October 15, 2016

Unilever attempts to “draw the longbow” over Marmite

Filed under: Britain, Business, Europe — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Marmite, an almost uniquely British product, is in the headlines this week over an attempt by manufacturer Unilever to jack up prices due to the drop in the pound against the Euro. As Tim Worstall points out, this is not in any way justified because all of the inputs to the product are produced in the UK (that is, the input prices have not significantly changed regardless of how the pound is doing in terms of the Euro exchange rate):

Personally I love the stuff but even in Britain that puts me in a distinct minority.

The other amusement though comes from the action itself. For what Unilever is doing here is what we in Britain refer to, colloquially, as “taking the piss.”

    Yesterday, the implications of the pound’s fall on prices and retailer margins hit home for the wider public as the country’s leading supermarket engaged in a war over prices with its highest-profile supplier of branded goods.

    Either UK consumers will eat store-branded yeast extract, or they’ll pay more for Marmite, or the impact of the pound’s fall will be shared between supplier and retailer.

This is superficially plausible. Britain imports some 40% of its food and as a result of the Brexit vote the pound has fallen against other currencies. We would therefore expect to see some price rises in food items. Obviously in those imported that have to be paid for in that more expensive foreign funny money. But also in certain domestic foods which substitute for those foreign ones. So, for example, if foreign chicken rises in price then so too will British chicken as demand for it rises–people will substitute away from the more expensive foreign muck to the purer and more delightful domestic production.

However, this really doesn’t hold for Marmite.

    Consumer goods giant Unilever has been accused of ‘exploiting’ British shoppers by withdrawing more than 200 much-loved products from Tesco after the supermarket refused to agree to its 10 per cent price hike. Critics claim the world’s largest consumer goods manufacturer, which makes an estimated £2billion profit a year, is ‘using Brexit as an excuse to raise prices’. The Anglo-Dutch firm, which heavily campaigned against Brexit, claims it has been forced to increase prices as a result of the falling value of the pound in the wake of the referendum.

The reason it doesn’t hold for Marmite is because it is not imported and nor are any close substitutes in any volume. Thus Unilever’s costs have not gone up in any manner at all over this. Quite the contrary in fact, the only flow, other than trivial amounts of Vegemite an Australian version of a similar thing, is of Marmite out of the UK. Meaning that Unilever’s profits on Marmite exports have risen as a result of the pound’s fall. Their costs, revenues and margins in sterling are exactly what they were for domestic sales before that slump in the pound.

    The row is said to have developed when Unilever – which says it faces higher costs because of the fall in sterling – attempted to increase wholesale prices.

It’s simply not true thus the micturation extraction.

October 12, 2016

This generation gap thingy is bigger than I thought

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I’m far from a McDonalds fan … I darken their doors less than yearly, although I’ve had a long-running “joke” that I need to have a Big Mac at least once a year, if only to remind me why I don’t eat at McDonalds more often. But is the iconic Big Mac a victim of its own success? Has it stopped being relevant in the fast food world? Colby Cosh investigates:

The Wall Street Journal reports that a big McDonald’s franchise owner did some market research recently and stumbled upon a surprising fact: only one in five Americans of “millennial” age has ever tried a Big Mac. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know what my reaction was to this news: a paroxysm of skeptical eye-rolling.

The Big Mac might easily be described as the single most successful consumer product of the 20th century. Of all the various kinds of sandwiches that the human imagination has conceived since the lifetime of the 4th Earl of Sandwich (peace be upon him), the Big Mac might be the specific sandwich that has been prepared and eaten the most. It has a recipe that children everywhere can recite by heart. How is it possible that an entire generation has collectively skipped it, never thinking it might have some merit?

Well, whether or not I would have imagined it, the reactions I got when I asked around convinced me quickly that it is probably true. (Big surprise: a businessman’s expensively gathered information about his customer base turns out to be more accurate than some jackass’s wild guess.) Dozens of young people immediately told me that they have never tried a Big Mac. Plenty of these sandwich-spurners were careful to specify, all with evident shame, that they do visit McDonald’s often; at least one had worked there. A few correspondents had specific reasons for avoiding the Big Mac, but for the most part, the prevailing attitude toward the item seemed to be apathy, rather than hostility.


As it happens, I was raised in the boonies, and we would visit McDonald’s just a few times a year. I have to acknowledge that my fondness for Big Macs is a matter of generational and circumstantial happenstance. They are, even though I’ve certainly had a thousand of the things, still attainably glamorous — a dream of childhood now indulged at will.

Fortunately, my inherited cheapness protects me from a nightmare of special-sauce overdose. I can never order a Big Mac without an inner Presbyterian voice — Socrates’ daimon, with my grandfather’s accent — grumbling that this damned thing should really cost about $2. What the Wall Street Journal has me wondering is how long the Big Mac can remain on the menu at all, if it has really been bypassed by progress and fashion in the manner of marmalade or pickled eggs. If I knew my next Big Mac was my last — though any one might be! — I might pay more like $50.

Colby and I are of a similar generational group, but I’d probably top out at $25 for my “very last” Big Mac.

September 19, 2016

Cultural appropriation

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Larry Correia isn’t impressed when people scream “cultural appropriation” at him:

I’ve talked about Cultural Appropriation before, and why it is one of the most appallingly stupid ideas ever foisted on the gullible in general, and even worse when used as a bludgeon against fiction authors.

First off, what is “Cultural Appropriation”? From the linked talk:

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorised use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

The part that got left out of that definition is that engaging in Cultural Appropriation is a grievous mortal sin that self-righteous busy bodies can then use to shame anyone they don’t like.

Look at that definition. Basically anything you use that comes from another culture is stealing. That is so patently absurd right out the gate that it is laughable. Anybody who has two working brain cells to rub together, who hasn’t been fully indoctrinated in the cult of social justice immediately realizes that sounds like utter bullshit.

If you know anything about the history of the world, you would know that it has been one long session of borrowing and stealing ideas from other people, going back to the dawn of civilization. Man, that cuneiform thing is pretty sweet. I’m going to steal writing. NOT OKAY! CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!

Everything was invented by somebody, and if it was awesome, it got used by somebody else. At some point in time thousands of years ago some sharp dude got sick of girding up his loins and invented pants. We’re all stealing from that guy. Damn you racists and your slacks.

This is especially silly when white guilt liberals try to enforce it on Americans, the ultimate crossroads of the world, melting pot country where hundreds of cultures have been smooshed together for a couple hundred years, using each other’s cool stuff and making it better.

This weekend I painted miniatures for a war game from Spain, played a video game from Belarus, listened to rap music from a white guy from Detroit, watched a cop show from Britain, had Thai food for lunch, and snacked on tikki masala potato chips, while one daughter streamed K dramas, another read manga, and my sons played with Legos invented in Denmark.

A life without Cultural Appropriation would be so incredibly boring.

And most of you missed the really insidious part of that that academic, all-consuming definition. Without Permission… Think about that. So how does that work exactly? Who do you ask? Sure, these new Lays Tikki Masala chips are delicious, but are they problematic? Who is the head Indian I’m supposed to get permission from? Did you guys like appoint somebody, or is it an elected position, or what? Or should I just assume that Lays talked to that guy already for me? Or can any regular person from India be offended on behalf of a billon people?

This is all very confusing.

But hang on… India owes me. That’s right. Because vindaloo is a popular Indian dish, but wait! It was actually Culturally Appropriated from the Portuguese hundreds of years ago. I’m Portuguese! I didn’t give them permission to steal the food of my people!

So we will call it even on these chips.

And don’t get me started on Thai food, because the Portuguese introduced the chili pepper to Thailand. YOU ARE WELCOME, WORLD!

September 3, 2016

QotD: Hunter S. Thompson’s ideal breakfast

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Breakfast is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same kind of traditionalized reverence that most people associate with Lunch and Dinner.

I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every 24 hours, and mine is breakfast. In Hong Kong, Dallas or at home – and regardless of whether or not I have been to bed – breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon or corned beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert……. Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next 24 hours, and at least one source of good music….… All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.

Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’76: Third-rate romance, low-rent rendezvous — hanging with Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and a bottle of Wild Turkey”, Rolling Stone, 1976-06-03.

August 15, 2016

QotD: Tragic sweet deprivation

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Tiffany knew what the problem was immediately. She’d seen it before, at birthday parties. Her brother was suffering from tragic sweet deprivation. Yes, he was surrounded by sweets. But the moment he took any sweet at all, said his sugar-addled brain, that meant he was not taking all the rest. And there were so many sweets he’d never be able to eat them all. It was too much to cope with. The only solution was to burst into tears.

Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.

May 28, 2016

QotD: “Farm-to-table” food

Filed under: Business, Environment, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We all love farm-to-table food, don’t we? The freshness, the warm sense of environmental sustainability, the delights of spending your money in the local economy. Of course we all love it.

Or … maybe we just think we love it. An exhaustive investigation by a Tampa Bay Times food critic reveals just how little of the food advertised as organic, locally sourced, non-GMO fare actually fits that description. The article is a slightly painful read, as restaurant after restaurant sheepishly tries to cover for their, um, “menu anomalies” by explaining that they totally used to buy some stuff from a local producer, then they forgot to change the chalkboard when they switched suppliers, and besides, the bus was late and the dog ate their homework. Some of these claims may even be true, but given the ubiquity of these “anomalies,” it’s hard to believe that there isn’t considerable calculation behind these unidirectional mistakes.

And it’s not hard to figure out why: Consumers don’t really want to buy farm-to-table food. What they want to buy is the moral satisfaction of farm-to-table food.

A consumer who is actually looking for vegetables picked no later than yesterday morning and trundled to their table at the peak of freshness probably isn’t going to be satisfied with the corn that just spent a few weeks bouncing around in the back of a truck somewhere; the products will be noticeably different in flavor. On the other hand, for a consumer who’s just looking for moral satisfaction — well, the nice thing about selling intangible qualities is that there’s no discernible difference to the consumer between being told that they’re consuming locally grown foods and actually doing so.

Megan McArdle, “Dining Out on Empty Virtue”, Bloomberg View, 2016-04-15.

May 26, 2016

Eighty percent of Americans surveyed favour banning things they know nothing about

Filed under: Health, Media, Science, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Don’t get too smug, fellow Canuckistanis, as I suspect the numbers might be just as bad if Canadians were surveyed in this way:

You might have heard that Americans overwhelmingly favor mandatory labeling for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. That’s true, according to a new study: 84 percent of respondents said they support the labels.

Survey of GMO labelling fans

But a nearly identical percentage — 80 percent—in the same survey said they’d also like to see labels on food containing DNA.

Survey of DNA labelling fans

The study, published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal last week, also found that 33 percent of respondents thought that non-GM tomatoes “did not contain genes” and 32 percent thought that “vegetables did not have DNA.” So there’s that.

University of Florida food economist Brandon R. McFadden and his co-author Jayson L. Lusk surveyed 1,000 American consumers and discovered [PDF] that “consumers think they know more than they actually do about GM food.” In fact, the authors say, “the findings question the usefulness of results from opinion polls as motivation for public policy surrounding GM food.”

My summary for laymen: When it comes to genetically modified food, people don’t know much, they don’t know what they don’t know, and they sure as heck aren’t letting that stop them from having strong opinions.

April 24, 2016

The “secret” of Indian food

Filed under: India, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In an article in the Washington Post last year, Roberto Ferdman summarized the findings of a statistical study explaining why the flavours in Indian foods differ so much from other world cuisines:

Indian food, with its hodgepodge of ingredients and intoxicating aromas, is coveted around the world. The labor-intensive cuisine and its mix of spices is more often than not a revelation for those who sit down to eat it for the first time. Heavy doses of cardamom, cayenne, tamarind and other flavors can overwhelm an unfamiliar palate. Together, they help form the pillars of what tastes so good to so many people.

But behind the appeal of Indian food — what makes it so novel and so delicious — is also a stranger and subtler truth. In a large new analysis of more than 2,000 popular recipes, data scientists have discovered perhaps the key reason why Indian food tastes so unique: It does something radical with flavors, something very different from what we tend to do in the United States and the rest of Western culture. And it does it at the molecular level.


Chefs in the West like to make dishes with ingredients that have overlapping flavors. But not all cuisines adhere to the same rule. Many Asian cuisines have been shown to belie the trend by favoring dishes with ingredients that don’t overlap in flavor. And Indian food, in particular, is one of the most powerful counterexamples.

Researchers at the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur crunched data on several thousand recipes from a popular online recipe site called TarlaDalal.com. They broke each dish down to its ingredients, and then compared how often and heavily ingredients share flavor compounds.

The answer? Not too often.

April 9, 2016

QotD: Living with an adult picky eater

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

For a while, I tried just cooking things I knew he’d like. These things were, to my palate, heavy and boring for everyday eating. I gained 35 pounds, a fact I blamed on my approaching 40th birthday. Then things got busy and we stopped eating dinner together so often, and like magic, the weight fell off.

I tell you all this by way of introducing a conversation we had a year or two back. I made a roast chicken and served it with a chickpea-and-raisin tagine on the side. “I like it, but you don’t have to eat it,” I told him. He looked at me, and took a tiny spoonful, featuring one carrot, three chickpeas and a raisin. A few moments later, he looked up at me and said “You should make this as a main course sometime.”

Those of you who have never lived with a picky eater probably do not appreciate the drama of the statement. Those of you who have will understand the thunderous shock I experienced. I stared. I dropped my fork. I said: “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?”

Over the following months I kept asking the same question, with increasing concern, as he asked for sautéed mushrooms, sausage ragu, poached-egg-and-arugula salad. Was my husband being well taken care of on the alien spaceship? Did he have access to books, movies, his Xbox? Were they feeding him lots of meat? Because this guy who had replaced him was not a picky eater. To be honest, he’s now less picky than I am, since the taste of cooked fish still triggers my gag reflex.

With columnist drama, I have presented his transformation as a single cinematic moment. In fact, it was the culmination of a long process, one that I wasn’t ever sure was going to work out. And since I know that there are probably other people out there trapped in the tragedy of a foodie-picky relationship, it seems worth sharing how it happened. Some of what we did was fortuitous, but quite a lot of it was deliberate choices that we both made.

Megan McArdle, “When Your Spouse Is a Picky Eater”, Bloomberg View, 2016-03-18.

April 5, 2016

Armed Neutrality – The Netherlands In WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 4 Apr 2016

The Netherlands were surrounded by World War 1 from 1914 onwards and their stance of armed neutrality made it difficult to manoeuvre between the Entente and the Central Powers. And while the Netherlands never joined the conflict in the end, the war took its toll on the nation.

April 2, 2016

Canada’s new frontier in patriotism: ketchup

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Colby Cosh gently pokes fun at the latest outbreak of manufactured patriotic fervor:

An enterprising Toronto man wants to sell us all “Ketchup Patriot” T-shirts, so that the virtuous among us might assert the correct position on the hot issue of whether it is right to eat products made with dubious foreign tomatoes.

This presents me with a dilemma: I agree with the many words already written in this space, and in the Financial Post, about the preposterousness of tomato isolationism; on the other hand, I am pretty sure our future as a country has less to do with mid-grade agricultural products destined for pureeing than it does to do with insta-auto-robo-printing of faddish social-signalling paraphernalia. You have to admire the spirit of enterprise wherever it emerges. The best answer ever given to Che Guevara’s philosophy was the Che Guevara T-shirt.

The “Ketchup Patriot” view favours French’s brand ketchup, which is now made from tomatoes grown in the area around Leamington, Ont. Leamington is practically a creation of the H.J. Heinz Co., which was a major employer there for decades, but fled to the United States in 2014. Few Canadians are employed in the growing of tomatoes, mind you: migrant workers flown into local dormitories and paid around $10 an hour seem to do most of the hard work on Leamington-area farms and in greenhouses.

French’s, best known for selling mustard, is owned by the Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC of Slough, Berkshire. This “Ketchup Patriotism,” the closer you look at it, becomes more and more a matter solely of dream terroir. Canadians don’t get the profits, don’t pick the tomatoes and don’t even can the ketchup — that happens in Ohio, although French’s, obviously aware that it has a whole country by the tail, has hinted at plans to open a new cannery somewhere in Ontario. All we do, for the moment, is own the land. This ketchup has a mystical Canadian essence, one I defy anyone to detect in a blind taste test.

One may not detect the “distinctive Canadian ‘terroir'”, but having actually tasted Heinz and French’s products, there’s a reason that Heinz is the default ketchup for most people.

March 22, 2016

QotD: Barbecue, properly considered

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I was on the road in Texas last week, addressing Linux user groups in Dallas and Austin. I always enjoy visiting Texas. It’s a big, wide-open place full of generous people who cultivate a proper appreciation of some of my favorite things in life — firearms, blues guitar, and pepper sauces.

And, of course, one of the biggest things Texas has going for it is barbecue. And not the pallid imitation served up by us pasty-faced Yankees here where I live (near Philadelphia, PA) but the real thing. Barbecue, dammit. Red meat with enough fat on it to panic a health-foodist right out of his pantywaist, slow-cooked in a marinade sweeter than a mother’s kiss and eaten with sauces hot enough to peel paint. Garnish with a few extra jalapenos and coleslaw and wash it down with cheap soda, lemonade, or beer. Food of the gods.

I swear your testosterone level goes up just smelling this stuff. After a few mouthfuls of Rudy’s carnivoral bliss you’ll be hankerin’ to cultivate a drawl, wear a Stetson and drive a pickup truck with a gun rack. (I draw the line at country music, though. A man’s got to have some standards.)

Eric S. Raymond, “The Non-Portability of Barbecue”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-07-18.

March 19, 2016

QotD: Dieting as a substitute religion

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A current New York Times news story, What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie, entertainingly chronicles the discovery that low-fat diets are bad for people. More specifically, that the substitution of carbohydrates like bread and pasta and potatoes for meat that we’ve all had urged on us since the early 1980s is probably the cause of the modern epidemic of obesity and the sharp rise in diabetes incidence.

I have long believed that most of the healthy-eating advice we get is stone crazy, and the story does tend to confirm it. One of my reasons for believing this is touched on in the article; what we’re told is good for us doesn’t match what humans “in the wild” (during the 99% of our species history that predated agriculture) ate. The diet our bodies evolved to process doesn’t include things like large amounts of milled grain or other starches. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate wild vegetables (especially tubers) and meat whenever they could get it.


But the evolutionary analysis only tells us what we probably should be eating. It doesn’t explain how the modern diet has come to be as severely messed up as it is — nor why the advice we’ve been getting on healthy eating over the last twenty years has been not merely bad but perversely wrong.

The answer is, I think, implicit in the fact that “health food” has a strong tendency to be bland, fibrous, and nasty — a kind of filboid studge that we have to work at convincing ourselves we like rather than actually liking. Which is, if you think about it, nuts. Human food tropisms represent two million years of selective knowledge about what’s good for our bodies. Eating a lot of what we don’t like is far more likely to be a mistake than eating things we do like, even to excess.

Why do we tend to treat our natural cravings for red meat and fat as sins, then? Notice the similarity between the rhetoric of diet books and religious evangelism and you have your answer. Dietary mortification of the flesh has become a kind of secular asceticism, a way for wealthy white people with guilt feelings about their affluence to demonstrate virtue and expiate their imagined transgressions.

Once you realize that dieting is a religion, the irrationality and mutual contradictions become easier to understand. It’s not about what’s actually good for you, it’s about suffering and self-denial and the state of your soul. People who constantly break and re-adopt diets are experiencing exactly the same cycle of secondary rewards as the sinner who repeatedly backslides and reforms.

This model explains the social fact that the modern flavor of “health”-based dietary piety is most likely to be found in people who don’t have the same psychological needs satisfied by an actual religion. Quick now: who’s more likely to be a vegetarian or profess a horror of “junk food” — a conservative Christian heartlander or a secular politically-correct leftist from the urban coasts?

Eric S. Raymond, “Diet Considered as a Bad Religion”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-07-17.

February 26, 2016

QotD: The odd persistence of regional food

Filed under: Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Philadelphians laugh at the pathetic imitations of “Philly steaks” offered elsewhere for the same reason Texans laugh at barbecue made north of the Mason-Dixon line. And both groups are right to laugh. It just ain’t the same.

Every time I order up a mess of barbecue at a place like Rudy’s or County Line or Dick’s Last Resort I think to myself “Someday, one of these barbecue outfits has got to start offering decent bread. Their sales would go through the roof.” I’ve been waiting for the market to correct this problem for more than twenty years now — and it hasn’t happened. And thereby hangs a mystery.

The mystery is the curious persistence of regional food differences in a country with cheap transport and the best communications network in the world. There are places in the U.S. where you can reliably get really good bread — mostly the coastal metroplexes. There are places you can get real barbecue, in the heartland South and Southwest. And these zones just don’t overlap. (Yes, they have a gourmet-bread bakery in Austin. I suspect, if I went there, I’d find it a lot like the Chinese food in Ann Arbor — impressive to the locals, maybe, but only because their standards are so low.)

I could multiply examples. Sourdough bread — I’ve had it everywhere you can get it and it just doesn’t taste right outside of San Francisco. The East Coast versions are competent, but lack some subtle tang. Yeast strain? Something in the water? Who knows?

Cheesecake. There’s a good one. Anybody who has lived in New York won’t touch most cheesecake made elsewhere at gunpoint, and with good reason. Next to a traditional New-York-style baked cheesecake (the kind you can stand a fork in because it has the approximate density of neutronium) all others are a sort of pathetic, tasteless cheese gelatin. In this case the recipe is clearly what matters.

Or deep-dish pizza. Try to get that done right anywhere but Chicago. Good luck. Actually, the Philly/South Jersey area may be the only other part of the U.S.that can almost make this nut, and our thin-crust pizza is better. But why? Why don’t the good techniques go national and drive out the weaker competition?

The obvious answer would be that nationwide, tastes differ too much for one regional variant to dominate. But many cases there isn’t even any dispute about where the best variant comes from; the superiority of “New York style” cheesecake. for example, is so universally understood that restaurants elsewhere often bill their cheesecake that way even when it’s actually half-composed of “lite” garbage like ricotta or cottage cheese. Nobody who has ever tasted one doubts that Philly steaks are the acme of the art. And nobody — but nobody — who can get both passes up Texas barbecue for what they make in New Haven or Walla Walla.

So you’d think that the market would have propagated Texas slow-cooking, San Francisco yeast starters and the Philly steak roll all over the country by now. But some food technologies travel better than others, and some seem curiously unable to thrive outside their native climes. Cheesecake recipes may survive transmission relatively well, but the mysteries of good barbecue are subtle and deep. Pizzas rely on elaborate oven and dough-mix technology that probably tends to conserve regional variations simply because it’s too capital-intensive to mess with casually.

I’ve meditated on the matter and still can’t decide whether I think that’s a good thing or not. The approved thing for travel writers to do is wax lyrical about the wonderfulness of regional variety, as if it would somehow fail to be an improvement in the world if I could get decent bread with my barbecue. The hell with that kind of sentimentality; I’d rather have a better meal.

But there’s a point buried there somewhere — something that isn’t about the bread or the barbecue, but about what it feels like to sit in a dusty roadside joint like Rudy’s, surrounded by cases of Red Pop and overweight rednecks in tractor caps and checked shirts, with the food of the gods melting in your mouth, and thinking “Damn, this place is tacky, but I hope it lives forever.”

Eric S. Raymond, “The Non-Portability of Barbecue”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-07-18.

February 17, 2016

The “Great Cauliflower Crisis” of 2016

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh writes the epitaph for that terrible month of January 2016, when the people were sorely oppressed by the Great Cauliflower Crisis:

I must have been assured a dozen times that peak cauliflower was a dark foretaste of the New Normal, a state of permanent food uncertainty in a ravaged world of shattered supply chains and sporadic kohlrabi riots. It turns out we are, for the moment, still living in the Old Normal: food is cheap and plentiful, far more so than it was even for our parents, but there are still very occasional kinks in our system of delivering fresh produce to our tables year-round, kinks that the market can usually sort out given a few weeks.


You will note that this price event had nothing to do with climate change per se, or even with the chronic drought conditions that have existed in California for the past few years. That did not discourage anybody who was already disposed to mutter about how California is doomed, or about how the whole planet is. Others who have collapsitarian/“prepper”/millenarian streaks shook their heads and saw the first inklings of the logistical breakdown that is always just about to devour the world.

And the “food security” people: oh, they had a field day. That phrase seems to mean something different every time I see it used; often “food insecurity” is a near-synonym for “being broke.” But if you are “food insecure” in that sense of the term, fresh cauliflower should probably not be a staple of your cooking in the first place. Depend on beans, potatoes, and whatever’s on sale, and let the paleo nerds fight for cauliflower until their madness evolves into another form. Honestly, the stuff can be surprisingly wonderful if prepared right, but you have to be kidding yourself a little bit to consider it positively delightful, don’t you?

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