cheetos™ consumption. Maybe the only thing that unites Americans now is potato chips.

October 13, 2011

Farmers, Cowboys, and Karen O

Karen O

I thought about using the photo above of Karen O, singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and legendary hellion of live performer, as a Who'dat?™ last week, because I never would have recognized her with that new, New York Times-photo-shoot-appropriate haircut and sensible makeup, and without beer poured all over herself.

But now she's back in the news: she recorded a cover of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson's "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys", a song I really love. Her minimalist version is sort of atmospheric and spooky with that cracking voice of hers, and it's good.

The odd thing is that she recorded it for Chipotle, which uses it in a video connected to its new foundation, Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, that's going to give money to sustainable agriculture and healthy eating organizations and The Nature Conservancy and groups like that. Which is nice enough, I guess.

They released a beautifully shot video to go with the Karen O song, about three kids who break into an old abandoned farm house at night and walk around tearing stuff up and jumping on the beds before it dawns on them that this used to be somebody's home, and family farms are closing, industrial agriculture is bad for America, maybe we should read more of Mark Bittman's columns even when they involve confusing dissections of the Farm Bill, etc. It was made by David Altobelli, who also made some good videos for School of Seven Bells and M83.

Here's the video:

Does anyone else see a problem here? Using a song about cowboys to support farmers? Do the people at Chipotle not possess even a passing familiarity with the Great American Songbook, or at least popular high school musicals? As is clearly described in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends" from Oklahoma!, farmers and cowboys hate each other's guts [video]! During this number in the musical, a huge dance-fight breaks out between farmers and cowboys that stops only when Aunt Eller fires a gun in the air and then forces each warring Oklahoman faction to sing cordially to each other at gunpoint.

Farmers and Cowmen in Oklahoma!

Despite the Oklahoma! indiscretion, the Karen O song is nice, and if you go to Chipotle in costume on Halloween you can get $2 burritos and make a contribution to Farm Aid.

February 16, 2011

Actresses and food

Mila Kunis eats a hotdog

There's an article in today's Times about actresses who gush in interviews about how much they love eating high-calorie, fatty, cellulite-generating foods. It isn't all that original an observation, but I love it anyway. Skinny celebrities--women--whose bodies bear little resemblance to those of basically everyone else on the planet, often make a point that they love to eat bacon. Or spaghetti bolognese with cheese. Fries with ranch sauce. Macaroni and cheese. Or if they're being interviewed by Lynn Hirschberg, truffle fries.

Like the author, I think this is part of a calculated effort to make actresses seem more approachable and easy to relate to, and less like manufactured entertainment products with starved bodies and gigantic heads. As ex-publicist Bumble Ward says, "Don't you feel awfully sorry for actresses? They're so sure that people assume they have an eating disorder that they're forced to wolf down caveman-like portions of 'comfort food' in order to appear normal."

Then the article speculates on male fascination with beautiful women eating greasy food as being a combination of two primal drives. Remember George Costanza shoving a pastrami sandwich into his face and also watching a portable TV while in bed with his girlfriend? Pretty reasonable, I guess.

I think actresses say they love food that makes you fat, which they so obviously do not eat when not doing magazine interviews, in order to allow us non-famous folk (especially women?) to cling to our fantasy that we can eat whatever we want and still look good. If Cameron Diaz can eat ribs and mac and cheese and look the way she does, why can't we? A quick glance at the butts of America tells you why not, but we still want to believe. It's comforting to see that the lithe, willowy Taylor Swift loves hotdogs.

The vegan feminist cultural theorist perspective, provided by Carol Adams in the Times article, is that seeing beautiful women eating crappy food (especially meat) encourages men to consume both women and meat. "These images of women, whether they're ads or they're in magazines, they're all saying the same thing: traditional consumption of women's bodies and animals' bodies is O.K." I see her point, but maybe another idea is that men want to believe that hot girls can eat burgers all the time and still look great. Who wants to think about a sexy girl starving herself and sadly eating a dish of steamed broccoli for dinner?

Remember when Sarah Palin revolted against Michelle Obama's suggestion that we cut back on desserts, defiantly gathering her s'mores ingredients? We want to keep eating our fries and brownies, and we want Keira Knightley to keep eating them, too. But unless bulimia is waaay more prevalent than I realize, I think if actresses really ate the way the rest of us do, they'd look like the rest of us, too.

January 26, 2011

Mark Bittman gets political

Mark Bittman, The Minimalist

Today Mark Bittman announced that he's ending The Minimalist cooking column in the NY Times after 13 years. He's had a great run of making cooking at home feel accessible, smart, and fun.

I don't know if Mark Bittman and I just naturally have similar approaches to cooking and food, but after reading his columns and cookbooks (How To Cook Everything, regular and vegetarian editions) over the years, I often find myself thinking "What Would Mark Bittman Do?" when faced with an unexpected shortage of a key ingredient or a dish that isn't coming together quite as I'd hoped.

Bittman makes me feel like I can cook anything I want to, and that once I've messed around with a type of dish or ingredient, I can and should improvise and trust my instincts. Plus, he's really funny. I flip through sections of his cookbook that I'll probably never use (e.g. meat, sauces, cauliflower) just because he's such a hilarious guy who clearly has fun in the kitchen. As he says in his departing column, "I never maintained that my way of cooking was the 'best' way to cook, only that it's a practical way to cook. (I'm lazy, I'm rushed, and I'm not all that skillful, and many people share those qualities.)"

He's a guy who has no problem with shortcuts that makes sense, like sauce in a jar or the most versatile and delicious of all condiments, ketchup ("I mean, why not?"). But he's driven up the wall by how expensive and cruddy packaged salad dressing is when it's ridiculously easy and cheap to make fresh yourself.

So now that he's not The Minimalist anymore, he's going to start another Times blog about food and politics, which is a direction he's been moving toward for a while now. He did a fantastic talk at TED in 2008 about food and what's wrong with what we eat. This talk, in conjunction with Food, Inc., changed the way I think about the food industry forever. I especially like the kind but blunt way he talks about the food his own mother served at a time when eating in America was mostly about meat, thrift, and convenience, and seemed to involve a lot of canned pineapple.

"What I see as the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States is a political issue," he writes, introducing the new blog that will launch next week. Over the years, he's turned into an eloquent food crusader speaking out against meat-heavy diets and processed crap, and now he'll get a dedicated space to rail against Big Food. I'm psyched.

Here's a collection of his best cooking videos, including the outstanding Kitchen Starter Kit one, and here's a collection of all his columns, dating back to 1997.

August 9, 2010

3rd grade = puberty

3rd grade class, 1984

[photo: Mrs. Ford's 3rd grade class, 1984]

A new study was just released in Pediatrics magazine that measures when American girls are hitting puberty to see if it's happening at an a younger age than it used to. It's definitely happening earlier, but what I found alarming is that for the purpose of this study, "earlier" means "at an age when I was still wearing jammies with feet."

The study included girls ages 6 to 8 in New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, and checked them to see if they had breasts yet. We're talking 1st to 3rd grade, here. The target demographic for My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

And Giant Gazongas Barbie, apparently. Because it turns out lots of these 7 and 8 year olds have breasts--like 18% of white girls, 31% of Latina girls, and 43% of black girls!

For a late bloomer like me, this is completely insane. I associate that first bra purchase more closely with learning to drive than with learning to add. It's entirely possible that, if I were a teenager today, I would be babysitting a 7 year-old whose boobs were bigger than mine. I can't even imagine how girls who are still figuring out how to avoid wetting the bed are dealing with suddenly having pubic hair.

The causes aren't completely clear, but everyone suspects it's mostly due to obesity and chemicals in food and the environment like xenoestrogens and bovine growth hormone that mess with your endocrine system and do crazy things like make 7 year-old girls develop breasts. It was mostly the overweight girls in the study who were reaching puberty at such early ages, and the scientists say they're going to measure all the girls' hormone levels and see what chemicals they'd been exposed to.

Even though this new research suggests lucrative new product lines for busty elementary schoolers, I'd rather not see displays of Dora the Explorer training bras at Target.

February 16, 2010

Pizzacone: an abomination


There have been some notices recently about a new restaurant about to open in midtown called K! Pizzacone, which sells cone-shaped pizza. The pizzacone has actually already arrived in the greater NY area, by way of Brazil. Over the weekend, I went to a place in Astoria called Berry Lover, which sells frozen yogurt, gelato, and something called Cone Pizza.

In case you're interested in food trends and wonder what it's like to eat pizza in cone form, let me just tell you this. The pizzacone is a horror.

I'm not going to get too graphic here, but let me give you an idea. The Berry Lover Margherita Cone Pizza involves a hand-shaped piece of dough that is molded into a cone shape via a sort of hand-operated drill press. Then the cone is filled with a lot of shredded cheese and some sauce and placed in a cone pizza oven, a rotating rotisserie kind of machine that cooks the whole thing. Then they serve it wrapped in a little cardboard sleeve, like takeout coffee.

And it's absolutely terrible. The crust was crispy, but totally uniform and bland and way too similar to an actual ice cream cone. It was filled with low-grade, flavorless mozzarella that oozed out all over everything when I bit into it, and the cheese was edged with some pink liquid that I guess was the sauce. It tasted like like a hard, non-sweet ice cream cone filled with artificial-tomato-flavored caulk. It tasted nothing like pizza, or food.

The really counter-intuitive thing is that, as inflexible as the Italians are about which specific ingredients are permitted in pizza by a government-regulated pizza authority (e.g. buffalo mozzarella) and which ingredients are not (e.g. pineapple), it was actually an Italian company that created the pizzacone ("KonoPizza").

So much for high standards and allegiance to centuries of culinary tradition. It's like finding out your grandmother's homemade cookies were Chips Ahoy.

February 9, 2010

Hands off the eggplant!

Bt Brinjal eggplant protesters

In an impressive display of grassroots politics, legions of passionate Indian food activists successfully prevented genetically-modified eggplant from contaminating countless delicious servings of baingan bhartha. I'm a big eggplant fan, too (a friend once observed that if any given menu has a dish that involves an eggplant, that's the one I'll order) so I'm psyched.

An Indian seed company, Mahyco, had developed the world's first pesticide-resistant eggplant seed called Bt Brinjal, though as you might guess, our old plant-patenting ghouls over at Monsanto are also involved--they own 26% of the Indian seed company and the patented Frankeggplant gene came from them. Earlier today, the Indian Environment Minister decided to keep his nation's eggplants engineering-free.

Anyway, the protests involved the usual rallies and street marches, with many opportunities to dress up like giant eggplants.

Bt Brinjal protesters

To remind everyone what they were fighting for, Greenpeace organized a World's Biggest Baingan Bhartha campaign, making the tasty roasted dish with one eggplant for every signature they collected--so far they're at 20,000 eggplants. That's my kind of politics.

January 11, 2010

Farmers use the wrong agricultural metaphor

40 Acres and a Mule t-shirt

Industrial farmers have been getting more scrutiny lately, now that anyone concerned about animal welfare, pollution, climate change, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or their own health has started looking at factory farms as the cause of a lot of big problems. Some states are considering new laws regulating things like the size of cages animals are kept in and other agricultural operations in order to protect animals and the people who eat them.

Which, of course, farmers don't like one bit. At this year's meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the president, Bob Stallman, said in a speech yesterday denouncing their perceived opponents, "A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule."

Um, oops. I think what Bob Stallman was trying to say is that we're no longer living in an age of small farms, and large-scale corporate factories that produce massive volumes of food must resist efforts to treat their industry as if it's made up of independent, pastoral family farmers with their livestock eating clover out in the pasture (even though that's exactly the image food producers use in their marketing.)

But "40 acres and a mule" is a reference with a very specific meaning that isn't really about agriculture. For a brief period after the Civil War, under Special Field Order No. 15 from General Sherman, former slave families were to be given 40 acres and a mule, in order to start their own farms. According to the Wikipedia entry, about 10,000 former slaves were settled on 400,000 acres of land in GA and SC, but after Lincoln's assassination, the policy was revoked, and the land was given back to the former white landowners.

"40 acres and a mule" has become shorthand for the need for reparations for slavery in an effort to reconcile the incalculable advantages that the beneficiaries of a few centuries of slavery had and continue to have. During his anti-agricultural legislation speech, the American Farm Bureau president accidentally (I hope) equated proposed farming regulations with making reparations for slavery, which he later referred to as an "elitist power grab." Need to get your metaphors straight, there. Unless he's trying to make some ill-founded connection between beleaguered factory farmers and slaves, which I really hope is not the case.

Wikipedia has a list of pop culture references to 40 acres and a mule, the best known being Spike Lee's film production company. My favorite on the list is some lines from Nelly's "Nellyville": "40 acres and a mule, fuck that, Nellyville, 40 acres and a pool."

The Yippies' website outlines their own 40 acres and a mule demand as follows: "Since it is illegal to grow pot in the United States the YOUTH INTERNATIONAL PARTY demands 40 acres of prime pot growing land in Northern Mexico for every former Prisoner of Weed (POW) and a mule to bring it back into the States."

I really hope Spike Lee never sees that.

July 23, 2009

Wheaties Fuel™: what a man eats

Wheaties Fuel

Wheaties may be the breakfast of champions, but sales are down this year, so General Mills is rebranding. Soon they'll be launching a new product extension that is even tougher and more manly than regular Wheaties -- Wheaties Fuel™.

The Times has a great article on the company's plan to make a cereal that has always been focused on fitness to specifically target men. Men who want their breakfast to make them feel like athletes. Here's the process:

  • First they got a panel of male pro athletes to test different prototypes of Wheaties Fuel™, which the website calls "performance nutrition", and rate them.
  • Next, they reduced girly ingredients like folic acid, which is a nutrient that everyone needs, but it's associated with being pregnant.
  • Then, they added a more masculine ingredient: sugar! Wheaties Fuel™ will have 50% more calories than the original, and is made of 25% sugar, compared to 15% for the original. Two of the three prototypes that the athlete panel is testing also have sugary additions, like "clusters that have a cinnamon-roll-like flavor."

The company is advertising with Men's Health, and readers of the magazine will get to pick the final formula. A nice bit of product-placement there, though the Men's Health publisher says that a new Wheaties product is news-worthy enough that they would have covered it anyway.

But what I find especially interesting is that marketing a breakfast cereal to men is apparently a new concept in the cereal market. Wheaties has always promoted a masculine image--although, wait, has it?

Remember those goofy Wheaties ads from the 80's in which professional athletes sang a verse of a song that went like, "Before I swing for the bleacher seat-ies, I get the eaties for my Wheaties"? Not an especially tough image! Now that I look back on those ads, they were definitely targeted at women, who traditionally did the cereal-buying in their households and wanted to buy something appropriate for their menfolk's breakfast.

A rep from the ad firm that's doing the new Wheaties branding says that times are changing: "A lot of data out there shows that men are taking over a lot more of the shopping occasions. And as that happens, men are not just following a list but are much more focused on making decisions themselves."

Hm. Rebranding a gender-neutral product to encourage a recently empowered gender to buy a special version of that product for themselves. Sound familiar? It's the same approach marketers have used for decades, but targeting women. Need a razor? Buy a pink one with flowers on it! Need a phone? Buy a pink one with sparkles on it! Deodorant? Buy one that says it's pH-balanced for a woman! An energy bar? Buy one with dancing ladies on it!

The only other product I can think of that was historically aimed at women but is repackaged for male shoppers is hair dye--"just for men".

That quote about men making their own decisions in the store reminds me of a great scene from The Hurt Locker, in which the man's-man bomb defuser main character, home from Iraq, is out shopping with his wife. She asks him to go get some cereal. When faced with an entire aisle of hundreds of cereals, he's overwhelmed, so scans the rows, then grabs a box at random and stomps off.

Now there's a Wheaties Fuel™ man.

July 30, 2008

Casual dining goes belly up

Bennigans closes

Continuing the downward trend of the "casual dining" industry, pretend-Irish chain restaurant Bennigan's has declared bankruptcy and is closing. So is a chain called Steak and Ale (these don't exist around here. I think I saw one in Atlanta once?) which is owned by the same parent company, Metromedia Restaurant Group.

The NY Times reported that the whole industry was in trouble last fall, due to rising costs, shrinking family budgets, and Americans realizing that paying $18 for mass-produced microwaved entrées is idiotic. Restaurants like this going out of business helps restore my faith in America.

Bennigan's hasn't had a presence in NYC for a few years now. Sometime in 2005, one opened on the corner of 8th Ave and 47th St, replacing an independent casual family restaurant that had been struggling there for years. It lasted about 10 months, then closed. Now the space is (you guessed it) a Duane Reade. In a troubled retail real estate market, all roads lead to Duane Reade.

Besides having a business model that asks customers to pay inflated prices for cheap food, the problem with the casual dining industry is that it's an outdated trend that has finally started to fall out of favor. Restaurant consultant Bob Goldin says, "All these bar and grill concepts are very, very similar. They have the same kind of menu, décor, appeal." Another restaurant consultant in Chicago says, "The stores got old and the concept got tired."

The Simpsons made its episode about chain restaurants back in 1995 (back when the show was still a cultural barometer) when Moe opened his short-lived family restaurant Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag in "Bart Sells His Soul."

Here's the clip. It's still funny. Especially Marge's wonder at the décor: "An alligator wearing sunglasses?! Now I've seen everything!"

Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag

July 9, 2008

Ice cream + booze

Whiskey ice cream

Governor Patterson signed a whole slew of bills into law today, which will bring a few changes to New York state: there will be a new casino in the Catskills, wine tastings can start at 10:00 AM on Sundays, and the same penalties for using brass knuckles now apply to plastic knuckles, too.

He also allowed wine-flavored ice cream to be made and sold in the state, to people over 21 who are interested in eating a gross-sounding dessert.

Wine ice cream is already being made by Mercer's and Glacé de Vino in flavors, or, excuse me, "varietals", like Peach White Zinfandel and Cherry Merlot.

But really, dairy plus wine? Ew. If you're going to add a frozen dessert to wine, I think sherbet would be better.

I have no problem with other kinds of booze in ice cream, though, like whiskey. I guess now is the time to trademark my signature dessert-drink college cafeteria recipe: the Frosty Wah™.

The Frosty Wah™ is made by sneaking a bottle of whiskey into a college cafeteria, or any setting in which you have access to a soft-serve ice cream dispenser, filling a glass about 2/3 of the way with vanilla soft-serve, then adding a bunch of whiskey. Stir and drink.

Actually, this is probably one of those disgusting drinks that you would only ever consider drinking if you are actually under 21. Like wine coolers.

But at least with the Frosty Wah™ you've got a reasonably high alcohol content. With this wine ice cream, you would need to eat two whole gallons of it to equal one glass of actual wine, according to Gothamist.

Some enterprising folks over at Ice Cream Ireland have developed a recipe for chocolate whiskey ice cream that sounds very delicious, though there's only a touch of whiskey per serving. Though if you use too much whiskey in ice cream it would probably mess up the freezing process.

So the next logical step is beer ice cream: here's a recipe for Guinness ice cream, and a NY Times article about a guy in Brooklyn who makes beer-infused ice cream, though it doesn't sound like it's literally ice cream made from beer. I'm happy with the traditional and delicious Guinness float.

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