Archive | June, 2011

The Health Claims of Alcohol Companies

I’m not sure if I have the patience for alcohol companies who try to pimp their products with health claims (Note:PDF). Let’s get serious here for a moment – are there really people who stand in the liquor store comparing Grey Goose Vodka with Devotion Vodka, and go “Y’know, I need more protein in my life. Let’s go with Devotion.”

There’s a bit of a disconnect here with the marketers of these products, who seemingly fail to understand that whatever benefits may or (more likely) may not be gained by adding antioxidants to a strawberry liqueur, they are glossing over the basic premise of their product. Namely, alcohol is a poison. Yes, it’s a relatively inefficient one, but it is a poison nonetheless.

This is why I always do a bit of a facepalm when I hear people drinking light beer because it’s less in calories. Honestly, if it’s calories your worried about when you’re drinking, I can point you to a calorie-free drinking experience.

People, let’s face it. If you’re drinking alcohol, you’ve essentially already said “Fuck it, I don’t respect my body that much.” I’m not suggesting that everyone is seeking to pickle their liver, but as soon as you order your Pinot Noir or your pint of Guinness, you’re pretty much flipping off your doctor. It’s akin to going white water rafting on a Grade 5 river, and then ensuring your safety by wearing orthopedic shoes.

Let’s make a simple rule, shall we? In choosing your drink of choice, always go for the one that tastes better. Period. If an alcohol company feels so insecure in the taste of their product that they have to pimp whatever minimal health benefits their product may or may not be had, they simply aren’t worth your time. Using this guideline, let’s note the brands mentioned in the pdf I linked to in the first paragraph.

Michelob Ultra – rated a D- on

MGD 64 – Rated a D on

And any of the Vodkas mentioned? My position is that the only thing Vodka is good for is cleaning flesh wounds.

In my worldview, when it comes to drinking, choices should be made on taste. Companies trying to sell you on their health benefits are little more than hypocrites, ignoring the basic premise of alcohol. And consumers who buy into their spiel are little better. By all means, enjoy your cocktails, beer, or wine. But do not fool yourself. And don’t buy from people trying to fool you.

Dim Sum Experts Needed:What the Hell Did I Just Eat?

To all of you Dim Sum experts out there, I’m apologizing before hand on letting you down. Being a non-Dim Sum expert, there are times when I order something to which I have absolutely no knowledge, and then hope I can look up information on it later on. Typing enough description into Google, I can typically find enough data to fill in the blanks for me.

This time, I’ve seem to run into a wall. So I turn to those of you who bleed chili paste and soy sauce. I ask simply – What the hell is this?

In the bowl is something that has been steam and has a mashed potato consistency, but with more flavor. It has been topped with bits o’ pork, and then a sweetened soy sauce. I’m thinking this is either radish pudding, turnip pudding, or some variation thereof, but I am unsure. Any help or path to go down would be much appreciated.


The Often-Untold Tale of Candy

When it comes to the history of candy in the 20th century, there are literally hundreds of stories exactly like this:

In the fall of 1980, several Goelitz executives flew down with a proposition. They would give (David Klein) and a partner he had taken on $10,000 apiece every month for 20 years in exchange for the trademark to Jelly Belly.

Klein refused. But then he said he got the sense that the company would continue making the beans without him. Klein did not have the formula and was not versed in manufacturing. Taking his business elsewhere seemed daunting and futile. His partner was ready to retire, and urged him to sign the agreement.

Klein said he caved. And regretted it an instant later.

There are many reasons why companies buy out candy innovators – candy innovators typically do not have the industrial infrastructure in place to take their candy to the next level. Companies who have such infrastructure can pick and choose which candies to buy and distribute to a larger market. This happens all the time.

One need to look no further than Hershey’s to see examples of this. The Kit Kat Bar, Almond Joy, Mounds, York Peppermint Patty, Milk Duds, Whoppers, Good N’Plenty, Jolly Rancher, Bubble Yum, the Heath Bar, and Zagnut are all part of the Hershey catalog and have their roots somewhere other than Hershey, Pennsylvania. This is the candy business in a nutshell, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Dave Klein is just another aspect of this, albeit on a much smaller scale. For all of the marketing of candy as an innocent treat, the reality is that the business of candy is as full of greed as well as victims of that greed as any other industry.

Locavorism Hatin’ from an MIT PhD.

Arnold Kling, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute and a member of the Financial Markets Working Group at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University , gives his two cents on locavorism:

Ed Glaeser writes about another one of my pet peeves, locavorism. I always tell locavores that they should go further and only buy clothes made from local materials. Only use computers made from local materials. In fact, they should only consume goods that we can make ourselves using materials we can find on their own property.

I’m not exactly sure what article Kling was reading, but the Glaeser piece is more about population density and greenhouse gas emissions than it is about the economic efficiency of the current model versus one that locavore advocates wish were in place.

Now I have my own issues with locavorism, don’t get me wrong. Most of them have to do with the ability for the great majority of us to do without rather than demand access to one product or another. For example, here in the great state of Washington, there’s precious little practical reason to have bananas in December, yet not only do we get these non-locally grown products in the winter months, we get them year round. At some point, if locavorism is to be taken to its extreme, the need for bananas in December will have to be addressed in some manner.

This brings up two more points however:

1) The reason why we have bananas in December (and any multitude of other products in their off-season) is a simple one – there’s a demand for it. And when there’s demand, the marketplace will find a way to address that demand.
2) The great majority of locavorists (I think I just made up that word) aren’t advocating for a 100-mile diet 365 days a year. Most are more than willing to account for marketplace demands for one product or another. From what I’ve read and heard, most are simply willing to spend their money supporting their community (defined as either city, county, state, or region), rather than some corporate entity found thousands of miles away.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t environmental arguments to be made in the defense of locavorism. There most certainly are. But the underlying theme I keep hearing is that there’s more value in spending money in the community that there is spending it elsewhere.

Let me point to an info-graphic that I referred to back last November:

What this is saying is that there is an increase of investment in local community to the tune of 25% versus spending on imported articles. That’s a huge difference, and one which should make local governments take notice. Of course the Arnold Kling’s of the world would argue that there’s no such thing as regional self-sufficiency any more, and the the global marketplace is what allows us to get our computers, clothes, and yes, even bananas in winter.

There’s a reason why locavorism has started in (and has primarily focused on) food: With minimal investment anyone can get into the food industry. At its minimum, one only needs a garden or a kitchen, and some interaction with the local governments. That 50 year old woman canning pickles in her kitchen using cucumbers from her garden to sell at the farmers market is as much a part of the local food movement as the farm supplying local restaurants with organic vegetables. The bar for entering the computer or textile industries is far higher.

Ultimately, the question comes down to this – While there may be short term benefits for spending $1.50 on a jar of pickles from Vlasic versus the $1.80 jar from Marge at the farmers market, in the long term, I should get a 25% return to the community when buying from Marge. That’s a no-brainer for me.

There are other nuances to this discussion to be made, for certain. But the point of this post is to demonstrate that dismissing locavorism out of hand seems careless. There are aspects of this philosophy which go beyond those of environment. For me, ultimately, it’s to recognize one’s civic responsibility to ensure the economic stability (and growth) of where they live. Everything beyond that point is merely locally-produced icing on the cake.

Dim Sum: Xian Zhu Neu Rou (Meat Balls)

Noble Court – Bellevue, WA – 6/6/2011

Name: Xian Zhu Neu Rou
Primary Ingredient(s): Beef
Type of Dish: Meat
Method of Preparation: Steamed

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so it is time.

From a beginner’s perspective, it’s always good to find a dish that seems familiar. This dish fits squarely into that category. Let’s face it – meatballs are about as familiar one can get in Dim Sum.

From an expert’s perspective, meat balls, because of their ubiquity, can provide insight into how good (or not good) the kitchen can be. If a place screws up something as simple as meatball, how can you count on them to provide any level of quality to dim sum dishes that require a more delicate touch? Yes, it may be difficult to make a bad meatball. It’s difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Meatballs aren’t often the first choice when I head into a dim sum restaurant, as I wish to explore the unknown (to me) rather than a food that can be found in nearly every culture on the planet. However, there are times when it is worth it, especially when looking to taste other aspects of what a restaurant has to offer. It is when I get a meatball that I tend to turn to the condiments on the table to provide some level of excitement to the dish, and I’ve chili oil (or chili paste) and meatballs make a tremendous pairing. Granted, most restaurants tend to use a store bought brand of condiments, but there are times when a place will make their own. These are the places that should hold a special place in your soul.

..and, as always, my chinese is little more than a guess. Feel free to correct.

Does Grass Fed Beef Taste Different?

After a dinner over steak on Friday night, the conversation turned to the difference in taste between Grass Fed and Grain Fed cattle. This was brought on by the waitress telling us of the delights of eating “hop fed” beef, an idea that many of us at the dinner table found silly.

There is much to be said for the value of grass fed cattle. Grass is a low-starch, high-protein fibrous food, in contrast to carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber corn and soybeans. When animals are 100% grass-fed, their meat is not only lower in saturated fats but also slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

Also important to note is the fact that, unlike feed lot cattle, raised on grain and stuck in a small cubicle for much of its life, those who advocate for grass fed cattle also tend to let their cattle go out to the field and graze. The result? Muscles that are grown naturally, rather than artificially induced growth done through the use of hormones.

Let’s set aside the ethics of the practice, and focus on the resulting taste of each practice. Let’s presume that the quality of rotational grazing is high. as is the breed of cattle for the grass fed beef. For the grain fed, the cattle would have to been bred for its lifestyle. Also, let’s compare one of the pinnacle cuts – prime rib.

The major difference, from what I can tell, comes from the additional levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can impart everything from a nutty, buttery flavor, to gamey, to even some reports of a fish-like taste. Let’s not discount the texture of the cut of beef either. Cattle that is mobile may result in beef that is denser, and tougher to chew.

Ultimately, my guess is that the flavor of grass fed beef comes down to the quality of care given given to the cattle by the rancher. What makes feedlot cattle such benefit to those in the beef industry is its resulting consistency of product. There’s profit to be had when beef tastes the same in Arizona as it does in Oregon, even if that taste is mediocre at best.

Grass Fed cattle, it seem, enters several new variables to taste that must be accounted for in some way or another. And if the rancher chooses to ignore one of them, the resulting taste of beef may be less than ideal to a consumer.

More research is needed.

The Top 10 Beer Holidays

Nielsen, the data group which counts everything from web page views, to how many people watch American Idol, have determined the top 10 beer holidays in the United States in 2009, based on sales of cases of beer in the two weeks prior to the Holiday. The results may surprise you a bit.

10. St. Patrick’s Day – Sales: 48.7 million cases

9. Easter – Sales: 50.7 million cases

8. Halloween – Sales: 50.9 million cases

7. Christmas – Sales: 52.8 million cases

6. Thanksgiving – Sales: 52.9 million cases

5. Cinco de Mayo -Sales: 54 million cases

4. Father’s Day – Sales: 57.7 million cases

3. Labor Day – Sales: 60.2 million cases

2. Memorial Day – Sales: 61.0 million cases

1. Fourth of July – Sales: 63.5 million cases

For the record, they don’t count Super Bowl Sunday as a Holiday, but if we were, it would end up in between St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, with 49.2 million cases sold.