Category: Rants

On Food Waste, and the So-Called “Expiration Dates” of Food

date_label_sign

For some interesting information take a look at this article which reads, in part, “[D]espite what the labels may suggest, the food is safe. The date printed on packaging clues consumers into when the product is at its best, peak flavor … The flavor or quality may start to degrade over time, but food safety isn’t an issue.” — Dave

There are many causes of food waste. “Expiration dates” on food and food products are probably one of the more serious culprits. If you subscribe to these things, you need to take another look at what’s really going on.

One of the local papers here reprints restaurant inspections via the county Health Department. Entries like this have a tendency to catch my eye:

Refrigerated ready-to-eat food held refrigerated for more than 24 hours was not properly date marked. Items in the cooler not date marked. To prevent food borne illness, refrigerated, ready-to-eat food held at a temperature of 41 degrees or below for more than 24 hours should be clearly marked at the time of preparation or the time the original container is opened to indicate the date or day that is a maximum of seven days by which the food should be consumed, sold, or discarded. The day the food is prepared or opened is day one.

Of course, the embellishment of the findings from two sentences into a whole paragraph is always completely ridiculous. But then again, so is the concept of expiration dates in regards to food.

Back in May of 2015 during a ServSafe course, before looking at the supplied book for the course, my classmates and I discussed the concept mentioned in this inspection at length. Some admitted to putting the preparation date on labels as a matter of habit. But we decided that was incorrect, as someone might look at that date the following day, assume it was the day the item was supposed to be pitched, and do just that.

It turned out the 6th edition of the ServSafe Manager course guide is kinda specific on this subject, on page 5.9:

Ready-to-eat TCS [time and temperature control for safety] food can be stored for only seven days if it is held at 41F or lower. The count begins on the day that the food was prepared or a commercial container was opened. For example, a food handler that prepared and stored potato salad on October 1 would write a discard date of October 7 on the label.

Ignoring the fact that “41F and lower” in the above paragraph also includes temperatures that freeze the food, which makes the dates useless, there are also the paragraphs that follow the above paragraph in the book:

Operations have a variety of systems for date marking. Some write the day or date the food was prepped on the label. Others write the use-by day or date on the label … Sometimes, commercially-processed food will have a use-by date that is less than seven days from the date the container is opened. In this case, the container should be marked with this use-by date as long as the date is based on food safety … When combining food in a dish with different use-by dates, the discard date of the dish should be based on the earliest prepared food.

Ok, I have a question, which would be … WTF???

Here’s a simple fact: Federal regulations require a “use-by” date on the product label of infant formula under FDA inspection. Baby formula is the ONLY food product the FDA says there must be dates on. The FDA site and regulations are full of phrases such as this one regarding eggs: “When a ‘sell-by’ date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 45 days from the date of pack.” Notice that it’s a suggestion that the date be there. It’s not a requirement. There are countless other examples of this ambiguity within the FDA.

On all kinds of food products, both for commercial/restaurant use and consumer consumption, there are various types of dates. Supposedly, they go like this:

  • Sell By – Could be the shelf life on a store shelf, or even the shelf life after purchase. No one really knows.
  • Best By – A guess as to when the product will be at its peak quality. Doesn’t really apply to things like salt, which are already millenia-old products, but is still on some packaging.
  • Use By – Another phrase meaning “Best By”, which is another guess.
  • Freeze By – Again, it’s “Best By”, but for something that can be frozen.
  • Expires On – Eat it one day after this date, and we’re sure you’ll expire, too.

When you go grocery shopping I’m sure you’re probably checking some dates. You’re most likely actively looking for dates on containers in the dairy section and, in some cases, in the bread aisle. Without realizing it, when you look through various items for the ones you want in the produce section, you’re inadvertently “checking dates” as you either want what’s most fresh or, for something like bananas or tomatoes, something that will be ripe enough soon.

But do you check dates on canned goods, on bottles of dressings, jars of peanut butter, jams and jellies, or dry goods such as flour, sugar, cereals or cake mixes? Probably not. We have an expectation that these types of products will be good for some time, especially canned goods.

Some people assert canned goods would be fine after a nuclear blast, which I have serious doubts about.

Here’s a simple set of facts: There are far too many variables in product distribution for any date to be accurate. The transportation and storage chain for many food items has to be considered in the development of any kind of “expiration date”, which is completely impossible. Think about, say, a piece of fruit or a vegetable that’s picked in California and is on its way to Michigan. The pickers pick all day long and place them, sometimes tossing them, into a collection truck. We don’t know what the temperature or humidity might be there. The item then goes to a temp-and-humidity-controlled processing and packing plant where they’re cleaned, the good ones are selected by hand or machine, and they’re packed into their case size. They’re then loaded into other trucks, again with temp and humidity unknown (I’ve seen some recent trucks that are still simple boxes with extra refrigeration units tacked on) and transported to distribution centers for grocer or restaurant wholesalers. They’re then stored in well-regulated areas again, until another distribution takes place to wherever you purchase or consume them. In some cases, the truck is open for long periods at other restaurants before it’s off-loaded at the restaurant you eat at. If you buy them, how do you store them? In fact, what’s the temperature of your own refrigerator? You likely don’t even know.

There are a couple extremes to consider. When ordering from a supplier for a restaurant, you might get #2 breaking avocados for your Cobb salad. “Breaking” means they should be about two days out from ripening when you get them. But warehouse workers may be too busy to keep track of the ripeness of avocados under their care. So when a restaurant receives them, they might be immediately ripe and need to be used right away. They’re obviously not going to last seven days, regardless of how you mark them. That fresh guacamole you decided to make from them might end up too brown and sour to eat after two or three days.

One of the other extremes is the ubiquitous five gallon pail of hamburger dill pickle chips. No one, and I mean no one, dates those things. But very few places in a given area will go through one of these buckets in a week. I’ve seen them last at least a couple months, even when they’re not always resealed properly in the walk-in cooler. And even then, the pickle chips are perfectly edible, crisp, and safe.

Based on experience, I’d give pickled vegetables four or five months under good conditions, maybe even longer.

One of the other issues with that five-gallon pickle bucket, in some cases, is the unavailability of smaller packaging. Knowing our operation wouldn’t go through a whole bucket at the end of the season I asked the Sysco sales rep for a one-gallon version. He stopped in his tracks, looked at me oddly, and said “You know, I don’t think we have that.” And he was right. Unless I went to a store, a smaller package just wasn’t happening.

At the end of seasonal operation, what happens to those buckets still holding maybe three-and-a-half gallons of pickles? Some are actually pitched. Other operators might divvy up the remainder and sell them to employees to take home, or even relocate said bucket to properties that are still operating.

And finally, another contributor to waste is an aversion to eating leftovers. Really? Yes, teenagers, and yes many over the age of 18, largely hate eating leftovers, as do a lot of adults. So a lot of the food in our refrigerators, especially vegetables, head to the dump on a regular basis, only because too many people would rather eat something cooked right now.

We have to stop doing that.

Expiration dates on food is probably one of the largest contributors to the 40%, 133 billion pounds, or $165 billion dollars worth, of food wasted every year in the U.S. When deciding to throw food away, do yourself and the world a favor and don’t go by “expiration dates”. Use common sense. Eat the leftovers. Use your nose, your taste buds, and your brain. Transport and store your food properly. Listen to this guy. Just make good decisions.

Starting now.

My Food Bucket List Suggestion: How Many Have You Had?


Number 49 on the list, handmade Coarse Liverwurst (Liver Sausage) from Kilgus Meats in Toledo, Ohio. I just eat the stuff by itself, no sandwich required.

In December 2006 shortly after starting this blog over at the Monroe News web site, I fell victim to the whole “Foodie Quiz” thing and wrote one myself. Looking back at it now I can see how ridiculous the concept is. The fact is, there’s no way to really define the thing people call a “foodie” because our cultures are different, we were raised in different environments, and to be perfectly blunt, it’s completely unfair to write any kind of “foodie evaluator” that excludes considerations for vegetarians, vegans, Kosher upbringings, or any other nuances in the culture of the person taking your quiz.

A few days ago some online friends posted a link to a so-called “foodie quiz”, one that was supposed to be a test of some “rare foods” the quiz-taker might have had. It was entirely boneheaded, completely ludicrous, including staples such as BBQ ribs, pulled pork, maple syrup … and then threw in “purple ketchup”, which is nothing more than a novelty item from Heinz. The “quiz” set my teeth on edge.

A lot of the “foodie quizes” out there, and sadly my own from seven years ago included, assume the people who score the highest are “better” at enjoying food than people who score lower. That’s simply untrue. A lot of folks who would never touch a lot of things are actually better educated about the foods they do focus on. That should mean something.

So, I decided something had to be done. Someone needed to make a list people might look at and think “Hey, some of these things might be kinda cool. I think I’ll try that.” Or maybe even “Oh yeah, I remember grossing my sister out when I ate that, and it’s real food!”

I decided to develop a list of a hundred items (frankly an arbitrary number), none of which could be called “rare” but possibly located in just few areas. These would be foods I think people should take the time to try at least once, not an actual measure of anything whatsoever.

When it came right down to it, it became what I’d like to consider to be my own suggestion for a “Food Bucket List”, a list of foods I think people should try before … well … you know …

In letting those online folks who knew about the purple ketchup fiasco know about what I was doing, I did take some suggestions from them. They’re either fellow tech writers or fellow food enthusiasts whose opinions I value. Some of their suggestions did make it into the list.

After releasing the Food Bucket List on November 7th I got a nice surprise. My own score on the list, also the number of items on the list that I’ve tried (the items that are bolded), is currently 54%. However, my son Adam who’s now a U.S. Marine ended up with the current high score of 57%. Part of that is not only my insistence that my kids try everything at least once, but also that since his orders have taken him to Japan and Korea, when he was in Okinawa he’s actually had a meal of real Kobe beef that was stuffed with foie gras. And then … ummm … drizzled with chocolate. He picked that over shallot butter. Go figure … But regardless of that, he specifically ordered a food that I may never be able to enjoy since it’s only available there. That makes me proud of what I’ve taught him about food.

On the other end of the spectrum is one of the tech writing leads (says she’s a “Manager” … supposedly that’s a better title …) at Symantec Corp. She’s a vegetarian and scored 9%. I might give her a hard time about that (and I do!) but the honest truth is that she does seriously enjoy food her way, and her own Food Bucket List is going to look completely different from mine. And that’s fine with me. Just don’t tell her I said that.

There are no right or wrong answers in this one. But remember, if you don’t try something just because you’re squeamish, there are people around the world who likely eat that particular item on a regular basis because either that’s their culture and heritage, or they’re simply so poor that that’s all that’s available to them. Think about it before dissing something completely.

So check out my Food Bucket List and use the comment section below to let us know how you did. And maybe why you scored a certain way. Because when it comes right down to it, that’s really the interesting part.

Twelve Food-Related Statements That Need To Be Banned


Adam at age 15 with some camp cooking equipment from the 1950s. People in the U.S. today would likely be extremely squeamish about eating food prepared with these.

When it comes to food, I don’t really like “top-ten” or “top-one-hundred” or any other kind of similar lists. Those lists are very dependant on the taste buds of the voting majority, their culture and history, where and how they grew up, even what kind of mood they’re in or whether or not they have a cold when they eat whatever they’re voting on. But at the same time, there are things I constantly … constantly … hear regarding foods of various kinds, statements that burn my biscuits so bad, my biscuits turn into hockey pucks.

I’ve been working in the foodservice industry off-and-on since the summer of 1979. Most of the statements in the list below have only really shown up in the past ten years or so. It seems people in the U.S. are just getting snarkier, more arrogant about their own feelings about various foods and other people, and decidedly less informed about what real food is and how to enjoy it. I’m definitely of the opinion that it’s the demise of the formerly ubiquitous “home economics” courses in public schools, along with less knowledge of farming and animal husbandry and butchering, that’s contributing to this overall ignorance. This type of education needs to make a comeback, and fast, before we end up as a nation of “food ignoramusses” with no knowledge of those subjects whatsoever.

When it comes to this list, you will never hear me say these things, and if you say them in my presence I might just have to call you on the carpet for it. Ok, so there are two on this list that I used to say … but I won’t any longer … seriously, my daughter will make sure of that … Frankly, if you want to be snarky about food, especially if you open your mouth with any of these and haven’t thought it through, you have a lot to learn. Here are your hard lessons …

12) “I never use canned ingredients … Don’t you dare ever make me anything out of a box.”

Really? If that’s an absolute, I want to see the cow you’re getting your milk from, the backyard chickens giving you your eggs every day, the garden with all your veggies, the bread you’ve got proofing somewhere, your butchering shed … If you’re in the U.S., this ain’t likely. Sure, there are a lot of overly-processed foods out there, but there are certainly some things you’re going to need to use in today’s busy world. Frozen phyllo dough in your baklava, packaged peas for that potato salad, that steel-cut Irish oatmeal that’s just so comforting in the morning … even the good Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, prepped correctly, with the onions and celery sautéed in butter, and the chicken stock added. Yes, you can be particular about your canned and boxed foods, there are some decent ones out there, and to completely draw a line like that is rather unrealistic. Get your head out of your can and go get some good Kosher pickle spears to roll up in that thinly-sliced ribeye with the layer of German mustard out of a jar before slow-roasting it in that freshly-made gravy.

(The image: Margaret Rudkin was the founder of Pepperidge Farm, and was author of the Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. She developed the first packaged stuffing mix, the Sage & Onion, based on her grandmother’s recipe, which is in the book.)

11) “You’re going to eat some real food, not junk.”

If you’re taking your kids out somewhere and you say this to them, you’re some kind of stick-in-the-mud. If you’re saying this while you’re on any kind of day trip or vacation with them, you should facepalm yourself. Say it to your spouse at any time, and you should go see a proctologist about your Serial Buttholiness. Get the kids a grilled cheese sandwich, let them have ice cream first, it won’t kill them or you … if they’re asking for a bag of chips, maybe wandering Disney all day has dehydrated them a bit and their body is telling them they need salt …

And if the spouse wants the 16 oz T-bone with baked potato and sour cream, maybe look the dish over when it arrives and consider learning how to grill steak like that at home for a special occasion. Learn how to have fun on trips of any duration, and include the food in that fun. It’s good for relationships of any kind.

(The image: A handmade corndog from the Rock & Roll Café, one of the better food trucks in southeastern Michigan. They also offer an amazing half-pound sirloin burger topped with grilled peppers and onions.)

10) “That’s not how I make it … That’s not how my Grandma made it.”

And you didn’t bring me any? How rude is that???

Seriously, let’s talk about hot dogs and Chinese food.

It stands to reason that you will like the foods you grew up with. Regional, cultural, religious and family-specific preferences will always be a factor in what kind of foods you will enjoy or even prefer. In early 2012 journalists from MLive put together what they called the Michigan Coney Dog Project, resulting in what they determined to be Michigan’s Top 10 Coney Dogs. That they put the Flint Style Coney further down on the list (at position #4) than the Detroit Style Coney (at positions #1 and #2) is not at all surprising since only one of their members is from Flint. That “Coney Detroit” co-author Joe Grimm was along for the ride is even more telling as a partial reason for those results. And a brief look at the more-than 100 comments below that article will show proof of liking what you grew up with.

If you’re from Detroit, you might like American or Lafayette Detroit Style coneys, while thinking a friend who likes Flint and Jackson styles is crazy. A person standing by from Chicago will tell them they’re both nuts, while the Hawaiian resident and the West Virginian will be arguing Puka vs. Sam’s Hot Dog for an hour. Similarly though, a person from the deep south will avoid Zehnder’s fried chicken like the plague since it “will never be like my mama’s”, Chesapeake Bay crab lovers will always be at odds with those who love Bering Sea ophelia, and a new Chinese visitor to the U.S. will always have a difficult time figuring out why a so-called Chinese restaurant serves that incredibly popular General Tso’s thing he’s never heard of.

Being even a mildly-adventurous eater means not only being more accepting of flavors and textures outside your comfort zone, and being willing to try them, but also acknowledging our differences in food likes and dislikes, celebrating those differences even though we may not agree for whatever reason. Saying a town “Doesn’t know how to do a hot dog” isn’t true. They don’t do your hot dog. They do theirs just fine. When you’re in their town, you’re actually the one who’s nuts. So try theirs. And remember to keep your mind and your taste buds open.

(The image: Some Chocolate-Oatmeal No-Bakes, made from my mom’s recipe.)

9) “That just sounds nasty … I can’t believe you’re gonna eat that … I can’t stand that, I’m good.”

I’ve enjoyed the Flint Style Coney since I was probably 7 or eight, maybe earlier, I really don’t know for sure. My kids have always liked them as well. Unfortunately now, since I’ve let those kids know the real thing has beef heart in it (the original sauce from Abbott’s Meats is almost 100% beef heart), my daughter has a difficult time stomaching it.

Oy.

I’ve always told my kids they have to try every food once. I don’t care if it looks bad, smells bad, came out of a sheep’s or lamb’s gullet (i.e., the natural casing on sausages and some good weiners) or the bottom of a cloudy lake (i.e., catfish), you’re going to try at least one bite before you tell me you don’t like the thing. At that point I can have some respect for your opinion, but not before. Because of this, my daughter now enjoys alligator, calamari, some of the eel she’s tried (not all, but that’s ok), deer venison, has a passion for good rabbit dishes, helped me search on a trip once for the best fried okra …

… but she won’t eat cornbread. Can’t stand the stuff. Make her a corndog from scratch, the breading comes off of it. Doesn’t like it with chili or ribs. However, that stinker will break up that same cornbread, dump it in a glass with some 2% milk and eat it with a spoon. I can’t figure that out …

Something to keep in the back of your mind is that we have seriously become a whole country of complete food wimps. I happened on an original copy of the 1922 “Home Economics Cook Book for Elementary Grades” printed by the Board of Education in Toledo, Ohio. In the chapter on poultry, kids through grade eight were taught to singe the pin feathers off the chicken, cut its head off, draw the pin feathers out with a knife, use the fingers to find and remove the windpipe and crop, dig in with the hand again to remove the intestinal organs (“being careful not to break the gall bladder”), also pulling out the lungs, kidneys, the heart (“found near the lungs”), the oil bag near the tail …

If you enjoy chicken, but the above description and the thought of following it grosses you out, you do indeed have double standards. You should be ashamed of your squeamishness. In these “first-world” countries we’re supposedly so incredibly advanced. But our food has become so sanitized and processed that we’ve selectively (yes … selectively) lost track of where our food comes from. We prefer not to know that other countries pass down recipes for dishes usng the complete animal, largely without a cookbook for a hundred miles in any direction. Only recently have restaurants here began to celebrate “farm to table” and “nose to tail” menus and recipes. This is supposedly a big deal, with higher-end and specialty restaurants making a lot of noise about it. Meanwhile though, authentic Mexican restaurants have always served Menudo made with good tripe (a.k.a. cow stomach), Abbott’s Meats in Flint still makes and distributes the 1919 version  of the Flint Coney sauce made with almost 100% beef heart, secluded families in the Ozarks eat daily meals of squirrel and raccoon, and any time you eat a decent sausage, that crunch is some animal’s intestine. So pull your heart out of your throat and have some real food. Learn about where your food comes from. You’ll appreciate it more.

(The image: A whole beef heart, used in the development of a recipe for Flint Style Coney sauce.)

8) “I had a bad experience there once … They used to be good, not anymore though.”

This one’s a “mea culpa” moment for me …

It’s rather common knowledge that restaurant reviewers will make multiple visits to a single location prior to writing their review of the place. While quite a few so-called “reviewers” are hacks who have no history of cooking, knowledge of good flavors and textures, or even the culture of a given restaurant and why its regular guests love it, they normally know better than to only go once. Restaurants should have consistency between servers and cooks at any given time, but it’s definitely necessary to check more out than can be done at one time.

Even if you’ve had a bad experience somewhere, maybe the cook was having an off day, maybe the server had some issues (even though that should never be reflected in customer service), maybe there are new owners/management (maybe someone actually read your comment card and acted on it) … There are a lot of reasons to try a place again.

There’s one restaurant chain I have a problem with. Ok, multiple problems. It’s a fast-casual place, and there seem to be a lot of hit-and-miss depending on which location I visit. One location in particular has really had my hackles up for a long time and I vowed never to go back.

Then my daughter became pregnant. Three guesses where she wanted to meet up to discuss it … first two guesses don’t count … Now she’s one of the lead servers there … at that same location … I can’t win for losing on this one, I have to go back to the place I really don’t like.

So get your butt over there and try it again. Maybe everything will be fine. In my case, it’d better be or I get to withhold a tip from my own kid.

(The image: Bree with some Poutine at Crazy Joe’s in Wallaceburg, Ontario.)

7) “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”

Another “mea culpa”. Worse for me is that this one is my daughter’s suggestion. Sometimes, she’s right. Sometimes …

Longtime readers will know I’ve had multiple sinus bleeds since 2008, requiring (we think) twelve surgeries to shut off the flow of what’s mostly been arterial blood. (You can tell by the color, along with the occasional pulsing that’s synchronized with the heartrate.) For those first three episodes stretched out from 2008 through early 2010, the night before the bleed started I had enjoyed scallops at the Frog Leg Inn. As I also run their web site and shoot photos in the kitchen, I actually have the pics to prove this. It got to the point where I brought it up with my ENT specialist, who thought it rather odd but still worth some consideration. Was there something in the scallop beds off Massachussetts that the scallops were eating that I was strangely allergic to? Just made no sense at all.

But then with these last two bleeds, in June and May 2013, there hadn’t been a scallop in sight since the previous bleed in June 2010. Why? Because “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”

I think maybe it’s time for some scallops. I should probably have a bucket and some towels standing by though. It can get messy.

(The image: A particular plate of scallops in the kitchen at the Frog Leg Inn, the very dish I’ve always suspected as being responsible for the sinus bleed of March 2010.)

6) “If it’s past its expiration date, you’d better throw it away.”

Were you aware at all that the US Food & Drug Administration only actually regulates a use-by/expiration date on infant formula and some baby foods? That the USDA only requires poultry to be labeled with the date it was packed? That any “use-by/expiration date” on food products is highly dependant on handling, storage temperature, and other uncontrollable variables? And that if you stick hard-and-fast to these dates and throw food away just because the date says it’s “expired”, your level of brain deadedness is showing?

If you can’t tell when food has gone bad and need to go by those dates, you probably shouldn’t be cooking whatsoever. Common sense, smell, the look of a certain ingredient, if fish smells fishy, if beef is brown, if poultry is slimy, if veggies have mold on them … Pitch it. It’s really not that difficult to figure this out.

(The image: A 39-pack of Koegel Skinless Frankfurters with a “Sell By” date of September 20. No year is specified on the package. I didn’t make the package blue for effect, that’s a reflection of the sky on a very nice day.)

5) “Poor little bunny … How can you eat Bambi?”

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and you say this, zip it. It’s very seldom I’ve seen or heard of a carnivore preaching that people damn well better start eating meat becuse it’s better for both them and the planet. A good friend of mine is a full vegan, I respect both his and your views. He and I simply don’t force our views on each other the way vegans and vegetarians generally do with carnivores. You certainly don’t have the authority to tell me what I should eat, that’s my decision. Go have some Fritos and “original” Oreos, and be quiet.

If you’re a carnivore and you’re saying this, what’s your problem? Do you really believe that whether or not we should eat something is somehow related to its level of cuteness? Piglets are somehow inedible early-on because they’re adorable, but when they’ve aged a bit they’re only good for a long smoking of the shoulders and ribs with sauce added, and the divvying up of the bacon and pork rinds. Baby chicks seem to only belong in a petting zoo, while chickens only belong in a skillet with seasoned breading and an inch of hot oil for frying. Selecting which animal to cook based solely on how flippin’ cute it is, is a ridiculous double standard. No, deer, rabbits and other species don’t lose their attractiveness as they age like other animals do. But that in no way means we shouldn’t enjoy them at dinner time. If your emotions are in the way when you’re deciding what to cook, or what I cook, you’re the one with the problem. It’s all food, so eat it.

(The image: A serving of some impromptu Rabbit Chili.)

4) “I can’t tell you, it’s a secret recipe/ingredient.”

In 2007 when I first started working on developing www.frogleginn.com, Chef Tad made it clear he wanted a section where he could post recipes. With so many chefs and professional cooks guarding proprietary recipes as “trade secrets”, I asked why he’d want to do something like that. He explained that home cooks would not have the tools, equipment, or the cooking techniques he and his team do, and that even if a professional were to attempt a duplication, subtle differences in those items would prevent an actual duplication. Any “copycat recipe” will certainly result in something similar but never an exact duplicate. You can only duplicate exactly within the same kitchen the recipe was developed in using identical ingredients.

In late July 2013 Mary and I spent the weekend at the Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we enjoyed a 7-course meal prepared by owner French Master Chef Francois Moyet. The entrée I selected was his Chicken Marsala. Later in the weekend I bought a copy of the book the Chef had written on the history of the more-than-100-year-old castle. It it were some of his recipes, including the Chicken Marsala. Think about that.

The same goes for home kitchens. Sure, it’s a “home kitchen”, and y’all probably shop at the same Piggly Wiggly over yonder. But the concept is the same … You’re going to buy different ingredients, you’re going to measure them somewhat different, Paula’s 350F oven will average 355F while Mildred’s averages 343F, it’ll rain the day Frank makes it while, when Gilbert finally gets around to it, it’ll be 95F outside with high humidity and he ain’t got no A/C. Yes, each batch will taste and feel differently.

“Secret” recipes … “secret” ingredients … Get over yourself.

3) “My chicken/pork/beef/fish has to be well-done.”

Why do you want to ruin the taste and texture of your food this way? Why is it so important to you to remove all those good flavors by overcooking what can actually be better on your plate? This is nothing more than paranoia about supposed food safety issues that are preventing you from enjoying these foods the way other people actually enjoy them and survive.

There’s a burger place in Toledo called Bar 145. They didn’t name it that because of an address or area code, rather they’re using the internal temperature of a piece of beef that’s been cooked medium-rare. At the Frog Leg Inn in Erie, Michigan, the menu description for the 12-ounce Pork Saltimbocca states “Recommended medium-rare unless otherwise instructed.” And in his Les Halles Cookbook, Chef Anthony Bourdain wrote “Hell, most people figure that if the crispy skin tastes good, and there’s no yucky blood or pink stuff near the bone, that’s a fine roast chicken … Chicken should taste like chicken. Understand also that legs and breasts cook at different rates. In your zeal to make sure that there is no pink (eek!) or red (oooohh!) anywhere in the legs, you are often criminally overcooking your breasts. Find a happy medium. A little pink color by the thigh bone does not necessarily mean you are eating rare poultry.”

People do eat food this way. In Japan they have medium-rare chicken sushimi. They are also allowed to have chicken tartare. It’s only because their chickens are raised in such a way that they’re safer to eat. We’re the ones that are backward, while their ancient culture has food goodies we can only dream of having. We’re the ones with the food safety problems. We really, truly suck at it. Meanwhile, other cultures are enjoying some great treats. You should at least try food medium-rare when possible. You might actually like it.

(The image: The raw ribeye I then cooked to medium-rare at the Monroe Boat Club over their community grill.)

2) “That’s a heart attack waiting to happen … A heart attack on a bun … It’ll put me in a diabetic coma.”

No, it’s not. It’s a splurge, a meal to be enjoyed, a once-in-a-lifetime food experience, a challenge, maybe even a meal to be shared with someone you’re with. And you … are inappropriately judgemental.

Unless you’re a Registered Dietition, someone’s doctor, their trainer, or even their lifestyle coach, you have no right and zero authority to use this snide and blatantly offensive comment. Even if you say it when looking at a photo of a dish, you’re more than welcome to slap yourself in the face. People happen to like food, people do like large meals, and if you’re using the current media obsession with “the obesity epidemic” as your basis for saying this you are, again, judgemental and inappropriate.

For example, my wife and I like the Chateau Burger. It’s a one-pounder cooked and served at the Chateau Louise here in Luna Pier. But even when I tell people she and I split the burger, those same people tell me basically that we shouldn’t be having it because it’s just too big. Excuse me, but at that point it’s a half-pound … the same size as a cheeseburger at Sonic, the double at Wendy’s, the double quarter-pounder at McDonald’s … The things they eat all the time. But this info is never good enough for them, because apparently they want to see themselves as “the better, healthier person”.

Gimme a break. You’re a clueless jerk.

Granted, if someone eats like that all the time, that’s a problem. But it’s their problem, not yours. It’s something for their doctor to discuss with them. Now … If you happen care enough about someone to urge them to get help, you’re welcome to do that as well, sitting down with them and having a loving talk about how you don’t want to lose them because of their health. But if you’re going to be snide, insulting, say nasty things about what they’re eating … If you then get slapped or get hot, greasy food dumped on you, you damn-well deserve it.

This same thing goes for those people who claim something will put them into a “diabetic coma”. Have you ever been in a diabetic coma? Are you even a diabetic? Are you possibly just being offensive to diabetics with a snide and insulting remark about an actual medical condition that isn’t always brought on by eating too many sugary sweets? Is there a candymaker standing in front of you who’s possibly proud of their work while you stand there insulting what they do? Those latter two questions are probably more like it. Have some of their work, you obviously need more sweetening.

(The image: The one-pound Chateau Louise burger, as pictured on A Hamburger Today out of NYC. Yes, after shooting that pic I split the burger with Mary.)

1) “Damn, that’s too expensive.”

I’m reminded of a sign that used to hang in the former Bill Knapp’s restaurant in Adrian, Michigan. It listed how much various items cost in 1975. Google the following words:

1975 prices

Look at the results. Gas was 57 cents a gallon. Pretty cheap. Eggs were 77 cents a dozen. They’re only about twice that now.

But then there’s milk.

38 years ago in 1975, milk was $1.57/gallon.

In August 2013 I paid $2.49/gallon. Mary and I both bought milk at school in 1975 at 15 cents a half-pint. That comes out to $2.40 for a gallon of milk when milk was $1.57/gallon.

Yes, seriously. That’s what we paid.

Milk subsidies to farmers have kept gallon prices artificially low. If those subsidies didn’t exist, you’d be paying $7.50 – $8/gallon at the grocery store.

You, my friend, are spoiled.

Here’s the thing: One way or another, you’re paying that $7.5 – $8/gallon, whether you do it in the store or through your taxes via the “subsidies”. It’s the same with corn and other crops and farm products as well. It’s shielded from you so you don’t have to think about it, so it’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind. You are absolutely paying more for some of your food that you think you are. Deal with it.

And then you’re at a restaurant. There’s no “dollar menu” and the 1/4-lb burger is five bucks. You blanche. Right in front of the minimum-wage worker or below-minimum wager server who’s smiling at you waiting for your order, your $50k/year self mumbles “Damn, that’s expensive”. After bitching further about the price of an added drink and fries, you head out to your Lexus, fire up your iPhone and complain on Facebook. Later on after work, that minimum-wage worker picks up their child-support and their public assistance in their rusty used car which is all they can afford because prices at work aren’t actually high enough to pay decent labor wages, heads over and pays the sitter when they pick up the kids, then the rent, the utilities, and hopes to have enough for a couple things at Aldi.

In most states, minimum-wage laws do not apply to tipped employees, meaning servers. That’s stupid. They make probably $2.65/hour and guests are assumed to make up the rest. That’s even more stupid. Minimum wage laws need to apply to everyone, flat-out and period. Tips are a gift, not a wage. Yes, the cost of a meal will then go up, so what? Those workers will then be better able to survive. Get your prissy self out of your immaculate car in your $200 jeans, shove your expensive iPhone into your … pocket … and man-up to paying what you should be paying for food.

It’s a simple fact that customers refuse to pay higher prices for food, prices that are needed in order for workers to make decent wages, while those same customers pay premium prices for anything and everything else. No, unions are not any kind of answer. Customers simply need to stop being penny-pinching boneheads in any situation having to do with eating. The problem will exist while people keep buying off the “dollar menu”. If you don’t like higher food prices, you should be the one starving for a while so you can see what it feels like, not the people who feed your selectively-miserly, inconsiderate and arrogant self.

(The image: Brina, our server for our 7-Course Dinner prepared by French Master Chef Francois Moyet at his exquisite Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in late July 2013.)

In Food Writing, Northern Michigan Is …


A Beef & Pork Rutabaga Pasty from Nylund’s Pasties in Crystal Falls, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Yes, Michigan does indeed have an Upper Peninsula.

A couple of my biggest pet peeves have to do with Michigan food writing in general. There are quite a few food writers here in the state and, make no mistake, they’re all excellent writers. Michigan has a plethora (love that word) of foods, restaurants, festivals and cuisines and there’s plenty of material to go around.

One problem I have is when any of those writers claims that a specific project is supposed to represent all of Michigan when, in fact, doing so would be impractical at best for any short-term deadline. It can simply be expensive and quite time-consuming to get the physical coverage required for a given project.

Even the most well-meaning food writer makes this kind of mistake, and needs to be called on the carpet about it. Yesterday, MLive Entertainment writer John Gonzales released what he titled “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint 2013“. MLive hubs across the state had compiled voting lists from readers, who then selected the top two restaurants for a given area. Then John, along with Mike Jensen of Saranac, visited 30 restaurants over a six-day period before selecting their top ten. Yesterday morning they named Anna’s House in Grand Rapids “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint 2013”.

But John and Mike had never traveled north of Traverse City for the contest. They never set foot on the extensive land mass of the Upper Peninsula. Nor did they come down this way into either Lenawee County or Monroe County.

What Anna’s House had actually earned was the title of “MLive’s Best Breakfast Joint”.

Over in the comments on yesterday’s article containing that news, I made certain to make my feelings known about this. Other readers, including Robin Linwood of Porcupine Press’s UPMag, echoed my sentiments about the issue. John was understandably a bit defensive about it at first, but I got the impression he quickly understood it was the unfortunate mis-naming of the “award” I had a problem with. Some other readers, however, took issue with my “negativity”, saying I should have been more involved. I pointed out I was heavily involved in the selection and voting for the Genesee County portion, which they didn’t see. And I hadn’t really known what the coverage area was going to be. I think only John really knew what that coverage was.

The basic issue is that of geography. In either of the peninsulas it can easily take hours to get from one end or corner to the other of that peninsula. And if a writer is hoping to includes foods and/or locations from the other peninsula in their writing, they’d better book a couple nights in a hotel somewhere. It would have taken John and Mike months, maybe a year or more, along with considerable funding, to actually determine an honestly-named “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint”.

The other concept I have a problem with, one quite possibly shared with the quarter-million-or-so people of the UP, is a concept that shows up far too often in food writing and other journalism in and about the state of Michigan. It’s the one where “trolls” inaccurately and ineptly refer to an area that’s much too far south as “northern Michigan”. This area encompasses the land that begins north of Mt. Pleasant (excluding the tip of Michigan’s “thumb”), and ends at the straits of Mackinac.

The Wikipedia entry for “Northern Michigan” does a rather nice job of explaining the feelings about the inadvertant naming of this area by various groups of the state’s population:

“Across the Straits of Mackinac, to the north, west and northeast, lies the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the ‘U.P.’). Despite its geographic location as the most northerly part of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula is not usually included in the definition of Northern Michigan (although ‘Northern Michigan’ University is located in the U.P. city of Marquette), and is instead regarded by Michigan residents as a distinct region of the state. Although, residents of the Upper Peninsula often say that ‘Northern Michigan’ is not in the Lower Peninsula. They insist the region must only be referred to as “Northern Lower Michigan” and this can sometimes become a topic of contention between friends who are from different Peninsulas. The two regions are connected by the 5 mile long Mackinac Bridge.”

Reader Holland Sparty posted some notes yeaterday that, I have to admit, help to describe accurately where this mis-naming comes from among Michigan’s “trolls”:

“Dave, consider that there are many regular folk (myself included) who live in the lower half of the lower peninsula that consider going ‘up north’ to be going to places such as Traverse City or the Leelanau area or Mackinaw City. We don’t necessarily consider the UP as going ‘up north’ but simply going to the UP … To be clear, obviously the UP is further north than the northern lower peninsula but for many of us the UP is something more distinctive than simply going ‘up north’.”

In considering this rather accurate description for a while, I came to the conclusion this has created more of a problem than us “trolls” can bring ourselves to admit. I understand the state has a geographical situation different from a lot of states in the Union, but that does not mean anyone should ever ignore or push aside a certain population.

But unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened.

The few miles across the occasionally dangerous Straits of Mackinac weren’t connected by the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge until 1957. Lower peninsula-based food writers, other journalists, and the general population, tend to treat the upper peninsula as though it’s some sort of Siberian outpost. Is it any wonder then that the upper peninsula peoples regularly vote on seccession and have since 1858? That they even have their own version of the Michigan State Fair, held since 1928? That they refer to us as “fudge-sucking trolls”?

No, travel along the four-lane bridge isn’t as easy as any of us would like. And during inclement weather it can still be a dangerous crossing. But the upper peninsula is indeed part of Michigan. All of us need to think of it that way and treat it as such. Otherwise, they’re just going to leave like they’ve wanted to. And that would be a sad day.

Here are some simple facts:

  • Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the true “northern Michigan”.
  • The land that begins north of Mt. Pleasant (excluding the tip of Michigan’s “thumb”), and ends at the straits of Mackinac, can only be accurately called “northern lower Michigan”.
  • Michigan’s food writers, and other journalists and writers, will always have a responsibilty for accurate reporting, without the common and outlandish claims of their writing being of a statewide nature, which they can rarely achieve with any honest practicality anyway.

So here I am, six miles north of the Ohio state line, and after writing all this I’m craving a beef & rutabaga pasty with gravy. Go figure.

Follow-Up to My Peeps Rant

Following my Peeps rant from the other day, the bin on the right was given to me by Mary and Briahna this morning. Fortunately, it was a joke Easter basket, filled with Peep bath toys, a Peeps coloring project, a 24-piece Peep puzzle for 4-year-olds, and a few pounds of the creatures themselves. Behind it is my real Easter basket, which was better as far as I’m concerned. My response to Mary and Briahna at the Bin ‘O Peeps? “Peep YOU!”

Luna Pier Cook © 2018 Frontier Theme