Tag Archives: food

Why fresh-squeezed orange juice turns bitter.

Several times recently I have squeezed a large number of oranges, enjoyed some of the delicious fresh-squeezed juice, and then been disappointed by the rest the next day. It tastes bitter, and becomes worse rapidly. This turns out to be the result of naturally occurring limonoate A-ring lactone (aka "LARL," a tasteless substance) breaking down into limonin, which is very bitter tasting. The amount of LARL varies between oranges and throughout the growing season. If there’s any way to arrest the conversion of LARL to limonin in the home-squeezing process, I don’t know about it. 

That “fresh squeezed” orange juice is anything but.

I’m more interested in orange juice than is probably healthy for somebody who doesn’t work in the industry and, as such, I’m excited to see Bloomberg Businessweek shining a spotlight on the horseshit that is "fresh squeezed," "not from concentrate," and "all-natural." These are all lies. It was squeezed months ago. It was concentrated to a point a hair’s breadth from the legal definition of "concentrated." It’s not natural, it’s created in a lab in a process more complicated than Coca-Cola. If you drank the stuff as its stored in giant vats, you’d spit it out—it’s flavorless at best, disgusting at worst. It’s only through adding a cocktail of lab-created flavorings that it takes like something that came out of an orange. Because those lab-created flavorings are based on molecules that are found somewhere—anywhere—in nature, they can be labelled "natural flavors," instead of "artificial flavors." 

Sweet land of liberty.

I just discovered NPR’s “Americandy: Sweet Land of Liberty,” a series of stories about regional candies from around the U.S. Some obvious ones make the cut—GooGoo Clusters, Valomilk, Idaho Spud, Cherry Mash, Nut Goodie, Rocky Road—but I’m excited to learn about a bunch of others that I’d never heard of. Chukar Cherries, Chewie Pecan Praline, Melty Bar, Chocolate Charlies, Red Coconut Balls, Needhams, Modjeskas, sponge candy…these are all news to me. Every time I travel someplace new, I scour corner stores for regional candies. Now I’ve got a bunch of new candies to be on the lookout for. 

Links for December 5th

  • Planet Money: Why Burn Doctors Hate Instant Soup
    Styrofoam "Cup Noodle" style containers turn out to be wildly dangerous. They spill easily, and hospitals throughout the country get a never-ending series of little kids who have been burned as a result of these things falling over. Companies that make short, squat containers don't have any problem—it's the tall, thin containers that are really hazardous.
  • Marc Newlin: You should probably start burning your mail—What I learned from the DARPA Shredder Challenge
    Last month DARPA sponsored the Shredder Challenge, an open competition to develop software that can take crosscut shredder scraps and reassemble them. Marc Newlin, who came in third place, wrote up this helpful description of how his program worked. It functions just as I had sketched out my own idea for it, proving yet again that any dope can come up with ideas, but real developers ship.
  • The New York Review of Books: Defending an Anthology by Rita Dove
    Some pretty great spats have been played out in the pages of the New York Review of Books, and Rita Dove's rebuttal to Helen Vendler's review of her her poetry anthology for Penguin should certainly be categorized as such. Rita is an acquaintance, and I'm inclined towards siding with her in the first place, but I really think she lands some pretty good punches on Vendler.

On the impracticality of a cheeseburger.

If you came here having been told that this is an article about how the cheese­burger was “impossible” until recently, please note that it is not. It is about how the cheese­burger as we know it today was an impractical food until relatively recently. (Ref: the title.) A time-traveler with unlimited resources could probably pull it off. –WJ

A few years ago, I decided that it would be interesting to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Not just regular “from scratch,” but really from scratch. Like, I’d make the buns, I’d make the mustard, I’d grow the tomatoes, I’d grow the lettuce, I’d grow the onion, I’d grind the beef, make the cheese, etc.

It didn’t happen that summer, by the following summer, my wife and I had built a new house, started raising chickens, and established a pretty good-sized garden. I realized that my prior plan hadn’t been ambitious enough—that wasn’t really from scratch. In fact, to make the buns, I’d need to grind my own wheat, collect my own eggs, and make my own butter. And I’d really need to raise the cow myself (or sheep, and make lamb burgers), mine or extract from seawater my own salt, grow my own mustard plant, etc. This past summer, revisiting the idea, I realized yet again that I was insufficiently ambitious. I’d really need to plant and harvest the wheat, raise a cow to produce the milk for the butter, raise another cow to slaughter for its rennet to make the cheese, and personally slaughter and process the cow or sheep. At this point I was thinking that this might all add up to an interesting book, and started to consider seriously the undertaking.

Further reflection revealed that it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in spring and fall. Large mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.

A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not.

* * *

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my wife and I had some friends and family members over to the house to slaughter turkeys. We’d raised eight of them from poults, letting them free range around our land for most of their lives, and their time had come. It took the bulk of the day to slit their throats, bleed them out, pluck them, gut them, and put them on ice. Everybody got to take home a turkey that, by all accounts, was delicious. (Nearly everybody has already asked us to do this again next year.) Accompanied by cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and apple pie, it was a meal that could have been produced almost entirely at our home (and very nearly was). There was no mining of salt, of course, but it proved to be a meal that made sense for the place and the time. It’s really the only such ritual meal in the U.S. for which that’s true.

The Pilgrims established this standard, although in their case they probably had their meal in early October. The Thanksgiving menu at Plymouth Plantation was described by William Bradford:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.

There’s some fundamental good in eating honestly, I think. Of knowing where your food comes from—raising it yourself, when you can—and trying to eat foods that could theoretically have existed a century ago. But you can’t take that but so far, or else the whole thing breaks down. As Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

Links for November 30th

  • Christian Science Monitor: Way cleared for horse slaughter to resume in US after 5-year ban
    Congress has passed a bill, and the president has signed it into law, that re-legalizes the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Banning that practice was a huge mistake, for reasons that were obvious at the time, but it took a five-year ban to show that to be so. Even PETA supports the change. The problem was that horses were either being abandoned to starve to death or shipped in crowded trailers to Canada or Mexico, where they were slaughtered (under terrible conditions in Mexico) and their meat sent back to the U.S. It actually increased animal suffering. Good for Congress for making a necessary—sure to be unpopular—change in the law.
  • ACLU of Virginia: Norfolk Man Who Refused to Stop Videotaping Police at Demonstration Is Not Guilty of Disorderly Conduct
    A Norfolk man was charged with disorderly conduct for videotaping an on-duty police officer back in April. I'm glad to see that he's been found not guilty by a Norfolk General District Court judge. There's been a strange rash of arrests, all around the country, for the non-existent crime of videotaping police officers. Decisions like this will help bring this to an end.
  • Print Free Graph Paper
    Just what it says on the tin.
  • Wikipedia: Point Roberts, Washington
    A tiny exclave of the United States is found off the coast of Washington State. "Point Bob," as it's known, is the southernmost tip of a Canadian peninsula, which extends just barely south of the 49th parallel that defines the U.S./Canadian border. To get there by land, one must go through two international border crossings. There are just over 600 households there, and one elementary school. After third grade, kids have to take a bus through Canada and back to the U.S. to get to school.

Links for November 10th

  • Nieman Reports: A Local Newspaper Endures a Stormy Backlash
    This is the story of how the tiny Idaho Falls Post Register bravely uncovered a series of cases of pedophiles acting as leaders in area Boy Scout troops, as told by the managing editor of the paper. In the face of an angry public very much in denial and personal embarrassment heaped on the reporter (a closeted gay man, he was outed), they pushed on, eventually getting state law changed to help the victims and and winning the Scripps Howard First Amendment prize.
  • Bret Victor: A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design
    Whether or not you care about the phrase "interaction design," you'll probably be interested in these thoughts about the poverty of our methods of interfacing with gizmos when compared with the rest of our interactions with the world.
  • Food Safety News: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey
    Anything related to honey is filtered out of most honey, leaving a sugar solution. Why? In part because it allows Chinese businesses to dump their antibiotics-laced honey on the U.S. market without any pollen left that would allow the honey to be IDd as Chinese. If you want real honey, just buy it from a local producer or from a health food store.

Links for October 5th

  • Chattanooga Times-Free Press: 96-year-old Chattanooga resident denied voting ID
    Dorothy Cooper even managed to vote under Jim Crow, but the Tennessee Republican Party has proved to be one obstacle she can't overcome. She's never driven, so she has no driver's license. She tried to get a photo ID, but she has to present her marriage certificate, and she got married a long, long time ago, and doesn't know where to find that. I guess the new photo ID laws are working just as intended.
  • Flickr: Fed Up with Lunch
    A Flickr stream of nothing but photos of what passes for school lunch in the Chicago Public Schools. Parents never see what the kids get for lunch, but this teacher did. I'd love to see somebody do this in area schools. Heck, the schools should be willing to do it themselves.
  • New York Times: After Ruling, Hispanics Flee an Alabama Town
    Alabama's new immigration law has left crops rotting in their fields, farmers unable to find workers. Business at grocery stores and restaurants has evaporated. Hundreds (thousands?) of people working perfectly legal have gotten the message loud and clear: Latinos are not welcome in Alabama. So they're packing up and moving.