What happened to my Pop-Tart?

Step 1: Purchase Pop-Tart on way to work.

Step 2: Sit down at desk in office and place Pop-Tart on right side of desk.

Step 3: Turn left, check voicemail.

Step 4: Turn right. Pop-Tart is gone. I have clean desk. It’s not hiding somewhere. It’s gone.

I have only one explanation.

I asked Dall-E to create an image of what a Pop-Tart might look like as it’s being sucked into another dimension, so I know what to look for next time.

Today’s ChatGPT question: General Tso’s chicken

Is General Tso’s chicken “real” Chinese food?

General Tso’s chicken is a popular dish in Chinese-American cuisine, but it is not a traditional Chinese dish. It was most likely created by Chinese-American chefs and is not commonly found in China. The dish is named after General Tso Tsung-t’ang, a Qing dynasty military leader, but there is no historical record of him having any connection to the dish.

Chinese-American cuisine is a style of cooking that has developed in the United States by Chinese immigrants and their descendants. It often combines elements of traditional Chinese cooking with ingredients and cooking techniques that are more familiar to Western palates. As a result, many dishes found in Chinese-American restaurants are adapted versions of traditional Chinese dishes or are completely unique to Chinese-American cuisine.

When I lived in Chicago I had a friend, first-generation Chinese-American, who would take me to Chinese restaurants in that city where you had to know Chinese to order off the menu because none of the waitstaff spoke enough English to translate for you.

The food was familiar in the sense that it contained ingredients which most American customers of a good Chinese supermarket might recognize, but they weren’t Americanized in the sense that the dishes contained fish heads and other animal parts you’d never find in the kind of fast-food Chinese place with which so many Americans are familiar.

The food was delicious, even when what it contained was a mystery to me much of the time because my friend Hao would say, “You don’t want to know” to many of my questions about ingredients.

I should point out that I’m talking about domestic livestock or fresh fish animal parts, not cat or dog or any of the other meats that bigoted Americans joke about when it comes to Chinese food.

So “real” Chinese food is quite delicious, but it’s not General Tso’s Chicken.

Although I did ask about ChatGPT about that dish because, more often than not, that is what I will order when I get fast-food Chinese takeout.

General Tso’s chicken in one of its infinite varieties.

Will Calif. Gov. Newsom sign bill raising minimum wage for fast-food workers?

I have known personally three people in my life who were fast-food franchise owners. (This was long before the pandemic-related wage pressures that caused many fast-food restaurants to nominally raise wages.)

The owners were all rich. Not “I own my own jet” rich. But “ginormous house with a pool and several expensive foreign cars” rich. “Extra house just for vacations” rich. “Send their kids of to pricey private schools” rich.

I knew none of them well enough to say to them at a party, “Don’t you feel guilty living the way you do and paying your employees so poorly that the rest of us — the taxpayers — have to pick up the slack by providing public assistance to them? Guilty that some of your people are paid so poorly that, even with just one kid, they qualify for government assistance, while you have a four-car garage and a pool? You couldn’t spare just a few more dollars per hour for not that many people on your staff?”

It would have been a rhetorical question, of course. None of them would have felt guilty because that’s just who they were.

Related to that, the California Legislature passed a bill that would, among other things, raise the minimum wage for many fast-food workers to $22 an hour starting next year.

The Wall Street Journal reports of the massive mobilization effort to get Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto the bill, even after the governor and his underlings have already significantly watered it down.

Restaurant operators and business advocates mobilized Tuesday to try to persuade California Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto a bill that would set wages for fast-food workers, a move they said could increase costs and set a precedent other states and cities might follow.

The effort is being pushed by franchise owners, including many who would have to take on the cost of paying workers a minimum wage as high as $22 an hour starting next year, set by a government-run council created by the bill. Chains that operate their own restaurants, such as Starbucks Corp., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and In-N-Out Burger, would also be affected.

Groups representing restaurant companies and owners said they plan to launch an advertising campaign and deploy franchisees and business leaders to attempt to persuade Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, to veto the bill, which they say is the latest evidence of California making it difficult for businesses to thrive.

“Every resource at our disposal will be used to ensure our entire membership is asking the governor to veto this bill,” said Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association. He said he fears the wage-setting council’s authority could later be expanded beyond the fast-food industry.

The bill, known as the Fast Act, passed California’s Legislature on Monday. It was backed by labor unions, which say a government council setting minimum wages for fast-food workers could create a model to ensure fair wages and other protections for hourly workers in an industry where unions have struggled to organize workers. this to other states,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union.

Fast-food franchisees have to be complete idiots not to be made fabulously rich by owning these restaurants. They can afford to pay higher wages and still make tons of money.

Aside from that, the costs to society of these restaurants is huge. There are the aforementioned facts about how much society picks up the financial slack — just as it does with Walmart, Target, etc. — when these fast-food employers pay so far below a living wage with few, if any , benefits. But there are also the health care costs of having these awful (delicious, but awful) restaurants everywhere, beckoning passesrsby to eat convenient, grossly unhealthy meals, the low price of which is subsidized by taxpayers everywhere — including the health care costs of treating all that diabetes and cardio-vascular disease.

So what if fast-food owners have to raise prices? That might mean fewer restaurants in the long-term which, overall, would not be a bad thing. But I suspect that even if every hamburger in California fast food had to be raised by a dollar to keep franchisees and their corporate overlords swimming in money, people would flock to the places because they’d still be cheap and fast and easy.

If you’re over a certain age, $22 an hour seems like a lot. But it’s really not, in today’s dollars. It’s a subsistence wage by today’s standards. Remember also that if the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity, it would be $26 per hour.

You can read the rest of the WSJ article here.

MAGA world goes after restaurant chain for even offering a meat-free sausage

I remember when all of my contemporaries were avoiding Cracker Barrel restaurants because they were racist and homophobic as a company.

The company has admittedly come a long way since that time.

It’s weird to think that the same people who were defending them back then — racist, homophobic people — are now the ones going after Cracker Barrel for offering something healthy on their menu.

The Cracker Barrel is a place where you can feast on meatloaf, with three “country” sides and a buttermilk biscuit, while seated next to a stone hearth or with an oil lamp silently flickering on your table. It’s a place where you can, after your meal, buy a glass angel, a peacock fountain or cow-hide pillow in the attached gift store. It’s the kind of place that presents itself as America’s front porch, a rural refuge far from the cultural strife of our cities.

Cracker Barrel’s country tranquility was apparently shattered on Monday, when the chain announced on Facebook that customers could customize their breakfast plate with a plant-based protein as a replacement for their traditional bacon or smoked sausage.

“Discover new meat frontiers,” Cracker Barrel wrote in its post. “Experience the out of this world flavor of Impossible™ Sausage Made From Plants next time you Build Your Own Breakfast.”

The blowback was immediate and intense. Comments, hundreds and hundreds of them, were split along ideological, generational and political lines.

What a country.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Cracker Barrel’s Impossible breakfast sausage. BTW, who has sparkling wine with their eggs?

In these inflationary times, Americans are flocking to dollar stores

If you think dollar stores are everywhere now, you’re not imagining things. And they’re doing big business.

More Americans are embracing frugality as they face rising prices at every turn.

With energy costs up 41.6% and groceries 12.2% more expensive than they were last year, according to June’s Consumer Price Index, many families say that skipping vacations and restaurant meals is no longer enough. They are now finding ways to cut costs on essentials.

One way they are doing so is by relying more on dollar and discount stores for groceries. Average spending on grocery products at discount chains increased 71% from October 2021 to June 2022, according to analytics firm InMarket. Over that time period, spending on the same items in grocery stores decreased by 5%. Many large consumer brands—including Walmart and Unilever—attest that their prices aren’t going down anytime soon.

In San Antonio, Lily Penelope is eating mostly canned chicken, vegetables and peanut butter from the Dollar General down the street. Mx. Penelope, who uses gender neutral pronouns and has a disability that makes them unable to drive, says they can no longer afford the cost of groceries plus an Uber to and from the HEB grocery store 3 miles away. Before January, $120 covered a round-trip Uber plus two weeks of fresh ingredients for meals for them and their wife, they say. Now, the same trip costs nearly twice as much.

Since Mx. Penelope’s dollar store doesn’t sell fresh produce, they add spices and salt to camouflage canned ingredients. “My health and the quality of my life has gone down,” says Mx. Penelope, 26, who relies on their wife’s call-center income. “I’m in a position where I’m having to choose between making meals I can afford and putting my health on the line.”

Roughly 2,300 Dollar Generals across the country currently stock fresh produce, out of more than 18,000 total locations, according to a Dollar General spokeswoman. “While Dollar General isn’t a full-service grocer, we consider ourselves today’s general store by providing nearby and affordable access to daily household essentials, including the components of a nutritious meal,” she says. The company plans to expand fresh produce to a total of more than 10,000 stores in the next several years.

I have a Dollar General not far from me. I shop there for non-food items like aluminum foil and paper towels. Same for Family Dollar.

My local stores don’t have produce (yet) so I might take a look around if they ever do. But most of the food sold there is pre-prepared and therefore loaded with fat and sodium. Perhaps when I was younger, but not now.

I keep meaning some day to compare prices there on a dollars per unit basis with the same or similar items in my local supermarkets. I’ve never really figured out whether these places are that much cheaper, or if they sell everything at low prices because the boxes, etc. seem to be smaller.

A project for some weekend.

You can read the rest of Rachel Wolfe’s Wall Street Journal article at this link.

New study suggests a fiber supplement — any fiber supplement — will probably benefit you, especially if you eat a low fiber diet

The headline in Science Daily about a new Duke study says it all: “It doesn’t matter much which fiber you choose — just get more fiber!”

That huge array of dietary fiber supplements in the drugstore or grocery aisle can be overwhelming to a consumer. They make all sorts of health claims too, not being subject to FDA review and approval. So how do you know which supplement works and would be best for you?

A rigorous examination of the gut microbes of study participants who were fed three different kinds of supplements in different sequences concludes that people who had been eating the least amount of fiber before the study showed the greatest benefit from supplements, regardless of which ones they consumed.

“The people who responded the best had been eating the least fiber to start with,” said study leader Lawrence David, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University.

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

“We’ve evolved to depend on nutrients that our microbiomes produce for us,” said Zack Holmes, former PhD student in the David lab and co-author on two new papers about fiber. “But with recent shifts in diet away from fiber-rich foods, we’ve stopped feeding our microbes what they need.”

When your gut bugs are happily munching on a high-fiber diet, they produce more of the short-chain fatty acids that protect you from diseases of the gut, colorectal cancers and even obesity. And in particular, they produce more of a fatty acid called butyrate, which is fuel for your intestinal cells themselves. Butyrate has been shown to improve the gut’s resistance to pathogens, lower inflammation and create happier, healthier cells lining the host’s intestines.

I eat a lot of whole grains, so I probably don’t need a supplement. But I might start one just in case.

Why did humans develop a tolerance for lactose?

Did you know most of us are born lactose tolerant?

This is how almost all babies can drink breast milk without any stomach upset.

But then some time in early childhood genetics would take over and most of us would become lactose intolerant.

At least that is the way it used to be.

Somewhere along the way, a substantial portion of us started being able to ingest lactose-rich foods — milk, cheeses, etc. — without problems.

The question of how and why that happened is examined by writer Haley Weiss in The Atlantic.

People like to say that you are what you eat, but the truth is more like this: In the broad course of human history, we become what we eat. The contents of our ancestors’ dinner tables have slowly but surely left their signatures in the human genome. Learning to cook and soften our food was likely the major driver of our teeth shrinking during the Neolithic age. The lightening of Europeans’ skin is in part a product of dietary changes associated with farming.

The genes that let some adults drink milk with no attendant tummy troubles—a trait commonly called lactose tolerance—are a different story. A few different alleles, or versions of genes that influence a particular trait, can make for comfortable dairy consumption, and they’re all known for their unusually speedy spread.

A new study mapping European milk consumption throughout history suggests that humans owe the quick proliferation of lactose tolerance to a legacy of famine and disease that began thousands of years after we became dairy fiends. In other words, lactose-intolerant people have been throwing back dairy for thousands and thousands of years.

But whereas I think moaning to my boyfriend about my hot-girl tummy issues is just the sign of a tasty, tasty meal, our lactose-intolerant ancestors were more likely putting themselves through the digestive wringer just so they could survive.

You can read the rest of this fascinating article here.

Lactose, the molecule that launches countless bouts of diarrhea.

The Choco Taco is no more

Say it ain’t so!

The Choco Taco, a nut-and-chocolate-topped ice cream snack that for decades has been a top choice at the ice cream truck or convenience store freezer, is being discontinued, its creator confirmed this week after weeks of rumors about its impending demise.

Klondike, which is owned by Unilever and makes the Choco Taco along with several other ice cream products, confirmed the discontinuation on Monday on its website and in response to several disappointed questions from fans on Twitter, some of them laced with profanity.

“Unfortunately, the Klondike Choco Taco has been discontinued,” one such response read. “We’ve experienced an unprecedented spike in demand across our portfolio and have had to make very tough decisions to ensure availability of our full portfolio nationwide. We’re very sorry for any disappointment!”

You can read the rest here.

HuffPo ranks hot dogs on a healthiness scale

It might seem a fool’s errand to try to blend the words “healthy” and “hot dog” into the same sentence, but far be it from the Huffington Post to shy away from a challenge.

The hot dogs are broken down into most healthy/least healthy within beef, pork, turkey, chicken and vegetarian categories.

Of course the ones I loved most growing up are rated least healthy — because the things that make the beloved national brands such delicious memories of our childhoods (meat, curing, saturated fats and sodium) are the same things that should make any diet-conscious person wary.

I mostly avoid hot dogs (and all processed meats) now because of my age and cardiovascular numbers. But if I’m at a cookout where they are grilling dogs, I’ll have one or two.

Or, as one nutritionist told HuffPo:

If any of your go-to dogs made the “steer clear” list, it doesn’t mean you have to ghost them. “Going to barbecues and eating less healthy foods are part of living a joy-filled life,” Cassetty said.

Her advice? If you feel that no family barbecue is complete without a Ball Park frank in your hand, then have one and enjoy. Just don’t make hot dogs a way of life.

“The occasional hot dog at a barbecue when you’re otherwise eating a mostly healthy diet isn’t going to wreck your health,” Cassetty said. “So pick the one you’ll enjoy and be mindful of your diet as a whole.”

I really miss being able to eat whatever I want. It’s one of the only things I can get wistful about when I ponder growing older.

The abomination known as a Chicago-style hot dog, something no true hot dog connoisseur would countenance.