The US Food and Drug Administration has received more than 100 complaints of illness related to Lucky Charms. Did someone put a hex on the breakfast cereal? Hopefully the FDA investigation reveals the truth. Another popular breakfast food is under the microscope this month: eggs. The second-worst avian flu in US history is ripping across the country, causing "free-range" egg producers to keep their birds indoors. Is an egg "free-range" if the bird doesn't go outside? Not in the UK, where eggs can no longer be labeled free-range because hens have been cooped up for months. In other UK food news, a British scientist has analyzed the subterranean electrical impulses of mushrooms and found that the patterns closely resemble that of human language. He asserts that mushrooms talk to other plants. Crazy? We shall see. Elsewhere in Europe, two Danish brothers have figured out how to cultivate morel mushrooms indoors, at scale. It's European mushroom mania! Food innovation is also thriving in Japan, where a tech scientist developed a pair of chopsticks that enhances the perception of saltiness. He hopes the device will help Japanese consumers reduce their sodium intake. Speaking of salt, two US economists analyzed data from the 1920s and found that adding iodine to salt actually boosted the IQ of Americans. Their source material? Military records. The food world never ceases to amaze.
Putin's war in Ukraine is reverberating around the food world, driving up prices and choking supply chains. Thanks Vlad. Maybe that will be a boon for cookbook sales. If this spring's crop of cookbooks is any indication, hunkering down and cooking at home is more popular than ever. I'm sure menu sticker shock is a factor in that trend. In February, restaurant menu prices hit a 41-year high. You've probably noticed your grocery bill rising, too. Globally, food prices jumped 20.7% last year, a record high, and the Ukraine war is likely to cause another 22% surge, according to the UN's food agency. Enough bad news. Here's something more interesting: scientists have figured out how to grow spinach in the arid desert by harvesting water from air. And Italian researchers have discovered a way to raise pizza dough without yeast or chemical leaveners. If things get real bad and we're all banished to a desert planet where yeast doesn't exist, at least there will be spinach pizza.
As we enter yet another turbulent March (remember the start of lockdown 2020?), I'm finding peace in homemade pizza. I'm not alone. At least two major food publications are now spotlighting how to make legit Neapolitan pizza at home. Plus, there's at least one new pizza tome in this spring's crop of more than 50 notable cookbooks. And remember that whole climate change thing? It's made "spring" planting less predictable for most farmers, but in Alaska there's an upside: warmer temps are extending the state's growing season and could eventually increase agricultural revenues. In less promising news, the UN just released a report showing how plastic pollution in soil has become worse than plastics in the world's oceans. Grab that reusable water bottle. And if you're trying to "buy American" at the meat counter, you might want to voice your opinion in a new USDA survey. Current regulations allow meat labeled "Product of USA" to come from anywhere in the world. The survey asks: Do you really care? Should food labels mean what they say? Survey link is below...
To kick off 2022, the US Department of Agriculture has some good news about our food supply. The agency has committed at least $5 million to build a new California shipping port. The funding was sparked in part by the unavailability of US grocery items climbing up to 15% last year. Unavailability rates usually hover around 5% to 10%. The USDA has also introduced a new food label this year. As of January 1, "GMO" or genetically modified food labels must be replaced with "Bioengineered" labels instead. You know what else is new? French salad dressing. The US Food and Drug Administration recently deregulated French dressing, dropping the requirement that it contain at least 35% vegetable oil and at least some vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice. Who knows what will be in a bottle of French dressing from now on? And who knows what will be in a bottle of fancy bourbon, either. Lab tests show that coveted bottles of Pappy Van Winkle, Double Eagle and other rare bourbons increasingly contain counterfeit booze. Buyer beware.
As 2021 comes to a close (good riddance!), food media churns out the inevitable year-end best-restaurant listicles and food trend predictions for the year ahead. But among the predictable stories, you can also find some delicious reads like this takedown of the "world's worst Michelin-starred restaurant", along with a few hard-to-swallow nuggets like this indictment of a South Georgia crime ring that ran a $200 million "modern-day slavery" farming operation. We humans can be maddening! But we can also be amazing, like this Vermont chef cooking with European green crabs and other invasive species to help repopulate the planet with more appetizing foodstuffs. And this thirsty author who wrote an entire book on how to turn your Christmas tree into cocktails instead of just kicking it to the curb. Those are stories to celebrate. And that's what I'm choosing to do as 2022 comes into view. Time to make Christmas tree mimosas. Cheers!
I thought I knew what a food book was. It's a cookbook, maybe a food history tome, or a chef's memoir, right? Think again. Ben Denzer’s edible book 20 Slices of American Cheese brings new meaning to the term. Thanks Ben. And thank you to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi for repealing three misguided agriculture laws and ending a year of bloody protests. Score one for rice farmers. In other food news, Consumer Reports has found high levels of heavy metals in common herbs and spices like oregano. To be safe, grow your own. And you might want to ditch a few avocados for fava beans in your guacamole. The delicious nutritious Instagram darlings have lost ground in the carbon footprint wars. But plant-based meat is still winning. A new survey of studies shows that, yes, it is better for the environment. Mushrooms are winning too, especially at this Jersey Shore BBQ joint where they're smoked, seared and served alongside house-made snags (that's Aussie for sausages).
Lava cake, anyone? It seems the cuisine of the 1990s is back on America's tables. That's not so bad. At least we're not reverting to the 1950s. I prefer to leave jello ham salad in the past, thankyouverymuch. Maybe I don't like it because jello is too quiet. Science shows that loud food tastes better. Could it be that crunch is the secret to Noma's success? The Copenhagen restaurant just nabbed the #1 spot on the prestigious World's 50 Best Restaurants list for the fifth time. If, like most of us, you can't afford to fly to Denmark to find out, Uber Eats may be able to deliver a loud, crunchy, satisfying meal to you tonight, plus drinks. The food delivery service just acquired Drizly for $1.1 billion, allowing its app to deliver beer, wine, and spirits to your door along with your restaurant takeout order. Well now, it seems there's no reason to leave the house anymore! I wonder what the ever-opinionated Anthony Bourdain would say. Alas, we'll never know. However, we can listen to what those closest to him said about the chef's final year in this excerpt from Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography, written by his longtime writing collaborator, Laurie Woolever.
Have you noticed beef prices climbing up and up? This article explains why. And this one examines how Joe Biden's latest executive action may help keep US beef prices in check, or at least help cattle ranchers keep their fair share of the profits. Meanwhile in Nashville, chef Nick Guidry just wants to keep grilling his 18-ounce, 35-day dry aged steaks over an open fire. Check out this video to see how Guidry does primitive live-fire barbecue. Or for a roundup of all the best new barbecue joints in the South, see this smart Southern Living article by barbecue historian Robert Moss. If you're more into eating plants, here's a review of world-class NYC restaurant Eleven Madison Park's new all-vegan menu. Spoiler alert: food critic Ryan Sutton was not impressed. Maybe EMP should bring on one of Food & Wine's newly minted "Best New Chefs 2021" as a culinary consultant. Or maybe EMP just needs to round out the menu with some great tasting water. Yes, water can taste exceptionally good and professional water judges assemble every year at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting to evaluate the world's top tap, bottled, sparkling and still waters. Here's one judge's reflection on the 31st annual H2O gathering.
Ever wonder how your indispensable, indestructible cast iron pans get made? Watch and learn in this short, engaging video. Or maybe you're more curious about regional American BBQ. Just how does an area become known for a particular style? Southern California has the answer in this deep dive into the region's unique history of smoking meat...and other things. Lawmakers may soon be credited with shaping those BBQ traditions. California's new animal welfare laws take effect in a few months, and only 4% of US hog operations comply. Will pork take a back seat to beef in the state? We shall see. Elsewhere across the country, restaurants are still caught in the crossfire of vaccination debates, Congress thinks it can define "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods, and further north of the border a biophysicist is transforming apples, asparagus and other produce into functioning medical implants. August is usually a slow news month but not in the food world. There was even a pizza delivery to the International Space Station!
Summer's in full swing and BBQ is booming so much that both the Weber and Traeger grill companies recently filed IPOs to go public. These days, I guess it makes sense to enjoy a backyard meal at home. The cost of eating out just saw its biggest surge in 40 years. But for those who can afford it, please do visit your favorite restaurants. They need the money. COVID quarantines pummeled the industry and not just because of closures and restrictions. In 2020, American food spending overall dropped to historic lows. Of course, not everyone's pinching pennies. Reservations for the new $800 tasting menus at Per Se and Masa restaurants in New York City are booked out for months. And the world's oldest bourbon, circa 1760, was just auctioned off for $137,000. Yowza. If you got it, spend it.