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Posts Tagged ‘Food

“All sorrows are less with bread”*…

 

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Bread is not a new product, and it’s always had an outer shell of sorts. And the concept of the “heel of the loaf” seems to date to at least the 14th century, per the Oxford English Dictionary. But the industrial revolution changed the overall design of bread loaves, and made what was once a secondary element, the ends, into a more central feature. Thanks to his invention of a bread slicing machine, Otto Frederick Rohwedder [see this earlier (R)D for his story] ensured that the world‘s relationship with bread would change significantly in the 20th century…

There often was little consideration given to the ends, which don’t look as good nor as consistent. In a world of order and consistency, they represented a reminder that chaos was just around the corner. If Apple were to start developing its own loaves of bread, the end pieces would be first to go.

The problem of heel pieces is particularly notable in commercial contexts, where the need for appearances takes on a bigger role. This has been a longstanding problem for the field, though there are individual cases where some have turned this disadvantage into an advantage. In a 1922 piece for Cafeteria Management, a manager for a Chicago cafeteria of Alfred Weeghman Corp. noted that his company saved money by treating the end pieces as special [as discrds, to be used as ingredients in puddings or other items of lesser value)…

In some circles—especially for young children—the crust is a controversial element, and the end pieces, if nothing else, are all crust. As a result, there’s always been something of an interest in some circles of making the crusts of bread less prominent. For the 8-year-olds in your world who won’t eat anything, sandwich cutters are easy to find.

One prominent Texas grocery store chain, H-E-B, even sells a crustless white bread, because we like order and nothing screams order like bread without any crust attached.

But for crust haters, it’s worth asking: Are they missing out? As far back as 1763, a writer named Nicholas Robinson felt compelled to write an unusual text discussing the health benefits of eating “a crust of bread” first thing in the morning—rather than in the evening…

Why are the heel pieces, or end pieces, of bread seen as undesirable compared to the rest of the loaf—and what kind of waste does that create, anyway?  The ever-illuminating Ernie Smith (@ShortFormErnie) faces up to the “Bread End.”

* Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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As we embrace the ends, we might send bubbly birthday greetings to Johann Jacob Schweppe; he was born on this date in 1740.  A watchmaker and amateur scientist, he developed the first practical process for the manufacture of bottled carbonated mineral water, based on a process discovered by Joseph Priestley in 1767.  His company, Schweppes (later Cadbury Schweppes, now Keurig Dr Pepper) graciously acknowledges Priestley as “the father of our industry.”

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Jacob Schweppe

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Written by LW

March 16, 2020 at 12:01 am

“I vant to eat your cereal!”*…

 

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Gabe Fonseca arranges some of the 200 cereal boxes, which are affixed by magnets to sheet metal and on display in his Los Angeles apartment

 

At the end of a week during which stock market meltdowns and a spreading global pandemic have most of us feeling queasier than the thought of a “cheesy mashed potato or pot roast cereal,” we could all do with an emotional palate-cleanser, a Proustian experience that takes us back to a sweeter time,  Herewith, the tale of cereal box collector Gabe Fonseca, who traveled all the way from Los Angeles to Minneapolis to visit the General Mills archives in search of his white whale, a box of Buñuelitos.  But as becomes clear, when the object of one’s obsession – breakfast cereal – has origins as a dubious cure for masturbation, things are destined to get a little odd…

The world’s most obsessive breakfast-food fans demonstrate just how far humans will go for the sweet taste of nostalgia: “Lifelong Quests! Lawsuits! Feuds! A Super-Serious Story About Cereal.”

Via Read This Thing.

* Count Chocula

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As we heap on the sugar, we might spare a thought for Robert C. Baker; he died on this date in 2006.  An inventor and professor at Cornell, he is credited with more than 40 poultry, turkey, and cold cut innovations, making him the “George Washington Carver of poultry.”  Surely the best known of his creations is what he originally called “Cornell Chicken” (though he developed it while a graduate student at Penn State); we know it as the “chicken nugget.”  He published it as unpatented academic work while at Cornell in the 1950; McDonald’s patented their formulation in 1979, threw the mighty weight of their marketing and retail machine behind it…  and the rest is (greasy) history.  For his contributions to the poultry sciences, Baker is a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame.

bakerRobert_kiosk-banner source

 

Written by LW

March 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“If we were capable of thinking of everything, we would still be living in Eden, rent-free with all-you-can-eat buffets and infinitely better daytime TV programming”*…

 

buffet

 

Few things epitomize America more than the all-you-can-eat buffet.

For a small fee, you’re granted unencumbered access to a wonderland of gluttony. It is a place where saucy meatballs and egg rolls share the same plate without prejudice, where a tub of chocolate pudding finds a home on the salad bar, where variety and quantity reign supreme.

“The buffet is a celebration of excess,” says Chef Matthew Britt, an assistant professor at the Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts. “It exists for those who want it all.”

But one has to wonder: How does an industry that encourages its customers to maximize consumption stay in business?

To find out, we spoke with industry experts, chefs, and buffet owners. As it turns out, it’s harder to “beat” the buffet than you might think…

Is it possible to out-eat the price you pay for a buffet?  How do these places make money?  The dollars and cents behind the meat and potatoes: “The economics of all-you-can-eat buffets.”

* Dean Koontz

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As we pile it high, we might recall that it was on this date in 1883 that A. Ashwell, of Herne Hill in South London, received a patent for the “vacant/engaged” door bolt for lavatory doors… presumably a relief to the folks who had been using the public restrooms that had been introduced in London in 1852.

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Written by LW

February 17, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Cuisine is when things taste like themselves”*…

cuisine

 

“The destiny of nations,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th-century French gastronome, “depends on how they nourish themselves.” Today a nation’s stature depends on how well it nourishes the rest of the world, too. For proof of this, consider the rise of culinary diplomacy. In 2012 America’s State Department launched a “chef corps” tasked with promoting American cuisine abroad. Thailand’s government sends chefs overseas to peddle pad Thai and massaman curry through its Global Thai programme. South Korea pursues its own brand of “kimchi diplomacy”.

But which country’s cuisine is at the top of the global food chain? A new paper by Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota provides an answer. Using restaurant listings from TripAdvisor, a travel-review website, and sales figures from Euromonitor, a market-research firm, Mr Waldfogel estimates world “trade” in cuisines for 52 countries. Whereas traditional trade is measured based on the value of goods and services that flow across a country’s borders, the author’s estimates of culinary exchange are based on the value of food found on restaurant tables. Domestic consumption of foreign cuisine is treated as an “import”, whereas foreign consumption of domestic cuisine is treated as an “export”. The balance determines which countries have the greatest influence on the world’s palate.

The results make grim reading for America’s McDonald’s-munching, tariff-touting president. The United States is the world’s biggest net importer of cuisine, gobbling down $55bn more in foreign dishes than the rest of the world eats in American fare (when fast food is excluded, this figure balloons to $134bn). China comes next, with a $52bn dietary deficit; Brazil and Britain have shortfalls worth around $34bn and $30bn respectively. Italy, meanwhile, ranks as the world’s biggest exporter of edibles. The world’s appetite for pasta and pizza, plus Italians’ relative indifference to other cuisines, give the country a $168bn supper surplus. Japan, Turkey and Mexico also boast robust surpluses [see chart above].

Mr Waldfogel does not account for culinary hybrids such as the cronut—a cross between a croissant and a doughnut—or Tex-Mex. Nor does he consider authenticity; few Neapolitans would consider Domino’s Pizza a real taste of home. Despite this, some cuisines clearly have a bigger worldwide appeal than others. Foodies scoffing spring rolls in San Francisco or cheeseburgers in Chongqing should give thanks to globalisation. A policy of culinary mercantilism could make dining out very dull indeed…

Which countries dominate the world’s dinner tables?

* Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland; c.f. almanac entry here)

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As we contemplate culinary culture, we might send carefully-peeled birthday greetings to John Richard (“Jack” or “J.R.”) Simplot; he was born on this date in 1909.  An Idaho-based agribusiness entrepreneur, Simplot, J.R.’s eponymous company, became the largest shipper of fresh potatoes by the outbreak of World War II.  In 1967, Simplot and McDonald’s impressario Ray Kroc agreed by handshake that the Simplot Company would provide frozen french fries to the restaurant chain; by 2005, Simplot was supplying the (by then vastly larger) Golden Arches with half of its french fries and hash browns.  Simplot also provided seed capital for Micron Technologies, a successful computer memory chip company.

J._R._Simplot source

 

 

Written by LW

January 4, 2020 at 1:01 am

“He who controls the spice controls the universe”*

 

Spices

 

Spices were among the first engines of globalization, not in the modern sense of a world engulfed by ever-larger corporations but in the ways that we began to become aware, desirous even, of cultures other than our own. Such desire, unchecked, once led to colonialism. After Dutch merchants nearly tripled the price of black pepper, the British countered in 1600 by founding the East India Company, a precursor to modern multinationals and the first step toward the Raj. In the following decades, the Dutch sought a monopoly on cloves, which once had grown nowhere but the tropical islands of Ternate and Tidore in what is today Indonesia, and then in 1652 introduced the scorched-earth policy known as extirpation, felling and burning tens of thousands of clove trees. This was both an ecological disaster and horribly effective: For more than a century, the Dutch kept supplies low and prices high, until a Frenchman (surnamed, in one of history’s inside jokes, Poivre, or “pepper”) arranged a commando operation to smuggle out a few clove-tree seedlings. Among their ultimate destinations were Zanzibar and Pemba, off the coast of East Africa, which until the mid-20th century dominated the world’s clove market.

The craving for spices still brings the risk of exploitation, both economically, as farmers in the developing world see only a sliver of the profits, and in the form of cultural appropriation. In the West, we’re prone to taking what isn’t ours and acting as if we discovered it, conveniently forgetting its history and context. Or else we reduce it to caricature, cooing over turmeric-stained golden lattes while invoking the mystic wisdom of the East. At the same time, a world without borrowing and learning from our neighbors would be pallid and parochial — a world, in effect, without spice…

From turmeric in Nicaragua to cardamom in Guatemala, nonnative ingredients are redefining trade routes and making unexpected connections across lands: “How Spices Have Made, and Unmade, Empires.”

* Frank Herbert, Dune

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As we go deep on dash, we might recall that this is National Buffet Day.  The concept of the buffet arose in mid 17th century France, when gentleman callers would arrive unexpectedly at the homes of ladies they wanted to woo.  It was popularized in 18th century France and quickly spread throughout Europe.  The all-you-can-eat buffet made its restaurant debut in 1946, when it was introduced by Vegas hotel manager Herb MacDonald.  By the mid-1960s, virtually every casino in Las Vegas sported its own variation.  Today, of course, buffets are regularly available not only in any/every Vegas casino, but also in thousands of Indian and Chinese restaurants and ubiquitous chains of “family restaurants.”

buffet source

 

 

 

 

Written by LW

January 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

“First we eat, then we do everything else”*…

 

food flow

How food flows between counties in the U.S.: each line represents the transportation of all food commodities, along transit routes, like roads or railways.

 

My team at the University of Illinois just developed the first high-resolution map of the U.S. food supply chain.

Our map is a comprehensive snapshot of all food flows between counties in the U.S. – grains, fruits and vegetables, animal feed, and processed food items.

To build the map, we brought together information from eight databases, including the Freight Analysis Framework from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which tracks where items are shipped around the country, and Port Trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows the international ports through which goods are traded…

Food counties

These nine counties — mostly in California — are most central to the overall structure of the food supply network. A disruption to any of these counties may have ripple effects for the food supply chain of the entire country.

 

Megan Konar, one of the principal investigators on the study, explains in fascinating detail how food gets to your home… and lists some of the bottlenecks and vulnerabilities to which we’d be wise to pay attention.  Read the study in full here.

* M. F. K. Fisher

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As we dig in, we might send well-preserved birthday greetings to Nicolas Appert; he was born on this date in 1749.  A confectioner and inventor, he is known as “the father of canning.”

In 1795, Napoleon, who famously understood that an army travels on its stomach, had offered a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food and transporting it to its armies.  Appert, who worked 14 years to perfect a method of storing food in sterilized glass containers, won the award in 1810.

Interestingly, that same year (1810), Appert’s friend and agent, Peter Durand, took the invention to the other side.  He switched the medium from glass to metal and presented it to Napoleon’s enemies, the British– scoring  a patent (No. 3372) from King George for the preservation of food in metal (and glass and pottery) containers… the tin can.

One of Appert’s/Durand’s first cans

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Written by LW

November 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens”*…

 

Wonder Bread

 

Because of its central role in human nutrition, bread has appeared in countless cultural and religious keystones: the epic of Gilgamesh; the description of Egypt as the land of bread-eaters; Jewish oppression and the feast of Passover (bread of the afflicted); the Roman cry of “bread and circuses”; bread as a symbol in the poetry of Omar Khayyam; bread that signifies the body of Christ in the Eucharist. In short, made with simple, wholesome ingredients, bread is the staff of life. German bread continues to exemplify this tradition, one that Jews were supposedly destroying with processed white bread.

In contrast to the German disdain for white bread, in the United States it had become a symbol of successful industrialization, of a promising modern future. In the early twentieth century, Americans had developed a new anxiety about the potential contamination of their food supply. Eugene Christian and Mollie Griswold Christian exemplify the dramatic phobias surrounding both home-baked and bakery-bought bread in their 1904 book Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them: A Treatise on How to Get the Highest Form of Animal Energy from Food, with Recipes for Preparation, Healthful Combinations and Menus. They write, “Bread rises when infected with the yeast germ, because millions of these little worms have been born and have died, and from their dead and decaying bodies there rises a gas just as it does from the dead body of a hog.” Yum! Mass-produced bread seemed somehow safer, more sterile, in the public eye…

Food, politics, and culture– the dark and white flours of ideology: “Breaking Bread.”

* Robert Browning

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As we loaf, we might recall that it was on this date in 1826 that Noah Cushing, of Quebec, who two years earlier had received Canada’s first patent for his mechanical washing machine, patented a threshing and winnowing machine… which was briskly overtaken by Cyrus McCormick’s better-performing reaping machine, patented in 1834.  Threshing and winnowing capacities were added to the reaper to create the now-standard “combine” that’s used to harvest grain.

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Plaque commemorating Cushing’s (first) patent

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Written by LW

October 31, 2019 at 1:01 am

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