homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about food

Sweet Little Rain, a Coffee Drink Built for Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

Sweet Little Rain

This drink from Chinese coffee chain Mellower Coffee is called Sweet Little Rain. A puff of cotton candy is suspended over a steaming cup of Americano. The heat from the coffee melts the cotton candy, which drips into the cup and sweetens the coffee. It is both a little bit of genius and unabashedly constructed for creating the perfect Instagram moment.

Cooking As A Service

posted by Tim Carmody   May 10, 2019

Alex Danco looks at some short-term and long-term trends and concludes that we may be on our way to a future where most of our cooking is outsourced to other parties.

As Cooking As A Service expanded from [less than] 10% to 25-30+% of our eating, we grew to consume and expect a far greater selection and variety of food compared to when we did all our cooking ourselves. Our consumption choices around what food we eat gradually pivoted from “What am I able to cook for myself” to “Is this exactly what I want to eat, yes or no?” Once you transition into “is this exactly what I want, yes or no” territory, it’s very hard to go back; it becomes a part of the standard of living that we expect….

From a couple of anecdotal conversations I’ve had with restaurant managers about this, it seems like once you open yourselves up as a restaurant that can be found on the delivery apps, a huge percentage of your kitchen volume switches over to fulfilling those orders, and your front-of-house costs get hung out to dry as increasingly unnecessary. Flexible, modular kitchens that are available for rent for any chef who wants to cook in it, and that have easy access to delivery cars and which pay for no front-of-house extras seem pretty obviously like the next iteration of back-end Cooking as a Service, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them pop up everywhere soon enough. If they can collectively bring down the cost of outsourced cooking another 20-30%, I think the economics start looking pretty compelling for outsourced cooking (including delivery) to effectively pay for itself out of the savings incurred by paying for ingredients and cooking equipment in bulk. At that point, kitchens start to truly become optional.

What I think is compelling about this argument (and it’s worth reading in full) is that it isn’t driven by a single mover: e.g., delivery apps, or supermarket prepared foods, or fast food, etc. It’s a whole suite of cultural transformations that are changing all at once, but all moving more or less in the same direction, towards less cooking being done in the home.

The Ecological Footprint of Fish

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2019

Ecological Fish Footprint

Artist duo Chow and Lin have produced a visual representation of the amount of small fish it takes to produce large farm-raised fish in China. The three big fish in the middle of the graphic eat all of the other fish surrounding them before they’re harvested.

We examined the impact of farm fishing through the large yellow croaker (大黄鱼) which is China’s most popular fish.

Working with scientists, fish experts and local government officials, we traversed 4 towns in Fujian China to build a tessellated mosaic of fish portraits to see how much wild small fish is needed to sustain fish farming.

The answer is 7.15kg, 39 species, more than 4000 wild small fish to raise a single kilogram of large yellow croaker.

The Failure of the Great Tip-Free Restaurant Experiment

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

Over the past three years, a number of restaurants across the geographic and economic spectrum of America have experimented with eliminating tipping. The practice is outdated, creates a difficult-to-justify wage imbalance between servers and cooks, and can result in mistreatment of staff (racism, sexual harassment) because of the fucked-up power dynamic it creates.

But as Grub Street’s Nikita Richardson writes, the no-tip test has largely failed, with many of those places going back to the old ways. This happened for three main reasons:

1. No tips meant higher prices printed on the menu, and customers stayed away from what they perceived as more expensive meals. That $12 burger became a $14.50 burger and all of a sudden, people knew what they were actually paying for their food. What’s interesting is that in another situation (say, having to pay to check a bag on a flight), people would be upset at not knowing the price up front and having a “hidden charge” added to their bill when they’re drunk and happy at the end of a meal.

2. Servers can make more at tipping restaurants. Places that went tip-free lost a bunch of their staff to places that still had tipping.

Meanwhile, by raising menu prices and thus revenues, the extra money would go toward higher wages for kitchen staff, who could start making $12 to $15 an hour at a time when the state minimum wage was $8.75.

But, it turned out, many front-of-house staffers were more concerned with making money than with maintaining the moral high ground. This February, Meyer admitted that he had lost 30 to 40 percent of his “legacy” staffers since 2015. (One Meyer employee told Grub last year that her wages dropped from $60,000 per year to $50,000 under the new policy.) While he insisted that the employees that replaced them “understand ‘Hospitality Included’ and are thrilled about it,” added employee attrition in an industry where turnover is already 1.5 times that of the private sector average has to hurt.

My regular NYC spot was one of the restaurants that experimented with eliminating tipping, and I can report that the staff was indeed quite skeptical about it and they switched back to the old method very soon. (I believe they kept the raises for the chefs though somehow.)

3. Tips make diners feel powerful. With tipping, you become the boss of your server or bartender and are responsible for a large chunk of their take-home pay.

Generally speaking, Americans hated the practice of tipping when it was first introduced in the late 19th century, perceiving it as a form of bribery for service workers who should simply do their jobs. But as we’ve adjusted to it, tipping has become undeniably intertwined with a sense of power.

Short of walking into the kitchen and telling off the chef, tipping is the easiest way to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a dining experience.

As a customer, I loved not tipping. I don’t feel the need to have power over the staff in a restaurant, I want cooks & chefs to get paid as well as servers, and I’ve acclimated to factoring the tip into my dining expenses. But it seems that Americans in the aggregate do care about those things, and so here we are.

And if we’re going to have tipping in restaurants, we should all know how it works.

If you can’t afford to tip 20 percent of the total amount that you spend at a restaurant, you can’t afford to eat at that restaurant.

And if your meal is bad?

You still tip. If something truly egregious happened, you ask to speak privately with a manager. If you do not want to speak privately with a manager, and would rather correct this perceived slight by tipping less or not tipping at all, you do not actually care about your perceived slight; you’re just using it as an excuse to be a dick.

The Last Avocado

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

If you had access to the last ripe avocado in the world, what would you do with it?

59 Ways to Cook Your Eggs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Eggs are an extremely versatile food. They taste great alone, make super sauces (including the much maligned mayonnaise, which I love), and can dress up leftovers into a whole other meal — just put an egg on it.

In this video, Bon Appétit editor Amiel Stanek explores almost 60 different ways to cook an egg, from over easy to coddled to grilled to something called “blowtorched egg” (not great). Be sure to catch the Rollie egg cooker in action at ~20:50…yucko. In general, the classic cooking methods beat newer techniques in terms of taste, texture, and convenience.

See also Every Way to Cook a Chicken Breast, Kenji’s guide on making perfect hard-boiled eggs, and How to Make Perfect Soft-Scrambled Eggs.

The Rise of the Fast Food Veggie Burger

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

Joining Carl’s Jr. and White Castle, Burger King is adding a tastes-like-beef veggie burger to their menu.

This week, Burger King is introducing a version of its iconic Whopper sandwich filled with a vegetarian patty from the start-up Impossible Foods.

The Impossible Whopper, as it will be known, is the biggest validation — and expansion opportunity — for a young industry that is looking to mimic and replace meat with plant-based alternatives.

The roll-out will start in the chain’s St. Louis restaurants and then proceed nationwide if all goes well. Here’s a commercial in which hardcore BK fans can’t tell the Impossible Whopper from their beloved beef version:

As an increasingly conflicted omnivore, I would be perfectly happy if all low- to mid-end burgers were replaced by veggie clones — I don’t care that the Quarter Pounder I eat once every three months is beef…I just want it to taste like a Quarter Pounder — and then high-end burgers (the ones where you can tell the difference and you eat only rarely) were made from humanely raised beef for which consumers pay an appropriate price that accurately reflects the true-cost accounting of their production. A meat burger that costs a dollar is just being paid for in other ways by someone or something else.

‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ Turns 50 Years Old

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2019

Hungry Caterpillar

50 years ago last week, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar was published for the first time. In a piece for The Atlantic, Ashley Fetters talked to a pair of kid lit experts about why the book remains so popular today.

Part of why both kids and parents love The Very Hungry Caterpillar is because it’s an educational book that doesn’t feel like a capital-E Educational book. Traditionally, children’s literature is a didactic genre: “It teaches something,” Martin says, “but the best children’s books teach without kids knowing that they’re learning something.” In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, she adds, “you learn the days of the week. You learn colors. You learn the fruits. You learn junk-food names. In the end, you learn a little bit about nutrition, too: If you eat a whole bunch of junk food, you’re not going to feel that great.” Yet, crucially, none of the valuable information being presented ever feels “in your face,” Martin says.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was certainly one of my favorite books as a kid — along with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town & Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, and the Frog & Toad books — and it was one of the first books we read to our kids. I remember very clearly loving the partial pages and the holes. Holes! In a book! Right in the middle of the page! It felt transgressive. Like, what else is possible in this world if you can do such a thing? (Also, “caterpillar” is such a satisfying word to say, both correctly and, er, less so… I still default to my childhood “callarpitter” sometimes).

What’s Eating Dan?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2019

From America’s Test Kitchen and Dan Souza, the editor-in-chief of Cook’s Illustrated, a YouTube series called What’s Eating Dan? In each episode, Souza picks a different food — pizza, rice, salmon — shares some of the science involved, and then shows us the best way to cook it. For starters, I’d suggest the first episode on burgers and a more recent one on mushrooms:

The Wasabi Farmer

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2019

By some accounts, 99% of the wasabi consumed in the world is not actually wasabi — it’s horseradish + green food coloring. Real wasabi is difficult to grow:

Authentic wasabi, known as Wasabia japonica, is the most expensive crop to grow in the world. The temperamental semiaquatic herb, native to the mountain streams of central Japan, is notoriously difficult to cultivate. Once planted, it takes several years to harvest; even then, it doesn’t germinate unless conditions are perfect. Grated wasabi root loses its flavor within 15 minutes.

Profiled in the short film above, 75-year old Shigeo Iida is the 8th generation owner of a wasabi farm in Japan, where he’s been painstakingly growing the herb in a beautiful valley for decades. He loves his work, but like other aging Japanese responsible for long-lived family businesses, there’s uncertainty about the future. (via craig mod)

Creatures of Habit

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2019

Ron and Diana Watson have been eating dinner at the same restaurant in Wichita 6 nights a week for 15 years. It’s their only meal of the day and they skip the bread because Ron was gaining too much weight from the complimentary dinner rolls.

The ritual is all part of the order Ron Watson likes in his life. A Vietnam veteran, he dines only in restaurants that offer military discounts, and Texas Roadhouse gives vets 10 percent off. He still has some PTSD, he said, and he feels comfortable at table 412, which is a booth at the bar that gives him a good view of the door and everyone coming and going.

The couple also are regular enough customers that they know how to make the most of their money at Texas Roadhouse. Every Sunday through Wednesday, they arrive between 3 and 3:15 p.m. to take advantage of the restaurant’s early bird special, which is available from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and offers a full meal for $9.49.

I’m fascinated by people for whom routine is so important. I definitely have those tendencies; I watch favorite shows and movies repeatedly, wear pretty much the same outfit daily, return to familiar vacation destinations, and order the same dishes at the same restaurants again and again. So much of what I do for kottke.org focuses on finding the new — ideas, people, art, discoveries, culture — that it’s comforting to have parts of my life that aren’t relentlessly novel. But I also make ample time for new experiences that bring happiness & fulfillment into my life…and the rest I put on cruise control. (via tmn)

Update: From The Atlantic, The People Who Eat the Same Meal Every Day.

Many of the people I talked with emphasized the stress-reducing benefits of eating the same thing each day. Amanda Respers, a 32-year-old software developer in Newport News, Virginia, once ate a variation on the same home-brought salad (a lettuce, a protein, and a dressing) at work for about a year. She liked the simplicity of the formula, but the streak ended when she and her now-husband, who has more of an appetite for variety, moved in together six years ago. Would she still be eating the salad every day if she hadn’t met him? “Oh heck yeah,” she told me. “It would’ve saved so much time.”

Crack Pie, Girly Drinks, and Problematic Food Language

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2019

Soleil Ho is the new restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. In a recent article, Ho shared a thoughtful list of the words that she isn’t going to use in her restaurant reviews. One of the words is “crack”:

In addition to being overly dramatic, it seems really callous to write that a bowl of bean dip is “like crack.” No matter how delicious something might be, its effect on me is nothing close to what crack does to people and their families. It’s supposed to be funny and edgy to compare a gourmet cupcake to crack because of how far the chi-chi bakery I’m standing in is from the kind of community that has historically been devastated by the crack epidemic. The ignorance is the joke.

One interesting example of its persistence is in the way we talk about Momofuku Milk Bar’s “Crack Pie.” Writers have called its creator, chef Christina Tosi, a “crack dealer” and used the language of addiction to describe the dish. Honestly, the company should have done the right thing and changed it by now.

Language is power and words are meaningful beyond their simple or intended definitions. For any given problematic word, there are so many other words you can use.

See also New Language for Slavery and the Civil War.

Clam Gardens, an Ancient Sea Farming Technique

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

Despite much recent evidence to the contrary (see Charles Mann’s 1491 for example), the view persists that a pristine wilderness awaited European conquerors upon their arrival to the Americas because the existing population didn’t really do a whole lot to alter the landscape.1 Take clam gardens for instance. In the Pacific Northwest, indigenous people constructed these coastal structures to deliberately encourage the production of shellfish.

These features are made by constructing rock walls at the low tide line along the edges of bays and inlets, transforming naturally sloping beaches or rocky shorelines into productive, level beach terraces. While clam garden morphology, character, and setting can vary greatly, they generally consist of a well-sorted boulder wall built at the lowest tide line and a terrace on the landward side of the wall. By building the walls at particular heights in relationship to the tides (“tidal heights”), these features expand the zone of the beach where clams thrive. According to local knowledge, clamming beaches, including those associated with clam gardens, were kept clear of large rocks as another means to increase clam habitat. The flattened terrace created by garden walls can range in size from a few square meters on small beaches to well over a kilometer in length. These larger beaches are more like vast fields than ‘gardens’ in size.

Clam Gardens

Researchers believe thousands of these gardens and fields were built and have found clam gardens dating back at least 2000 years. The garden’s construction may also have encouraged the growth and development of other animals as well.

While much of the Network’s focus so far has been on clams in the clam garden terraces (mainly butter clam, littleneck, horse clam, and cockles), our observations and that of our First Nations collaborators suggest that the boulder walls themselves create productive rocky reef habitat for octopus, sea cucumber, whelks, chiton, red turban snails and other critters. Many of these are valued foods for coastal First Nations.

Update: A clam garden is called K’yuu ḴudhlḴ’aat’iija in the Haida language and lux̌ʷxiwēy in the Kwakʼwala language. Both languages are endangered, with relatively few speakers and little transmission to the youth in those communities. (via @lilsheba)

  1. This is a prime example of what Sam Arbesman calls a “mesofact”.I’m guessing most people reading this learned in school that the Americas were sparsely populated and almost pristine before Columbus showed up, but subsequent research over the past 20 years has shown that this is very much not the case.

What Is a Vegetable? Do They Even Exist?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2019

Last night at dinner, we were talking about our favorite vegetables1 and when my daughter said tomatoes might be her pick, my 11-year-old son, who is at that annoying know-it-all stage of his life and loves to shut down his sister on any minor quibble, said “tomatoes are a fruit”. I argued back that while a tomato might technically be a fruit, it is culturally considered a vegetable and that he was just being a pedantic dick in order to dunk on his sister (but not in those exact words).

This morning, I ran across this piece by Lynne Peskoe-Yang called Vegetables Don’t Exist, in which the author goes quite a bit deeper into what a vegetable is now (and has been in the past).

Botanically speaking, it’s still clear: eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, and squash are all fruits. It’s equally clear that mushrooms and truffles are fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants. But these are all, also, in common usage, “vegetables.” Yet when an authority like the Oxford English Dictionary should provide clarity on what a vegetable actually is, it instead defines vegetables as a specific set of certain cultivated plant parts, “such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean.” And since carrots and turnips are roots, potatoes are tubers, broccoli is a flower, cabbage is a leaf, and celery is a stem, we find that “vegetable” rarely applies to the entire plant (or to the same parts of the plant), while it also has a way of applying to things that aren’t actually vegetables. It is a category both broader and more specific that the thing it’s supposed to describe.

The piece also references my favorite thing about the English language (which I first learned about in Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue) about why the food that results from pigs & cows are called pork & beef:

During Norman and early Plantagenet rule, the farm-to-table divide was less of a foodie buzzword than a class distinction: the upper class were served in French while serfs and servants planted, harvested, raised, butchered, and cooked in Anglo-Saxon. The French word for the served food lived alongside the Germanic word for its source. When Anglo-Saxon chickens were slaughtered, they became poultry for the Normans to eat. Food and animal were class-divided döppelgangers: Anglo-Saxon sheep, cows, swine, and doves were transformed into French mouton (mutton), boeuf (beef), porc (pork), and pigeons (pigeons).

(via @legalnomads)

Update: Apparently there is no such thing as a fish either.

If you choose to describe fish as, say, all the animals descended from the salmon lineage, then you’ve left out lungfish. Oops. If you choose to include both the salmon and the lungfish, you’ll see that one descendant of that original fishy-fish that gave rise to salmon and lungfish likewise gave rise to the cow. Suddenly, you’re stuck with either having the fish include the cows and humans, which no one wants, or no fish at all. Hello, modern evolutionary science; goodbye, fish.

(thx, paul)

  1. The whole thing came up because I remembered how amazing Momofuku’s brussels sprouts are and told the kids its one of my all-time favorite veggie dishes. Other favorites include corn on the cob (from a particular farm in Massachusetts), a perfectly ripe tomato (in caprese salad or on a BLT), asparagus, the snap peas I get from the local farmers’ market in the summer, hen of the woods mushrooms, and beets.

Confessions of an Adventurous Picky Eater

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2019

Amanda Mull on How to Stop Hating Your Least Favorite Food:

I’ve never had a traumatic barf experience with cucumbers, so my aversion is probably just an innate dislike. And the culprit behind my long-term cuke hatred might be in the vegetable’s smell, more specifically than its taste. “What we call ‘taste’ is really ‘flavor,’ which is a mixture of taste, smell, and texture,” Sclafani says. People lose olfactory sensitivity as they age, which is a big reason that many people seem to outgrow childhood aversions: A food that might have been overwhelming to a kid will read as more mellow to an adult. I’m in my 30s, so there’s a decent chance that, were I to give cucumbers a fair shake, I’d hate them a lot less than my childhood memories have led me to believe.

In recent years, I’ve come to the grudging conclusion that I am somewhat of a picky eater (with a couple of caveats that I’ll get into below). I grew up in the Midwest in the 80s, which meant I mostly ate meat & potatoes, pizza, and various things on white bread when I was a kid. Campbell soups were wielded by Midwestern parents to super-charge supper casseroles like Escoffier used béchamel or hollandaise. Vegetables were shunned and feared.

In my 20s and out of the Midwest, I started eating a wider variety of foods and some of my least favorite things — broccoli, mushrooms, beets, onions — are now among my favorites. The flavors of Japanese food (sushi, ramen) took a long time to get used to, but now I love them. Other foods — mustard, raw oysters, eggplant — I have repeatedly tried and failed to appreciate as others clearly do. Part of my problem, as I found out around that time, is that I’m a supertaster. That sounds cool, like I’m Spider-Man or something, but it really means that I’m an oversensitive taster, with a proclivity for bland food and sensitivity to bitter tastes (helloooo vegetables).

I’ve also realized that a lot of the food I ate as a kid wasn’t particularly fresh or well-prepared. Tacos were hard-shelled and flavor-packet-based, fish was in stick form, and Chinese food came out of a can. Canned mushrooms aren’t that great in comparison to fresh ones, and there’s a wonderland of flavorful mushroom varieties beyond the button. In the winter in rural Wisconsin, you couldn’t even buy fresh out-of-season vegetables like tomatoes in the grocery store in the 80s.

The weird thing is that I’m actually a pretty adventurous eater. If something is well-prepared and fresh, I will eat it. I never order anything “on the side” at a restaurant or ask them to skip an ingredient I don’t care for.1 My answer to a server’s “do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions?” is always “no”. I eat a lot of things that many other people won’t: tongue, liver, brains, tripe, sweetbreads, etc. When I am drinking alcohol,1 I will consume just about any kind of bitter digestif you can throw at me. The key for me, as Mull notes in the article, is that “gentle, steady exposure” can overcome many food aversions. Eventually, the adventurousness wins out over my picky palate. Except for raw oysters…I don’t know that I’ll ever eat them and enjoy the taste of low tide in my mouth.

  1. The only real exception to this is mustard because if there’s a smear of mustard on, for example, a Katz’s pastrami sandwich, it completely overwhelms the taste of the pastrami and rye bread for me. The “no mustard” thing has brought me a lot of ridicule over the years from hot dog and hot sandwich purists, but it can’t be helped.

  2. Which I am currently not, a topic that probably deserves its own post sometime.

The Forgotten Father of Pizza in the USA

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

A recent series of discoveries have upended the widely accepted story of the history of pizza in America and have the NYC food world in a tizzy. The typical origin story of American pizza is this:

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi applied to the New York City government for the first license to make and sell pizza in this country, at his grocery store on Spring Street in what was then a thriving Italian-American neighborhood.

But research by Peter Regas (who looked in Italian-language newspapers from the late 19th century) has revealed a previously unknown pizza kingpin behind some of the NYC’s first pizzerias and moves the probable introduction date of the pizza back into the 1800s.

Of this forgotten older generation, one baker stands out. Filippo Milone came to New York in the late 19th century and likely established two of the most famous New York pizzerias that still exist today, Lombardi’s on Spring Street and John’s of Bleecker Street.

Regas explains, “Filippo Milone likely established pizzerias in at least six locations throughout New York City. Of these locations, three later became famous under different names: ‘Pop’s,’ ‘John’s,’ and ‘Lombardi’s.’ Pop’s in Brooklyn closed decades ago, but the other two in Manhattan still exist. Milone, a pioneer in what has become a $45 billion industry, later died in 1924, without children to preserve his story buried in an unmarked grave in Queens.”

Wow! This 1903 advertisement is for a pizzeria of Milone’s on Grand St.:

Pizza Milone

As for Lombardi’s founding in 1905, Regas has the receipts for that too:

While proof of that license has never materialized, Regas has tracked down Gennaro Lombardi’s birth record, naturalization papers, and other supporting documents that tell a different story. Gennaro Lombardi first came to America in November of 1904 at age 17, classified as a “laborer”. If he became involved with the pizzeria at 53 1/2 Spring Street in 1905, it was as an employee not as an owner. By that time, it had already been established as a pizzeria probably by Milone in 1898 but certainly by another proprietor named Giovanni Santillo who followed Milone in 1901.

As Pete Wells writes:

This is as if some other dude we’ve never heard of wrote both the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers and then handed them over to Adams Franklin Jefferson Madison Hamilton etc.

Regas is documenting his research here on an eventual book about all of this, due out sometime later this year. Boy oh boy, they’re gonna have to reprint a lot of NYC pizzeria menus with incorrect origin stories in them… (via @adamkuban)

A Brief History of Cheese (aka Immortal Milk)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2019

Featuring the ideas of cheese expert Paul Kindstedt, this TED-Ed video is a quick animated look at the history of cheese and cheesemaking over the last 10000 years.

The best indication of ancient cheese-making lies in pottery fragments that migrating peoples left behind as they moved to new locations. Neolithic peoples sometimes stored cheese and butter in pottery vessels, which left embedded residues of milkfat in the pottery. Even after thousands of years, these ancient milkfat residues can be identified by sophisticated archaeochemical techniques. By following the pottery trail, it is possible to reconstruct the movement of Neolithic cheesemakers out of the Fertile Crescent into northwest Turkey, and then westwards to Europe, where cheese-making evolved into countless new varieties, and eastwards to the Eurasian steppes. With respect to Africa, it is still unclear whether cheese-making arrived from the Fertile Crescent or developed independently there.

Kindstedt is the author of Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization and is based at the University of Vermont, not too far from where I live in VT, land of plentiful hyper-local cheeses…the nearest cheese-making dairy is 1/4 mile from my house. Some of Kindstedt’s recent research uses techniques like x-ray diffractometry to study stuff like crystal formation and packing density in cheeses, which takes me back to my research days in college studying the structure of glass. What a fun thing, to discover a whole new vector into cheese appreciation! (via open culture)

Is Eating Organic Food Better for Us? For the Earth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

In their latest video, Kurzgesagt asks: “Is Organic Really Better? Healthy Food or Trendy Scam?” Using the results of dozens of studies (their extensive list of sources is here), they examine the evidence that organic food is better for our health and for the environment than food produced by conventional methods (with artificial pesticides, fertilizers, etc.). The result is pretty much a toss-up. Their ultimate conclusion: eating more fruits and vegetables of any kind and buying local food that is in season is a better option than eating organic. (Note: the video and studies they used seem to cover only organic produce and not meat. That comparison might have a different outcome.)

“The Invisible Helping Hand”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest) is a non-profit organization that receives food donations from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers and distributes them to food banks around the nation. As this excerpt from Tim Sullivan and Ray Fisman’s book, The Inner Lives of Markets, tells it, this system was working pretty well but wasn’t as efficient as it could be, resulting in food being wasted and people going hungry.

Food banks might provide feedback on their likes and dislikes, but at its core, the Second Harvest allocation still resembled 1960s-era Chinese central planning (which, free-market economists will note, helped to cause the Great Famine of 1959-61). Second Harvest’s management felt that it was falling short in its efforts to get food banks the donations they most needed. Prendergast gives the example of sending potatoes, unbidden, to a foodbank in Idaho that already had warehouses full. Or delivering milk to a bank that didn’t have the refrigeration capacity to store it and so would end up throwing it away. In fact, Second Harvest would sometimes turn down food donations from giant food companies because they weren’t sure where to send it. Second Harvest was also, at the time, treating different kinds of food as the same — a pound of broccoli was the same as a pound of cereal was the same as a pound of potato chips. When it comes to feeding the poor and hungry, however, not all foodstuffs are of equal value.

So Feeding America asked University of Chicago economist Canice Prendergast to design a market for the donated food, hoping that would make things run more efficiently. After listening to concerns raised by the food banks, particularly from the smaller ones who didn’t want to get out-muscled in the market by the larger banks, they came up with an economy where food banks were given shares to bid on the food they wanted each day.

Crucially, the market was overseen by a “central banker”, so that certain market dynamics didn’t result in a disruption of the ultimate goal of getting the most food to the people that needed it.

Food bank presidents, the market designers discovered, were hoarders of shares. To keep the market from dipping into a deflationary spiral, Prendergast needed to pump extra shares into the market to encourage bidding. There was also the ebb and flow of goods into it to consider. Some days, Kraft might dump half a dozen container — loads of mac and cheese into circulation; other days there’d be none. If everyone used their points to bid on mac and cheese, the prices of, say, potato chips and broccoli would plummet, not because broccoli was suddenly worth less, but because of a temporary surge in the supply of more desirable donations. So extra shares would need to be put into circulation to prop up prices — lest Arnold see last week’s lower price of potato chips and bid too timidly on them, misinterpreting short-run price declines as permanent ones. Similarly, in a dry spell of donations, shares would be withdrawn from the market: Since there was so little to bid on, there would be a run-up in prices unless the number of shares also declined.

As a result of their implementation of an economy, a couple of benefits emerged. First, Feeding America learned which foods were most sought after by banks (i.e. those for which the bidding was highest) and were able to be more aggressive in seeking out donors for them. Second, the amount of total food donations doubled, with about 25% of the increase directly attributable to the market:

As Prendergast reports in an academic paper summarizing the Second Harvest market experiment, the annual supply of food donations increased by 50 million to 100 million pounds as a result. Twelve million pounds can be traced directly to the market itself, in the form of excess donations that flush food banks placed into the market in exchange for shares. That’s 12 million pounds of food that would otherwise have been wasted.

The Healthiest Vegetables, Ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

MEL Magazine’s Ian Lecklitner talked to clinical nutritionist David Friedman (author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction) about which vegetables Friedman thinks are the healthiest. Happy to see that asparagus is #1:

“This tasty green stalk comes in first place on my vegetable ranking,” Friedman says. “Asparagus is a great source of vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and building strong bones.” Friedman also mentions that asparagus provides vitamin A (which prevents heart disease), vitamin C (which supports the immune system), vitamin E (which acts as an antioxidant) and vitamin B6 (which, like vitamin A, also prevents heart disease).

Asparagus is also loaded with minerals, including iron (which supports oxygen-carrying red blood cells), copper (which improves energy production) and calcium (which improves bone health). “Asparagus increases your energy levels, protects your skin from sun damage and helps with weight loss,” Friedman continues. “It’s also an excellent source of inulin, a type of carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic, supporting the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the colon.”

Personal faves brussels sprouts, beets, and broccoli also rank pretty high.

My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Importance of Food in Howl’s Moving Castle

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Howl's Moving Castle - Food.jpg

Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorites if not my very favorite movie. I’ve written about it here before at some length. I use pictures from it as my Twitter background, as my login prompts on both of my computers, and my pinned tweet is a quote about the film and its simple-yet-allegorical applicability to understanding your own life and psyche.

One aspect of HMC I haven’t touched on here, but is essential to understanding the film and its appeal, is the importance of food in the film. Luckily, Sarah Welch-Larson at Bright Wall/Dark Room has you covered.

First, there’s this remarkably concise and comprehensive survey of food in the Miyazaki-verse:

In Studio Ghibli movies, food is a feast for the eyes. Nearly every one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films includes a memorable shot of food, some more extravagant than others. A monk stirring a pot of soup on a cold night in Princess Mononoke. A herring pie, golden and steaming, fresh from the oven, in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Ramen noodles piled with toppings in Ponyo. Piles of roasted meat and dumplings spilling across the counter of an enchanted restaurant in Spirited Away. Even the Miyazaki films that don’t focus so heavily on food still allow their characters a chance to pause and eat. Nausicaä stops for a moment to eat a small bag of nuts as the world falls apart around her. Porco Rosso eats spaghetti bolognese as he hides out from the Italian authorities. Extravagant or simple, quick or languorous, the shots of food in Miyazaki films all tempt the senses.

Then this close reading of food and its themes in Howl:

In Howl’s Moving Castle, food is more than just a necessity. It sustains life, in every sense of the phrase: it helps a body hold skin and sinew together, and acts as an expression of love and care. We get the sense that Howl is a good person from the way he prepares breakfast. He has a sure hand, and a light touch. He might be flighty, but he cares enough to put together a well-cooked breakfast big enough for everyone in the room, including Sophie the interloper.

Food is also an expression of identity. Howl’s cooking is simple and elegant, but feels like a feast. The bacon is thick and crackling, and the eggs are perfect, cooked sunny-side-up with not a single yolk broken. Sophie’s own choices of food are plain and practical, like her, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable than the more extravagant examples of food we see in other Miyazaki films. Her bread and cheese look just as tasty as Howl’s bacon and eggs, and they’re likely just as satisfying. Calcifer, too, needs to eat, despite being a supernatural creature. He stuffs logs into his mouth, one by one, every time he needs to move the castle. When he isn’t active, he’s still perpetually consuming wood, albeit at a slower pace; fire is a hungry creature, and will go out if it is not fed.

Hunger in Howl is twofold: it can be the desire to be sustained, and it can be the desire to possess. This second desire takes the form of gluttony, and it is a destructive force. While he’s out in his wanderings, Howl comes across battles between the two rival countries. He refuses to fight, but he can’t stay away; the war is encroaching. Other wizards who swore loyalty to the king take part in these battles, and on more than one occasion, Howl is chased through the skies by the “hack wizards” who turned themselves into monsters in service of the war. They’re horrible half-lizard, half-dragonfly things, all oily skin and gaping mouths full of sharp teeth, open as if ready to devour. Miyazaki’s war imagery tends toward images of devouring, but the action of eating here is neither life-giving nor sustaining. War is gluttony, a force that needs to mindlessly consume until there is nothing left.

And this remarkable conclusion:

The kitchen is said to be the heart of a home, and Howl’s kitchen was empty until Sophie talked her way in to clean it. Food and love are both life-sustaining forces, but only when held lightly, without thought of possession or ownership. Sophie saves Howl without a thought for her own happiness, and, in return, Howl loves her back of his own free will. Neither takes what the other is not willing to give. Their love is neither greedy nor ravenous, but rather a hunger for food that sustains and leaves the hungry satiated.

I’m convinced: food, and the overlapping and contradictory economies of food, are the keys to this movie! This puts it up with Babette’s Feast as my favorite movies about food, love, and community. Thank you, Sarah, for helping me appreciate this remarkable film in a whole new way.

(Thanks too to @nandelabra for pointing this my way.)

The Explorer and The Hermit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

In a piece called I’m the Food Expert But My Kids Love My Husband’s Cooking, Amanda Hesser talks about food, tradition, and the differing cooking styles between her and her husband Tad. When she was younger, Hesser’s approach was to experiment relentlessly with her cooking, moving from one new dish to the next. But her husband took a different approach:

One of my other nicknames for Tad is Mr. Efficiency. He obsesses over the shortest route to a destination, orders everything in bulk, is always on time, writes thank-you notes within a day, and absolutely detests standing in line. Especially for food.

When it came to cooking, Tad was characteristically economical. Once we had our kids and our schedules went haywire, he set about mastering a handful of dishes he could pull off on a moment’s notice: fish tacos, pasta alla vodka, and Daddy’s pasta.

Mr. Efficiency…that could be totally be me. I do occasionally enjoy trying to find new stuff to cook, but their mom is way more adventurous in cooking for the kids. I always come back to my go-tos of caldo verde, taco salad, smoky corn chowder, the world’s best pancakes, burgers, and even the occasional tater tot hotdish.

But Hesser’s approach to cooking has shifted towards the familiar in recent years after noticing the downside to always pushing the boundaries:

Meanwhile, I continued to roam and experiment, rarely making the same dish twice. I enjoy the hunt for a new great recipe, the push for something better. But it comes at a cost; cooking new things is more stressful because the unknowns are many. Tad would chat with the kids while making his pasta; I would cook distracted, with my nose in a recipe. Even after focused cooking, things don’t always work out well, and no one around the table is happy. And it’s hard to expect anyone to build an emotional connection to a dish if they’re only seeing it a few times.

I am really feeling that tension between novelty and stability lately, and not just when it comes to food. Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. The Explorer craves new experiences, finds routine boring, and wants to learn new things or he’ll feel brain-dead. The Hermit needs the stability of a comfortable routine, finds exploring exhausting, and doesn’t want to have to think about what’s next all the time. Should I go to my favorite restaurant or try a new place? Regarding travel…should I re-experience somewhere I’ve been before or head somewhere new? (For my last trip, I did both: a repeat trip to Berlin with a short stay in Istanbul after.) There are certain types of books, movies, and TV shows I like to watch — their reliability is comforting but when I do venture from those paths, the results can be very rewarding and horizon-expanding. Should I spend time with old friends or work on some new relationships?

The part of my life in which I’m feeling this most acutely is in my work. Editing kottke.org is a constant exercise in balancing the familiar with the new. My approach is: “here’s something you haven’t seen before but packaged in a familiar way” and then do that 9-to-5, day-in and day-out, 52 weeks a year. I bury you (and myself) in novelty, but in a clockwork fashion.1 I never know what I’m going to find on a particular day and you never know what you’re going to read, but by the end of the day, every single weekday, there is (I hope!) an interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, and awe-inspiring collection of things to explore.

But even though I enjoy editing the site and learn about a lot of new things along the way, the work itself sometimes isn’t that challenging. There’s a lot of repetition, sitting in a chair, and willpower — not insignificant things when trying to accomplish something — but it increasingly feels like I’m on autopilot creatively. Has the site gotten better in the last 5 years? I think so. But have I? What creative boundaries have I pushed along the way? In what ways could kottke.org be better or different that would provide new challenges for me? Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, but my desire to “roam and experiment” (as Hesser puts it) has been on the rise lately for sure.

  1. When I think about how I approach my work on the site, two references come to mind: 1) the Dunkin Donuts guy (“time to make the donuts”), and 2) what the doctor in Gattaca says about regularity of Ethan Hawke’s character’s heartbeat while exercising (“Jerome, Jerome, the metronome.”).

The Cube Rule of Food, the Grand Unified Theory of Food Identification

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

On the internet, a fierce debate rages. Are hot dogs sandwiches? Are Pop-Tarts ravioli? Is sushi toast? Into the fracas steps @phosphatide with their brilliant Cube Rule of Food. The idea is that you can fit all food into one of seven categories based on where the starch in a dish is positioned:

Cube Rule Food

For example, enchiladas, falafel wraps, and pigs in a blanket are all sushi because the starch covers four sides of the cube like so:

Cube Rule Food 02

Likewise, pizza is toast, a quesadilla is a sandwich, a hot dog is a taco, key lime pie is a quiche, and a burrito is a calzone.

The zero-eth category is a salad, i.e. anything that doesn’t include starch (like a steak) or in which the starch is distributed throughout the dish (like fried rice, spaghetti, and soup (“a wet salad”)).

Remembering Anthony Bourdain, The Last Curious Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

For GQ, Drew Magary talked to the family, friends, and coworkers of Anthony Bourdain for this piece on the life of the late chef/traveler/writer/explorer/whatever. Here’s how he got his big writing break, which led to so much else:

David Remnick (editor in chief, ‘The New Yorker’): My wife came home one day, and she said, “Look. There’s a really nice woman at the newspaper. Her son is a writer. She wanted you to take a look at his work,” which seemed…adorable, right? A mother’s ambition for a son. I took this manuscript out of its yellow envelope, not expecting much. I started to read. It was about a young cook, working at a pretty average steak-and-frites place on lower Park Avenue. I called this guy up on the phone. He answered it in his kitchen. I said, “I’d like to publish this work of yours in The New Yorker. I hope that’s okay.” That was the beginning of Anthony Bourdain being published. I don’t know if there’s any way to put this other than to say he invented himself as a writer, as a public personality. It was all there.

Prior to becoming the best-ever host of a travel show, he’d actually traveled very little internationally (only France and Japan) and his first go of it wasn’t successful:

Tenaglia: Japan was a fucking disaster.

Chris Collins (co-founder, ZPZ): The mistakes were very clear. He did not engage with us. He would not acknowledge our presence and that we were there working together.

Tenaglia: I think he was thinking, “Great! I just got a free ride to all these countries.”

Collins: It was a ruse. It was, I’m gonna double dip here. I’m going to be able to get paid to go make something, and I’m going to write articles.

Tenaglia: We would go back to the hotel and say, “We are so screwed.”

But it turns out this inexperienced traveler & newbie TV host was the exact right person for the job.

He came alive, because those frames of reference were starting to pop. His sudden inclination was to turn and share that with us. You could sense this excitement, like, “Holy crap, I’m actually on the ground in a location that I have studied, that I know, that I have references to.” You know, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene, the Vietnam War. He was percolating with an excitement that was very genuine.

My only complaint about this piece is the length…I would have happily read on for hours.

Paula Froelich (author, journalist): I’ll never forget laughing my ass off because he was obsessed with my dog, who’s a small dachshund. He’d always walk my dog, and he was so tall and the dog was so long and short, they would look like this movable L.

How People Ate in Medieval England

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

In this episode of Modern History, Jason Kingsley and Chris Carr talk about the kind of food that an English knight would encounter on the road…i.e. what might commonly be termed “peasant food”. Depending on what was in season, the midday meal offered would be the sort of farm-to-table artisanal fare that urban dwellers crave at their neighborhood bistro on date night: house-brewed beer, artisan bread made from interesting grains, fresh salmon, peas from the garden, and a drizzled sauce made from an unusual herb.

The pair discuss what a knight would eat at home in a follow-up episode. A knight’s dedicated cook would consult with his physician on dietary matters and the ingredients and level of processing would reflect the knight’s higher status in society, e.g. his bread would be white and not dark, basically the opposite of today.

Time Lapse of the Sushi Scene in Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

My favorite scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the sushi-making scene. It’s a pure showcase of stop motion animation goodness and wordless storytelling.

Andy Biddle has posted a behind-the-scenes time lapse video of him and Anthony Farquhar-Smith animating that scene:

From the costume changes, it looks like that 40 seconds of video took about 29 days to complete, although obviously not full days in many cases.

You can see more of Biddle’s work here and Farquhar-Smith’s work here.

Update: Somehow I totally missed the days counter in the upper left corner of the video…the sequence took 32 days to do. (This is like the awareness test with the moonwalking bear.) (thx, all)

Update: Isle of Dogs’ head puppet master explains a bit more about what goes into making these stop motion scenes.

Photography Tricks That Advertisers Use to Make Food Look Delicious

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2018

To make food look appetizing in advertisements, food stylists use a bunch of tricks that may not even involve edible objects. For example, syrup on pancakes is motor oil (because it doesn’t absorb), Elmer’s glue is cereal milk (it prevent the cereal from sinking), shaving cream is whipped cream (doesn’t melt), and dish soap helps the head on a beer appear foamier and last longer. Check it out:

(via @machinepix)

How Parmesan Cheese Is Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2018

Officially, according to the Italian government and the EU, parmesan cheese (or more formally, Parmigiano-Reggiano) can only be made in a small region in northern Italy. Wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano weigh about 85 pounds, can be aged for three years or more, and can cost upwards of $1000. With all the fakes out there (see also olive oil and canned tomatoes), it can be tough to find the real stuff, but when you do, it tastes amazing.

Update: Headline writers might wait their whole careers for an opportunity like this: A Bank That Accepts Parmesan As Collateral: The Cheese Stands A Loan. (via @jazzfishzen)

The Curse of Winning “America’s Best Burger”

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 16, 2018

Stanich-Yelp.png

A surprising number of lottery winners will later tell you that winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to them. It can be the same for many restaurants who win awards and suddenly get more attention than they bargained for, driving away loyal customers in favor of food tourists.

That’s what happened to Stanich’s, a burger joint in Portland, Oregon. Kevin Alexander, who had put Stanich’s on blast by naming it the best burger in America, explains the dynamic in a Thrillist essay titled “I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It.”

Apparently, after my story came out, crowds of people started coming in the restaurant, people in from out of town, or from the suburbs, basically just non-regulars. And as the lines started to build up, his employees — who were mainly family members — got stressed out, and the stress would cause them to not be as friendly as they should be, or to shout out crazy long wait times for burgers in an attempt to maybe convince people to leave, and as this started happening, things fell by the wayside. Dishes weren’t cleared quickly, and these new people weren’t having the proper Stanich’s experience, and Steve would spend his entire day going around apologizing and trying to fix things. They might pay him lip service to his face, but they were never coming back so they had no problem going on Yelp or Facebook and denouncing the restaurant and saying that the burgers were bad. And then the health department came in and suggested they do some deep cleaning (he still got a 97 rating, he told me), and the combination of all of these factors led Stanich to close down the restaurant for what he genuinely thought would be two weeks.

He also quotes the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Brett Anderson, who thinks social media and the internet has made things worse:

“Before Bourdain and Fieri and the proliferation of listicles, there was certainly a lot more internal hand-wringing around ‘do we share every last precious secret we have with our readers?’ But now in the social media age, there’s no incentive to withhold. It just takes one Anderson Cooper tweet, and your favorite po’ boy place is packed for months.” He tells the story of Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a soul food restaurant in the Treme neighborhood known for its fried chicken. “It was always delicious, but never really crowded,” he said. “But then it started appearing on all these national lists, and now, no matter the day, you’ve got to get there before 11am if you don’t want to wait two hours.”

There’s a certain amount of hipster wailing in this: almost every restaurant owner would rather the place be packed than empty, and tourist money spends just as well as local. But there really is a limit for some businesses, restaurants among them, to how large they can scale without, at a minimum, fundamentally changing their character. And in many cases, that character change isn’t possible. We’re just not built to become something else so quickly, especially when everything that made us successful in the first place has to be discarded along the way.

This isn’t just about restaurants. This is a parable.

PS: Rob Horning has a really good thread about this. Highlight:

lots of media/communication business models are now built with scale alone in mind; they are also built to assimilate anything into their distribution systems, regardless of whether scale will ruin them—they impose scale on fragile phenomena

Update: Matthew Singer at Willamette Week dug into this story further. It seems the owner’s personal and legal troubles were also to blame:

On April 18, 2014, Stanich was arrested for choking his then-wife in front of their then-teenage son at their home in Northeast Portland.

Documents show his wife, then 57, had been a manager at Stanich’s for 19 years before being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

Stanich pleaded no contest to charges of misdemeanor harassment and strangulation, and was sentenced to four years of probation.

He was prohibited from owning a gun or contacting his wife. He was required to undergo treatment for his drinking, barred from consuming alcohol and, in a stiff prohibition for a bar owner, prohibited from entering establishments that primarily serve alcohol, except for work.