Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Service of a Glacial Pace When it Comes to Food Safety: Key Word–Preventable

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Sloth

Even advocates of the Slow Movement might agree that it’s taken far too long for the Food and Drug Administration to create and implement rules for the five year old Food Safety Modernization Act. Congress passed the act, wrote Jesse Newman, “after a wave of deadly outbreaks in the past decade stemming from contaminated fruit, spinach, peanut butter and other products.”

So hurry up, already, before someone else gets sick and/or dies!

With the new rules, the feds can take action before—not after—foods are found to be tainted. Newman added that manufacturers will have to “detail in writing” their food-safety steps. But don’t breathe sighs of relief just yet. According to Newman, food companies large and small have until 2018 to comply, though the larger ones must move more quickly.

And then there’s insufficient funding. More about that later.

Food safetyIn “FDA Tightens Its Food-Safety Rules,” Newman wrote: “About 48 million people, or one in six Americans, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die annually.”

Those made ill from tainted peanut butter who are still alive might find solace in this week’s Associated Press [AP] headline “Ex-Peanut Exec gets 28 Years in Prison for Deadly Salmonella Outbreak.” The executive, Stewart Parnell, was the owner of Peanut Corporation of America. According to the AP, this was “the stiffest punishment ever handed out to a producer in a foodborne illness case. The outbreak in 2008 and 2009 killed nine Americans and sickened hundreds more, and triggered one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.”

PeanutsParnell knew that he’d shipped contaminated peanut butter, the federal jury determined. The AP reported that Judge W. Louis Sands said, “‘These acts were driven simply by the desire to profit and to protect profits notwithstanding the known risks.”

The killer is that these incidents needn’t happen. “Largely preventable” were the words the FDA deputy commissioner for food and veterinary medicine used in Newman’s article. The reporter mentioned the latest listeria outbreak in ice cream that killed three people and the fact that “Blue Bell neglected practices that might have prevented listeria contamination.” And then there were the Mexican cucumbers that contained salmonella and lately made people sick in 30 states.

PreventableBut there’s another snag: Insufficient funding. The FDA says it needs $260 million to implement the rules but House and Senate appropriations bills for 2016 are under $100 million. Maybe they can take some money from health insurers who have to pay the hospital and medical bills of people who didn’t have to get sick in the first place.

Given that members of Congress and the FDA and their families eat food, and we clearly can’t depend on manufacturers to take the right steps on their own, I’m puzzled at the sluggish pace they’ve agreed to to avert preventable, potentially life-threatening measures. And you? Is there a better way? Have you ever been made sick by tainted food? Isn’t it incredible that due to lack of responsibility of so many we even need such regulations?

vintage family eating dinner

Service of Empty Shelves—Or Is That Empty Suits?

Monday, September 21st, 2015

A & P empty shelves Sept 2015

I began to catch up with the A&P bankruptcy story in the New York Post on September 1 when Lisa Fickenscher reported an eye-opener: The company that went into bankruptcy in July wanted to squeeze 75 percent out of the severance packages of 2,100 workers to increase a fund for 495 executive retention bonuses. They hoped to divide a $5 million pot.

In “Judge slaps A&P by limiting severance cuts,” she wrote that Judge Robert Drain’s ruling reduced the percentage to 48 percent. According to Fickenscher, one union official said “I don’t see any purpose in rewarding the same people who drove this company into bankruptcy.”

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company umbrella, which we know as A&P, includes stores named A&P, Pathmark, Food Basics, Waldbaums, Food Emporium, and SuperFresh which it plans to sell or close.

Money 4Subsequent to this ruling—just before a September 11th hearing–A&P reduced its request for executive retention bonuses from $5 million for 495 people to $3.9 million for 468, according to Joan Verdon in northjersey.com. In the second ruling Judge Drain said he’d approve the $3.9 million if the company added $1.1 million to “severance payments, which would go mostly to union workers.” In “A&P Increases Severance Payments” she wrote: “Drain said in considering A&P’s request for the retention pay, he felt as if he was picturing a line of 25,000 union workers standing in front of him ‘and I’m being asked to poke each one of them in the eye.’”

The corporation’s lawyer said he’d carry the judge’s ruling back to his client.

A&P CoffeeI have a personal history with the A&P. I went to one almost daily with my mother as a young child—it was down the street from our apartment—and now, in upstate New York,  I drop into one every weekend. Seeing this once venerable brand disintegrate makes me sad. According to Wikipedia, it was “the largest retailer in the nation” from 1915-1965. It was the largest food retailer from 1915-1975. It was founded in New York in 1859 as a chain of coffee and tea stores with a mail order business.

Last weekend in one of its Dutchess County stores, some of its shelves were empty. As an example, see the soda area, [photo at the top of the post], and it no longer carries brands such as Häagen-Dazs ice cream [just as well], yet its employees are as helpful and pleasant as always.

What are the advantages of going into bankruptcy? Customers and employees are the last on management’s mind. Suppliers are understandably reticent to sell goods to a company that might not pay its bills. Potential buyers don’t see the bankrupted company at its best. In an era of limited customer loyalty and plenty of competition, not finding what they want on the shelves of one store customers will quickly forge a path to another one. So who wins?

 Bankruptcy

Service of Apology III: Do You Need To Say “I’m Sorry?”

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Love means never having to say you're sorry

In “Love Story,” Eric Segal wrote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I wonder if the co-CEOs of Whole Foods think that their customers love them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A friend gave us a gift card to Whole Foods and we enjoyed our purchases. They charge more than other supermarkets for some things and so what? There are those who think that if they pay a lot for something it must be good and while the grocer sells a far bigger range than meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, the store is known for its organic fare. Its regulars are not hurting anyone by spending their money there.

NYC dept consumer affairsCharging more is one thing; overpricing another. In “Whole Foods admits overcharging, blames employees and apologizes,” in The Washington Post, according to reporter Will Greenberg: “The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs [DCA] wrote: ‘New York City stores routinely overstated the weights of its pre-packaged products — including meats, dairy and baked goods — resulting in customers being overcharged.’”

Greenberg quoted Walter Robb and John Mackey, Whole Foods co-CEOs’ explanation about “the stores’ fresh products, including sandwiches, squeezed juices and hand-cut fruit, [that] were often weighed or labeled improperly, with store employees labeling their pre-packaged products at prices higher than they should have been. Mackey said there have been a ‘very, very small percentage’ of weighing errors.”

Small percentage? This weighing glitch happened on all 80 pre-packaged items that the inspectors tested in different stores around New York City. Quoting a statement by DCA commissioner Julie Menin, Greenberg wrote: “Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers, which DCA and New Yorkers will not tolerate.”

weighing foodI asked a cashier at a different well known grocery operation about this. He said he’d been in retail all his life and had previously worked at Whole Foods. He noted that it’s easy to make a mistake on the tare weight, which measures the container/packaging that is subtracted in the pricing process. He said an employee might forget to change it from one item to another. If it was this simple, and represented such insignificant amounts of money, why didn’t the CEOs say so?

I twice listened to the video of the co-CEOs posted in Greenberg’s article and re-read the article. Three words were missing: I am sorry. Yet the word “apologizes” is in the article’s headline.

In the video, Robb and Mackey spoke to their customers. They said they’d ramp up training; have audits gauging progress made and give free any item that a customer questioned and was improperly priced in the store’s favor. They also thanked their customers for shopping there.

Will you continue to shop at Whole Foods and weigh what you buy? Does admitting improper weighing and labeling amount to an apology? If your customers love you, do you even need to apologize?  What do you think of bosses who take little blame themselves?

Thank you for shopping

Service of Food Fashion

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Kale bin at Adams on Dec. 23, 2014

Kale bin at Adams on Dec. 23, 2014

 

I’ve covered this topic before but was inspired to write a reprise from a slightly different point of view.

I recently heard a gentleman farmer note that nobody bought beets from his stand beetsthis summer yet they were popular until then, yet, he said, he couldn’t refill fava bean bins fast enough. Have you made fava beans? They take forever to open. Where do these people find the time?

A few days later I passed what was left of the kale at Adams in Kingston, N.Y. on the eve of New Years eve. Next to healthy piles of eggplant, carrots, broccoli and nearby peppers mere scraps of individual branches remained. [I could understand why many stalks of attractive asparagus stood tall at $4.99/lb.]

Do you follow your taste buds or food trends? If you liked beets last year, why wouldn’t you like them this year? Is one website or TV cooking program wielding palpable influence on food choices? How do certain foods, like turkey, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes keep their places no matter what?

typical thanksgiving dinner

Service of Rising Prices: Milk, Hair & Electricity

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Cow

Moo x 10

I’m the only one in my family who drinks milk. I love it. Usually I restrict my consumption of fat free to coffee but if the mood and dessert are right, I can’t resist a glass or two.

The news of a 60 cent per gallon price rise won’t affect me, but it will millions of families with thirsty children. According to a story Jeff Maher wrote for KXTV, the reasons begin with a current short supply of cheese leading to increased production with a subsequent need for more milk. Maher added that increased cost of feed last year meant smaller herds. This situation bumped up against a greater demand for milk in China. He doesn’t say anything about what the Chinese do with all that milk but in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Ruth Bender shed light with her story about the popularity of moo juice with babies in “China Needs Milk and France Has It: Brittany’s Dairy Farms Get Boost as Chinese Baby-Formula Maker Sets Up Shop.”

Maher expects milk prices to increase even further later in the year because of the drought in California affecting the alfalfa crop, cows’ dinner of choice.

Hair-raising prices

haircutThere’s one crowd that won’t notice the difference–those paying $1,000 or in that vicinity for a haircut. Lauren Lipton wrote about the haircuts as the industry felt enough time had passed since the economic downturn. Lipton noted one difference between the haircut mere mortals get and the one that costs a tidy amount more. In “Posh Haircutters Push the $1,000 Envelope” he wrote that some claim the expensive haircut will last three to four months vs. six to eight weeks for a standard cut. Guess your hair knows not to grow when you pay a lot to have it trimmed.

Price shock

Guest host Hilarie Barsky on the WOR 710 radio morning show lives in NYC and said she called Con Edison for an explanation about her stratospheric electric bill. She used less electricity than last year, she noted, and her bill was far higher. Best sit down when you open yours. We needed smelling salts. Articles, such as the one Alexi Friedman wrote for The Star Ledger, give me the shivers. In “Frigid winter sends electric prices soaring for NJ customers who switched power suppliers” he speaks about one customer who reported a 200 percent increase this January over last. And it’s not just for customers of secondary suppliers.

Any skyrocketing prices you’ve notice lately? Can you tell me what an $800-$1,000 haircut feels/looks like?

Break the bank

Service of Letting off Steam

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

let off steamcalculatorVisited a friend where she works and she proclaimed that too much winter must be why everyone there was in a bad mood. A post like this helps address the blues. Writing about irritations lets off steam. It’s restorative.  

Don’t make me do the math

In a prominent newspaper I read this sentence: “The company said new technology allows one of the company’s workers to produce about 330 feet of fabric in less than an hour compared with just two meters in the 1990s.” Dear Reporter, Help me: In future convert comparables to all feet or meters please.  

Was I born yesterday?

I still get phone calls at the office that begin, “I’m calling from customer service about the copier in your office.” If legit they’d name the brand of copier. Grump.  

Want to raise my hackles/push my buttons? Say this:

“Nobody asked you to do that,” after I’ve done you a favor or something nice.  

Fat free and tasteless

Fig newtonsMy nephew popped in a gas station store to grab a Fig Newton snack and left annoyed because all they had were the fat free variety. He said that people fool themselves about benefits from eating the less toothsome alternative. “You don’t need to eat the whole box of the classic Fig Newtons,” he suggests.  

What’s that again?

When watching an interview on TV Erica Martell cringes when the interviewer answers the question for the person being interviewed and the interviewee parrots the words.  Example: Q: “You were sorry then?” A: “Yes, very sorry.”  

Media training advises the person being interviewed never to repeat the words of an interviewer. In addition to the fact that it’s irritating and boring, more important it can backfire. Take this instance. Q: “So you scammed the IRS in 2013?” A: “I didn’t scam the IRS in 2013.” A headline might be: JOE ADDRESSED 2013 IRS SCAM. A simple “no” suffices.

Royal Retirementretire in luxury

Bob Gula says he’s tired of hearing about city, state or union employees retiring on zillion dollar pensions in their 40’s with free healthcare. “They never went to college like I did,” he observes. “The greatest insult is I am the one who is paying for this with my taxes. Lesson learned: Do not go to college. Get a city or government job. Work in a job with a union.”  

What gets under your skin? Share and let me know if you feel a teensy bit better after letting off steam.

feel better now

Service of Food Trends

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

 

 

Farm to table

Farm to table

I noticed a rash of curious food trends in the news so I wanted to share.

Joan HamburgI heard Joan Hamburg [right] interview restaurateur David Burke on her program at a new time on WOR Radio–Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to noon. He spoke of the popularity of farm-to-table that’s replaced much of the food inspired by the manipulated molecular gastronomy movement, leading to small restaurants that hold 20 guests so as to create a homey ambiance.

You’re Toast

I learned on NPR that toast bars are the latest big thing. People pay $4 for a slice in San Francisco. Sounds like a great way to make money if you own the bar as the basic product isn’t expensive and the toasttraining and cooking time to prepare and serve each plate amounts to minutes.

Stand on Vegetables

Trupti Rami in New York Magazine wrote “Perhaps inspired by Jay Z and Beyoncé’s 22-day vegan diet or the recent outing of Al Gore as a ‘newly turned vegan,’ news outlets on both sides of the Atlantic are already declaring 2014 ‘the year of the vegan.’ Such popularity was unfathomable 70 years ago, when Vegan Society founder Donald Watson first created a separate term for milk-and-egg-free vegetarians.”

vegan dinnerAsian and Indian culinary traditions enhance vegan dishes, Burke told Hamburg, and mentioned cauliflower main courses that he orders with grain sides.

Dinner Company

NPR’s Arun Venugopal spoke and wrote about websites such as Eat With, VoulezVousDiner and Side Tour that allow tourists and those who want to break bread with others to do so at dinner parties in private homes. In “Sometimes A Perfect Stranger Is The Best Dinner Host,” he described a $40 taco dinner in Brooklyn that included rum drinks enjoyed by a bevy of German tourists and one in Manhattan’s East Village hosted by a Hindu monk who served up other-worldly conversation with dinner.

He wrote: “The idea seems to be succeeding. Side Tour says some of its hosts make anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 a year, and in the fall the company was bought by Groupon. Meanwhile, Eat With is adding dining experiences in dozens of countries. Not that anyone’s expecting home dining to replace restaurants, at least not in New York. After all, there are only so many New Yorkers who can cook and are willing to play host in their tiny apartments. But that doesn’t make the experience any less fun.”

Serving it up

As a bride I read about trends for one-course dinners and I’d opt to serve multi-course ones and vice versa as the fashions changed [and tabletop manufacturers introduced lines to accommodate the crop of newlyweds looking to fit the fashions]. I’d be darned if pundits would tell me how to construct a dinner party. Yet today I imagine a toast break is as convenient as a coffee break and would consider giving a toast bar a try. Have you been to one?

lambchopsA vegan diet would be a challenge for me because I have yens for a juicy steak, a great burger, roast chicken and lamb chops and also because it strikes me as being complicated to cook, soon boring and limiting in restaurants–like following a diet enforced by an allergy or health issue.

I would worry about the safety of having dinner in a strangers’ apartment either here or abroad even though I appreciate the concept of seeing how people live in different countries. Yet I’d wonder: “Are these con men/women?” How well do the websites vet participants? Am I being paranoid, especially in light of the success and reputation for safety of rent-a-room, house or apartment websites such as airbnb.com and wimdu.com?

 Hors D

Service of Full Measure III: Fleeced by a Vegetable Stand and Museum

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Cup runneth over

Seems I just wrote one of these. Sign of the times.

Not Fruitful

I’ve commented about a great fruit and vegetable stand on Second Avenue and 49th Street in Manhattan. I never knew who owned the stand but the young men who staffed it were friendly, some more helpful than others, the prices were excellent as was the quality.

ugly vegetable standSomeone else seems to have bought the stand–the same older man I’d never before seen is there morning and evening. The prices stayed the same but the quality and variety have plummeted. Asparagus were old and shriveled; peaches that looked OK on the outside were rotten. I got the feeling that the produce was bought from a seconds stand at Hunts Point, if there is one.

Since I began to write this post, the stand disappeared altogether and it’s back, with the original staff. If the owner rented the stand to someone so the staff could take a vacation he’d best try something else next year.

Watch Out

Jammed museum exhibitWe made a day trip to a well regarded museum in a college town to see a heavily publicized and advertised exhibit we’d looked forward to. Much of the museum is under construction. The exhibit was tiny–three modest rooms–and was far from a retrospective of the artist. In addition, open to the public in the main facility were another three spaces with select pieces from the extensive permanent collection and one more room with a few pictures from another artist.

Salt to the wound: Because there was so little for the public to see, the rooms were jammed and it was hard to get near the paintings and drawings. This is never the case in the spacious galleries.

We were there for less than one hour. Nevertheless the museum charged its standard $20pp.

What was the replacement fruit/vegetable man thinking? Didn’t he realize he’d lose the regular customers or was he, like so many in business, counting on the trade of hundreds of new customers rather than keeping the loyal ones because he’d soon be gone? As for the museum, it has our money and doesn’t care about our reaction and disappointment. Should it?

Disappointment2

Service of Hunger

Monday, June 10th, 2013

pie eating contest

Joey Chestnut ate 68 hotdogs at Nathan’s July 4th 2012 contest and over the June 1 weekend this year, he scarfed down 25 half pastrami sandwiches, both in 10 minutes. The latter contest was to celebrate the Katz’s Deli 125th anniversary at the World Pastrami Eating Championship. Chestnut won both competitions.

In films about life in small-town America we’ve seen countless pie eating contests at charming country fairs. Paul Newman’s character, Luke Jackson, memorably ate 50 eggs on a dare in “Cool Hand Luke.”

land of plentyWe’ve always thought we were the land of plenty and these contests seemed like harmless fun. Yet according to nokidhungry.org, 16 million children in this country “don’t get the food they need.”

I read about Patty Stonesifer in Maureen Dowd’s opinion piece, “She’s Getting Her Boots Dirty,” June 2 in The New York Times. Dowd wrote about the executive whose new job is directing Martha’s Table, an organization in Washington DC that provides those in need with food, among other things.

Children eating“After serving as the highest-ranking woman at Microsoft, Stonesifer helped Bill and Melinda Gates start their philanthropy in an office above a Seattle-area pizza parlor in 1997,” wrote Dowd. Stonesifer, who works for free now as she did for the largest charity in the world, explains that Bill Gates taught her to think big. “So here, instead of simply figuring out how to move from providing 60,000 meals a month to 66,000, I want to think about how to end child hunger in D.C,” Dowd quoted her as saying.

About this philanthropist Dowd reported: “Her 89-year-old mother started a Bread for the World chapter in her retirement community in Indianapolis and, until just recently, continued to do volunteer work for St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic charity.”

She meets her clients and observes, as Dowd reports: “ ‘These folks are just waiting for a bag of food,’ Stonesifer marvels as she looks over the mound of bags filled with vegetables and fruit, cereal and soup. ‘They come early because they believe there won’t be enough. It looks like the Depression, this long line. And they’re not sitting on their butts, waiting for a handout. They’re scrambling to meet their basic needs.’”

I don’t believe that Katz’s or Nathans mean any harm or hurt by conducting these traditional American events because if I did, I wouldn’t identify them. Before its contest, Katz’s, that sells 20 thousand pounds of meat a week according to CBS NY, gave a fundraiser/Shabbat dinner to benefit the Henry Street Settlement, a charity in its neighborhood.

However, I question the validity and symbolism of food contests these days with so many millions of starving people here. The marketing/PR minds I know, if charged with the task, could design any number of other wonderful ways to celebrate and create new traditions for food businesses like these as well as for country fairs, at least until hunger is a memory and ours is, once again, a land of plenty. What do you think?

 Corn field

Service of Cool Marketing

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer

Some companies market themselves or their products joyfully and well. I love it when they do. Two of the three I selected are no spring chickens in our flash-in-the-pan world of trends: The grocery chain was founded in 1958 and the energy bar was introduced in 1991. I don’t know how long the vintner has been in business.

I wouldn’t trade them for the world

Trader Joe’s, headquartered in Monrovia, Ca. publishes a newsletter, “Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer.” The copy is succinct and clear–perfect pockets of information for customers waiting in the checkout queue to digest.

The lines in the East 14th Street Manhattan store can be daunting, though they move fast. You have just enough time to be tempted to try Mini Organic Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, Channa Masala, Apocryphyl [sic] Pita or Dixie Peach Juice–the headlines of some of the well-written news briefs in the newsletter I picked up.

Trader Joe CheckoutI didn’t want to lose my spot–though a few of the tempting items were at hand on shelves I passed on my journey to checkout–and I plan to search out some of the other taste sensations on my next trip, especially the juice. The newsletter describes it as a blend of peach puree and apple, white grape, pear and pineapple concentrates. Trader Joe’s has carried the drink for seven years–now I know.

The company suggests you use the newsletter, printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks, as paper airplanes, wrapping paper or packing material. So wonderfully California.

Bar none

Clif BarMy friend Jim Roper treated me to three Clif Bars. He was taken by the packaging of these energy bars, pointing out the story on one of the wrappers that described the founder’s father’s influence on the product starting with its name. His dad’s name is Clifford. Gary Erickson, the founder and owner, reminisces on one label about his dad, his childhood companion and hero during hikes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Gary also explains on this and on other bars that sport the hallmark packaging why he made the 240 calorie, lightweight “nutrition for sustained energy.” A main reason was taste as he found most other energy bars reminiscent of sawdust or chalk. I agree with my friend Jim and with Gary–the Black Cherry Almond and Blueberry Crisp bars I’ve tasted were scrumptious.

Tastefully dressed

Grifone PrimitivoWhat glee when you sip something quite remarkable that comes in a stunning package and costs under $5.00–try $3.99 [in NYC]. Grifone Primitovo is a Zinfandel from Mancuria in Italy that I found in Trader Joe’s wine store. The vintner designed the label to look like something from Hermes, proving that something doesn’t have to be costly to look expensive [my fashion mantra since childhood]. Trader Joe’s recommends you “enjoy it now”–a polite way to suggest you shouldn’t treat it as it looks—don’t put it away for 10+ years.

Does it take time for a company to understand and promote itself at perfect pitch or do many “get” their personalities from the start, helping insure long-term success? What other brands or organizations do a fun or flawless job marketing their products?

perfect pitch

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