Minn. Ag Dept. Boosting Schools’ Use of Local Food


Winona’s Lunch Bus handed out hundreds of free lunches to kids younger that 18 during the June-August summer period. (Photo: Winona Youth Services)

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture last year gave out 83 grants to schools in support of the state’s Farm to School program, which seeks to connect school districts with local farmers and provide hands-on learning experiences for students. This year, to further promote that program, Governor Mark Dayton declared October to be “Farm to School Month.”

Last week, a number of Ag Department and elected officials visited Winona Senior High School to see how well the program, which focuses on small and mid-sized family farms, is working ‘in the field,’ as it were.

The school’s nutrition director, Jennifer Walters, led the group on a tour showcasing their community garden, the bus used for the Summer Lunch Bus program, and the newest addition to their cafeteria — a frozen yogurt machine, which the school purchased using the Farm to School grant received last year.

“We want our students to know some of the food they eat comes from local farms in the area,” Walters said. “There’s a lot of dairy farmers in the area and the frozen yogurt machine is another way to support them while providing students with local product.”

Department official Paul said it’s important to promote local agriculture and sustainable farming and get healthy, nutritious meals into students stomachs.

Andrea Vaubel, the assistant commissioner, was impressed with everything the school is doing to promote relationships with local farmers and implement locally grown food into the nutrition program. She was particularly impressed with the school’s Summer Lunch Bus Program.

“Wow, this is really great,” she said after Walters showed the group the bus and explained the program.

Walters said the school plans to apply for the Farm to School grant again this year to continue the momentum of promoting and incorporating locally grown food into the school’s lunch program and school curriculum.

The school’s community garden was started last year with help from a grant from the Winona Area Public Schools Foundation, but was only recently completed. Their Summer Lunch Bus program began last summer, serving 3,500 meals to students. And Miller said the frozen yogurt machine, purchased with last year’s $5,500 grant, has been a popular addition to the school’s lunch, according to an article in the Winona Daily News.



Gregg’s, UK’s Biggest Baker, Drops Scones (Horrors!)


A fellow blogger has posted twice within the past ten days about having ‘tea outings’ – one at Harrod’s department store in London, the other at a spot in Brighton, on the English Channel. A highlight in both instances was scones, a long-time British favorite baked item.

Then I read today that Greggs, the UK’s biggest bakery chain, has stopped selling scones in its 1,700 shops because, according to company officials, they (scones – and undoubtedly those bosses) have become less popular.

A Daily Mirror story noted that “tasty fruit, cheese and bran scones have been a staple at the Greggs [stores] for decades.” Were. No longer are.

While it no doubt remains true that “there’ll always be an England,” there won’t, apparently, always be a scone-laden one!

Meanwhile, Greggs has announced it is trialing a delivery service, but with a minimum order of  £25 ($30.50), meaning you’d have to order the equivalent of 32 sausage rolls or at least pay for as many (or an equivalent in other goods) to get your order delivered.

‘Best of British luck on that one!



Veggies A Growing Trend in Fast and Medium-Speed Eateries


The good news is, fast- and medium-speed feeders are flocking to veggies and giving less emphasis to their traditional greasy, not-very-healthy mainstays. The not-so-good news is, unless restaurant operators pay a lot of attention to what they’re doing, they risk losing a higher-than-they’re-used-to amount to spoilage and/or expose their customers to veggie-borne illnesses, often spread through improper washing at or very near the point-of-preparation.

“We’re going to see more vegetables,” Panera’s head chef Dan Kish told Business Insider a few days ago.

“We’re going to see culinary treatments of those vegetables in ways that bring out their flavors without adding a lot of other things to it — so keeping things as natural as possible. Upping the percentage of vegetables in your diet — [it] is part of our job to help you with that.”

Ironically enough, Kish brought up the rise of vegetables at an event promoting the launch of the chain’s new and improved bacon. However, in the modern chain-restaurant landscape, meat and vegetables are increasingly living in harmony on menus.

While Panera isn’t ditching meat, it is working to add more vegetables across the menu.

Kish says that Panera is aiming to balance meat-centric options, like a bacon-turkey sandwich, by packing more vegetables into the dish.

On the other hand, Taco Bell, a chain hardly known for sustainability and nutrition in the way that Panera is, has a slightly different approach that’s similarly packed with vegetables. The Mexican chain emphasizes customization, and customers’ ability to make almost any dish meat-free.  Last year, Taco Bell debuted a vegetarian menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association, which allows customers to substitute beans and rice for meat in most menu offerings.

“Vegetarian has been really big for us recently,” because of its relevance to millennials, Taco Bell’s dietitian and product developer, Missy Nelson, told Business Insider earlier this year.

Even less vegetarian-friendly chains are realizing that vegetables may be key to success. While once iceberg lettuce and tired tomatoes were accepted as a forgettable garnish at chain restaurants, meat-centric chains are doubling down on veggie quality.

Both Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s have ditched iceberg lettuce in recent years. Instead, the chains are testing vegetables such as kale and broccolini.

“They didn’t feel iceberg lettuce was a nutritious green, and they didn’t feel good about eating it in a salad,” McDonald’s corporate chef Jessica Foust told Business Insider in July.

Why are fast-food chains investing in vegetables, something that has long been seen as antithetical to their existence?

Part of the reason is customer demand: While only about 3% of Americans identify as vegetarian or vegan, an increasing number of people are cutting meat from their diets. According to a 2015 study, 26% to 41% of Americans report that they cut down on the amount of meat they ate in the past year.

Adding more vegetables to the menu is a great way to appeal to the average American, who may not be committed to a 100%-meat-free lifestyle, but wants to dabble in more veggie-friendly diet.

However, there is also a hidden financial bonus to focusing on beefing up vegetables offerings. Vegetables typically cost less than meat, meaning that adding more vegetables to a dish can provide a cheaper way to fill up customers.

Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson have made headlines with the concept Loco’l, where they’re doing a lot of experimenting with veggie burgers. The concept provides healthy meals at fast-food prices by cutting costs by doing things such as adding more grains and vegetables to chain standards like burgers. Customers fill up faster, and the company is able to save money while also providing a healthier meal.

As old-school chains explore their vegetarian options, Loco’l isn’t the only new concept banking on vegetables.

By Chloe aims to offer unexpected vegetable options that nonvegans will enjoy. 

By Chloe, a new 100%-vegan chain, only opened its first location a year ago, in New York City.

Now the chain has a location in Los Angeles opened in partnership with Whole Foods 365, a recently opened sweets shop, and several more new locations in development. On Friday, the chain announced it was adding two new vegan contributing chefs to the organization, Jenné Claiborne and Lauren Kretzer.

By Chloe doesn’t offer any meat or meat-byproducts on the menu. However, the vegan chain has some surprising similarities to fast-food chain in its approach to vegetables.

According to the company, more than 80% of customers are not even vegetarian. In fact, a number of customers don’t even realize that the concept is vegan when they order their food.

This notion, that vegetable-based food is appealing to nonvegetarians, is the very same idea responsible for the rise of vegetables in fast food. In 2016, veggies aren’t just for vegetarians — they’re also for all types fast-food lovers.

But veggies do require different, and sometimes greater, care and attention than tried-and-true (but losing favor with consumers) traditional meat-based menu items. Where the latter can be taken in and held frozen until just before they’re needed, veggies don’t often deal well with extreme cold, and some don’t hold up for long enough periods of time in kitchen levels of heat.

Sure, new veggie based menu items offer opportunities to please customers in different ways. But they present challenges, too.


McD Fined $56.5K For Ignoring Deaf Applicant


It’s been around since 1990, so there is no excuse for an employer not to be aware of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). McDonald’s was reminded of that recently when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission – created under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – decreed McDonald’s Corp. and McDonald’s Restaurants would pay $56,500 to settle a discrimination suit after a Missouri restaurant manager refused to interview a deaf job applicant.

Hardly surprisingly, Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s chose not to comment to the media.

The EEOC says a young man who can’t hear or speak applied online in 2012 to work at the McDonald’s in Belton, Missouri. He had previous experience as a cook and cleanup team member at a McDonald’s restaurant in another state, The Associated Press reported.

A lawsuit filed by the EEOC says that when the restaurant manager learned the applicant needed a sign language interpreter for his interview, she canceled the interview, even though the applicant’s sister volunteered to interpret.

How weird is that? The guy had previously been hired by, and worked at, a McDonald’s, yet he was turned down at the one he applied to in Belton, Mo.

So now, with this settlement, if he continued to be unable to find suitable work – even without other possible discrimination suits he might file! – he’s getting a pretty hefty bit of ‘unemployment benefit’ from his former employer! ‘Way to go, kid!

Meal Kits-Sellers Having Trouble Retaining Customers

meal kits-1

Meal Kits, where all of a meal’s ingredients are prepacked along with preparation instructions, a topic we first talked about here, got some recent attention from Fast Company (paywall), which reported on a new study from research firm 1010data, which “analyzed consumer-spending data that represents millions of consumers, revealing a significant retention problem for the major meal-kit delivery services – which ship recipes with pre-portioned ingredients to customers on a weekly basis. After the second week, only about 50% of customers stick with Blue Apron, 1010data found. Six months into their subscriptions, only about 10% remain. The firm found a similar pattern for HelloFresh and Plated.”
All the meal kit companies say that the study data is inaccurate and does not reflect their experience.
Fast Company writes that “if a large number of people drop their subscriptions, it is a problem for meal-kit companies because they often spend a lot of money to encourage customers to sign up. Blue Apron, for instance, offers a $30 discount to first-time customers, the equivalent of about three meals. HelloFresh offers a $15 discount to new customers. Plated offers two free meals with the first order. If customers don’t stick with their subscriptions for long, these companies don’t recoup that marketing spend.”
However, the story says, “Despite the retention problem, 1010data found that the meal-kit industry has grown over 500% since 2014. A food-consulting firm estimated that category will account for $3 billion to $5 billion of the online food shopping business in 10 years.”

Growth is almost assured for this market segment, if for no other reason than the Millennial coterie is continuing to advance into independent-living adulthood (except for those who continue, for assorted reasons, to live with their parents), and the next generational group, dubbed Generation Z, is following closely on their heels.

And these are age groups comprising many (many!) who are used to having things done for them, and/or having life simplified for them via ‘apps’ and variations on that theme. And meal kits definitely are a variation on that theme.

Ah, but, as Shakespeare put it, “here’s the rub”: Meal kits actually require users to do something – to actually prepare the meal themselves, albeit from pre-portioned packets of product.

I can hear them from here: “Boo, who wants to actually cook?”

Some who’ll say that no doubt also are disappointed when, upon visiting a zoo, it becomes apparent that one not only sees the animals but also smells them!

Time (and sales figures) will tell how the ‘who wants to actually cook’ crowd’s attitude will impact the future of meal kits.

I’m reminded of the country song where a man is lamenting how, in his divorce, “she got the gold mine, I got the shaft,” and says to himself “why didn’t I just learn how to cook!”



Hot Pepper Causes 2.5cm Rip In Man’s Esophagus

Louisiana pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux handles some hot ones. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

A 47-year-old man recently attempted a rather silly, super-spicy feat – eating a hamburger covered with a ghost pepper puree. The ghost pepper measures a scary 1 million units on the Scoville heat unit (SHU) scale, a per-mass measure of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes some peppers spicy-hot.

By way of comparison, a bell pepper measures 0 on that scale. A jalapeno comes in at between 3,500-10,000 units; a Serrano and a Peperoncino score in the range of 10,000-30,000 units, and both Cayenne and Tabasco peppers range from 30,000-50,000 units – about as high as most people care to experience.

(Police pepper spray, by the way, comes it at around 5 million SHU.)

(I thought my mouth was on fire once when I took a bite out of an Habanero, AKA Scotch Bonnet chili – 100,000 -350,000 heat units – I’d found on sale at a London street market. I’d been told, simply, “It’s a hot pepper.” I said, “Oh, I love hot peppers.” This one was not to love!

(As quickly as I could, I went into a pub and ordered a pint of beer, as beer is rumored to cut the effect of heat in food, or peppers. Alternatively, the beer may just make you forget about the pepper’s burning sensation!)

An article in The Washington Post said that peppers that pass the 1 million SHU mark are called superhot. “As a rule they are reddish and puckered, as though one of Satan’s internal organs had prolapsed. To daredevil eaters of a certain stripe, the superhot peppers exist only to challenge.

“When consumed, ghost peppers and other superhots provoke extreme reactions,” The Post article said.

“Your body thinks it’s going to die,” as Louisiana pepper grower Ronald (Tony) Primeaux told the AP in October. “You’re not going to die.”

The Washington Post’s Tim Carman described eating a pea-sized chunk of the pepper, sans seeds, in 2012. “It was as if my head had become a wood-burning oven, lighting up my tongue and the interior of my skull,” he wrote. “Milk provided little relief, until the burn began to subside on its own about 10 minutes later.”

Primeaux, who hopes to claim the world’s hottest pepper title through cultivating his Louisiana Creeper variety, said, “When you put one of these in your mouth, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame,” in his interview with the AP. “A bear is chasing you. You’ve just been in a car wreck. You just got caught speeding, and a cop is giving you a ticket.”


Pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux with some of his plants. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

That truly seemed to be the sensation experienced by the unnamed 47-year-old reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine. For him, “ingesting the pepper burger was less a bear chase and closer to an attack,” The Post article said.

As physicians at the University of California at San Francisco reported in the case study reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine article, he consumed the burger and attempted to quench the heat in his mouth with six glasses of water. When that failed the man began to vomit, which gave way to abdominal pain. He dialed emergency help.

At the emergency department, he received Maalox and painkillers. After his condition worsened, doctors moved him to the operating room, where they discovered a “2.5-cm tear in the distal esophagus,” about one inch, as the case report authors noted. The force of the vomiting and retching led to a rare diagnosis of Boerhaave’s syndrome; these spontaneous tears in the esophagus can be fatal if they are not diagnosed and treated.

“The rupture was as a result of the forceful vomiting and retching,” said UC San Francisco clinical fellow and study author Ann Arens, in an email to The Washington Post, “as a result of eating the hamburger with the ghost pepper puree.”

In this case, surgeons were able to repair the man’s throat. “He remained intubated until hospital day 14, began tolerating liquids on hospital day 17,” they wrote, “and was discharged home with a gastric tube in place on hospital day 23.”

The researchers concluded the case study with a warning.

“Food challenges have become common among social media, including the infamous cinnamon challenge,” they wrote, referencing the spice fad that was popular in early 2012. (When eating a heaping spoonful of cinnamon went wrong, it led to emergency calls and at least one collapsed lung.)

“When people ask me whether it is safe to try the ‘spicy food challenges’ I generally take a Nancy Reagan stance,” said Arens, “and say ‘Just Say No.’ But if you really just can’t help yourself, I would recommend just starting with a taste.”

Cage-Free Is Far From Trouble-Free, Video Shows


Still from video released today by Direct Action Everywhere

As consumer pressure has caused an increasing number of food sellers to buy, or make long-term commitments to buy, eggs from chickens not raised in cages, egg-producing farmers have turned to a system known as aviary systems. Such systems, in which barn-housed hens are crowded together outside of cages, the birds’ experience is better, but only slightly better, than their traumatic life in cages, The New York Times reported today (Oct. 21).

Their article initially focused on what investigators from Direct Action Everywhere discovered when they snuck into a barn owned by Pleasant Valley Farms, an egg producer in Farmington, Calif., and a contract egg supplier to Costco. The 783-word article went on to note how the Humane Society of the United States views aviary systems – as an alternative to battery, or caged, ones – and on the findings of researchers in Holland who ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10. They gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages received a 0 ranking.

 A video released Thursday by Direct Action Everywhere, an all-volunteer animal advocacy group,  shows dead birds on the floor and injured hens pecked by other chickens. One bird had a piece of flesh hanging off its beak.

The video focuses on a hen that Direct Action rescued and named Ella. When the organization found her in the cage-free barn, she was struggling to pull herself up and had lost most of her feathers. Her back was covered in feces.


“There were birds rotting on the floor, and there was one dead bird that seemed to have lost her head,” said Wayne Hsiung, who helped make the video for the group, which is better known as DxE. “There were birds attacking birds, and the smell was horrible.”

The egg industry has long warned that hens living cage-free in aviary systems will experience higher mortality rates and more disease. Research by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, which is financed by egg producers and food companies, found “substantially worse” levels of aggression and cannibalism in cage-free systems, also known as aviary systems, compared with caged systems. It has also found more damage to the birds’ sternums.

“Consumers have an idyllic vision of what cage-free farming looks like,” Mr. Hsiung said. “They need to be shown the truth, which is that cage-free is far from humane.”

Yet, partly in response to graphic videos and reports about the conditions of caged chickens, consumers pressured companies from McDonald’s to Walmart and Costco to turn to cage-free eggs. Those companies have rushed to promise buying only cage-free eggs in the years to come, which has pushed egg producers to invest tens of millions of dollars in aviary systems. Many animal rights activists have applauded those commitments.

[An aside: At the Walmart nearest my home, large eggs have recently sold for as little as 89¢ (eighty-nine cents) per dozen.]

Costco said in a statement that the video appeared to involve just one barn out of the many that it uses to supply the eggs sold under its Kirkland brand.

“We have reinspected the barn and other operations of this supplier, and based on these inspections and prior audits, we are comfortable with the animal welfare aspects of the operation,” the company said.

Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said that cage-free hen housing was without a doubt better than battery cages, though not without problems.

He noted that an assessment by researchers in the Netherlands that ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10 gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages were 0. “With companies like Costco,” he said, “it’s better to welcome them for taking the first steps rather than punish them for not taking the last step.”

Developments concerning food — from research to farm to factory to restaurants and home.