Thursday, August 11, 2011

Aha! and Huh? (No.4)

It seems like, unfortunately, it is always easier to find some Huh?-facts rather than some happy Aha!-facts.

This is from a few months ago, when I visited my sister in Manhattan. An "mini-urban-organic market" just sitting there all cute and healthy at the stop for the ferry for Ellis Island. Even in the winter in New York you can get fresh produce. In this case apples, jam, and honey. And cheap too, way cool!

This is an adertisement and marketing strategy at Kentucky Fried Chicken. First off, I have to say that I hate these types of ads, trying to guilt you into buying their crap, under the guise of helping the poor/needy/sick, etc. Like KFC can't just support the cause or make a donation.
But this one is particularly dumb.

Buy a gigantic sugary soda and help support diabetes research. And yes, in this case, they are researching the cause and trying to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes, not Type 2. Type 1 is technically not directly linked to eating habits, but come on, really?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fast Food McFacts

There have been many books and documentarires in the last few years documenting the state of the food industry in the US, the mingling of agriculture and politics, dubious marketing strategies, conflict of interests, and the business of food in general.

And we all know how bad fat food is for us. Well sort of. Not really actually. It's pretty crazy once you start looking at the fast food industry in more depth. The ugly truth encompasses the quality of the food, the health consequences, the attitude toward employees, or the lobbying practices. There is hardly anything redeeming about it, even the Ronald McDonald houses are shady. I'm serious, I used to eat fast food every once in a while, but now when I have the urge, I picture the 100+ mashed up cows that make up my ground beef patty.

Notable movies include Food, Inc., Fast Food Nation, and Supersize Me, if you haven't watch these documentaries, go add them to your netflix queue right now! They have brought awareness to the state of our relationship with food in the US and hopefully have changed some people's minds and habits (it worked for me!).

I guess I'll give you my spiel on organic and local food later, but this following strip pretty much sums up some of the crazy facts about fast food. This really is only the '101 of Fast Food Facts.' There is more to disclose, unfortunately!

At least for now, I present to you; the good, the bad, and the McUgly.

Thanks for the info, quite a miscellaneous site but every so often you find some really interesting links!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Aha! and Huh? (No. 3)

As we continue in our random posts of interesting and lame eco-logics, I present to you the latest findings:

I had to stop and take a picture of this parasol as we were driving down to Mexico a few of weeks ago.

Yes, it's an-upside down satellite dish used for shade at a roadside food stand.
Que bueno reciclaje, love it!

This is a coupon for emergency supplies of canned goods, in case the world comes to an end, there is no food, and we are all ready to kill each other. And it is versatile: "Terrorist Attacks, Recession, Layoffs!"

Don't fret, just buy a year supply of canned or freeze-dried food and stash it in your bunker.

But if the end of the world lasts more than a year, then sorry, you're f***ed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cheap Books and Free Volts

On our last trip to Tucson we stopped at the local "Bookman's," which for those of you not from Arizona, is a store that sells second-hand books, movies, music, and video games. It has become a trendy place to hang out, browse their magazine section, and check in on local events, bands, and cool happenings in town.

They have stores in Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff and seem to have been able to shift their marketing and reinvent themselves over the years to overcome the hurdles that larger bookstores have had to deal with, such as the event of online music downloads, the arrival of netflix, and Kindle-type books. Personally, I think trading and buying used books and CDs is super eco-logic and I honestly don't remember the last time I bought a brand new book. Actually, I do. It was Harry Potter.

"Free Electric Vehicle Charging Station"

Anyway... as we parked our gas-guzzling mini van in the parking lot, we noticed the giant sign that was painted on their front windows.

That's right, they have a free electric charging station at their store! I asked an employee; they say they get about one client per month that comes and charges their car. I guess in a sense it is not a lot, but it really brings the concept of the eletric car to the forefront, shows passersby what it could mean to own an one, and is a great marketing strategy for a company that in a way promotes recycling and conservation of natural resources.

And it makes me want to buy an electric car!

We are thorough reporters, conscientious academics, and we pride ourselves in our integrity and ethical research techniques. So, we left no stone unturned, no plug unplugged.

We tested it for you, and yes, it works!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nasty Food Contest-Results!


Alright, it took quite a while to get all our results in! After many weeks of speculating, the results are finally here...

If you have missed our earlier blog, the contest was to try and find the worst food possible and share the joy and amazement of your find. This was an international effort, with nasty concoctions, dubious ingredients, and awful marketing strategies.

There were many submissions, so thank you everyone for your valiant effort.

Let's start with our first finalist from down under:

What is it you say? Why these are popsicles, mixed and ready to go, you just freeze them yourself. And yes, they are in cute seahorse or koala shapes, what is not to like about that? And don't worry, you can always keep this one until you truly think the time is right. It is apparently quite good to eat until 2016...

Runner up, we have here a truly unique choice of ingredients and packaging choices. Hot dog balls, yes that's right, enhanced with a subtle yet delightful chicekn flavor, and then, wait for it... infused with cheese shots that will melt in your mouth. All of this artfully wrapped in a cute to-go box.

I do have a small bias against our next contestant who comes to us from the farmer's fair in the depths of La Belle France.

As far as healthy, fresh, and organic food, he is a winner. This is pure, fresh, food. Locally raised, with only ONE ingredient. So let me be clear, this is not the worst food possible. However, we must all agree that although this big box of tongues looks delish, it is not for everyone pallet (pun intended).

This next item was suggested as unhealthy food by a fellow Swiss friend. Just our basic ham sandwich.

Why did I include this one? To show the different point of views in different countries. Considered fast food and junk food in Swizterland, it would have been chosen as a healthy lunch choice here in our old US of A.

An intriguing competing duo for this category that I liked to call fluffy fructose fun, we have a tie ladies and gentlemen. These two contestants, although separated by several thousand miles of ocean, agreed that marshmallow art is truly a category worthy of mention.

"Birthday Surprise" from Belfort, France

"Easter Cuties" from Nashville, Tennessee 

Now a special category for most-un-ecofriendly packaging, this one comes to us from Prescott, Arizona.

I think we should all learn a valuable lesson here and try and ruin our attempt at healthy food by buying products in hard plastic shells that will biodegrate in 4,000 years or so.

Drinks were not as popular a choice, so this is one I picked myself, based on color and ingredients.

There are not enough blue foods in this world I tell you, so let's invent some shall we? Blue raspberry juice! And what is the key to blue raspberry goodness? Apparently vegetable oil, yes it is listed as one of the ingredients; who woulda thunk?

Moving on with most creative product name for a food item, I give you, from Mexico:
THE Skwinklote!

I dared not taste it, but secret ingredients include tamarind juice and cayenne pepper.
Probably something to grab if you are in need of a last minute bowel cleanse at the checkout aisle.

And there you have them ladies and gentlemen, please let's give a big round of applause to all our contestants, you are all winners my friends!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vamos a Walmart

Wow, it's been a month since I've posted any smart-ass posts. Gotta change that!
One reason I haven't written anything in a while is that we went back to Mexico. Again. Geesh.

I could post the same comments as the last time around. It was beautiful. And peaceful. And relaxing. Aaah...

But on this trip, we went all out and visited Walmart; Mexico-style.
I actually believe that the giant "Bodega Aurerra" in Rocky Point is owned and operated by Walmart. All in all it was pretty similar to what you can get in a Walmart in the States. The usual dollar items, the giant aisles of prepackaged food for low low prices... And let me tell you, don't worry, Walmart has done a fine job of expanding the boundaries of junk food to international levels.

But I was searching for cultural/linguistic/regional differences.
Here are a few notable ones in my opinion.

Cool local produce

Fresh-cut nopales

Tortilla factory

What I thought was pretty interesting is the marketing/packaging of Walmart products in foreign countries. In this case, they changed the logo to better target a Mexican audience. And it is definitely not targeted for your average American. Even if Walmart had a "supergirl" as a logo, she'd be closer in looks to Pamela Anderson than Rosie O'Donnell (no offense Rosie, I think you're cool).

This supermujer is pretty gordita if you ask me. We would never use her as an advertizing icon in the US, even though she represents the average American pretty well. The color scheme is pretty different too, boring white Walmarts in the States, bright green Walmarts in Mexico.

And we are still cutting down prices, but it's a little more graphic south of the border!

US Logo 

Mexican Logo
Although it was an interesting trip to the grocery store, don't do like me, you can spend a week without your Walmart essentials. Go to a real bodega... buy your fruit and veggies from a local stand, find a nice little old lady to sell you fresh tortillas, or buy some seafood at the docks.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How many burgers?

 Everytime we were drive back from Tucson, we have to cross through Phoenix. It is big, busy, and boring. It was lunchtime and food was on our mind. "Man, there are a lot of advertisements for food" says Jim. "I wonder how many billboards there are in Phoenix just for fast food."

Well, like I said, we were bored. So we did some counting while crossing all of Phoenix; from Awatukee to Anthem. Drum roll please: We saw twelve billboards featuring GIANT hamburgers. There were also three just for coke (love the slogan for this one).

To be fair I decided to count billboards that advertised "healthy" food. I found two billboards, one for cuties tangerines and one for apples. Other billboards included lap band surgery, insurance for just about anything, outlet malls, online schools, and churches...

We also counted how many restaurants we could see from the freeway. Now this is for fast food only, we didn't even count chains such as Denny's or Swensen's. And this is only what we could see while driving 75 miles an hour. We saw 26 fast food joints (Burger King, McDonalds, Jack in the Box, Del Taco, In N Out Burger, and Taco Bell).

No wonder people eat junk food while on the road. It's advertised everywhere and every single exit offers a nice selection of processed food options. Even the Dept. Of Transportation advertises for selected and usually unhealthy food options. They'll give you the exit number and point you in the direction of the nearest restaurant.

And rest stops offer vending machine "snacks" for the weary and hungry. Food is not just inside the Circle K, you don't even have to get out of your car to reach for the chips! We stopped for gas along the way and even then we were literally surrounded by food!

Another striking point of interest in my opinion is the incredible number of ads and billboards for hospitals. Maybe it's just me but I find the concept revolting. I mean the ads literally say something along the lines of 'you'll only get good ER care if you come to our hospital' and 'come to our medical facilities and you can kiss your cancer goodbye'. How sick is that? Anyway, I digress...

So 12 larger than life juicy hamburgers... The drive did go a lot faster than usual. And we didn't even count the delivery trucks and semis, which show things like this! [By the way, taking pictures of billboards and movng trucks while driving is a hard task!]

Any suggestions on what we should we count next time we're on a road trip?!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aha! and Huh? (No. 2)

Here we go again with the good and the bad of my lil' ecologics  world..


This is a lecture from Daniel Gilbert, a professor of Psychology at Harvard, who explains why people are in denial when confronting the issues surrounding global warming.
Very informative and incredibly well summarized. Everyone should listen to him, it makes perfect sense!


I went to Fry’s this week and brought my own cloth grocery bags.
As a reward for doing so, I got a sticker! Love it, it says "You saved a plastic bag."

My reward for not using plastic is… a piece of plastic.
Let's not be overly eco-friendly, we wouldn't want to make this too efficient.


Thursday, March 24, 2011


We just came back from a beautiful vacation in Mexico, where I pondered life while staring at the big blue expanse of water in front of me. And although items such as beer, pretzels, and pancakes were consumed in rather large quantities, we also ate some healthy and super ecologic dishes. Cheap, in some cases free, local, and fresh, fresh, fresh.

Not to sound overly cheesy, but it’s nice to connect directly with the food you eat; either with the people who bring the food to you or the animals that make up what you are about to eat. Sorry, I'm coming back from vacation and now I'm feeling philosophical and nostalgic I guess!

A stroll along the peer gave us some fresh shrimp.
They turned into this:

A morning sitting in the kayak, watching the seagulls, and daydreaming.
It turned into this:

Which then turned into this:

And finally into this:

The tortillas were still steaming hot when we bought them from the local market.
And they turned into this:

¡Buen provecho!

Man I want to go back
We don't need to work do we?
We could just fish all day instead...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Eco Costco?

I shop at Costco perhaps once or twice a month and we try to be eco-logic when shopping in general. However, I’m not perfect.
We eat a lot of cereal and that has a lot of packaging, there is no bulk cereal available where we are and I am not ready to make my own granola. We use a rather large amount of disposable diapersand I am really not ready to do cloth diapers quite yet.
Bu we definitely don't always make smart choices.

Exhibit A:
My kids love the Vache-Qui-Rit (Laughing Cow) cheese, which I like to buy because it reminds me of home (France).
Is it the best-tasting cheese in the world? No

Is it an organic, all natural food? Nope

Is it cheap? Not really

Is it well packaged? Heck no; individual chunks of cheese wrapped in aluminum foil, wrapped in a cardboard box, and wrapped again in a larger box.
Do I buy it every time we go to Costco? Yes I do

So I don’t want to sound like I always make the best decisions, I most definitely don’t! And I don’t want to be hypocritical either. But after shopping there for about a year now, here are some of the pros and cons in my humble opinion in terms of environmental-friendliness at Costco.

On the plus side:

1. No plastic at the checkout. You either bring your own bags, or they provide you with cardboard boxes; which brings me to my second point;

2. Cardboard recycling. The boxes used to ship and package the food is reused at the checkout aisle for customers to take home.

3. Organic food. They have a growing selection of organic produce, chicken, cereal, soups, coffee, etc.

4. Bulk food. Some products, such as nuts, cereal, or cheese come in large quantities with less packaging per weight of produce sold than in other grocery stores.

5. Less handling. You buy the food directly from the wholesaler, instead of it being handled by a middleman company. Less shipping, redistributing, shelving, etc.

6. Cheaper. Many of the products available are also much cheaper, both for regular and organic.

However, on the negative side:

1. Shipment Packaging. There is an incredible amount of different types of wrapping, paper, plastic, and cardboard used to ship and store the large quantities of food. Granted, a lot of this is similar to other grocery stores, we just don’t see it elsewhere because the food is unwrapped behind closed doors.

2. Individual packaging. Large quantities doesn’t necessarily equate with smart packaging. You can buy 50 mini bags of Doritos individually wrapped instead of just buying one large bags of chips.

3. Serving size. From a nutritional point of view, I really think that it makes giant sizes the new norm in terms of how much is an acceptable amount to both buy and eat. And although many Costco products are made for the food industry at large, individuals now buy the same large quantities of food for personal consumption.

4. Food waste? I’ve done this before, bought the huge box of yogurt because it was such a good deal, and it went bad before we could finish it. Better to buy smaller quantities, fresher produce, and not-as much frozen food. It’s healthier and you know your family will eat it. And I don’t know the answer to this, but I wonder if they have to throw more expired/moldy food or produce away than other food retailers due to the large quantities that they deal with.

5. Food ‘allure’ part 1. As soon as you are at the checkout, before you can get to your car you have to pass the giant pizza/ice cream/soda area, where you can buy fast food for dirt cheap. Way to promote unhealthy food and unhealthy eating habits.

 6. Food ‘allure’ part 2. And then there are the little tasting booths. Sometimes the options are great, we got free yogurt last time and my kids quietly ate them for the entire time we were shopping. However, when the options are dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and weight-loss cookies, it also leads to having to repeat over and over “no we are not getting that, no you can’t taste it, I know everyone else is tasting them, but you can’t” and telling the nice old lady “no thank you my kids don’t want any,” while they are screaming “but I want one!”

Again, what is my conclusion? I don’t know. I think almost anything in moderation is ok.

And next time you go to Costco you should try some Vache-Qui-Rit, it’s so good!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Would You Rather... Eat Cat Food or a Twinkie?

This sounds like a joke.

Or an episode of Jackass.

Or something you read on the front page of the Enquirer, “Crazy woman eats nothing but cat food for 30 years…

Or a Truth or Dare:
1. Truth: What are the ingredients of a Twinkie?
2. Dare: Try some cat food!

But how bad is cat food, really?

Most obviously, there is a social stigma to eating pet food. Even if your kid eats a clean piece of dog food that just fell out of the bag, man you go bonkers, right? “Aaah, that’s grO-Oss, put that down!!!!”

But if you go to the pet food aisle of the grocery store, it’s almost appealing. There are literally raw diet options for your pets, probiotics, vitamins, and diet supplements. There are all-natural, vegetarian, and organic options. There is a fridge for ‘fresh options,’ and a variety of treats that come in all shapes and colors.

Well, I randomly went with the Friskies brand. And just for that brand there are plenty of options. You got your basic giant bags of dry food, but they’re called “Seafood Sensations.” Wet cat food options include “Seared Filets with Beef and Chicken.” If your cat has been on his best behavior you can buy him “Party Mix Wild West Crunch” treats.

So I decided to pick a cat treat that sounded the least-appealing to me. The best I could find was a nice little snack called “Crunchy Hairball Remedy.” Sounds delish!

Here is the list of ingredients:
Ground wheat, ground yellow corn, brewers rice, petrolatum, poultry by-product meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), animal liver flavor, wheat gluten, tuna, tuna meal, natural and artificial flavors, salt, added color (Yellow 5 and other color), calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, choline chloride. A-6220.

So, without analyzing each ingredient, here some basic interesting facts.
1. Petrolatum is the active ingredient to get rid of those naughty lil’ hairballs.
2. Not sure what the terms “poultry by-product,” “flavor,” and “natural and artificial flavors” all actually imply but it can’t be too good.
3. The colorants are also very vague. Yellow 5 is pretty nasty, can be carcinogenic when combined with other ingredients and can cause hyperactivity in children (how about cats?). And I can’t figure out what A-6220 refers to…
4. However, potassium chloride is just a salt substitute and is considered safe. Calcium carbonate is a calcium supplement, and choline chloride is an additive often found in poultry food. Some people take as a supplement to improve liver health and helps cell growth.

Not loving these ingredients necessarily, but I guess these are ok. Most of the ingredients, tuna, rice, wheat, liver, salt are actually recognizable foods.

I did pick one of the worst-sounding ones, so now I’ll try one of the better sounding brand of cat food. I found another dry cat food called “California Natural” and chose the “Herring and Sweet Potato” option.

Here are the ingredients:
Herring, barley, oatmeal, herring meal, chicken fat, natural flavors, sweet potatoes, sunflower oil, herring oil, vitamins, DL Methionine, Minerals, Taurine, and rosemary extract.

I actually recognize almost everything here. The only odd ones are DL Methionine, which helps reduce the Ph in pet urine, most often due to their eating grass. The other unknown ingredient to me is Taurine, which is an amino acid that is crucial for cat- neurological and cardiovascular health, especially vision. It’s supposedly found in many energy drinks too.

The best pet food seems to be Newman’s organic cat food. Man, range-free beef, no animal by-products, all organic vegetables. Pretty neat. Here is a link to what is, and more importantly what is not, in their pet food:

Now, going back to my original question. Cat food or Twinkie?
Pretty much everyone would agree that Twinkies are not the best for you, but most people would eat that rather than Kitty’s dinner.

Do I get a unanimous YES here people?
Well let’s compare, shall we?

"Inventive and Unexpected"...indeed!

Now here is the list of ingredients for our Twinkies. I should preface this by saying that the ingredients are not available on the Hostess website and it took me quite a while to find that list online!

However, you will be happy to know that although Hostess doesn’t tell you what Twinkies are made of, they have a list of recipes for you to try, my favorite being Hostess Twinkies Sushi.( 
YU-MMY… But I digress. 

Enriched Wheat Flour (enriched with ferrous sulfate (iron), B vitamins (niacin, thiamine mononitrate [B1], riboflavin [B2] and folic acid)), Sugar, Corn syrup, Water, High fructose corn syrup, Vegetable and/or animal shortening (containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed or canola oil, and beef fat), Dextrose, Whole eggs, 2% or less of: Modified corn starch, Cellulose gum, Whey, Leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), Salt, Cornstarch, Corn flour, Corn syrup solids, Mono and diglycerides, Soy lecithin, Polysorbate 60, Dextrin, Calcium caseinate, Sodium stearol lactylate, Wheat gluten, Calcium sulfate, Natural and artificial flavors, Caramel color, Sorbic acid (to retain freshness), Artificial color (yellow 5, red 40)

So I don’t know enough to even begin to analyze all this. Here are just a few quick interesting things that I noticed. I recognize wheat, sugar, salt, and eggs. And let’s not forget, beef fat!
The rest is all chemical stuff I have to investigate:
1. Here is that Yellow 5 again. Although widely used, causes allergies, hypertension, and can be linked to cancer.
2. Again with the natural and artificial flavors. That could mean anything.
3. Then there is Caramel coloring, which is possibly carcinogenic
4. Now look at that long list of corn byproducts (can anyone say GMO?). You have cornstarch and modified cornstarch (what is the difference anyway?), corn flour, dextrin (usually made from corn), corn syrup solids, and BOTH corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.
5. How many ways can you say sugar? Well ok sugar, but also corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, corn syrup solids, and caramel color.
6. And on a final note, I am not sure why they need to tell us that there is only 2% or less of some of the ingredients. Are they just following some weird food regulation rule? If it were only one drop of arsenic, I’d think it would be worth mentioning. As if, “well yes there are a couple of weird things in here, but hey it’s only 2% or less, so it can’t be that bad.”

There’s actually a book called Twinkie Deconstructed that already did the work for us. It goes through the list and explains the origins, manufacturing process, health implications, etc. of all 37 ingredients! That you could write a whole book about this is already a pretty tell-tale sign:

This is a short excerpt from the author, Steve Ettlinger’s, Twinkie book:

Eat enough of ‘em, and you’ll be able to suss out the bouquet of fresh, Delaware polysorbate 60, and good Georgian cellulose gum; a hint of prime Oklahoman calcium sulfate, or that fine, Midwestern soybean shortening, if not the finest high fructose corn syrup Nebraska has to offer.”

I’m still going to avoid eating cat food when possible. But if I am stranded on a deserted island and I have to pick between Twinkies and Cat Food, I think I'm gonna go with “Indoor Adventures Crunchy Chicken Flavor Cat Treats.”

Bon Appetit!

Thanks Coralee for this blog post idea!!!