Food and Beverage

Food and Beverage

Barbara Ehrenreich on Our Obsession with Aging

Earlier this week on WNYC’s newish program, Midday on WNYC, Barbara Ehrenreich spoke with guest host Kai Wright about her new book Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. (Buy through this link and I’ll get a commission, or get it from her website.)

There were a lot of great insights into this interview, especially her critiques of medical testing, wellness, fitness, and mindfulness that mirrored a lot of Michel Foucault’s work, particularly that which deals with surveillance, discipline and what he calls “discourse,” knowledge that is produced by a power structure. Here are a few takeaways from the interview:

  • Ehrenreich characterizes the escalation of medical testing to surveillance over the body, bringing to mind Foucault’s critical history of the panopticon as a technology of surveillance.
  • Ehrenreich describes the dedication to fitness as a kind of control one exercises (ha!) over the body. In an age when people feel powerless over various social and economic conditions, exercise acts as a mechanism to maintain a sense of power.
  • Ehrenreich argues that the contemporary obsession with wellness can function in two ways, largely dependent on economic class.
    1. For the working class, it acts as a form of Taylorist surveillance for the employer to manage the employee’s health. This is done in the name of reducing health insurance payouts but in effect trains the employee to shape his or her behavior.
    2. For the upper class, wellness is a form of conspicuous consumption, where rich people can show off their commitment to fitness through expensive workout regiments and pricey foods and nutritional practices. While Ehrenreich illustrates this trend with a wellness coach who advocates eating pearls to combat aging. I immediately thought of the boutique gyms that pepper affluent cities and communities that were the subject of a recent Washington Post article. The article describes a diversity problem—a disproportionate number of young, rich, and white people in an otherwise demographically diverse cities—at expensive, boutique gyms. However, I think that the diversity problem is largely due to the uneven distribution of wealth, especially among younger people who have ascended economically since the Great Recession of the last decade. Hence, these gyms function as a token of affluence and commitment to health.
      *Ehrenreich also critiques the recent surge of mindfulness as Silicon Valley’s solution to the problem they created with digital devices and their distracting platforms. What began as a spiritual ritual practiced by Buddhists has been emptied of any religious properties and reduced to an app on a smartphone or Apple Watch.

I do quibble with one of her suggestions: to Google your health questions and add a few keywords such as “controversy” or “evidence based.” I think one of the reasons that so many people have become followers and practitioners of junk science is because of this very practice. On the Internet, good information and quack-pot theories are almost indistinguishable, especially to many who lack the training or experience in doing research.

Overall, however, I do appreciate her larger message that I would paraphrase as this: life is too short to worry about death.

It Only Took about 15 Years

It’s because of Jack in the Box that I know how to pronounce gyro. It’s the first syllable that throws off most people. They pronounce gyro as in “shy” instead of pronouncing gyro like “jesus.” And, in the early 1990s, when the fast-food chain introduced their version of the venerable Greek sandwich to the Jumbo Jack faithful, they gave everyone a lesson on the proper pronunciation. A gyro is pronounced yeero.

Apparently, some New Yorkers didn’t get the same lesson from Jack. I saw the confusion firsthand and when a California friend came to visit me here in late-2002, he said, “I’m going to order a yeero.” I told him that he needs to order a chai-ro because nobody is going to know what he is trying to order. He didn’t believe me… until it happened to him. The confused guy at the counter didn’t understand what a yeero was until he changed his order to a chai-ro. He then got a gyro. With extra white sauce.

I hadn’t noticed until today that New Yorkers might be finally coming around to learning the proper pronunciation of gyro. A sign I spotted off Saint Mark’s Place today tried to explain that a yeero is a gyro.

No word if they’re going to each us how to pronounce white sauce.

Think Global, But Drink Local

It’s not just Americans that like American craft beer. The world has caught on, according to a recent PRI news item by Jason Margolis, and they want our tasty beer.

However, the growth of sales has been slowing because shipping beers across an ocean is complicated. As quoted in the Margolis’s story, Casey Kjolhede from New Belgium Brewery says:

The biggest challenge is quality. Our beer tastes best—all beer tastes best—fresh. So you’ve already got time against you going across the ocean.

The whole story is worth a listen, or you can read the transcript if you prefer silence. It’s also worth noting that “craft beer” refers to the “second wave” craft brews, those made by long-established breweries that have not yet been acquired by a global conglomerate. Those beers, I presume, are already available, as they were at this bar where Londoners watched the returns from the 2016 Brexit vote.

In the top left of Andrew Testa’s photograph for the New York Times, you’ll see a menu of American beers, most of which are of the “craft” variety that you might find at American airports: whatever “Kentucky Bourbon Barrel” beer is, Flying Dog, Goose Island, Rogue, and Blue Moon. I’m not sure what to think of Pabst being in this group. I guess it was “craft” when it earned its Blue Ribbons in 1882 and in 1916.

My takeaway from this story is a version of something I’ve said before on this site: enjoy this golden age of craft beer before it ends.

I’ll also add that you should definitely try beers from your local craft brewery rather than chasing down some exotic beer from a faraway, trendy brewery.

Sure, that beer that you’ve been “ISO” might be a better brew, but if it’s been traveling some distance for a significant amount of time, it might not taste like what the brewer intended.

That happened when a group of Australians drank a Brooklyn beer that was brewed in Australia, not one shipped across the North American continent and the Pacific Ocean. Eric Ottaway with Brooklyn responded to the Aussies’ criticisms, by informing them that “now it tastes like it actually should as opposed to beer that’s been sitting on the water for six weeks.”

Think Global, but Drink Local!

Net Neutrality, but with Hamburgers

Burger King produced an online video advertisement using the delivery of their signature Whopper sandwich to explain how an Internet service provider can discriminate against a non-preferred website or Internet service. You can watch the nearly three-minute video on YouTube.

In this ad, a Burger King location implements a tiered delivery system. One can buy a “premium” Whopper that comes with a higher Mbps, which of course for broadband means “megabits per second” but at this Burger King location means “making burgers per second.” When an irate customer questions the delay, a Burger King counter employee explains that Burger King prefers to sell chicken sandwiches and Chicken Fries (which are way less gross than I expected, by the way) so it offers those at a standard rate. However, if you want a Whopper, as many customers in this video want, you will either have to wait for it to come through the slow pipeline or have to pay an additional fee to have it prioritized.

The sandwich offerings at Burger King offer a clear, yet imperfect metaphor for the websites and Internet services that can be blocked or throttled by an Internet service provider. The chicken sandwich and Chicken Fries presumably represent the video content and websites owned by the ISPs or their parent companies. I previously explained that this is why AT&T is looking to acquire Time Warner’s vast media holdings and why Verizon and Comcast have already acquired content companies—Oath and NBC-Universal, respectively—over the last decade.

The metaphor falls apart somewhat because Burger King “owns” the Whopper as well as Chicken Fries, and, of course, they block access to other options. It’s not like you can walk into a Burger King and order a Diet Coke or a Big Mac. However, it’s not like there are places in the world where you’re stuck only ever going to Burger King or McDonald’s but never the other. You have a choice in fast food establishments (and other ways to procure calories), but you almost certainly don’t have a choice in your Internet service provider.

After a while, the customers in the video understandably get impatient, angry, and frustrated.

And some even get physical. A couple of customers grab and tug at the bag from the counter employee. As per Burger King policy, he is waiting until the arbitrarily imposed latency period on the Whopper has elapsed.

Basing a fast-food ad on a wonky communications policy, albeit one with significant real world consequences, seems counterintuitive and even unbelievable. Would anyone understand this? Would anyone get the jokes? Yes, of course. Burger King wouldn’t have bothered making this video if a lot of people wouldn’t understand it and wouldn’t get the jokes. Free Press’s Craig Aaron notes that the ad demonstrates just popular and widely know net neutrality is among young people. He writes, “right now Net Neutrality ranks high on the list of concerns of millennial voters — right up there with marijuana legalization. If nothing else, BK knows its target demo.”

A few months ago, I wrote about how Coca-Cola introduced OK Soda to expands it reach to customers who were presumably too jaded to drink Coke. In that post, I referenced a video and describes it as “postmodern.” While I preferred the term “self-referential” to “postmodern,” this ad uses the same technique. At the end of the video, there’s a self-referrential wink-and-a-nod to those in-the-know with when the King appears in the store’s parking lot and takes a drink from an oversized Reese’s coffee mug.

That’s a reference to Chairman Pai’s stupid oversized Reese’s coffee mug, which was featured in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last year. Most people likely know about the mug as do about the impact of Title I versus Title II classification: that is to say, a lot of people know.

He often appears with this mug as a bit of “dad humor,” making himself seem jovial and self-deprecating, much like he did when he danced with a “wannabe Pizzagater” in a video published on a right-wing, junk news website. It is also an attempt to distract from his corporate friendly policies that threaten the public interest.

However, as I’ve regularly warned on this site, Chairman Pai’s regulatory actions, such as repealing net neutrality, eliminating broadcast ownership caps, and allowing right-wing ideologues to reach virtually every American household, are no laughing matter.

OK Soda and the “Edge” of the Mass Market

Last week in my Media Criticism class, we studied Michael Curtin’s twenty-year old essay on “neo-networks.” The essay, “On Edge: Culture Industries in the Neo-Network Era,” argues that the US media industries in the 1990s had largely abandoned their mass-market approach to reaching audiences. Instead of producing and releasing something—a film, a musical recording, a television series—and hoping for a big hit, US media industries had largely turned to aggregating a varied collection of niche markets to retain or even expand their marketshare. He terms this “edge.”

By the 1990s, media industries were able to accomplish this through a nearly two-decade wave of media consolidation. A media company would acquire its competitors to release a variety of niche-market material, in addition to the mass-market hits that these same media companies for decades.1

  • A diversified film studio could distribute an independent film, in addition to a blockbuster or two. Fox did with its Fox Searchlight company.
  • A major record label that released a Top-40 record one day could, on another day, sign an underexposed musical act that likely released records through an independent label. DGC and Interscope Records released a fair amount of such music in the 1990s, under the umbrella of the Warner Music Group and Time-Warner. And a lot of the major labels had acquired boutique record labels to diversify their stable of artists.
  • In television, the cable TV networks that once threatened to undermine the entire commercial broadcast system were subsumed under many the companies that also owned broadcast TV networks.

If you can’t beat ‘em, acquire ‘em.

But despite the consolidation of ownership, the variety of media content that the media industries distributed had significantly expanded, particularly with niche genres2. The variety of records, films, and television programs was probably greater than ever before. You and I may have been watching or listening to something, but it’s likely not the same thing because there was so much out there to choose. This was a departure from the formula that media industries had used for decades. In fact, during the studio era of Hollywood, it was common for a movie studio to rely on an annual hit to sustain its financial health for the entire year. Hollywood studios had so effectively utilized this “block booking” system, forcing theater owners to take all of its films if it wanted to get the studio’s one big hit, that it was eventually declared illegal in the 1940s.

But by the 1990s, media industries had stopped doing that. Instead of going for one big hit, they were interested in getting a bunch of little hits. This approach, while seemingly inefficient, made a lot of sense and was copied in other industries. One example from a non-media industry is the Coca-Cola’s development of OK Soda in the early 1990s.

I had actually forgotten about OK Soda until I came across a reference to it in a Tedium essay about another failed-and-forgotten soft drink, Virgin Cola. OK Soda was an attempt to appeal to young people who were disillusioned with mass-market products and their attendant advertising. I was in high school in the early 1990s, and I can attest that it was downright unhip to drink plain Coke. Many of us who drank soda—which seemed like everyone at the time—drank something else: Mountain Dew, Mr. Pibb, Dr. Pepper, or Diet Pepsi.

From Coca-Cola’s perspective, this is a big problem. Consumers between 18 and 24 years of age are their most desirable segment of the soda-drinking market because, if for no other reason, if they drink Coca-Cola at that age, they’ll likely drink it until they die. Coca-Cola, and other large mass-market companies, likely saw the marketplace as consisting of two different groups:

  1. Those who drink Coca-Cola.
  2. Those who don’t.

Coca-Cola needed to capture this second group. In the 1980s, it had famously tried to shift its product to capture both of these groups. The result was New Coke (1985), and we all know what a catastrophe that was for Coca-Cola. But in the 1990s, the strategy to reach this second group had changed. Instead of changing its flagship project, Coca Cola would diversify its product line. It worked with the introduction Diet Coke (1982) and with the revival of Cherry Coke (1985), which was a drink that soda fountain “modders” had been selling since the 1950s. These products were sold alongside Coca-Cola Classic, not instead of it.

If you want a primer on what OK Soda was, Thomas Flight does a good job at effectively describing the product and its advertising campaigns.

My only quibble with the video is that Flight describes the marketing as “postmodern,” which literally made me shudder. No serious scholar has uttered that term in almost twenty years and those that did have since disavowed ever, ever calling something “postmodern.” A more precise way to describe the product and the marketing would be to call it “self-referential.” The ads draw attention to the fact that they are ads trying to make you buy OK Soda, and OK Soda draws attention that it is just a soda—one that is just “OK.”

OK Soda seemed to have based its entire existence on being self-referential.

The cans were decidedly unconventional in their design. They looked like cylindrical comics in a variety of different designs. They didn’t sport a uniform design, although they still have some references to Coca Cola in their red-and-white colors and all featured “OK.” The taste is decidedly different than Coca Cola.



OK Soda reportedly tasted like “suicide mix.” That jibes with my memory of the product at the time. Coca-Cola was doing with OK Soda in the 1990s what it did with Cherry Coke in the 1980s: acknowledged an inside joke and an open secret. With OK Soda’s formulation, OK Soda had officially endorsed the unofficial practice of mixing fountain sodas. Almost everyone I knew was “making” suicide mix at the time, but none of the soft drink companies—or even our own parents—knew that we were doing so. Or so we thought.

And yes, of course, there’s those ads. They were certainly different. I’d even go so far as to say that they were funny because they were so absurd, and they appeared smart because they were self-referential. But they weren’t “postmodern.”

In retrospect, the 1990s was a glorious decade. It was the first decade that we stopped worrying about nuclear war and the last decade where the music was good. The 1990s was also when the media industries got really good at targeting us with a variety of things to watch and listen—and drink. But as Michael Curtin argues in the beginning of his essay, this niche marketing created a situation where “the fire on [the] common hearth appears to be burning low.” The Internet was on the horizon and, as he concludes, “the changing technologies of communication…promise to subdivide the national audience and splinter the body politic.”3 We all know how that has turned out.

We haven’t agreed on anything since.


  1. Schiller, Herbert I. Culture, Inc.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression. Oxford University Press, 1989. 
  2. Curtin, Michael. “On Edge: Culture Industries in the Neo-Network Era.” Making & Selling Culture, edited by Richard Malin Ohmann et al., Wesleyan University Press, 1996. 189-193. 
  3. Curtin 181 

Introducing Empire Rye

When it comes to whiskey, there’s a common misconception that bourbon must come from Kentucky in order to be called bourbon. But that’s not true. Bourbon whiskey is basically American whiskey, with a few other conditions:

  1. it must be made in the United States of America
  2. the mash bill must contain at least 51% corn
  3. it must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
  4. it must be distilled to less than 160 proof and bottled at more than 80 proof

The last two decades has seen a rise in the status and the demand of bourbon whiskey, which may have caught a few distilleries by surprise.

Bourbon whiskey’s close but spicier cousin is rye whiskey, and it too has enjoyed a renaissance over the last two decades. To both capitalize on its resurgence and to differentiate it from other rye whiskies, distillers in New York State have banded together and devised the label “Empire Rye.”

This regional variety of rye whiskey must meet four criteria:

  1. its mash bill must contain at least 75% New York State–grown rye
  2. It must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
  3. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof
  4. It must be put in a barrel at no more than 115 proof

As luck would have it and by designation of the New York State Assembly, this week—between October 16 and 22—is New York Rye Week. Eight distilleries throughout the state, including three from Brooklyn, will be introducing their own versions of Empire Rye whiskey for sale on Saturday, October 21, at the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg. There are a bunch of other events as well, including a pig roast and a walk-around tasting.

The great thing about distilling now is that it has been around long enough so that we can get properly aged rye whiskey, not just the harsh “unoaked” moonshine that a new distillery was forced to offer while their whiskey aged.

Are Craft Beer Sales Really “Tapping Out?”

Earlier this week, a Wall Street Journal article reported on a significant decline in the sale of craft beers—a $143 million drop, resulting in sales of $2.7 billion for the first half of 2017.

Implied in this story is that craft beer bubble, which I have discussed earlier on this site, may finally be bursting:

After years of strong gains, American craft brewers are now bracing for a shakeout. Shipments are falling for many independent brewers stuck in the middle between local niche brands and competitors that were bought by heavyweights such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors.

Earlier this winter, I wrote that we’re experiencing a golden age of craft beers in the United States and that some day, this golden age—as all others must—will end. But the decline reported in this article does not portend the end of the current craft beer golden age.

Craft beers are kind of like coffee in that there are three tiers, if not necessarily three waves as there is with coffee. The tiers of craft breweries are:

  1. The big, legacy players that emerged during the “micro brewing” era, such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada that have national distribution. They have been around long enough to have a place at just about every taproom in the US and are well-position to stave off acquisition.
  2. The newer breweries that have either been acquired by a big conglomerate, such as Ballast Point, Lagunitas, and Goose Island, or those that are still independent but around in many regions throughout the country. Some examples of the latter include Dogfish Head, Brooklyn, and New Belgium.
  3. The local nanobreweries that emerged since the end of the last decade—coincidentally around the same time as the last financial crisis—remain available only at the brewery’s taproom and at a few bars and grocery stores in their home region. These are also the breweries that release cans to much celebration. There are too many examples to name, but it seems that just about every town in America has an Irish pub, a Chinese takeout restaurant, and a brewery of this sort. The quality of their beer can vary greatly.

The article’s discussion about the decline in craft beer sales seem to be concentrated in the second tier I named above. Those big names in craft beer have fallen out of favor, either because they were acquired by a conglomerate and have lost their “street cred” or because their beers have lost their edge compared to what the newer, more experimental nanobreweries are producing today.

Personally, I am certainly more interested in trying out new offerings by breweries that might seem more experimental. To return to my comparison of the coffee market, I’m more attracted to what a local coffee shop or well-known roaster has to offer than what I can get at a Starbucks or Peet’s location.

The decline in the overall craft beer market is certainly significant, but it is entirely plausible to attribute that decline to people switching from Sierra Nevada and Goose Island to something that they got at their local brewery’s taproom. In short, it might still be a great time to be a locally oriented craft brewer, just make sure you don’t get too big or don’t stick with the same offerings forever.

It also might help if you consistently make good beer, too.

Roll of the Die

I never got to go to Cassette in Greenpoint before they abruptly closed. However, since then Purslane Catering took it over as an extended “pop-up” featuring Threes Brewing, and it’s a lot more convenient for me to go there than to trek to Threes’s brewery in Gowanus.

In any case, Threes’s Greenpoint location has some pretty intriguing specials, in addition to the weekday happy-hour specials, including:

  • Teacher Appreciation Day: $35 margarita pitchers, Fridays from 5 to 7 PM
  • Take a Chance: Roll a Die, What You Hit is What You Pay, Sundays from 5 to 8 PM

IMG 7988

What struck me, aside from the $35 margarita pitcher because I know of a similarly classy joint that offers them for $20 at all times, is that, with the right roll of the dice, you can buy a draft beer for as little as $1. (Their drafts are usually around $7 but can sometimes cost more.) But I wasn’t sure if they meant one die or two? What’s the difference between “die” and “dice”? It’s one of those things that I thought I understood, but now that beer is at stake, I really need to know the difference.

I did a little—and I mean, very little—research, and here’s what I found:

  • die is always singular. It’s as simple as that.
  • dice is the plural of “die,” but today, we usually use this term to refer to either one, two, or more die. In fact, it is so common that we don’t use the term “die” to refer to a single die anymore. We use “dice.”

It’s nice to know that they are referring to a single die (or dice) and even use the always-singular “die” for the sake of this “Take a Chance” contest. I would hate to pay $12 for a beer because of an unlucky dice toss.

It Turns Out: Banana Peels Were Actually Dangerous

We’re all familiar with the old cartoons or old movies where a character slips on a banana peel and comes crashing down to the ground. But has anyone you know actually slipped on a banana peel and fallen? Probably not.

NewImage

But it turns out that banana peels were in fact dangerous, especially in the large cities of the East Coast at the turn of the twentieth century. Annie Correal, writing for the New York Times, profiles the secret life of the city banana and notes how their popularity over a hundred years ago also made them dangerous.

They were so plentiful that in some cities, peels became a hazard. Yes, seriously. People fell and were injured. At least one man actually died from slipping on a banana peel. A headline in The New York Times in 1896 declared a “War on the Banana Skin.”

The 1896 article recounts how, Theodore Roosevelt, then-president of the city’s police department, “explained the bad habits of the banana skin, dwelling particularly on its tendency to toss people into the air and bring them down with terrific force on the hard pavement.” Roosevelt charged the police precinct supervisors to crack down on fruit and vegetable dealers from dumping “banana peels, apple and potato skins, and similar articles” on the lower eastside streets where many markets were prevalent.

NewImage

Slipping on a banana peel was so common at these markets that it must have made an impression on Jewish immigrants who populated Manhattan’s Lower East Side. According to Correal, “the notion of slipping on a banana peel made its way into American culture, [Dan] Koeppel said, thanks to Yiddish theater, Vaudeville and, eventually, silent films.”1 From there, it was just a matter of time that it became a common trope in TV programs since then.

I knew I hated bananas for a reason.

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  1. Dan Koeppel is author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World (2008). 

Mikkeller to Open Brewery and Restaurant Inside New York Mets’ Citi Field

When Citi Field and Yankee Stadium 2.0 opened in 2009, there were inevitable and exhaustive comparisons between the two. The consensus was, at least among my friends, that the Mets park was much better than what the Yankees had built in that it felt more like a baseball stadium. It seemed that the Yankees didn’t build a baseball stadium as much as they openend an airport shopping mall with a baseball field in the middle of it, peppering it with a few hot dog stands. Also, Citi Field had better food offerings: a pair of Danny Meyer food stands, a beer garden, and vegetarian options.

Many People In Line At The Citi Field Shake Shack - Black & White Version; Flushing, New York

Although both stadiums were built almost exactly where the old parks stood, the two parks were built as centerpieces of urban redevelopment in the South Bronx and at Willets Point in Queens.

The Yankees opened a Hard Rock Cafe that is open year-round, even when the Yankees aren’t playing. I don’t know a single person that would plan a trip to go there.

Hard Rock Cafe Yankee Stadium

At Citi Field, however, there will be a much more compelling reason to schlep to Willets Point during the baseball offseason. Danish brewery Mikkeller is coming to Citi Field:

Mikkeller announced that it’s expanding, and will open its first East Coast Brewery this fall at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens. The forthcoming brewery “Mikkeller Brewing NYC” will be in a non-ticketed part of the stadium, and remain open year-round.

I think the Mets outdid the Yankees here, again. Mikkeller has a sterling reputation among beer nerds with their breweries in Copenhagen, Denmark and in San Diego, California and with two bars—also in California—in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This will be their first foothold in the US East Coast. And although the food options are “safe,” trafficking in established household names of contemporary cuisine, namely David Chang’s fried chicken and Pat LaFrieda’s burgers, it sure beats eating whatever passes for food at a Hard Rock Cafe these days.

Mikkeller NYC is due to open this fall, presumably shortly after the Mets have been eliminated from qualifying for the postseason.