We are in an unbelievable financial situation in this country — food pantries are doing an all-time business. And even more amazed at the corporate response in this country. Now we might start seeing a bit of a turn, in of all things, a college football game.
True, Purolator used the football theme to draw attention to hunger problems in Canada, sponsoring the CFL. Now, we have the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will be on January 9, 2011 at AT&T Park in San Francisco: #15 ranked Nevada will take on Boston College on ESPN. As bowl game names change all the time, we should point out that if you watched the the Emerald Bowl or under its previous name, the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl. this is that bowl.
Levity aside, kudos to Kraft for not just sponsoring a bowl game, but getting in "fight hunger" as part of the bowl name. The bowl game is well-past any of the top bowls on the schedule, but a national ESPN audience and an exciting game in a cool ballpark and surrounding area will help spread the word.
As Kraft notes in its release, 27% more Americans struggling with hunger now, than 4 years ago.
One college football game, and a related campaign won't solve the problem completely. But marketing and publicity bring needed attention to a cause that is still important, even if it doesn't get as much news coverage as it should. After all, some people think the recession is over; in many households and stomachs though, they still feel the effects of the financial downturn.
You certainly don't have to participate in this particular program; you can search out local options if that is your presence. But you have to tip your hat to a corporation that is willing to stand up and promote the need to fight hunger in the United States.
AT&T Park, bowl game, college football, Emerald Bowl, ESPN, Feeding America, fight hunger, financial downturn, food banks, hunger, Kraft, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Purolator, recession, San Francisco, San Francisco Giants, social service
If you live in the world of the Big 3 in fast food, you now have a clear distinct winner in the French fries category.
For years, McDonald's dusted Burger King and Wendy's in any potential French fries war (Potato wars?). Burger King and Wendy's never were contenders to the throne, and Burger King actually made their fries worse, which didn't seem possible.
But as regular readers noted, I had slammed McDonald's for taking years to get rid of trans fat in its oil. Then, we found out why McD's dragged their feet. The fries aren't as good as they once were.
Wendy's lack of fried potato innovation always seemed odd given its 'tude on burgers and chicken sandwiches. But amazingly, Wendy's woke up in 2010 and has brought us Natural Fries with Sea Salt.
They certainly look distinctly darker, though not as crispy as they seem to think they are. There are skins, but they aren't that prominent.
I recall having skin-on fries at a McD's in the South when I was a child (long time ago). Those fries from the 1970s had more of a skin presence than the 2010 Wendy's version.
They are thinner, but look they were cut from a machine. They are noticeably lacking in salt physically. The new fries taste better without the excess salt, and it's nice to eat a major chain fast food fry without having fingers coated in salt.
There is a potato goodness seen in very few fast food fries; they actually taste pretty good without ketchup. For tasting purposes, I brought in Canadian Heinz ketchup, which has liquid sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Fries and that ketchup were a nice match.
For chain French fries, Steak 'n' Shake is still better, but finding those locations isn't always easy or possible (and if you looking for more indicators on my taste, I think Five Guys is severely overrated, though I love the malt vinegar touch. I would try Wendy's fries with malt vinegar). For major chain fast food fries, we have a winner in Wendy's.
Even if the fries are better, and clearly better than the old Wendy's model, they won't taste as good if they are not hot. If you order fries without any fuss, your chances of getting truly hot fries is as good as Sandra Bullock winning an Oscar.
This batch was warm at the start. I had to eat them fast enough so they wouldn't get cold. For taste purposes, I ate them in the restaurant, so they wouldn't get even colder.
Not that I frequent major chain fast food places that often, but getting hot fries, much less warm is still a major issue. For taste purposes, I made no special orders. But to enjoy the fries in a later visit, I would definitely make a special order to get them to be hot.
Keeping fries in the warmer doesn't make them warmer. Even if I have to wait for fries, they would be worth it to me, though I'm clearly in the minority on that concept.
Difficult to say these are better than McD's fries in their heyday, but they are different in a good way and healthier.
I don't know how much healthier the Wendy's fries are, but the sea salt helps reduce the sodium (assuming nothing else has been done to the fries themselves). They tasted less salty.
We could see even more skin on the fries, though that might scare consumers, who are used to seeing their fried potatoes completely peeled.
Should you explore Wendy's fries if you normally don't eat in a fast food restaurant? Maybe. If you really are in the mood for someone to make you fries, you could do a lot worse than Wendy's.
Cooking them at home would be better because you would make them golden brown and they would be hot once you cook them. On the go, Wendy's delivers a well above-average French fry. In the major chain fast food world, that is saying something.
Today is the day before Christmas Eve. We will slow things down on BalanceofFood.com for the holidays. Of course, if you need a timeout from your family, go back and read some of the stories you may have missed along the way.
Some last-minute advice:
-- Enjoy the food you will have at Christmas, whether that be a banquet or feast or if you are struggling to find food. Savor it. If you've been good throughout December, have a little indulgence. Just appreciate it, though.
-- If you can help someone who needs food or pull up an extra chair at the table, go for it. Share the bounty of food at this time of the year. And don't be afraid to do so even after Christmas (more on this next week).
-- Move around a bit. That family timeout can be spent walking around the block, maybe doing so with the relatives you do like.
Are you thrilled or worried about the effects of the new food safety bill? We now have one, the first since 1938. The House passed the bill 215-144 yesterday to finally give the bill to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The easy answer is yes, as the bill does a number of good and necessary things. But different factions, not just on the right, haven't been thrilled with the process, the bill, or both.
Smaller food processors have been concerned over threats that the FDA will go after them and not the larger food companies. Those on the right are complaining about government overreach and/or interference.
This process is rather unfortunate, given the necessity of having a bill.
While there is a temptation to celebrate the food safety bill, there is still much that we don't know.
While the bill calls for $1.4 billion over the next four years — 2,000 new FDA inspectors — there is no method within the bill to pay for the new inspectors. So those people upset with the bill may get what the rest fear — not enough oversight of the potential damage to our food supply.
The Tester Amendment will go a long way toward determining whether the bill's effects will damage small farmers. The impact on raw milk also will be an indicator.
And though oversight on foods coming in from other countries is part of the deal, will we still keep our Mexican Coca-Cola bottles?
We deserved better. We deserved a food safety bill that would have been out in the open, targeting larger companies more than smaller companies, based purely on track record. We deserved a less rushed process to reduce paranoid and legitimate concerns. We deserved a better Senate than the one that passed the bill but put in literally unconstitutional elements into the bill, delaying its passage.
But we don't have any of those things. We have an imperfect food safety bill. If anyone thinks the fight is over, well, 2011 will show you differently.
Enjoy the victory while it lasts, but rest up: 2011 will have to continue the food safety battle, especially with a hostile-GOP-led House of Representatives.
In the world of food, it is absolutely better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But when the loved one goes away, boy does that suck.
There are many ways to lose a loved one: company stops making that flavor or that brand, restaurant burns down, chain restaurant goes bankrupt, grandma dies before getting that recipe than no one else knows how to make.
In today's case, the chain restaurant went out of business: Bill Knapp's. The chain ruled in a few states, most notably Michigan, with family-style cooking. Its signature chocolate cake was part of the birthday ritual at Bill Knapp's.
If you came in on your birthday, you got a percentage off your check tied into your new age along with this chocolate cake. A person turning 40 got 40% off the meal plus the cake.
Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Rich. Decadent.
The story could have ended when the restaurant did. So many of those tastes completely disappeared when the chain went out of business. The au gratin potatoes, fried chicken, fried clams, the steakburger with the buttered bun, my first cinnamon ice cream.
But the chocolate cake lived on. Meijer's carried the cake for awhile. The cake was like what we all remembered, though when you would get them in the restaurant, the cake had just been pulled from the walk-in cooler.
I had not seen them even at Meijer's lately, not that I live anywhere near the cake. But for the holidays, I always look for them just in case out of habit.
This Thanksgiving was more sad since a local Italian restaurant had gone out of business (its sister location, about 20 miles southwest, with limited hours still existed). But in shopping a local grocery store, I found the cake still existed.
I started dumbfounded at the cakes in the refrigerated case. Sugar had been my friend, but not lately. Yet the cake was calling to me. “Remember me. I still taste good.”
So you know that we got the cake and brought it back. And it was good, quite good, though never quite as good as I remembered many years ago.
Full disclosure: I worked at Bill Knapp's while in high school and I worked at that Italian restaurant, too. But I remember the smell of those cakes in the walk-in cooler. When you are surrounded by multiple trays of cakes, I haven't found that smell in the current product.
But even as I have had exposure to the cakes, most of my memory stems from bygone times: eating a steakburger in the back after a particularly long shift, being tired and sore and sinking my teeth into the burger and fries.
Having the chocolate cake over Thanksgiving 2010 was more than just having dessert; this was a slice that took me back to a food bevy of which the cake is the only survivor.
The current version is never as good as you remembered it. But having a slice of the past – a visible sign that sparks memories – is a nice treat, especially around the holidays.
In the words of Crowded House, “can I have another piece of chocolate cake.”
There was hope that Freaky Eaters on TLC this fall would shine some light on how people deal poorly with food and how they can be helped. Since I'm hugely cynical about reality shows, my hopes weren't very high.
The 6-episode series dealt with a different substance in each episode: sugar, soft drinks, French fries, pizza, cheeseburgers, and raw meat. And each of them got help from a nutrition expert and a psychotherapist.
What we discovered was the common theme wasn't their obsession with food, but using food as a substitute for something that was missing.
We saw a guy who ate cheeseburgers 3 times a day for almost 30 years, a woman who ate French fries the same way, and a young woman who drank 30 soda cans a day. This was not about food. Especially the raw meat guy.
And their meticulousness about their behaviors were deep-rooted. The cheeseburger guy ate them plain with nothing on them. The french fry lady wouldn't eat them if they were blue, even a non-processed potato fried in oil freaked her out.
These people should have been helped long before this point.
The good news was that the experts were rather nice, almost too laid-back. They could have done more for the soft drink woman. Usually the TV experts are over the top.
They did resort to similar tactics each time: the person was shown a visual of the impact of a month or year of eating the same thing. Medical tests were another consistent theme in the episodes. And they would steer the person toward something similar as a way to distract away from the obsession.
So what can we learn about food from Freaky Eaters?
don't use food as a crutch
taste your food, appreciate it instead of wolfing it down without thinking
too much of a good thing is really too much
your obsession can't be as bad as these people and they haven't died from it yet.
eat a variety of foods
don't let your problems make you reach the point where you end up on a reality show, even one with a softer touch
Editor's note: This week's podcast has been interrupted to bring you breaking news on the McDonald's Happy Meal lawsuit. The podcast returns on New Year's Eve.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is filing suit against McDonald's because Happy Meals exist. Well, CSPI is filing suit along with 2 sets of parents for deceptive advertising. This makes the San Francisco decision to require food quality upgrades in Happy Meals seem downright traditional.
The Happy Meal has been around since 1979. You buy a meal, you get a toy. That hasn't changed in 31 years, not sure when the deceptive advertising angle arrives.
And McDonald's has been marketing to children even since Willard Scott dressed up as Ronald McDonald in Washington, DC many many many birthdays ago. While we see less of the clown and his missing friends, Ronald still has a presence in the fast food chain's marketing,
Now, McDonald's relies on Disney and now Dreamworks and other companies to get kids into the restaurant. And guess what, toy companies also market to kids.
By that logic, parents should go after toy companies because their kids want to buy their toys.
One of the co-plantiffs brought the case because of the constant requests she was getting from her daughters, 6 and 2, about Happy Meals and Shrek toys. She limited the kids to monthly visits, but the newest Shrek toys required weekly visits to get them all.
This is why you file a lawsuit? If I had known this, I would have whined a lot more as a child.
How did this woman's kids learn about Shrek and the toys? Television. And videos.
Children — especially when they're 2 — don't learn about Shrek on the streets. They are exposed to them for a reason.
The suit notes that “Children 8 years old and younger do not have the cognitive skills to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and advertising.” Apparently, this lack of cognitive skills goes well beyond 8 years old.
8-year-old kids aren't laying down their allowances for Happy Meals. And the kids aren't driving themselves to McD's. Their parents or guardians are taking them to McDonald's to eat the food and get the prizes.
This doesn't let McDonald's off the hook. They are using children's love of fictional characters to harass their parents into buying them junk food for the toys. And though what McDonald's is doing probably isn't ethical, it's extremely legal.
McDonald's is based in a country where marketing to kids has reached obscene lengths. There are 30-minute programs that feel like infomercials for toys. Hasbro launched its own cable channel this fall in an effort to promote Hasbro toys.
Those who say they love kids aren't fighting back enough at all the ways our children are being exploited. Even if they bring down Happy Meals, your kids will still be exploited for marketing purposes 24/7.
Finally, if your kids are screaming loud enough for the toys, as a parent, here is what you should do. Drive to McDonald's without your kids, buy the Happy Meal, check to make sure the toy is correct, and throw out the food. Or give the food to a homeless person who doesn't have enough to eat.
Yes, McDonald's gets its money, Toy companies give away their toys. But your kids get the toys without eating the fast food. And they play with those toys at the dinner table while eating a nutritious dinner that you cooked for them.
True, you will have paid about 3 bucks for a toy that Chinese kids probably made for 2.3 cents. But the kids get the toy without associating the toy with fast food.
McDonald's won't sell you the toy individually, but the value of the toy is worth the price of the meal. Nobody says you have to eat the food.
Thanks to the considerable marketing to children, they will want toys, especially at this time of year. Giving them the toys seems an acceptable practice. Associating fast food with toys isn't good, even if it has some acceptance in society.
Parents can step in, if they choose, and remove that association. Individual choice — parents choose for themselves which option to choose. They just need to know that they can choose toys without fast food.
Some time back, my dietitian friend Melissa Dobbins made her debut on BalanceofFood.com, talking about how to better manage food and diabetes during National Diabetes Month.
Dietitians make a point to note that this is all about food choices: do I eat these or eat that. Obviously, we often make the choice to eat both.
I had mentioned when Melissa made her debut that she is so good at putting food issues into perspective, so I want to spotlight something that she submitted:
Checking your blood glucose two hours after a meal can help you learn that you might want to skip that piece of garlic bread when you have a pasta dinner, or even that the piece of cake you split with your friend did not raise your blood glucose levels as much as you thought it might because your meal of salmon and green beans was lower in carbs than your usual meal. All of these small changes can help people with diabetes make big strides in their health.
You don't need to suffer from diabetes to understand that you can apply this process to food decisions, especially around the holidays.
Garlic bread with a pasta dinner: we see this dilemma all the time, especially when we dine out. Your main meal is carbohydrates (pasta). Sure you might have meat, vegetables, or seafood in the pasta, but the main attraction is carbohydrates. A lot of restaurants provide homemade bread (carbohydrates) or offer yummy garlic bread (carbohydrates) as an option.
And if that plate of pasta is rather large, you definitely are headed toward a pile of carbohydrates; the accompanying protein -- if there is any -- is puny by comparison.
There are options within this as well. You could split the spaghetti into half, either for a friend right there or later as another meal. Or you can order the garlic bread as a snack in a future endeavor. Or skip the pasta entirely and have the garlic bread.
Half a piece of cake with a meal of salmon and green beans: Want your cake and eat it too? Reduce the carbohydrates during the meal. Grandma might notice if you don't have a slice of her cake, but she might not care if you skip the potatoes. Now mashed potatoes are healthier than cake, but reducing carbohydrates is the important step. If that cake is vital to your happiness, cut back on the carbohydrates during the meal.
As we saw from the video segment from her appearance on WLS-TV in Chicago, Dobbins pricked the finger of the TV anchor and drew blood. Having to go through that several times a day might encourage people to reconsider what they eat and in what combinations. And if you are hungry, stock up on fruits and vegetables. Eat more fiber to make you feel more full. And drink more water; often in colder times, we forget the joys of drinking water.
Making smarter food decisions during holiday time can be a rather difficult task: this is why diets are so popular around the New Year. You can make that decision more difficult if you are just a little bit smarter now. That way, you can have a slice of cake and peace of mind.
"Beating an addiction is a question of mind over matter. Sometimes matter wins. And sometimes the mind loses."
Having given up (mostly) soft drinks as part of my attempt to get better, I was intrigued by the plot line of an episode of the CBC sitcom "Men with Brooms." However, watching the episode proved to be the most difficult task.
The plot line revolves around Gary, Matt, and April and their quest to give up diet soda pop. One humorous exchange with Gary and Matt has Matt talking about how he puts diet pop in his cereal. Gary offers up a bet, joking that the winner gets a pop.
(Canadian sitcoms are a lot more subtle. Jokes and laugh tracks aren't as big a part of the scene as American sitcoms. The humor lies in the situations.)
April and Matt start in on the competition, seeing how long each of them can go without pop. Gary doesn't, at least, initially.
Both April and Matt are impressed after awhile of the changes as a result of giving up their liquid treats. They smell better (with their noses) and their fingernails are less brittle. Sure they are on edge, but they find success.
Gary eventually quits diet pop, too, and ends up being the first to give in. Eventually, April gives in as well. Matt ends up being the winner.
The writers/producers treated the situation with class and humor that didn't denigrate anybody. The problems were enhanced but fairly realistic.
The quote at the top of the page is the voice of the narrator as the episode ends. Addictions are difficult, especially since food and drink are all around and we have to partake on a daily basis.
I haven't given up soft drinks completely, but I do feel like I am in control of the circumstances. I certainly remember a time when soft drinks controlled me.
Reducing the need or desire is the first important step. If you are drinking 120 oz. of soft drinks per week, drink 60 oz. or 45 oz. Your body has a better chance if you can do it cold turkey, but the important thing is that you do it the way you can best handle it.
As we learned recently, nearly 40% of the total calories consumed by 2-18 year olds are in the form of empty calories, according to the National Institutes of Health. Even if you are drinking diet pop, the perceived sweetness might be affecting your overall food intake.
There is hope that addictions can be cured, or at least diminished or tempered. And if handled properly, the subject can even be part of a sitcom.
"Men with Brooms" airs Monday nights on the CBC in Canada. I ended up accessing CBC.ca while on that side of the border. There may be other ways to watch the episode, but I don't have first-hand knowledge.
There is no right way to finding the balance of food, just your way. My typical breakfast is whole wheat spaghetti with homemade sauce, sautéed mushrooms, and a naturally low-fat Italian cheese sprinkled on top. Works for me.