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Tag: "food"

The Poisoned Candy Scare

[ 111 ] October 22, 2013 |

Another Hail Satan Day Halloween is nearly upon us and Dan Lewis reminds us that the famed Halloween poisoned candy scare is a total media mythology.

What about poison, which, being invisible and generally hard to detect, is the more nefarious way to taint candy? You have little reason to be concerned there either. Landers stated, “many reports” of such terrible acts have occurred, however, they are almost entirely the stuff of myth.

Almost entirely.

For nearly 30 years, University of Delaware sociologist Joel Best has been investigating allegations of strangers poisoning kids’ Halloween candy. As of this writing, he hasn’t identified a single confirmed example of a stranger murdering a child in this fashion.

He found other examples of people accidentally passing out tainted candy or, in one case, passing out ant poison as a gag gift to teenagers (no one was hurt), but the bogeyman of terrible people making trick-or-treating unsafe is a canard. One example of a person trying, explicitly, to poison children via Halloween candy was confirmed. However, the child who died wasn’t a stranger—it was the man’s son.

On Halloween, 1974, an 8-year-old boy named Timothy O’Bryan died. His candy had, indeed, been poisoned. A few days prior, his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, took out a $40,000 life insurance policy on Timothy and Timothy’s sister, Elizabeth (then age 5), as an unimaginable way to get out of debt. The only way to collect required that at least one of his children die, so the elder O’Bryan laced some Pixy Stix with cyanide and cajoled his son into eating one before bed.

Pretty nice father there. In any case, while the overall point is fair enough, I do have to push back against the framing of Lewis’ article. He blames the scare on “the media.” But I’m not sure that citing Dear Abby and Ann Landers (Hell, that could just be some old family scare there) exactly equates “the media” here. Now I do remember lots of stories growing up about fears of this and local news reports on where to take your candy to get it scanned (my parents never bothered. And really, if I were their son, I probably wouldn’t have either). So the media scare did exist.

But the 1970s and 1980s were full of this kind of paranoia about the cities, bad people, kidnappings, and other horrible things. Don’t talk to strangers. Some of this is still with us, but in fact it is far safer for children today than 30 years ago. From bicycle helmets to Amber Alerts, we took our mostly misplaced paranoia and created a structure of real safety for our children.* But let’s also be clear, this was misplaced paranoia. When I was a kid, there was a famous case of a mother killing her children in my hometown. She blamed it on a shaggy haired stranger flagging her down and massacring her children (and shooting her in the arm). The police were inundated with calls from citizens saying they saw the same person trying to do the same thing to him. Of course he didn’t exist. The woman killed her kids and shot herself in the arm as an excuse.

What was with these fears? I figure it was probably a combination of backlash to civil rights and urban riots, the Manson murders and counterculture more broadly, the economic instability of the time leading to cultural fears, and other broader sociocultural factors that would lead parents to fear irrationally that their neighbors wanted to poison their children through Halloween candy. But while the media certainly fed these fears, it didn’t create them out of whole cloth. People aren’t passive receivers of narratives.

* Not that bicycle helmets aren’t a good thing

Ketchup and Culture Wars

[ 209 ] October 19, 2013 |

It’s pretty typical that Drudge would invoke the fear of salsa overtaking ketchup as America’s favorite condiment in his culture wars. Personally, I say Viva Reconquista. If ketchup is the condiment of the Tea Party, it just confirms everything I already think about it. So all you haters out there can go back to dumping Drudge Sauce on your eggs and fries, comfortable in the fact that you are supporting Real America through your condiment choices.

America’s Worst Food

[ 384 ] October 18, 2013 |

Anyone is going to quibble with a list ranking state signature foods. And I have my quibbles too. First, lobster rolls are awesome. What a lobster roll means is that New England has such good seafood that it’s no big deal to eat lobster, so we are going to put it on a split roll with some lettuce and mayo and crappy fries on the side and the rest of you wish you could do that too. Also, what’s with ragging on Texas BBQ. Fail. On the other hand, New York pizza is the most overrated food in the country.

But we can all agree on the nation’s worst food:

For the mercifully unacquainted, “Cincinnati chili,” the worst regional foodstuff in America or anywhere else, is a horrifying diarrhea sludge (most commonly encountered in the guise of the “Skyline” brand) that Ohioans slop across plain spaghetti noodles and hot dogs as a way to make the rest of us feel grateful that our own shit-eating is (mostly) figurative. The only thing “chili” about it is the shiver that goes down your spine when you watch Ohio sports fans shoveling it into their maws on television and are forced to reckon with the cold reality that, for as desperately as you might cling to faltering notions of community and universality, ultimately your fellow human beings are as foreign and unknowable to you as the surface of Pluto, and you are alone and always have been and will die alone, a world unto yourself unmarked and unmapped and totally, hopelessly isolated.

But wait! This abominable garbage-gravy isn’t just sensorily and spiritually disgusting—it’s culturally grotesque, too! What began as an ethnic curio born of immigrant make-do—a Greek-owned chili parlor that took its “Skyline” name from its view of the city of Cincinnati—is now a hulking private-equity-owned corporate monolith that gins up interest in its unmistakably abhorrent product by engineering phony groups of “chili fanatics” to camp out in advance of the opening of new chains, in locations whose residents would otherwise see this shit-broth for what it is and take up torches and truncheons to drive it back into the wilderness.

Whatever virtue this bad-tasting Z-grade atrocity once contained derived from its exemplification of a set of certain cherished American fables—immigrant ingenuity, the cultural melting pot, old things combining into new things—and has now been totally swamped and consumed by different and infinitely uglier American realities: the commodification of culture; the transmutation of authentic artifacts of human life into hollow corporate brand divisions; the willingness of Americans to slop any horrible goddamn thing into their fucking mouths if it claims to contain some byproduct of a cow and comes buried beneath a pyramid of shredded, waxy, safety-cone-orange “cheese.”

Cincinnati chili is the worst, saddest, most depressing goddamn thing in the world. If it came out of the end of your digestive system, you would turn the color of chalk and call an ambulance, but at least it’d make some sense. The people of Ohio see nothing wrong with inserting it into their mouths, which perhaps tells you everything you need to know about the Buckeye State. Don’t eat it. Don’t let your loved ones eat it. Turn away from the darkness, and toward the deep-dish pizza.

Not sure what one can add to that. Also not sure how one could disagree.

Ketchup Revisited

[ 240 ] September 17, 2013 |

Building on this, here is some information on ketchup. Glad to see I’m not the only one exploring this key question to 21st century life:

Surely the big question is: when did it get here? To which the big answer is: some time in the early 1700s. It first shows up in an English cookbook in 1727, in Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife. One of her recipes calls for “a little ketchup, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, the brains a little boiled and chopped, with half a spoonful of flour”.

Brains? In 1727 it was normal to eat brains.

Ah. I see. But not tomatoes? Not in ketchup, no, because it wasn’t originally made with tomatoes. Back in 1876, when Henry Heinz first marketed his now ubiquitous creation, “tomato ketchup” was just one of many ketchups on the market.

So what’s ketchup doing now? Feeling the squeeze. Sales of Heinz tomato ketchup have fallen 7% over the past year.

Why? Possibly because, after 137 years, we’re getting bored of it. According to the Grocer, the fall in ketchup sales was accompanied by a rise in sales of chilli sauce, mayonnaise, dressings and “other ethnic sauces”.

I’ll say this for our ancestors: their version of ketchup made with brains was no doubt a superior condiment than the sugary-sweet ketchup that pollutes food today.

But you do have to give credit to Americans for increasingly rejecting ketchup in favor of salsa, hot sauce, and other condiments. If we are lucky, you will all continue to shun your neighbors who use ketchup, convince them of their poor taste, and reform them into people who use tasty condiments. We will know we have advanced as a nation when we follow the example of our Belgian comrades and prefer mayo on our fries.

1876 is also not only the year with an election that led to the end of Reconstruction. It’s also the year modern ketchup came on the market. Now that’s a bad year.

…..Also, here’s an interesting history of ketchup, including its non-tomato varieties. Pretty much like most popular histories it talks of Heinz as the one good employer who treated his workers fairly, blah, blah. I don’t know anything about the details of Heinz labor relations, but I do know that if every public historical discussion of how the rich treated their employees were true, we’d never need a union in this country.

Ketchup

[ 531 ] September 14, 2013 |

Here’s the thing about ketchup. It’s disgusting and those who love it should reexamine their priorities and the meaning of their lives. So I am righteously outraged that the Detroit Tigers fired this hot dog vendor who expressed his disdain to fans who wanted ketchup on their dogs, proving to the world that they did not deserve the suffrage.

And I’m not saying the mustard is the only acceptable condiment on a hot dog. At the ballpark maybe, but in real life, obviously sauerkraut is also a superior condiment. And in Mexico you can get all kinds of crazy awesome stuff on hot dogs. But ketchup, I mean really, doesn’t its existence make one question Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Note–I am talking about mass produced tomato ketchup here. Ketchup produced with other fruits or homemade stuff that is actually good, that’s different.

One also must wonder about the crossover between people who put ketchup on hot dogs and those who call vodka cocktails “martinis.”

UPDATE: Am I the only one who thinks kimchi on hot dogs could be really good?

The Ramen Century

[ 53 ] August 30, 2013 |

We live in an era of ramen.

That palm oil is central to ramen makes me sad because I’ve seen Malaysian jungle turned into palm monocultures and it is incredibly depressing. But not if you are poor.

This One Goes Out to All the LGM Trolls

[ 102 ] August 30, 2013 |

How to make pink pancakes, a recipe from 1786.

What pancake recipes do you think our trolls use?

The Traditional American Breakfast

[ 240 ] August 25, 2013 |

What’s the deal with masculinity and the traditional American breakfast? The idea that it is our birthright, as American men, to eat a big breakfast of eggs, bacon or sausage, and toast, all covered in grease, is quite pervasive. When one says something like bacon is overrated, an argument I am willing to make at least for average bacon, outrage results. Feel free to bring the hate, I can take it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with eating these foods occasionally. I like a big breakfast with some hash browns every now and again. But eating like this everyday is gross and bad for you. Tying this type of eating to what it means to be an American male is unhealthy. Take J. Oliver Conroy:

In this world there are a surprising number of people who believe that sliced fruit, or yogurt, or granola — or perhaps, if they are feeling especially bold, some combination of all three — constitutes breakfast. These people are categorically wrong. They may consume these foods at the time of day associated with breakfast, but at best they eat at breakfast or a breakfast; they do not eat Breakfast. We must regard them with scorn, or pity; they worship false idols, they covet their neighbors’ kale.

What is breakfast? Breakfast is the meal which exists in slight variants throughout the English-speaking world and includes eggs and meat and something made of potatoes or bread and a hot beverage. Breakfast is the Full English, or the Full American, or the Full Canadian. Breakfast is a triumph.

Yet breakfast is under threat. Breakfast, besieged by the pathologies of the twenty-first century, is fighting a desperate rearguard battle for survival, and at stake is nothing less than civilization itself.

This is a war of at least three fronts.

So the manly breakfast gets capitalized.

Of course the post is meant to be at least half-comical. Here’s the problem: the continental breakfast is far superior to the traditional American breakfast. A roll, some fruit, a boiled egg. How much more do you need? For that matter, who really needs three meals a day, unless you are doing hard physical labor? If I ate three meals a day, I’d put on 100 pounds in a year. Maybe I have a slow metabolism. But a small snack or light breakfast in the morning, a hearty lunch, and a medium-sized dinner seems entirely appropriate. Conroy makes fun of people who don’t eat breakfast because they are still full from last night. But why eat if you aren’t hungry? They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I’d disagree, but if you are dropping 1200 calories at breakfast, it is indeed the most important meal of your day because it is the one that is going to make you unhealthy.

Real men eat pancakes and waffles and eggs and bacon and sausage and toast–all at the same meal sometimes. Wimps and Eurotrash commies eat yogurt and fruit. Got it.

I realize there are plenty of women who love these foods too. But it’s almost a stereotype that this is a breakfast for guys who like breakfast and plenty of men are willing to rush in and defend it.

Finally, I am willing to support Conroy’s war on cupcakes.

Labor and Nature in the Fields

[ 28 ] August 18, 2013 |

Mark Bittman is making sense:

Oddly, affordability is not the problem; in fact, the tomatoes are too cheap. If they cost more, farmers like Rominger would be more inclined to grow tomatoes organically; to pay his workers better or offer benefits to more of them; to make a better living himself.

But the processed tomato market is international, with increasing pressure from Italy, China and Mexico. California has advantages, but it still must compete on price. Producers also compete with one another, making it tough for even the most principled ones to increase worker pay. To see change, then, all workers, globally, must be paid better, so that the price of tomatoes goes up across the board.

How does this happen? Unionization, or an increase in the minimum wage, or both. No one would argue that canned tomatoes should be too expensive for poor people, but by increasing minimum wage in the fields and elsewhere, we raise standards of living and increase purchasing power.

The issue is paying enough for food so that everything involved in producing it — land, water, energy and labor — is treated well. And since sustainability is a journey, progress is essential. It would be foolish to assert that we’re anywhere near the destination, but there is progress — even in those areas appropriately called “industrial.”

I agree with everything in this article. I suppose he could have talked to a worker or two to investigate the conditions a bit more, but the overall point about making the food system more fair to the land and to people is excellent.

Ag-Gag Bills Defeated

[ 9 ] July 31, 2013 |

In just about the only good thing for progressives in this year’s horror film of state legislation, all 11 ag-gag bills were defeated. Attempts by agribusiness to criminalize anyone taking footage of their operations went down to defeat. However, I am extremely pessimistic that we will repeat such a record in 2014. After all, North Carolina will continue on its road to become America’s worst state and I have no confidence that lovely state legislature would reject such a bill twice.

Cannibal Lobsters

[ 24 ] July 28, 2013 |

Let’s take massive overfishing and combine it with rapidly worsening climate change. What you end up with is a nightmare of cannibalistic lobsters, not to mention a Maine fishing economy desperately holding on for survival.

Here’s a great infographic explaining what the larger article explores in more detail.

The True Cost of Food

[ 24 ] July 27, 2013 |

An excellent Mark Bittman op-ed about the true cost of food upon those who produce it. Bittman talks about the fast-food strikes of the last few weeks and how only 1 worker has lost their job, which is interesting. Next week there are going to be more strikes. Listen to Bittman here:

Six elements are affected by the way food is produced: taste, nutrition and price; and the impact on the environment, animals and labor. We can argue about taste, but it’s clear that our production system — especially in the fast-food world — is flunking all the others. And if you think food is “cheap,” talk to the people working in the fields, factories and stores who can’t afford it. Remember: no food is produced without labor.

Well-intentioned people often ask me what they can do to help improve our food system. Here’s an easy one: When you see that picket line next week, don’t cross it. In fact, join it.

That’s right. No food is produced without labor. When you see incredibly cheap food at a Wal-Mart, know that the food is that cheap because the world’s largest corporation makes sure its suppliers supply at very low expenses. Sometimes, that creates conditions similar to slave labor. The food system is not at all different from the apparel system that kills 1100 workers in Bangladesh and poisons rivers around the world.

When workers do take the risk to stand up for themselves, we owe it to them to respect that picket line.

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