Monday, February 28, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: V8 Fusion With Green Tea

I love V8 Fusion, as does, apparently, the entire country. It's been a massive, runaway success for the company, selling tens of millions in product in its first year alone. It's proven to be big enough of a hit where Wal-Mart has even introduced its own Great Value version of the drink.

Capitalizing on this success, V8 continues to release new versions of Fusion and has now introduced an entirely new variant, a sort of double-fusion of Fusion and green tea. I was hyped and grabbed the bottle. I assumed that they just soaked a green tea bag in V8 fusion, but no. That would have been hoping too much, and it also gives me an idea to just do that myself.

V8 Fusion with tea is 50% juice and 50% tea, and the 50% that's tea has been sweetened with, ugh, sucralose. Why couldn't they have just used extra grape juice, or, sacrilege, sugar. Mercifully, the sucralose flavor is mild, here. No, the biggest problem is that the flavor is just so bland and mild compared to ordinary Fusion. That 50% that isn't juice is sorely missed. The flavor is hollow, you kinda' sorta' taste the green tea, and the sucralose makes itself known very quickly as the flavor leaves your palate. And, as with most sucralose-sweetened drinks, that flavor is the last one to leave your tongue after you stop drinking it.

Unlike drinks completely flavored with Splenda or aspartame, which means diet or diabetes, this is not zero calorie nor zero sugar. It has 10g of sugar and 50cal per serving. This is a drink that you drink because you want it, not because you're limited in your choices. As such, the use of sucralose is open to criticism. It makes it taste bad. Yes, yes, I know that not everyone can detect the difference; but I can, and so can most of my friends.

I initially puzzled, who is this drink for?! It's not diabetes or diet friendly, but it's flavor is negatively affected by the presence of sucralose. Why would they put sucralose in at all? Then it hit me. I'm coming at this drink from the wrong angle. It is not V8 Fusion. It is bottled, pre-sweetened green tea with juices added. This is for people who drink bottled Green Tea like crazy, because they think that it's somehow healthy, but want something that tastes, I dunno', good.

That is where my dislike is rooted; the bottle is branded incorrectly. If they had called this Lipton Green Tea with V8 Fusion added, I would never have even considered it, and I would have never been disappointed. As such, if you come at the bottle with this perspective, you won't be disappointed. In fact, you might be ecstatic to find bottled Lipton tea that doesn't taste like butthole. But I'm not reviewing Lipton, I'm reviewing V8 Fusion, and this concoction just isn't up to snuff.

V8 Fusion with Green Tea: NOT RECOMMENDED

Friday, February 25, 2011

America, Diets, And The Expensive Lunch

Christopher Wanjek, one of my favorite medical writers on the internet, has posted an article about the recent research linking diet soda consumption and an increased risk for strokes. He repeats a sentiment from various food and diet writers who are complaining that "the health police" are telling the world that they can't drink diet sodas. Obviously, this is delivered in a derisive way, implying that the health police, whoever they are, are telling us that we can't eat or drink anything.

First off, if any of the health police had been previously saying that diet soda was alright, they were idiots. I can't think of a single doctor or dietitian who would say that drinking any kind of soda is recommended. As a treat, yes, but nothing more. Just because diet soda doesn't have any calories in it doesn't mean that it doesn't have other stuff in it, as Wanjek points out in his article.

I find this typically symptomatic of the American perspective on, well, life. We are on a constant quest for fun, while trying to avoid paying for it. We are, in essence, on a quest for a free lunch. This philosophy manifests itself no stronger than in diet. We consume diet gimmicks and exercise equipment in amounts unseen anywhere else in the Western world.

For example, there is something distinctly American about the Atkins diet; just the idea that we can be thin by eating lots of meat! Don't pay any mind to all of the other countries that can't even afford meat. Or the fact that most dietary scientists say that eating the meat-rich diet of an American would be impossible for the entire planet.

No, we want to eat candy for dinner. We want to exercise without actually doing any exercise. That exercise one really blows my mind. What do you think exercise is? It's moving your body! You can't move your body without moving!

The absolute pinnacle of that quest were those batshit crazy electric belts that supposedly jolted your muscles into moving. Don't prefer some insane exercise gimmick? Don't worry! There are diet products that will make it seem like you're exercising all the time, even when you're sitting in front of the TV, which is apparently the American dream.

Even I, super genius, fell for one of these gimmicks about ten years ago. I was young and stupid, and ever since high school had ended, I was starting to put on pounds. So I tried a product called, subtly, Ripped Fuel. It's still available now, but at the time it was using ephedra, which has famously since been taken off of the shelves. Probably a good thing, since I took one-sixth the dose, pegged a temp of over 103, had a racing heart, and didn't sleep for two days.

Um... healthy.

The ephedra actually did something, though! But eating something that simply burns fat is inherently unhealthy, so it got banned! Shocker, it worked by the only mechanism that a pill could possibly burn fat, by raising your body temperature. Which can prove lethal, as it did for many sports stars.

But the banning of ephedra didn't stop the diet companies from producing billions of pills of other total nonsense. They are the very definition of snake oil. And all of the commercials say, somewhere, in very small text, that the results seen are rare and can only be achieved with changes to diet and exercise. But the rest of the commercial makes damn sure to make it seem like you'll see those results with the pill alone. You will NEVER BE THIN BY SITTING IN FRONT OF YOUR TV AND SWILLING BACK SODA!

I'm not saying that a life of leisure and food is immoral or bad, I'm saying that only a moron could possibly think that they will ever achieve results with these stupid products, sold on TV, at one in the morning. And America is fucking filled to overflowing with morons (See P.T. Barnum, even though he apparently never said it). You can choose either a lean, muscular body, and exercise regularly and eat well; or you can have a soft body and small muscles but enjoy leisure and fatty food. You cannot have both.

Even with the wildest advances in science, you will likely never be able to have both. Genetic science would have to develop a human that stores no fat, and has muscles that grow regardless of exercise levels. That simply cannot be a stable organism. I can only assume that a person like that would grow and look great, until they literally explode at age thirty-five.

Regardless of what advertising tells you, there is no free lunch. You wanna' know how I lost fifty pounds? I'll tell you for free. I started eating more fruit and vegetables and exercised every day. It was easy. So easy, in fact, it's apparently really hard.

Penn & Teller did an excellent episode of Bullshit! about food around the world, and the disconnection between America, where we're all fat, and Africa, where they're all starving to death.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The True Price of Food

Raj Patel is an up-and-coming author and intellectual with a focus on the economies of food. I really like him. This video covers much of his general thesis and I think that it's well worth a watch.

The Problem with Oatmeal

It has recently been brought to my attention that oatmeal is prepared poorly across most of the American culinary landscape. This subject was raised by Mark Bittman over at the NY Times in regards to McDonald's newest breakfast creation: McOatmeal. Or perhaps just oatmeal. You can never really tell with McDonald's.

Basically, like everything McDonald's touches, they've taken something that could conceivably have some significant nutritional value and stripped it entirely of anything close. Truly, Bittman argues;

A more accurate description than “100% natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”

But it wasn't Bittman's attack on Mickey-D's that had me upset. In fact, I find it rather pointless to attack McDonald's for making a sugar-infused pile of crap since that's what they sell, and everyone knows it. McDonald's sells a particular product to a particular demographic, and they know that demographic very well. That demographic does not want health. They want crap. More power to 'em.

No, what had me upset was his attack on Quaker instant oatmeal. Maybe it's because I've been fed this stuff since I was an itty-bitty childer. Maybe it's because Quaker's marketing is so good. For whatever reason, I've never looked at the nutrition information.

I was a little relieved to find that the nutrition isn't nearly as bad the article made it out to seem. Yes, the Cinnamon Roll oatmeal has 9g of sugar compared to raw oats 1g, but that's about it. Instead, I have left this informational expedition more confused than I went in. Raw oats are 150cal per half-cup. Instant Cinnamon Roll is 160, with many other flavors at an identical 150. There's less fat in the instant oatmeal, not more. But there's also less protein and fiber.

My biggest takeaway, and I think the biggest thing that anyone should take, from this is a new desire to make fresh oatmeal. Buy raw oats, milk fruit, and whatever the hell else you want to put in it. It won't necessarily be cheaper, but it will be better and better for you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Smaller Sizes Are Invading our Shelves

I noticed awhile ago that Dove bars have mysteriously lost one of the bars from the package. Where once, your ducats would have bought you four bars, the same price now only nets you three, count'em three, bars. That's a 25% drop! It's basically a trick. They're assuming that a large price increase will cause a larger drop in sales than the same price and simply putting less inside the bottle. I don't like it, but we're in an extended economic downturn, while at the same time, many raw materials on which these manufacturers rely are becoming more expensive.

GOOD Magazine and Consumer Reports hooked up and produced a small infographic showing that this event is spreading across the entirety of the supermarket. Again, I understand that inflation happens and that, eventually, the price has to increase, but I don't like it when companies try to trick me.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Haagen-Dazs vs. Ben & Jerry's

I just bought both a tub of B&J's and H-D's cookie dough ice cream. I keep trying Haagen-Dazs because it just has to be better than it always is. It's the original gourmet ice cream! How the hell is it so disappointing?

I don't know how, but it is. Time and time again, I try it and am let down. It's never bad, certainly, but it's never good and is usually inferior to good half-gallon brands like Turkey Hill. So yeah, continuing, I compared the two and Ben & Jerry's, as always, came out on top. Haagen-Dazs has an excellent finish that B&J's is lacking. It feels like it was made with fresh vanilla. The cookie dough also has a floury taste that makes it taste more like real cookie dough.

Regardless, the Ben & Jerry's vanilla flavor, while not as complex, has much more punch to it. Ben & Jerry's is denser, with a richer, smoother texture to it. The same goes for the cookie dough, which is sweeter than Haagen-Dazs. There's also more of it, and as Ben & Jerry's knows full well, the best ice cream is ice cream that's being used to glue together bits of other things. I tell myself that this will be the last time that I buy Haagen-Dazs, but I'm sure that I'll try again.

So yeah, if you want a cookie dough ice cream, Ben & Jerry's should be at the top of your list.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Soup is delicious, doncha' think? The problem with soup is, once you've had fresh soup, canned soups just taste terrible. The meat is all rubbery, the vegetables are lacking any sense of freshness, and there is a shocking deficiency in flavor and punch considering the salt levels. It was with this desire for good soup that I set about trying various small brands on the supermarket shelves.

Most of the soups didn't stand out. No punch. Pea soup. Tomato soup. It's as though the elimination of meat translated to the elimination of flavor. Two brands stood out with some legitimately inventive-sounding flavors: Pacific Foods and Dr. McDougall.

Pacific Foods:

Pacific Foods soups were the real stars of my endeavor. Every soup of theirs that I tried were punchy, flavorful, thick, and filled with fresh-tasting vegetables and ingredients. I tried their Hearty Carton soups, which are all vegetarian, but unlike Dr McDougall, as we'll see, they didn't sacrifice anything. The Chipotle Sweet Potato and Poblano Pepper and Corn Chowder, my personal faves, were hot enough to knock my girlfriend on her ass. Thick, spicy, and fantastically delicious. The most notable difference between the brands was how firm and fresh all of the potato tasted. Coming from canned soups like Progresso, Pacific soup was a whole new world. Once you try these soups, you'll never go back to Progresso. I look forward to trying their canned soups that include meat.

Pacific Foods Hearty Carton Soups: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Dr McDougall:

Apparently, Dr. McDougall isn't just a food company, but an entire diet company predicated on minimal processing of vegetable matter. Similar to Pacific Foods, the ingredients were firm and fresh. They tasted like home-made soup. Unfortunately, it was made by your good-for-nothing uncle as opposed to Grandma. Unlike Pacific, Dr McDougall only produces vegetarian and vegan foods, and as any good gourmet knows, vegan is a synonym for flavorless. Their minestrone soup has suitable amounts of flavor and presence and isn't too oily. It's a very good pre-made minestrone. Sadly, that bright spot only makes their other soups all the more disappointing. Both tomato soups are oily and have no complexity to their flavor. I had to load them up with pepper, crackers, and parmesan cheese to make them palatable in large amounts. The black bean soup was similar in its complete lack of depth. It was just overwhelming bean. Dark, bland, palate-covering, bean. But, considering the good minestrone, and the quality ingredients, I think that Dr McDougall is at least worth a shot.

Dr McDougall's Soups: RECOMMENDED