Food and Drink

Facts about food

by on August 16, 2014 at 5:44 am in Books, Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

Stanford’s Dan Jurafsky has written a book doing just that. In The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, Jurafsky describes how he and some colleagues analyzed a database of 6,500 restaurant menus describing 650,000 dishes from across the U.S. Among their findings: fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf). Jurafsky writes that “every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish.” Compared with inexpensive restaurants, the expensive ones are “three times less likely to talk about the diner’s choice” (your way, etc.) and “seven times more likely to talk about the chef’s choice.”

Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like delicious, flaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words. Thomas Keller’s Per Se, after all, would never use fresh—that much is taken for granted—but Subway would. Per Se does, however, engage in the trendy habit of adding provenance to descriptions of ingredients (Island Creek oysters, Frog Hollow’s peaches). According to Jurafsky, very expensive restaurants “mention the origins of the food more than 15 times as often as inexpensive restaurants.

There is more here, you can pre-order the book here.  My previous posts about this work are here.

David H. writes:

Yes, this Forbes list is a miserable failure, but it got me thinking about how to quantify coolness. Good restaurants are valuable, but to be cool, restaurants also need to be affordable and a little off-putting. If I were doing this, I would generate a list of touring bands that rank highly in RYM, knock out the superstars, and then see what US cities they played in the last 4 years. Each band-visit would count as a portion of coolness for that city, and a partial portion for the immediate vicinity. Also, RYM records which cities the bands came from. That should count for a lot. Then I would look for cities with an outsized and lively gay scene. I’m not sure how the causation works – whether a gay scene adds substantial coolness or whether it follows coolness – but the correlation seems pretty clear to me.

Coolness is unstable partly because it’s much more difficult to achieve in expensive cities. San Francisco and Berkeley are sinking in coolness partly for this reason. A truly cool city needs a critical mass of underemployed creative types who will devote a great deal of time to “the scene”, and this is hard to do when you’re paying $6+ for each of your beers. So, the lower the urban rents and general cost of living, the cooler the city, other things being equal.

OK, Forbes was right that proportion of young people living in the city is important. I also think that trends are important, like: Which cities are gaining young people, and which are losing them?

What else?

The link to RYM was added by me.  I would think that a truly cool place cannot be rated as cool by too many other sources.  How about that retirement community in Florida, an incorporated city, ruled largely by contract, where only the elderly live and the visits of grown children are regulated and rationed?  How about the city in America which has the highest birth rate?  Isn’t that kind of cool?  Seriously.  That would put Memphis, Ogden, and Provo in the lead.  What’s so cool about tracking RYM?

It turns out we are getting our own branch of Momofuku.  And Forbes recently decided DC is the coolest city in the United States.  As an act of apparent satire, they followed up by naming Bethesda #19.  I say Bethesda is about the least cool town around, Annandale should have done better.

What do I think?  Well, Washington would be cooler if it were breeding its own Momofuku equivalents; northern Virginia did produce or at least refine or perhaps drive crazy the unreliable Peter Chang.  David Chang, the Momofuku guy, did grow up in northern Virginia and ate in the “American-Chinese” restaurants of Vienna, VA, before striking out on his own in New York City, rated by Forbes as the eleventh coolest city in America (doesn’t NYC have to be either #1 or “totally not cool at all”?  Can you really sandwich it between #10 Dallas and #12 Oakland?).

You know, I very much enjoy and admire quite a few Forbes writers, most of all Modeled Behavior.  So I don’t mean for what follows to cast any aspersions on Forbes, but…you know…Forbes itself isn’t actually all that cool, not in the world of media at least.

Can we agree that…Washington really does deserve to be Forbes’s idea of the coolest city in America?

(I thank J.O. for a useful conversation related to this blog post.)

Santa Cruz, Bolivia bleg

by on August 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

I’ll be there soon enough.  Please tell me what to do, what to eat, and how to understand what I am doing.  I thank you all in advance.

The more than 6,000 animals in Russia’s largest zoo have been caught up in the worst fight between Russia and the West since the Cold War. A wide-ranging ban on Western food announced this week by the Kremlin has forced a sudden diet change for creatures that eat newly forbidden fruit.

The sanctions against meat, fish, fruits and vegetables from the United States, the European Union and other Western countries were intended to strike a counterblow to nations that have hit Russia over its role in Ukraine’s roiling insurgency. But the measures will also have an impact on stomachs at the zoo.

The sea lions crack open Norwegian shellfish. The cranes peck at Latvian herring. The orangutans snack on Dutch bell peppers. Now the venerable Moscow Zoo needs to find politically acceptable substitutes to satisfy finicky animal palates.

“They don’t like Russian food,” zoo spokeswoman Anna Kachurovskaya said. “They’re extremely attached to what they like, so it’s a hard question for us.

The penguins still live in a Cobdenite world:

The penguins eat fish from Argentina — whose food sales to Russia have not been blocked and are politically in the clear.

But the Ramsey rules are relevant for some of the primates:

Orangutans, gorillas and monkeys are particularly finicky eaters at the zoo, but Kachurovskaya said they would eventually adapt.

“In the wild, they eat what they have, not what they want,” she said.

The story is here.

Putin’s Plan A: Long game, squeeze Ukraine, force deep federation, formalize Russian influence & primacy in SE

Plan B: Invade

The link to that tweet is here.  There is more from Ian here.

I find it worrying that Putin is suspending food imports from parts of the West.  (Note that the text of the ban may be deliberately ambiguous.)  Commentators are criticizing the economics of such a move, but I think of this more in terms of Bayesian inference.  Long-term elasticities are greater than short.  Under the more pessimistic reading of the action, Putin is signaling to the Russian economy that it needs to get used to some fairly serious conditions of siege, and food is of course the most important of all commodities.  Why initiate such a move now if you are expecting decades of peace and harmony?  Or is Putin instead trying to signal to the outside world that he is signaling “siege” to his own economy?  Then it may all just be part of a larger bluff.  In any case, Eastern Europeans do not take food supply for granted.

In the United States, at least 70 percent of all the food we eat each year passes through a cold chain. By contrast, in China, less than a quarter of the country’s meat supply is slaughtered, transported, stored or sold under refrigeration. The equivalent number for fruit and vegetables is just 5 percent.

The article has other points of interest, an excellent piece by Nicola Twilley.

Elaine Sciolino is pretty critical.  She writes:

A new consumer protection law meant to inform diners whether their meals are freshly prepared in the kitchen or fabricated somewhere off-site is comprehensive, precise, well intentioned — and, to hear the complaints about it, half-baked.

Public decree No. 2014-797, drafted and passed by the French Parliament and approved by the prime minister, went into effect last week. It allows restaurateurs to use the logo if they have resisted the increasing temptation to buy ready-made dishes from industrial producers, pop them in the microwave and pass them off as culinary artistry.

It doesn’t seem to be working to encourage quality:

French fries, for instance, can bear the “fait maison” symbol if they are precut somewhere else, but not if they are frozen. Participating chefs are allowed to buy a ready-made pâte feuilletée, a difficult-to-make, multilayered puff pastry, but pâte brise, a rich pastry dough used to make flaky tart shells, has to be made on-site. Cured sausages and smoked hams are acceptable, while ready-made terrines and pâtés are not.

…Périco Légasse, a food critic for the weekly magazine Marianne, wrote: “ ‘Homemade’ doesn’t mean freshly made. A dish totally prepared with frozen products, even if they come from a Romanian slaughterhouse, can enjoy this happy distinction as it was cooked on-site.”

Mark Bittman piles on.  I would stress there is no substitute for consumers who demand the right kind of food and who otherwise won’t buy it.

Many people in Russia are putting their own spin on recent events:

Did you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently re-insured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH 17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

There is more here from Julia Ioffe.

Facial recognition is helping improve everything from gaming to fighting crime – and now it could help in the battle against cat obesity.

A new gadget that uses ‘cutting-edge cat facial recognition technology’ promises to monitor our feline friends’ appetites and alert owners to any problems.

The Bistro system, created by Taiwanese company 42Ark, uses a camera at the front of a feeder to identify each of the cats.

There is more here, along with obligatory cat photo, with the cat’s face being scanned by facial recognition technology.  For the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.

This is from a New York Craigslist post, from a restaurant owner who apparently viewed tapes of customers from 2004 and 2014, here is part of his account of the more recent behavior:

2014

Customers walk in.

Customers get seated and is given menus, out of 45 customers 18 requested to be seated elsewhere.

Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

7 out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of 5 minutes of the waiter’s time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained those customers had a problem connecting to the WIFI and demanded the waiters try to help them.

Finally the waiters are walking over to the table to see what the customers would like to order. The majority have not even opened the menu and ask the waiter to wait a bit.

Customer opens the menu, places their hands holding their phones on top of it and continue doing whatever on their phone.

There is more here, interesting throughout, and for the pointer I thank Jacqueline Mason.

A man exploited the perks of business-class travel to feast for free 35 times in a year at Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA’s) Munich airport lounge — without ever taking off.

The man used the flexibility of the one-way fare to Zurich to repeatedly reschedule his travel plans after gaining access to food and drink, Munich district court said in a statement. Lufthansa canceled the ticket after more than a year and refunded the price, only for the man to purchase a replacement.

The court ruled that lounge services are provided on the assumption that travelers will seek to fly, and ordered the man to pay Lufthansa 1,980 euros ($2,705), equal to about 55 euros per visit or more than twice the cost of the 744.46-euro ticket. Lufthansa pursued a prosecution only after the man bought the second ticket with the intention of resuming his foraging raids.

Business-class fares typically offer the flexibility to rebook when plans change, while offering perks such as access to premium lounges, conference facilities and showers. The Munich facility at Lufthansa second-biggest hub offers Bavaria’s Loewenbraeu beer on tap, together with local delicacies including leberkas meatloaf and sausages with sweet mustard.

The link is here and for the pointer I thank Hugo Lindgren.  And yes, I know there are various spellings of “leberkas.”

The British government is pulling out all the stops for Scotland with a referendum on independence two months away, going so far as to lobby the United States government to allow the importation of that famous Scottish delicacy made from sheep’s innards, haggis.

The problem, it seems, is sheep lungs, which the United States banned for consumption in 1971. But lungs are vital to traditional haggis, which usually also contains minced sheep heart and liver, mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices. It’s all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach, which is then simmered for several hours. Delicious, no?

There is more here.  But is the market really there?  I hope not.  Please keep this in mind:

There is apparently a shocking lack of knowledge about haggis. According to a not-very-scientific online survey in 2003, carried out by the haggis manufacturer Hall’s of Broxburn, a third of American visitors to Scotland believed that haggis was an animal. Nearly a quarter thought they could catch one.

Yikes:

At about 11 o’clock in the morning [June 20], at the grand marketplace in Yulin [China], a dog peddler was haggling with dog lovers over the price of a dog, and because they couldn’t agree on a price, the dog peddler lifted the dog high into the air three times with metal prongs, doing so to force the dog lovers to buy the dog at a high price. In the end, a woman paid 350 yuan to buy the dog. At the scene, quite a few dog peddlers used mistreatment of the dogs to force dog lovers to buy the dogs.

Here is some further background:

Also, according to the official Weibo account of Chengdu Commercial Daily, on the eve of the Dog Meat Festival, a large number of dog lovers gathered in Yulin. On the morning of [June] 20, at 9 o’clock, at the Yulin dog meat market, upon seeing that there were dog lovers present, some dog peddlers began abusing their dogs at the scene, yelling: ”Will you people buy it or not? If not, I’ll strangle it to death [with the prongs]!” Dog lovers bought the dogs with tears in their eyes, and the dog peddlers waved the cash they got before the surrounding onlookers. The onlookers cheered, and some even gave them the thumbs-up.

The story with some rather gruesome photos is here, and for the pointer I thank Ben P.

This trend is accelerating:

When Jim Sullivan began working as a waiter at a Dallas restaurant a few years ago, he was being watched — not by the prying eyes of a human boss, but by intelligent software.

The digital sentinel, he was told, tracked every waiter, every ticket, and every dish and drink, looking for patterns that might suggest employee theft. But that torrent of detailed information, parsed another way, cast a computer-generated spotlight on the most productive workers.

Mr. Sullivan’s data shone brightly. And when his employer opened a fourth restaurant in the Dallas area in 2012, Mr. Sullivan was named the manager — a winner in the increasingly quantified world of work.

Here is some of what goes on behind the scenes:

Ben Waber is chief executive of Sociometric Solutions, a start-up that grew out of his doctoral research at M.I.T.’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, which conducts research in the new technologies. Sociometric Solutions advises companies using sensor-rich ID badges worn by employees. These sociometric badges, equipped with two microphones, a location sensor and an accelerometer, monitor the communications behavior of individuals — tone of voice, posture and body language, as well as who spoke to whom for how long.

Sociometric Solutions is already working with 20 companies in the banking, technology, pharmaceutical and health care industries, involving thousands of employees. The workers must opt in to have their data collected. Mr. Waber’s company signs a contract with each one guaranteeing that no individual data is given to the employer (only aggregate statistics) and that no conversations are recorded.

The article by Steve Lohr is here.