Fasten Your Seatbelts, Eaters…The Speed of Change in Food is Accelerating

There’s never been a more exciting time to work in the food world. Once relegated to recipes featured in the Wednesday newspaper food pages and women’s magazines, the discussion about food has deepened and broadened exponentially in the last decade. What hit me smack between the eyes this month is the feeling that the pace of this change is now in hyper-drive. Two recent events stand out: Ketchum’s January 12th publication of its newest Food 2020 consumer research and a visit to the San Francisco Fancy Food Show six days later.

Koda Farms Logo

Koda Farms Logo

 

18 Rabbits Logo

18 Rabbits Logo

Ketchum’s fourth global Food 2020 study found that an influential group of what we call Food eVangelists may be emerging as the new core food consumer. Food eVangelists are a small but globally powerful group who want to impact the way food is raised, packaged and sold. This cohort engages in conversation and share their opinions about food online or in person multiple times each week. First identified by Ketchum Food 2020 in 2013, this group has grown 10 percent in just two years and now accounts for 24 percent of the general population. That’s a tremendous rate of change and because of their influence, Food eVangelists are now in charge and food producers are rapidly responding.

Jelly Belly Logo

Jelly Belly Logo

 

Purely Elizabeth

Purely Elizabeth

This massive change in priorities of consumers is resulting in an explosion of small- to mid-sized businesses who have engulfed the specialty food industry with organic, local, non-GMO and sustainable foods. Big food is also heeding the call and opting in to the movement by cleaning labels of favorite foods and purchasing purpose-driven brands when they are ready for mass distribution. I’m thrilled by all of these developments because they show that consumers really can affect change. It feels darn right democratic!

Georgia Grinders Logo

Georgia Grinders Logo

If you don’t believe me, you should have walked the halls of San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center last week for the 41st Winter Fancy Food Show. You would have been flooded by a mixture of USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified B Corporation, 1% for the Planet labels on everything from oatmeal and granola to nut butters, tuna fish and rice. Even Jelly Belly jellybeans  are in on the game.  The word ‘sustainable’ was ubiquitous and ‘heirloom’ is coming on strong. Cricket flour  created far more buzz than cupcake sprinkles in this venue. Gone are the days when the Fancy Food Show specialized mostly in gorgeous chocolates and phenomenal cheeses, although thankfully you’ll still find plenty of these to enjoy!

 

Safe Catch Logo

Safe Catch Logo

If you’re reading this @ppetite post, it’s highly like that you are a Food eVangelist yourself or that you know one, or that you have attended either the Winter Fancy Food Show in SF or the Summer version in New York City. I’m so glad you are here and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Do you see this acceleration of change? If so, how and where?

Bitty Foods Logo

Bitty Foods Logo

Soil or No Soil? Differing Views on Growing Food Raise Interesting Value Questions

As part of a global food communications firm, thousands of foodies at Ketchum are experiencing and enjoying learning about all aspects of food and food production. You can imagine that no two opinions are alike and that’s what makes our world so exciting. Following are my personal observations as I read Dan Barber’s new book; some takeaways that resonate with me. Read on, and I welcome your point of view and observations as well.

I love discussing different viewpoints on food production and thinking about how personal values come into play when deciding what we want to eat. I’ve been reading Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate (The Penguin Press, NY, 2014), in which he spends the first section setting forth his strong belief that the most flavorful food comes from a healthy and balanced ecosystem and that “When we taste something truly delicious, something that is persistent, it most likely originated from well-mineralized, biologically rich soils.”

An example from The Third Plate of an agricultural ecosystem in ideal balance: Pigs from which the world-prized iberico hams are made, graze freely in Spain’s dehesa region. Source: Extremadura.blogspot.com)

An example from The Third Plate of an agricultural ecosystem in ideal balance: Pigs from which the world-prized iberico hams are made, graze freely in Spain’s dehesa region. Source: Extremadura.blogspot.com

Barber examines the ‘language of the soil’ and interviews those who have mastered the art of understanding what a field or patch of land is telling us. And, basically, it is this: “see what you are looking at” when viewing an environment, and to do so requires a deeper understanding of chemistry and soil health. Barber quotes Klaas Albrecht, longtime chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri who urges, “Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants.”

Source: gastropod.com

Source: gastropod.com

I particularly appreciated Barber’s reference and homage to one of my lifelong heroes, Aldo Leopold, and his environmental classic, A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University Press, NY, 1948). In my opinion*, Leopold’s work should be read by everyone who eats. I wholeheartedly agree with Barber that Leopold’s essay on The Land Ethic, featured on pages 201-226 of my dog-eared copy of the Almanac, is required reading.

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”  Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac. Photo source: brownsafe.com

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac. Photo source: brownsafe.com

But, just as I was reviewing my beloved old book, I read an equally compelling story featured in the July 28th Washington Post about the world’s largest indoor farm that grows its ecologically friendly food in the absence of soil, hydroponically. The environment of this farm couldn’t possibly be more antithetical to Leopold’s vision of a healthy ecosystem. How could he have foreseen farmers donning clothes resembling hazmat suits raising crops indoors, in vertically stacked rows, utilizing GE LED lighting rather than the sun?

Mirai Lettuce Farm, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Photo source: The Washington Post, July 28, 2014.

Mirai Lettuce Farm, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Photo source: The Washington Post, July 28, 2014.

At first glance, this futuristic agricultural system looks cold, surreal and almost creepy. Yet, there are many ecologically positive aspects to this type of farming. The 25,000 square foot Mirai Lettuce Farm, in Eastern Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, is located inside an old Sony factory. High tech food has replaced high tech electronics in the recycled and retrofitted factory that could have gone to seed otherwise. There’s elegance in this renaissance and, importantly, a drastic reduction in water use – 99%, in fact – and reduced food waste as compared to conventional production methods.

This operation is unapologetically a ‘factory farm’ that turns out 10,000 coreless heads of lettuce a day. Photo source: foodanddrinkbuzz.com.

This operation is unapologetically a ‘factory farm’ that turns out 10,000 coreless heads of lettuce a day. Photo source: foodanddrinkbuzz.com.

Shigeharu Shimamura, a botanist and the company president explains, “The process for growing Mirai lettuce produces leaf type, and not head type, so 95 percent of the portion is edible and can be used conveniently at restaurants for salads and sandwiches. In terms of quality, since Mirai leaf lettuce is fresh and soft, they are praised by children and the elderly as easy to eat.” Shimamura also points out that the technology used to produce his plants creates “a variation of romaine lettuce that contains eight to 10 times more beta-carotene and two times the vitamin C, Calcium and Magnesium” (The Washington Post, July 28, 2014). It’s pretty hard to argue with this approach when the global population will surpass the 10 billion mark by 2050.

The good news, as I see it, is that brilliant minds around the world are coming up with different and important solutions to the world’s food needs. I, for one, have made the commitment to open my mind to alternate ideas and to appreciate the vibrant and passionate discussion taking place about how to feed the world and respect our planet at the same time. Let’s keep talking!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about interesting solutions you’ve discovered for meeting competing demands in this arena.

*This, and all, @ppetite posts reflect only the opinion of the author and in no way reflects the collective point of view of Ketchum.

Canned Tomatoes in Summer? You Bet! Try Them in Smoky Tomato-Bacon Soup.

This year I didn’t have time to plant tomatoes (or any vegetable, truth be told) in my garden. Maybe I was reading or cleaning out my closet or possibly riding my bike, but somehow I missed prime planting time so I’m destined to pay $2.50 for a decent heirloom fruit if I want to make a Caprese salad. However, when a hankering for homemade tomato soup hit the other night I was overjoyed to find that I had everything I needed on hand thanks to the ready availability of excellent canned tomatoes. A special issue of Fine Cooking Simple Dinners (on newsstands now) provided the inspiration and this recipe. I suppose you could make it with 28 ounces of garden-tomatoes cut into chunks — and that would be phenomenal — but I assure you that the results using canned were terrific. The kind handyman who’s building us a new puppy fence couldn’t stop raving over the steaming cup, topped with crispy, salty bacon pieces, and my boys endorse it as a “must save” recipe. Enjoy!

Smoky Tomato-Bacon Soup. Source: Fine Cooking Simple Dinners.

Smoky Tomato-Bacon Soup. Source: Fine Cooking Simple Dinners.

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“I’ll have the calf’s head, please,” said my son.

There comes a time in every parent’s life, I suppose, when you see a glimpse of how you have helped shape an emerging adult. Such a moment happened to me last Wednesday night during a vacation with my twin teenage sons at a bistro in Paris. In celebration of some big milestones in my life, I decided a very special trip was in order. Ryan and Joe accompanied me to London and Paris, so I could have the extreme pleasure of expanding their horizons, while treating myself at the same time. A perfect combination.

Springtime in Paris.

Springtime in Paris.

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You Won’t Believe They’re Gluten-Free Cookies, Courtesy of the Tallman Hotel

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population of the United States, has celiac disease. (Note: I was unable to calculate the number of people globally who suffer from this condition.) I must give tremendous credit to the NFCA for raising the awareness in my country of the connection between gluten and the disease, because these days if you live in America it would be virtually impossible to have not heard about the gluten-free movement. As with all such meteoric rises in knowledge about a condition and a food that exacerbates or ameliorates it, marketers have clamored to get in on the fad. I recently saw a bottle of Almond Milk touting “gluten free” as a benefit. Honestly, in this frenzy I wouldn’t be surprised to see a package of light bulbs sporting the same advantage.

Cookies so good, you'd never guess they were gluten free. Photo source: browneyedbaker.com

Cookies so good, you’d never guess they were gluten free. Photo source: browneyedbaker.com

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for celiac disease sufferers that so many new products are available to enrich their lives. But, because a large number of the inevitable band wagon jumpers – most of whom, I hazard to guess, do not have the condition – have become very vocal about the need for everyone to live a gluten-free life, the entire movement has me shaking my head. Case in point. A buddy of mine told me that he was going to the Midwest for the holidays last year and his sister — who does not have a diagnosed case — had forewarned him that they were going to be celebrating a Gluten Free Christmas. We’ve jumped the shark here, my friends.

Source: celiacandthebeast.com

Source: celiacandthebeast.com

However, in the spirit of gluten-free camaraderie with those who have honestly been suffering with terrible food for years because of their disease, I am eager to share this recipe for a gluten-free cookie that would be welcome in any house, wheat allergies or not. I tasted one…ahem, okay, three…recently at an intimate concert during a visit to the Tallman Hotel in Lake County, California, which is about an hour north of Sonoma in beautiful wine country. The proprietors, Bernie and Lynn Butcher of San Francisco, pull out all the stops to make their gorgeous property the perfect retreat. General Manager, Susan Mesick, a Ketchum alum, graciously ensures each guest is treated like royalty. This gluten-free cookie is the ideal metaphor for the place: it’s a better take on a classic because it’s unexpectedly fantastic, it feels homey but sophisticated, and it’s good for the soul.

Enjoy!

The cookies look like this. Yum! Source: Browneyedbaker.com

The cookies look like this. Yum! Source: Browneyedbaker.com

Tallman Hotel Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookies

¼ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 cup smooth peanut butter
3 cups rolled oats
½ cup mini chocolate chips
½ cup raisins or dried cherries
½ cup toasted walnuts or sunflower seeds (the cookies I tasted contained walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine butter, sugar, and brown sugar and beat until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, and baking soda; mix well. Add peanut butter and mix well. Stir in oats, chocolate chips, dried fruit, and nuts. Place teaspoons of the dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly brown around the edges.

P.S. It doesn’t hurt to eat these with a mug of steaming hot coffee while listening to acoustic folk music during the winter.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Saveur!

One of my favorite gifts this holiday season arrived in my mailbox disguised as the January/February 2014 issue of Saveur magazine. But it wasn’t until I had a few luxurious hours to myself that I realized the culinary treasure before me.

tartiflette

Photo via saveur.com.

In celebration of the magazine’s first 20 years, its editors invited some of the biggest names in food to comment on their favorite Saveur recipes featured since 1994 and to relate the stories behind them to their personal lives. In this superbly edited issue, the likes of Ruth Reichl, Marcus Samuelsson, Thomas Keller, and Cecilia Chiang grace the pages in conversation, leading the reader through the Saveur 100 – an annual roundup of the current global culinary scene.

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The Revolution Was Televised

Editor Note: This post was written by, Mark Scarbrough, one of my favorite food writers of all time. He is the writing half of the Mark Scarbrough-Bruce Weinstein cookbook powerhouse. Bruce creates the recipes. Together, they have published 24 cookbooks; a feat that must be close to a record in the U.S. For their 2011 James Beard award nominated work, Ham. An Obsession with the Hindquarter, they bought and raised a pig to find out what it really means to be locavores. Their newest book, The Great American Slow Cooker Book, is due out in January 2014. I know it’ll be perfect, just like the kind of friend these men are to others, including me.

Our weather vane. In honor of Ham. An Obsession with the Hindquarter. Source: Mark Scarbrough.

Our weather vane. In honor of Ham. An Obsession with the Hindquarter. Source: Mark Scarbrough.

1987. I was in grad school. I’d just started cooking for myself. I didn’t have a lot of time (or money) but I’d heard about this new way to make fish: not fried, but sautéed. I’d grown up on processed this and boxed that. If cream of mushroom soup couldn’t fix it, we didn’t eat it. This recipe was a new start.

I went to the supermarket. “Do you have olive oil?” I asked the clerk. He was in a Duran Duran T-shirt. He led me to the aisle with the band-aids and pointed to a bottle called “sweet oil.”

“Yep,” he said. “Great for fungus. Finger- or toenail?”

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An American New Years In Paris

 

I’m pretty sure my son, Joe, thinks the streets of Paris are paved in chocolate. And if he does, I have only myself to blame. What else could he conclude after hearing of breakfast pastries filled with dark chocolate and entire shops dedicated to selling cones and cups and pyramids and geodes fashioned from this beloved elixir?

A shameless Francophile, I planted the seeds for a love of Parisian food, architecture and style in the developing psyches of my twin sons seven years ago after my first visit to Paris. The city captivates me like no other and I return to it in times when my soul needs to remember that light, beauty, love and the desire to do things with care – even simple tasks like wrapping a lollipop purchase – still exist.

Watching Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris twice pushed me over the edge last fall and prompted me to make a holiday pilgrimage to see this special place dressed up in its holiday finery.

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The Sweetest Sweet Shop

If you build it, they will come. And if you fill it with swirly lollipops, pale-pink frosted light-as-air cookies, organic coffee drinks and glass jars filled to the brim with colorful candies, they’ll come in droves…even if you are located smack dab in the middle of a suburban Silicon Valley residential neighborhood. It seems as if everyone likes a cheerful candy shop, especially one that donates its profits to the local public school district. A magical place like this just opened a few weeks ago around the corner from my house in Los Altos, California.  It’s called Sweet Shop, and it really is.

Stacy Savides Sullivan is the brainchild and warm personality behind Sweet Shop. She grew up in the area and used to visit the precursor to her store, a dilapidated mini-mart called Foodland, along with hundreds of other students from the local junior high school decades ago. I used to go there, too, so I understand the nostalgia behind the location. Sweet Shop is a far cry from Foodland!

Every bakery item is brought in from a local specialty purveyor. The cookies come from Icing on the Cake in Los Gatos, the muffins and croissants from Kelly’s in Santa Cruz and the not-cloyingly-sweet cupcakes are brought in from Sibby’s in San Mateo.

Stacy has stocked the place with unusual treats from England, like Curly Wurlys and Yorkies. Hers is one of the very few  retail outlets in the area where you can find Dippin Dots outside of an amusement park. The frozen confection requires a special freezer that can reach temperature of -40 degrees F.

One of the highest-end items featured at Stacy’s store are bittersweet chocolate Tiles made by poco dolce. “They are tremendously popular around here,” Stacy says. “So are the Brix chocolates that come with tips on how to pair the different varieties with various wines.”

As for the kids, she’s got them covered, too. Stacy polled her two sons and their many friends about their favorite candies, and now 45 of the top vote getters are displayed in clear glass jars just waiting for the right child to take them home. So far, sour belts are the most popular, followed by gummy penguins and frogs, watermelon slices, and, of course, the insanely sour pieces of Toxic Waste that come in a little garbage can-shaped container.

Sweet Shop is doing its part to help fund cash-strapped local public schools by donating after-break-even profits to the Los Altos Unified School District. But it’s not only a socially-conscious operation, it’s doing its part to be sustainable, too. Many of the foods it sells are organic, all utensils are recycled and/or recyclable, including the spoons that are made from potato by-products. Organic milk, eggs, and butter are delivered by an actual milk man dressed in white (who knows if this is super sustainable but, hey, it adds to the overall charm!). The restroom has an ultra-modern hand dryer that’s energy efficient and solar panels will soon be installed on the roof. Even the frog statues in the peaceful garden spit out recycled water.

It’s not every day that a place this whimsical and fun opens right around the corner. My twin sons and I have already visited multiple times and I’m sure we’ll soon be on a first name basis with the friendly counter service crew. Sweet Shop is a magnet to young and old alike. It looks to me like people are still hankering for a community gathering space, even in the midst of daily Tweets, emails, iPhone calls and, yes, blogs about food! Thanks to Stacy, we now have one in Los Altos. (Sweet Shop, 994 Los Altos Avenue, Los Altos, California; www.sweetshoplosaltos.com).

 

(My sons, Joe and Ryan, enjoying a Summer Fruit Smoothie after school.)