Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Service of a NJ School District Punishing Kids for Unpaid Lunch Bills

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

Photo: columbustelegram.com

What is it about school systems and children’s lunches that brings out the worst in some? In May, 2017 I wrote “Service of Humiliating, Harmful Strategies to Get Paid: Lunch Shaming,” exposing administrators in Canonsburg, Pa. who humiliated children whose parents hadn’t paid their lunch fees, not letting the kids eat. Earlier, in a different post, I suggested the NYC school system pay for breakfast and lunch for kids who couldn’t afford it and lower their spending on laptops from the Rolls Royce version they had in mind to a serviceable but cheaper model.

Photo: northersey.com

Recently Ella Torres wrote about a Cherry Hill “New Jersey school district [that] is banning students with school lunch debt from attending extracurricular activities, including prom and field trips” or from buying a yearbook. The ABC news journalist reported “Middle school students who owe $75 or more in school lunch fees will face the same punishment, while elementary school students will be barred from participating in after-school events and attending class trips.”

Torres quoted a grandparent who said: “It is an elitist assumption on the part of this school board that parents are not paying a bill because they don’t want to.”

A senior asked the board ” ‘What are colleges gonna think?’ noting how important extracurricular activities are on applications.”

According to Torres, NJ.com reported that meal debt in the district was over $14,000, counting students of all ages owing $10 or more.

At least the district still feeds kids who owe lunch money.

Photo: impactteachers.com

The school superintendent, Dr. Joseph Meloche, said: “Money is certainly something that we have to deal with. That’s our world, but that’s not the most important thing that we’re addressing in terms of the policy and the work that’s being done. It’s about supporting children and supporting families … sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing to do.”

I haven’t changed my mind: Depriving or punishing kids over issues of food is atrocious. Do you agree? Prom, the yearbook, extracurricular activities and school trips are big deals for kids. Will deprivation cover the debt? Is this an appropriate way to teach kids a lesson–making them pressure their parents to pay up when it’s the school that should be doing so?  Are there jobs kids–especially the young ones–can do to pay off some of the debt? How do other districts handle it–taxes or fundraisers?

Photo: tes.com

Service of Calling a Spade a Spade

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Photo: Steamit.com

I can’t sell a ring with glass in the setting and call it a diamond; I can’t call a synthetic textile cashmere, linen or silk no matter what it looks or feels like.

So why is it OK for the substitute milk producers to call their oat, almond or coconut alternatives milk?  And what about the food fiddlers who use the meat word to ID their plant-based alternatives?

Photo: Nexgrill.com

In “Dairy, Beef Products Fight for Shelf Space with Plant-based Alternatives,” Wall Street Journal reporters Heather Haddon and Jacob Bunge write about what cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are doing about it.

They wrote: “Now, cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are starting to push back. Trade groups representing meat and milk producers said Monday they are ramping up marketing to underscore the difference between their cattle-made products and new rivals made from soy, almonds and peas. Plant-based replacements make up just 1% of the U.S. meat market by volume, Nielsen said.” [Nielsen the polling company.]

Photo: timesunion.com

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association “also want legal limits on the ability of plant-based producers to call their products milk or meat. This year 45 bills have been introduced in 27 states that seek to police the labeling of plant-based products and cell-cultured meats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a hearing last month on how to update dozens of labeling standards governing food products, including plant-based meats.”

The FDA is currently reviewing 13,000 comments that chime in on whether meat and milk can appear on packaging. One of the advocates for plant-based substitutes for meat thinks it’s unfair to bring the government into the discussion.

I think it’s simple: if it’s not meat or cow [or goat’s] milk the manufacturer shouldn’t use the words meat or milk in labeling and marketing. Your thoughts?

Photo: youtube

Service of Mi Casa es Tu Casa–Come on In!

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Photo: tierrafina.com

Daily we hear of hacking that’s happened either to a friend, big corporation or organization. It’s a form of break-in. I think it may have inured the public to the normalcy of loss of privacy that gorges on volunteer personal intrusions. Think such smart speakers like Alexa and Amazon Echo.

Photo: wired.com

Maybe that’s why Walmart and Amazon have or are about to introduce a new wrinkle to their delivery services. In select markets, both will or do arrange for access to a customer’s home to put food in the fridges of the former and leave packages in a home, garage or car trunk in the latter.

Citizens of Kansas City, Mo., Pittsburgh and Vero Beach will be the first to officially invite Walmart delivery staff to put perishables in their refrigerators through a program slated for a fall launch called Walmart InHome. [The system was tested in New Jersey.]

Photo: commons.wikipedia.org

In “Walmart Wants to Put Groceries Into Your Fridge,” Sarah Nassauer wrote “The workers will wear a body cameras [sic] clipped to their chests, allowing customers to watch live streams of deliveries being made while they aren’t home.” She reported in her Wall Street Journal article that they’ll have access to homes via a smart lock that connects to the Internet allowing a door to unlock remotely. Wallmart sells the device.

Delivery staff for the service must have worked for the company for at minimum a year. “Not everyone embraces the concept at first, but just as people have gradually accepted renting out rooms in their homes through services like Airbnb Inc, ‘people are very quickly comfortable with it,’ said Marc Lore, head of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.”

Photo: gate labs

The Amazon service, Key by Amazon, wrote Nassauer, is for Prime members in 50 cities. Fresh groceries aren’t involved. In another program Via Prime Now customers get orders from Amazon’s Whole Foods division on doorsteps.

Not every delivery business received the mega company’s stamp of approval. Sebastian Herrera reported last week in the Journal that Amazon is deep sixing its restaurant delivery service.

Would you be comfortable inviting strangers into your kitchen or your home, garage or car trunk when you’re not home? Do you think comfort level for this kind of trust may be higher in some parts of the country than others? Have privacy-breaking services like Alexa and Amazon Echo paved the way? What if you’re in a meeting or otherwise inaccessible when you need to unlock your front door remotely with no time to watch while the delivery person with body camera drops off your perishables? Do you think that this person—or the staffer who packs the order–will be trained to leave foods like tomatoes and bananas out of the refrigerator and on the counter?

Photo: orchardestates.com

 

Service of How Sweet it Is: Honey, Ever More Precious and Expensive

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

Photo: farmandfleet.com

Whether or not the new tariff against Mexico causes the cost of tomatoes and avocados to increase, we’ll be paying more for honey regardless of where it’s from if we’re not already doing so according to Lucy Craymer of The Wall Street Journal. She wrote “Global honey prices are at their highest levels in years, due to a new wave of consumer demand for natural sweeteners and declining bee populations that are hampering mass production.”

In addition to a delicious topping on toast or a tea sweetner, honey is used, she reported, in commercial food and drink and in beauty products such as shampoo and moisturizer.

Photo: sciencenewsforstudents.com

“Prices have climbed about 25% since 2013, while the cost of sugar has fallen around 30% over the same time frame,” she wrote. The National Honey board data reflects a nine percent increase in price for a pound of honey in just the last year. “Those prices have risen by about two-thirds in the last decade, according to a survey of more than 150 retailers nationwide by Bee Culture magazine, a publication for American beekeepers.”

Photo: serenataflowers.com

Premium honeys have tipped the price scales. According to Craymer a pound jar of Manuka from New Zealand costs $26.49 at Target when its house brand, Simply Balanced organic honey, costs $6.39 for the same size.

Craymer reported that production has been “relatively” stable for the last five years but increasing production is still a challenge between increased beehive colony collapses, a disease that the Varroa mite causes, pesticides, death in winter and “The conversion of large swaths of land to industrial crop farms,” she wrote, that “has also reduced the amount of food—pollen—that is available for bees.”

Photo: iHerb

Bees can’t thrive in any old place. They need wild forage to hunt for pollen. Nearby fields of cotton, corn or soybeans won’t hack it. That’s why Catherine Wolkom takes advantage of every blossom. She owns The Humble Bee Honey Co. in Watertown, Conn. She  won’t mow dandelions which drives her landscape designer husband nuts. [I actually love the shot of yellow dandelions add to a spring lawn.] In addition to dandelions, the nectar from her bees comes from flower, vegetable garden and fruit tree pollen.

Do you substitute honey for sugar? What’s your favorite way to eat honey? Has your consumption increased? Do you try to buy local honey? Are there other foods that may be endangered so that many will no longer be able to afford and enjoy them?

Photo: almanac.com

Service of Untrained Staff and Insufficient Inventory Messing Up Food Orders

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Photo: medium.com

When you order food and don’t get what you want it can be hard to tell if it’s due to a lack of staff training or insufficient inventory. This is nothing new even though the millions who order all sorts of food online these days may think it is.

I ran into untrained staff causing stress when buying a bunch of sandwiches for office colleagues at a then novel Au Bon Pain years ago. It was so bad I eventually no longer asked “Can I get someone anything at Au Bon Pain?” when leaving the office to pick up lunch for myself. The takeout offered a choice of bread, meat and cheese for freshly made sandwiches. Inevitably I’d return with ham and brie on a roll when my colleague wanted ham and Swiss on a baguette as one example. Of some five orders three would be wrong. Drove me nuts. It happened because the staff didn’t know the difference between cheeses and breads and clearly the choices weren’t well marked and/or the staff wasn’t trained to ID the options.

Heather Haddon’s Wall Street Journal article rang bells. “Amazon to Whole Foods Online Delivery Customers: We’re Out of Celery, How’s Kale? Companies offering online grocery ordering and delivery struggle with services’ logistics” described customer experience with the online grocery and delivery system for select Amazon Prime members.

Photo: LLamasoft.com

She wrote about what happened to Kelly Hills. The Massachusetts-based bioethicist  “ordered a sourdough loaf from Whole Foods recently but was offered a jalapeño cheese bread instead. Her so-called ‘shopper’—either a contract worker employed by Amazon or a Whole Foods staff member tasked with compiling delivery orders—had opted to put decaf coffee in her bag instead of whole roasted coffee beans, celery instead of celery root and a single seltzer flavor rather than a variety. ‘The substitutions are downright bizarre. It’s frustrating,'” Think of all the time wasted to return this stuff or the money lost to accept what you won’t use.

Haddon added that problems “are often amplified because daily operations at the two companies are still largely separate. Whole Foods employees said Amazon workers routinely ask for help finding items on shelves or elsewhere, distracting them from their own duties. Technology that tracks Whole Foods’s inventory is old, and officials have discussed updating it for years.”

Have you been impacted by poorly trained staff, insufficient inventory or other issues when buying food–or anything else–either in person or online? Why do you think the glitches happen? Do you usually accept the mistakes or do you take time to return or report them?

Photo en.wikipedia.com

Service of So Much Cheese When Many Have Nothing to Eat

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

Photo: myrecipes.com

I have never understood why in all these years someone hasn’t figured out how to take a surplus of cheese in this country to feed the hungry here and all over the world. Wouldn’t this be better than to toss the cheese once it is no longer edible?

According to Heather Haddon in The Wall Street Journal, “About 1.4 billion pounds of American, cheddar and other kinds of cheese is socked away at cold-storage warehouses across the country, the biggest stockpile since federal record-keeping began a century ago.”

Her headline covers it: “America Can’t Move Its Cheese–U.S. stockpiles of American, cheddar and other varieties continue to set new records as trade slows and tastes change.”

We still like and buy plenty of cheese. Haddon reported that last year we each ate about 37 pounds of it. “I don’t eat any cheese,” say you. That means someone else eats even more than 37 pounds! Wow.

Photo: italianfoodforever.com

As her headline indicates, trade tensions—retaliatory tariffs—have “tamped down demand” especially from Mexico and China. At the same time Americans favor more sophisticated varieties accounting for an additional reason for the glut. “Per capita consumption of mozzarella has topped cheddar since 2010. Consumption of processed cheese spreads per capita is about half what it was in 2006.” Robust pizza sales account for mozzarella’s taking the top spot.

Nevertheless, if you’re hungry, a piece of tasteless orange cheese can be welcome and lifesaving.

Photo: alltech.com

Cheese makers aren’t alone to suffer. “Milk prices are down around 40% from a 2014 peak that encouraged many farmers to expand their herds. Now dairies are going out of business as prices crash. More than 600 dairy farms have closed this year in Wisconsin alone.”

Do you eat cheese? What is your favorite? Can you figure out how the cheese surplus here might be put to good use before it spoils, especially to feed the hungry? Have you noticed that milk prices have decreased at the grocery store?

Photo: about-france.com

Service of Where’s the Milk? Confusion When Grocery Stores Move Things Around

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Photo: aldridgeonline.com

If you routinely visit a grocery store that’s being remodeled, you know your shopping expedition will take longer than usual while you search for the milk, favorite cookies or pasta. One of my favorite stores also keeps switching things in the meat department even though its renovations are over. There must be a good reason, other than to hope I become tempted by other items while looking for what’s on my list.

Expecting to pick up a bag of M&Ms at the checkout counter at a grocery chain? Soon some will have freezer cases placed in front instead. Heather Haddon wrote about the motivation behind major product location shuffles as stores prepare for increased orders placed online for in-store customer pickup. They hope these customers, as they wait for their order in the front of the store, will add a few major items–an ice cream cake, a few frozen dinners or bags of fries and veggies–rather than a pack of gum or a candy bar. She wrote about the displacement of impulse items and other anticipated changes in her Wall Street Journal article “E-Commerce Reshapes Grocery Stores.”

Photo: supermarketnews.com

Americans spend $800 billion a year on food and drink, she reported, and supermarket chains don’t want too big a chunk going to Amazon and other giants. Haddon wrote: “E-commerce represents less than 5% of U.S. grocery sales currently, but food and beverage sales are growing far faster online than in traditional supermarkets. Forrester Analytics predicts that by 2022, the U.S. online grocery market will total $36.5 billion, up from an estimated $26.7 billion this year.”

According to Haddon, Walmart and Kroger are “spending tens of millions of dollars to acquire digital-ordering technologies, implement home-delivery systems and build thousands of store pickup points for online orders. Kroger, the U.S.’s largest supermarket chain, has hired or assigned nearly 19,000 workers to run an estimated 1,400 pickup sites for online orders, covering roughly half of the company’s stores.”

Photo: edgylabs.com

Haddon identified risks for the chains from the enormous upfront investment to irritating traditional customers who compete for goods whisked off shelves to fulfill online orders. Currently, supermarkets don’t have warehouses as Amazon does, though they may in future.

Meanwhile, “Clerks fulfilling online orders can clog aisles and checkout lanes or pick over the best produce, customers and grocery consultants say.” Haddon concluded “Through it all, grocers are struggling to find a balance between encouraging customers to place orders online and drawing customers into their stores.”

Do you shop for your groceries online? Are you tempted? It must be a time-saver to simply show up at a store and drive away minutes later with packages of groceries. Does the concept work for cities where people don’t usually own cars? Would you miss seeing what’s new in categories such as ice cream, frozen food, bakery and yogurt? Do you ever pass an aisle, see something like mustard or strawberry jam which reminds you you’re about to run out? How will internet ordering gain such purchases without irritating customers with popup suggestions?

Photo: petco.com

Service of Adventure: Food, Physical or Business

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Photo: goway.com

When I read Charles Passy’s article about his distaste for a Japanese delicacy—natto–I knew I wanted to write about his predicament. Last April I’d covered the topic of the foods I’ve tried and can’t force myself to eat again and I’ve not added to the short list that included grouse and animal entrails. I’m game most of the time.

Passy admitted in his Wall Street Journal article, “As someone who has spent a good part of his journalistic career writing about food, I take a certain pride in the fact I will eat anything and everything… such as a taco stuffed with chile-dusted fried grasshoppers and ice cream made from durian, the infamously pungent fruit.”

Natto. Photo: seriouseats.com

But he can’t tolerate the odor and texture of  Japanese fermented soybeans—natto–regardless of how they are prepared and what accompanies them. He wrote: “It smelled like a stinky cheese left outside the fridge for at least an hour too long. But even more notable was the texture: If you think okra is slimy, imagine okra that, on a scale of 1 to 10, goes to 11.”

I’ve often heard adults admit that they take no chances when it comes to food and won’t accept even a tiny taste of unfamiliar fare. Many claim to be meat and potatoes enthusiasts.

Tatsu rollercoaster. Photo: the coasterguy.com

At the same time they may be far braver than most when it comes to putting themselves in physical danger by gliding in a hot air balloon, riding upside down in a Tatsu roller coaster or putting their life in the hands of a cable and pulley for a zip-line trip down a mountain.

And then there are those who take huge chances in business.

Have you tasted natto? Are you adventuresome in some ways and apprehensive in others? In your work has there been one thing that you dislike, as Passy does natto, even if you’re pretty happy with the other 99 percent?

Fried grasshoppers. Photo: menshealth.com

Service of Favorite Foods No Longer Available

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Oyster Bar. Photo: afar.com

Charles Passy wrote about some of the taste sensations he misses because businesses that sold them have closed or, as was the case with the Oyster Bar and its caviar sandwich, a restaurant has deep sixed an item from its menu. Good news for the sandwich fans: the Grand Central Terminal favorite has reinstated its sandwich, Passy reported in The Wall Street Journal.

According to Passy, “The menu item, a fixture for more than 15 years, had never been a huge seller, as a typical day saw up to 10 orders. But those who liked it really seemed to like it, Mr. Ingber said.” Sandy Ingber is executive chef.

Photo: thelittleloaf.com

Passy reported that one caviar sandwich fan, Oli Coleman, wrote about it in The New Yorker observing “It went well with a severe martini.” It’s back on the menu as Ingber found a source for reasonably priced caviar. It was dropped to begin with because the price of bowfin caviar would have catapulted the price of the sandwich three fold.

Photo: liquor.com

I reminisce about a rye bread with black pepper chunks on its crust made by a bakery in Bayonne, N.J; the lightest, tastiest mozzarella I chose by chance as an appetizer in an unremarkable looking restaurant in Venice years ago and the fruit tarts and birthday cakes at Dumas, a NYC bakery that has been closed for decades. [I noticed in Google that a Patisserie Didier Dumas is in Nyack, N.Y. The name Dumas in France is the equivalent of Smith or Jones here, and checking the website and seeing nothing that resembles the sweets I remember; nevertheless I should one day check out this place.]

I’m not a fan of sauerkraut—too sour–but once tasted a wonderful plate of it in Paris at a restaurant celebrating the food of Alsace. There was that elusive mulligatawny soup at the Wabeshabelli Hotel I had in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was so long ago that I can’t describe the taste but I’ve never again sipped a mulligatawny soup that pleased me as much.

Sometimes my husband Homer matches the sublime taste of a no-frills plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce that I’ve enjoyed throughout Italy.

What are some of the dishes you remember that are no longer to be had? Have you encouraged a restaurant, bakery or supermarket to reinstate an item you loved and did you change their mind?

Photo: pinterest.com

 

Service of Belonging: New Places to Meet

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Photo: turkishtravelblog.com

Every country, except ours, seemed to have unofficial local gathering spots for some citizens—usually men. In Turkey there were chi shops where men dropped in for tea and gossip; in France, the local bistro was a place to grab a quick glass of wine even in the morning and learn the latest and English and Irish pubs were places in towns and neighborhoods for a cup of Guinness and small talk.

Years ago in NYC, Saturday was the day for singles to meet at Bloomingdale’s, not to buy clothing, furniture or housewares but to meet the next love interest.

New gathering space at Adams in Poughkeepsie

Now supermarkets are filling the bill as a place to meet and greet the neighbors and hang out. In order to distinguish themselves from the burgeoning food delivery businesses–Wal*Mart has joined Amazon.com in home delivery–and meal kits, some have installed tables for special interest groups to meet weekly. Anne Marie Chaker in “Finding Love in the Frozen Food Aisle,” wrote: “grocery stores are making a calculation that customers will stay, shop longer and come back more often.”

An Oregon chain added sofas, fireplaces, seating areas and food services. One in North Carolina created a village concept adding shops around the perimeter and a communal table in the middle where every Friday a group of crafters meets and bingo games take place at other times.

“ ‘There is little money to be made directly from people using a store as a place to hang out,’ says Deborah Weinswig, chief executive of Coresight Research, a retail think tank, who says the benefit may be in a ‘halo effect,’ where shoppers develop a warm perception of a brand.” Chaker reported that one shopper increased his visits from twice a week to daily. Retired, he works two hours on his novel in his supermarket’s seating area, sipping their coffee and munching a muffin. Meanwhile he’s met people from other parts of town.

Photo: groupon.com

A Colorado market owner “says about 25% of his stores are devoted to nonretail space, whether that’s tables in a cafe, performance areas for local musicians, or a designated community room where neighborhood groups meet. Fostering a sense of community, he says, ultimately helps drive traffic. ‘Sure, we could put more aisles in and could pack more product, but then you lose the social hub of community,’ he says.

Tastings with enthusiastic attendees who clog aisles make it tough for hardcore shoppers in a rush to get their chore done and get out. For others, according to Chaker, they’ve found love in those very aisles. Now married, one couple danced in the lunch area when they heard a favorite song.

Do you see a future for supermarkets as America’s answer to chi houses, bistros and pubs? Do you think it’s a concept that might really catch on for those who dislike the bar scene? Will it save supermarkets? What are the best gathering spots in your life?

Photo: alamy.com

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