The Juicy Bits
Restaurants have been through the wringer in the past 2 years. Some 90,000 closed permanently. A few other upshots: Restaurant critics have, by and large, abandoned numerical star ratings; you can now join a paywalled restaurant's membership and pony up for reservations with NFTs; and the James Beard Awards created a category for restaurants with strong cocktail programs. Guess the pandemic drove us to drink even more creatively! In other food news, the largest US grocery chains, Kroger and Albertsons, have agreed to merge. They're trying to take on grocery leaders Walmart and Amazon but face an uphill regulatory battle. Good luck Krogertsons. Meanwhile, I'll continue shopping online, not for store brand canned beans, but for a sweet deal on bourbon. It's rare whiskey season, just in time for holiday sipping. Michter's 20-year-old bourbon and Van Winkle's brand new 6-bottle collection just dropped in October. If you prefer Scotch, Balvenie just released a $145,000 whisky from a single 1962 barrel. Hoo-boy. That's way above my pay grade. But maybe I'll get lucky? Maybe Santa will see that I've been really good this year.
James Beard Foundation Revises 2023 Awards
Image Source: Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
The "Oscars of the food world" announced several changes to next year's Media Awards and Restaurant and Chef Awards. There's a new book award for Bread (in addition to Baking and Desserts) and a new book award for Food Issues and Advocacy. A new beverage-focused journalism award was added as well. To be more inclusive, JBF also expanded the awards for Outstanding Bar and Outstanding Wine And Other Beverages Program so that wine bars can win in the former category and cocktail-focused restaurants can win in the latter. Get your applications in by November 30. Good luck all!
Restaurant Critics Abandon Star Ratings
Image Source: Signature9/Dindeo, Inc
Philadelphia's Craig LaBan and Washington DC's Tom Sietsema are the latest critics to ditch ratings in their restaurant reviews. Why? "To be more useful to readers," says LaBan. How can 1-4 bells or stars apply equally to establishments as disparate as Vetri Cucina and Pat's Cheesesteaks? Eater's Ryan Sutton gave up restaurant ratings in 2021. Critics at the San Francisco Chronicle and Miami Herald gave them up even earlier. Who still uses them? The New York Times and the Boston Globe. And Michelin, of course. Can you imagine if Michelin abandoned its rating system? How would aspiring chefs reach for the stars?
Michter’s Rare 20-Year-Old Bourbon Returns
Image Source: J Sprecher
Just in time for the holidays, Michter’s has released its 20-Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon for 2022. Bourbons aged this long sometimes taste woody due to decades of barrel aging in high temps and high humidity. The rare survivors are highly coveted among collectors. Bottled at 114-proof, the SRP for this year's 20-year Michter's is $1,200. That may seem steep, but previous Michter's 20-year bourbons have sold for over $10,000 on the collector market. At least that's cheaper than Michter's other unicorn bourbon, the 25-year-old, which sells for upwards of $16K. Too rich for me. But if you got the cash, I got the ice cubes.
Top US Grocers, Kroger And Albertsons, Pursue $24.6 Billion Merger
The two largest US grocers have agreed to create a corporate behemoth that would reshape the supermarket landscape. The two chains operate nearly 5,000 stores with revenue of more than $209 billion. Kroger claims the acquisition will reduce food prices for consumers, but lawmakers remain skeptical, especially as inflation continues. Three US attorneys general filed a federal lawsuit and prominent politicians have sent opposition letters to the Federal Trade Commission to block the deal. If the FTC and Justice Department approve the merger and it survives court challenges, the deal would close in early 2024. The key questions: Will this acquisition benefit consumers? Does it violate antitrust laws? We shall see in the coming months.
USDA Announces $1 Billion Debt Relief For 36,000 Farmers
Image Source: Charlie Neibergall/AP
Thousands of farmers and livestock producers are behind on USDA loan payments due to recent natural disasters, drought, and transportation bottlenecks. To keep America's farmers farming, the USDA rolled out a program providing $1.3 billion in debt relief to about 36,000 farmers. The debt forgiveness adds to the Agriculture Department's $31 billion farmer payout to help offset lower sales and other losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new relief also aims to keep the US food supply stocked and prevent food prices from skyrocketing further.
More Agriculture News
Illinois GMO Researchers Improve Plant Photosynthesis, Increasing Crop Yields
Mexico Proceeds With GMO Corn Ban
Hurricane Ian Demolishes Florida Orange Crop, Driving Up Prices
Justice Department Investigates Poultry Companies' Unfair Pay To Farmers
Pork Industry Takes Fight Over California Law To US Supreme Court
Image Source: Ben Brewer/Reuters
Last year, California voted to improve bar the in-state sale of pork, veal and eggs from animals whose confinement failed to meet minimum space requirements (24 square feet for breeding pigs vs. the current 14-20 feet). The National Pork Producers Council sued, arguing that increased costs for pig farmers violate the "Commerce Clause," which prevents states from passing laws discriminating against commerce in other states. Proponents argue that CA has the right to set standards for products sold to CA consumers regardless of where they are produced. It's a sticky issue, and pork producers are hedging their bets. Top producer Smithfield Foods said last year it plans to comply, and #2 producer Seaboard Foods said it has already begun converting its facilities.
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The Joy Of Jelly
Image Source: Courtesy of Bompas & Parr
Do you play with your food? In the TikTok era, some people make a career out of it. And some start a creative studio dedicated to playing with jelly. Sam Bompas and Harry Parr are those people. In 2007, these Brits pivoted from architecture and real estate to jelly art. Since then, they've recorded the sound of jelly wobbling, created gelatin portraits and glow-in-the-dark alcoholic jelly, and recreated the entire sprawl of Buckingham Palace in jiggly gelatin. That all pales in comparison to the 66,000 gallons of jelly they set below the SS Great Britain, enveloping the giant Victorian steamship in a wiggling, illuminated green sea. At the end of the installation, viewers ate the art. See? Food can still be fun. You just have to keep playing with it.
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