Eat the Week: Vegan Bill Clinton, Bon Appetit Moves, Copycat Farmers Markets, and a $2.4 Billion Facelift for McDonald’s
1. The 29th Annual Great American Beer Festival took place last weekend in Colorado, the state that claims to be the “Napa Valley of Beers.” Because drinking obscene amounts of beer in mile-high altitudes is not exactly a hard sell, the event was packed. As expected, all sorts of odd brews popped up — from Blue Moon’s Peanut Butter Beer to Maui Brewing’s CoConut Porter — and there was even Colorado craft beer-flavored ice cream. Huge lines were reported at Dogfish Head (surprise!), 3 Floyds (you don’t say!), and newbie Shorts Brewing actually ran out of beer on Friday. As for the awards, wheat superstar Blue Moon was named large brewing company of the year, Utah Brewers Cooperative took home the mid-level brewing company of the year prize, and California’s Mad River Brewing Company was crowned small brewing company of the year. A complete list of winners is available at the festival’s website.
2. In other beer news, the super villains marketing department over at Anheuser-Busch is frustrated with the under-30 market (one of the most important in beer), which categorically ignores Budweiser. And so the company is taking a cue from the super villains marketing arm of Camel Cigarettes circa 2002 and giving out free Budweiser to twenty-somethings in an effort to develop brand loyalty with the hipper, younger masses. The campaign, with the effortlessly brilliant tagline “Grab Some Buds,” will center around “trendy” eateries and bars for the next several weeks. If the idea of drinking 12 ounces of Budweiser (free or not) doesn’t turn your stomach against the corporate side of the beer industry, their action in the upcoming California election just might. It came to light this week that the California Beer and Beverage Distributors is spending money to help extinguish the legalization of recreational marijuana use in the state. Some of the CBBD’s members are understandably pissed — including Sierra Nevada and Stone Brewing — and immediately issued statements against the group’s actions.
3. Another big week for Top Chef, as the previously leaked D.C. reunion special revealed the contestants of the upcoming Top Chef All Stars. Hot-headed Tiffani Faison and annoying sommelier Stephen Asprinio from Season 1, along with a whole host of love ‘em or hate ‘em losers (Marcel, Spike, and Richard Blais included). We’re particularly excited about the return of Tiffany Derry. Anthony Bourdain joins the judges’ panel for the season. The excitement over the new season took some attention away from the temper-tantrum thrown by Seth on Just Desserts. For her part, Danielle Keene won the penny candy quickfire challenge with a very yummy gummy dirt cup.
4. A surprise announcement from Condé Nast caused some excitement in the rapidly depleting world of print food magazines this week. According to the press release, the company will be moving Bon Appetit to New York City to “enhance efficiencies,” which we assume means they’ll set up shop in the hallowed offices of Gourmet magazine (incidentally, the Gourmet Live app became available this week). The move isn’t the big story here, though: with it comes the end of Barbara Fairchild’s 10-year reign as Editor-in-Chief of the publication. Fairchild, who has been with the magazine for 32 years, told Russ Parsons of the LA Times, “I just couldn’t wrap my head around the whole concept of me moving to New York.”
5. McDonald’s will be spending 2.4 billion (yep, with a ‘b’) dollars to give its iconic restaurants a design face lift. Pizza Hut has also caught re-branding fever, but instead of taking the “eat-with-your-eyes” approach McDonald’s is pursuing, the pizza chain is attempting to show us its humanity by featuring employees in a new ad campaign. KFC has decided to take another approach in their latest marketing efforts. Instead of showing us wholesome, all-American employees, they’ve decided to plaster the words “Double Down” across the hindquarters of hot college girls. There’s a sort of sweet irony in this approach: the bodies of women give life, so why shouldn’t they play a part in help taking it away by advertising a sandwich designed to kill us all? Wrapping up a big week for fast food chains, Gen. Petraeus has demanded that fast food restaurants be returned to military bases in Afghanistan.
6. We learned this week that Starbucks will be increasing the prices of some of its coffee beverages, due to the rising costs of green coffee. The question on everyone’s minds seems to be some version of “How much is too much?” For our part, we at Poor Taste encourage you to get your fix at places worth the money. Our favorites? Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle. If hitting up a chain is your only option, go for Tully’s, Peet’s, or Caribou.
7. Mexico banned junk food in public schools this week. Effective at the start of next school year, kids won’t be able to get soft drinks, sweets, or fried snacks during school hours. The education minister, Alonso Lujambio told the press that the purpose of the movement was to begin a “profound cultural change.”
8. From the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development this week came an alarming report on obesity. The gist? The world is fat, and its costing us money. Among nations with advanced economies, the USA takes the fattest of the fat award, a title that cost us 147 billion (yep, with a ‘b’) bucks in 2008 alone. Who would have thought a country that whips up 2,100-pound batches of mac ‘n’ cheese would have a weight problem? The OECD offers suggestions for how we can get our weight in check, and former President Clinton is leading the pack with his most recent lifestyle change. Slick Willie, notorious lover of barbecue and cheeseburgers, the dude who took reporters on jogs to McDonald’s, is now a vegan. Well, practically. The 42nd POTUS occasionally eats fish.
9. In other political news this week, the food safety bill being blocked by Sen. Tom Coburn is still in limbo. This especially sucks in light of the House hearing on the recall of half a billion eggs took place on Wednesday, putting representatives from main offenders Hillandale Farms and Wright County Eggs in the hot seat. Austin “Jack” DeCoster of Wright County offered an apology, but his checkered past in food safety makes it less-than-believable. Orland Bethel of Hillandale refused to answer any questions at all, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to poison the public not incriminate himself. The other hot story on the hill this week was comedian Stephen Colbert’s testimony before Congress during the “Protecting America’s Harvest” hearing. “This is America. I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, then served by a Venezuelan, in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian,” the always-in-character Colbert deadpanned to a packed room.
10. Finally, a few cases of mistaken identity in the local produce sector. The Wall Street Journal published a story this week about “copycat farmers markets,” a growing issue as mega-chains lose more business to local outdoor markets. The problems started back in June, with Safeway stores calling their outdoor produce displays “farmers markets.” The store has since changed the signage to “outdoor markets,” but the move is still blasphemous for many conscious consumers. Albertson’s stores are using similar signage inside their produce sections. Adding to the confusion is a startling trend at actual farmers markets — fraud. NBC LA uncovered a startling trend of market vendors purchasing their produce from wholesale warehouses instead of growing it on their own farms. The investigation also found instances of supposedly pesticide-free produce being, in fact, full of pesticides. It’s no surprise that the farmers market, bastion of the local food movement, is being invaded — people are willing to pay more for locally grown food.