Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Evolving Shopping Cart

The first supermarket, a Piggly Wiggly, opened in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee. This market radically changed the approach to shopping for food and sundry items. Customers chose their goods from shelves and put them in a hand basket, rather than handing a clerk a list and taking what was given.

Butchers, bakers, and green grocers everywhere were likely cursing this new paradigm, knowing it to be a threat to their own livelihoods. Why would anyone visit several vendors and pay more for the goods when they could stop at one place, choose their own goods –rather than the shopkeeper selecting for them – and save money doing it?

Yet, in 2017, that's just what I, and millions of others, are doing. I make a list and send it to Wal-Mart and when I go to the store, an associate loads the neatly bagged items into my trunk.

From Piggly Wiggly to Pick & Click

Perhaps one of the more notable inventions to arise from this social change is the shopping cart.

In 1937, Sylvan Goldman, owner of a supermarket chain in Oklahoma, noticed his customers only bought as much as they could comfortably carry in their hand baskets. He realized his customers would buy more goods if they didn't have to carry them around the store as they shopped.

So Mr. Goldman invented the shopping cart. It was a clumsy contraption resembling a handcart, and this has transformed into the clattery, one-wheel-always-in-the-other-direction baskets we know today.

From these we derive the virtual carts seen on every e-commerce site, from local shops to the retail giants. That little icon represents a century's worth of consumerism comfort.
Shopping Carts: An Important Contribution to Consumer Comfort

I don't need to walk the aisles, pushing a clattery cart through a crowded store, wait in line while the person in front of me insists the cookies are five cents cheaper, hope the bagger doesn't crush the eggs, and then navigate said cart back to my car.

I send a list to a clerk who collects the goods, and hands them over. Just like the olden days.

So, What's Not to Like?

I tried Wal-Mart's pick-up service and then the delivery service. I didn't like the delivery service because a box of cookies came four days later, not in two days with the rest of the order. Getting a box of cookies two days later than you wanted to have them isn't convenient; it's annoying.

For the pick-up service, you should have the Wal-Mart app on your smart phone so you can notify the staff you are on your way. I don't have the app and don't want the app. I do have a phone. I could just text, but you have to have the app for the whole operation to run smoothly.

The biggest issue with both options, though, is that I can't get fresh meat, dairy or produce. This is the bulk of my shopping. So I have to go to the store anyway. And I'll just get my cookies then.

Except I'll Probably Use the Services Again

I've been an Amazon Prime member for a long time and their delivery service is essential to my consumerism. Last week I bought pet food and a bookcase. I also received all the items on my monthly subscription. And it all came to my door without a hitch. This is the new goal for consumer comfort.

Wal-Mart has some catching up to do. They might be feeling a little like the butchers, bakers, and green grocers did when Piggly Wiggly came to town.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Food and Social Change

I was a kid in the 1960s, when protests were a popular communications tool. Whether you agreed with the protesters message or not, you agreed they had the right to express themselves in a fashion that is at once peaceful and disobedient.

It's tough to balance these two states of being. The Democratic Convention of 1968 demonstrates this. Peaceful intent gives way to conflict. We watched it on tv, read about it in the newspapers, talked about it around kitchen tables with the neighbors.

When my parents sat with the other adults in the neighborhood, lamenting the loss of their generations' social construct, they would eat and drink. There was soda and beer, potato chips and dip, sandwiches and snacks. No matter how much they agreed or argued, they ate.

The Protester Diet

Well, it's déjà vu for me, watching the latest, greatest protest hits on television. While I empathize with some causes, and others not, I find myself wondering what they eat.

Of course, energy bars and bottled water come to mind. Tuna packets are also popular, as are foil wrapped bean burritos, dried meats and trail mix. Stick a few on-the-go foods in your riot-gear ready backpack and you're ready for battle.

While perusing the numerous sites that enumerate the items needed to protect yourself against local authorities and the weaponry they carry, I came across this article from The Guardian regarding the intended Women's March on Washington in January of 2017.

From the article:
Food: every participant is allowed to have one 12in by 12in by 6in plastic container or gallon bag for meals. The FAQ also mentions food trucks, and DC of course has plenty of restaurants.

This is a clear and practical approach to feeding oneself while protesting the election of a capitalist to the White House. You can take a break from the hate and dine at Mirabelle.

Occupation Fare
Long term protesting requires a food supply. Food Not Bombs recognizes that need and has created a sort of inverse catering industry.

From the website:
We also provide food and logistical support to often marginalized people and social movements by feeding striking workers and their families, people participating at protests, and organizing community projects.

They collect food from food sellers and disperse it, food that would have been thrown away. It's still good; it just can't be sold. They collect the food and use it to feed people. So if you need some way to feed a large group of social warriors, Food Not Bombs are your kind of people.

Future Foods
Protesting is a growing industry. Sales for items like scarves, baggies, backpacks and fume masks must certainly be on the rise. It is a distinctive look this particular brand of soldier is going for, and I'm certain the fashion industry is watching.

I try to imagine what sort of foods will come from all of this. The Depression brought us a multitude of vegetable dishes that continue to occupy menu space. Will we see Food Not Bombs–branded energy bars in the convenience stores where we fill our cars with petrol?

Branded water bottles seem a natural outgrowth of this wave of civil disobedience. Water distributors could offer custom labels: A message on a bottle.

Some enterprising soul will certainly come up with a food product that suits the protester lifestyle. Some sort of pre-packaged dehydrated foodstuff that requires neither heat nor refrigeration, brought to life with a water packet. Whatever they come up with, it will probably taste like chicken.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Adding New LIghts to My Kitchen

Of all the improvements we've done to this house over the years, lighting my kitchen is a favorite. For years I worked with the low-cost, not-so-attractive track lighting that did not light my workspaces.

In a kitchen, task lighting is essential. Cooks handle knives, hot foods, breakables of all sorts. And the various tasks required to make a dinner for a small group of people happen in separate spaces within the kitchen. One light source is not enough, even in a small kitchen like mine.

The Design

The open ceiling centered to the kitchen is designated Zone 1. Two 24-inch flush mount light fixtures in this space provide general lighting. They light the space up, but when I turn to work on the island, I'm still working in shadow. A second light source is necessary.

The island is the workspace of the kitchen, and the area above it is Zone 2. Here we add three recessed lights with adjustable optics. With a widespread light source now above and slightly in front of me, I can see what it is I'm cutting with my super sharp chef's knife.

Zone 3 is the under-the-counter space. This is where the small appliances live, like the coffee pot. Bob adds puck lights, stringing the thin wire through the cabinetry. In the evening, these lights serve as night-lights; I can pour a cup of coffee safely without turning on all the lights in the room.

The Result

The installation of these three types of lights requires certain skill sets, electrical and drywall among them. If you're not versed in this sort of installation, consult with various contractors to get the best price for the highest quality work.

The results are transformative. My kitchen looks freshened up, but all we did was bring in the right lighting. I actually work faster and more efficiently now, because I can see what I'm doing. The project cost about three hundred dollars in materials, and was worth every penny.

You can see the video of this install at YouTube. And we hope you'll visit our channel for videos on home improvement, gardening, aquatics and of course, cooking. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Don't Cook on Thanksgiving Day Menu

I cook just about every day, so cooking on a holiday isn't really much of a thrill. I realize that for many, it's more about having a crowd of people over and getting the meal together, which is as much a part of the event as sitting at the table and sharing food.

For us, a small gathering of five, Thanksgiving is more about a day free of work, free of chores, free of outside obligations that get in the way of doing nothing.

There will be football, Netflix, and potato chips and dip. I'll put the chips in a bowl, because it's a holiday.

For the main course, we'll have Boston Market. Turkey, potatoes, gravy, mac & cheese, stuffing, cornbread and something green. The beans are good.

I do cook one thing: a steak. I do this for my son who has celiac disease and does not eat anything Thanksgiving.

What about Tradition?

My mother's ghost makes an appearance as I write this. She scolds me for not making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, believing as she did that without traditions, civilization as we know it will fall. I disagree. I believe that depending on tradition to carry the weight of human behavior is an unrealistic expectation.

The thought of womankind trapped in the kitchen with big bird and his entourage makes it difficult for me to honor tradition inherent to the holiday. Someone has to cook, though, and while a number of men may now participate in the culinary rituals, I'm pretty sure it's still mostly women.

The commercially prepared Thanksgiving Feast has set this woman free for the holidays. I no longer labor under the illusion that spending my day off making a ridiculous amount of food for a 20-minute nosh makes me a better person. It just makes me tired.

What about Modernism?

A new paradigm is often perceived as a threat, or at least a disruption. Further, it calls into question the validity of the tradition. Turkey, for example, wasn't part of Thanksgiving dinner until late 19th century. Before that, there hadn't been much in the way of traditional foods except the meal would be seasonal. For many, this meant wild game, fish, and hearty root vegetables.

So when Turkey came round to make itself the center of attention, I'd bet someone said, "Turkey for Thanksgiving? No thanks, I'll stick to my venison."

The traditional cooking rituals that have accompanied the holiday for decades are still celebrated, and will be for decades to come. I, on the other hand, choose to take on a new tradition, one that honors the custom of turkey and sides while giving me equal rights to enjoy this holiday. I'm going to let someone else do the cooking, and they in turn are duly compensated in accordance to their contracts with their employer. Could anything be more American?

And that's holiday cooking in the 21st century.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Butter, Margarine and the Other Stuff

There are different kinds of spreads; these derive from either animal fat or plant oil. What we refer to colloquially as butter is the stuff churned from cow's milk, and it is 80 percent fat. Milk is churned, separating the butterfat and buttermilk and the final product is tasty, but contains cholesterol.

Margarine is not a dairy product. It's produced from vegetable oils, and while margarine also has an 80 percent fat content, it doesn't contain cholesterol.

Butter is made from animal milk and is a dairy product. Margarine is made from vegetable oils, and is a vegetable product. Both butter and margarine, in a pure state, are gluten free. But additives are deceiving, so if you're buying butter or margarine, check the label.

The Third Alternative

Both butter and margarine are considered spreads. To market these spreads as butter or margarine, they must contain 80 percent fat.

A spread that is neither butter nor margarine is usually a plant-based choice, has no cholesterol and is lower in fats.

But spreads also contain more ingredients, such soy or flavorings. They contain a combination of oils, with palm oil making a frequent appearance. People with food allergies or sensitivities should note that these substitutes might contain milk and/or soy, both common allergens.

When It Comes to Baking

The video "Butter vs I Can't Believe It's Not Butter in Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Cookie Mix" demonstrates the difference between butter and spread. The butter cookies had a better crumb than the spread, and tasted richer.

But the competitor did well, making a good cookie without milk fats. A lower fat spread though, with less vegetable oil content may not perform well with this, or any, gluten free baking mix. The fat content was very close in both products, but we see by the results that it isn't just how much fat is called for, but the kind of fat we use. 

Butter, though, contains cholesterol, and for this cook, that can be a problem. Testing the alternative spread in this mix I see there is a difference in the results. But as you can see in the pull-out, each cookie has 10 mg of cholesterol from the butter. The spread cookies may not be as rich and may crumble a bit, but I Can't Believe It's Not Butter makes a pretty good cookie.