Thursday, March 31, 2011

Starbucks CEO Doesn't Drink Frappuccinos. Tries To Make This Seem Less Bad.

In a recent interview with questions submitted by users, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was asked what he dislikes at Starbucks. He responded the he doesn't "like any of the drinks that have been pre-sweetened, in terms of frappuccino and things like that," and that he's "a purist when it comes to coffee."

Just say it like it is, Howie. You don't drink Frappuccinos (Frappuiccini?) because they TASTE LIKE SHIT. Their caramel flavor is bearable, but I'd still be hard-pressed to finish a small. They're bitter, with a tangy, artificial sweetness to them. Nothing about them tastes high-quality or gourmet. I would expect a similar beverage from Dunkin' Donuts.

In general, I think that Starbucks' offerings are very high-quality. Frappuccini is not one of those offerings.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Diet Advice From The Watery Gourmet

The manifestation of your genetic form is your choice. If you are really fat, you can choose to not be fat. If you are scrawny, you can choose to increase your muscle mass. It might be much harder for you than someone else who is "blessed" with genetics that predispose them to whatever figure that you want. If you want to lose weight, your genetics might necessitate a diet of beans, chicken, and carrots for the rest of your life. Is that fair? No. It's not fair. It sucks. But just because the choice is more difficult for you doesn't mean that the choice doesn't exist.

Previously, I put the word "blessed" in marks because it's not necessarily a blessing. Lots of medical research shows that people who are super-skinny regardless of diet are prone to dying of every malady imaginably, aside from diabetes, than those who are predisposed to weight gain. Being predisposed to extensive muscle growth burns more calories Having a healthy pile of fat on your body makes you more likely to survive extended medical problems. Being fatter keeps you warmer than someone with a BMI of 4. These are legitimate advantages and only get glossed over in our image-conscious popular world.

But back to the concept of choice. Much of how you look is determined by your genes. The extent to which certain aspects of your genes are represented is a choice, though. Again, in our image-conscious world, helped along by a healthy dose of religious moralizing, the opposite of the ascetic existence, one in which we indulge pleasure and taste, is seen as necessarily bad. Think about that. When you eat a slice of cake instead of doing sit-ups, you are making a choice. You are choosing that the pleasure of eating that cake is of higher value to you than not eating the cake and conserving caloric intake.

This is not an inherently bad choice. It is our society that tells you that it's a bad choice. You are being a bad person for indulging your desire for pleasure. It's one of the sins, and was written explicitly by Saint Thomas Aquinas as something to be avoided. We eat to live, we don't live to eat. But why? Why shouldn't we live to eat? It's great! We don't do it because abstinence in all things is the Christian ideal, which gets us closer to God. If you don't happen to believe in the Christian god, then you're hosed, because you're still subject to the social expectations that this ingrained value programming has injected into the zeitgeist.

Problems for people arise when they choose cake and then feel bad about it. They then get sucked into diet scams. I went to Amazon and searched for diet products in the Health and Beauty section. I found over 4,000 items. Certainly not the largest section on Amazon, but remember, NONE of these products have been shown in a reputable study to be any better than simply eating a better diet. That's why they all, I'd wager 100% of them, if they make a claim about weight loss on the packaging, print in absurdly small print a disclaimer saying that this must be combined with an exercise routine. It's a scam. Plain and simple. You might very well have lost weight with these products, but I say with nearly complete certainty that the product had nothing to do with it, it was you and your dedication to a healthier lifestyle. On a funny note, I found the pictured Atkins mix to so resemble a bag of "Atkins Chow" as to warrant a new package design firm.

If you want to be thin, and you can't seem to manage it, you have to move even further towards the ascetic lifestyle of 24/7 salads. You might NEVER be able to eat cake. Cheese, cookies, pastries; they're all right out. But no matter what you tell yourself, you can be thin. Jogging five miles, every day, salads with grilled chicken every day. That doesn't sound like something that I'd like to do, frankly, and if that's what you would need to get thin, then that's unfortunate, but still your choice. You are making the choice to continue eating cake, cheese, and cookies. And that's not bad! If I had to make that choice, I'd pick cake on any day of the week. But I am making the choice explicit and do not regret my choice. I embrace it.

That being said, very few people need to make that choice. Do you have a glandular or hormone problem? No you don't. You're lying to me and to yourself. Alright, yes, some of you certainly do have medical problems that result in your body turning even carrots into fat. People with severe glandular problems make up less than 1% of the population. People with moderate glandular problems and depression included only bring that number up to 1%. That means you are fat because you are making the choice to be fat.

Weight loss is a simple equation of fewer/better calories and more exercise. Every day. You need to integrate it into your life. Going to the gym once or twice a week will DO NOTHING. You need to go every day and make a fundamental shift in your diet. If you can't find anything that is acceptable on a daily basis, then you either need to change your expectations or accept the fact that you are choosing to not lose weight. I've lost nearly 50 pounds from my greatest weight of 260 pounds. I woke up early to make sure I was able to eat a high-fiber breakfast. I made sure to walk or jog multiple miles every day. I stopped drinking sweetened drinks of any kind. I do pushups and pullups randomly throughout the day. I integrated all of this behavior into my day. It stopped being exercise and diet and simply became part of my life. If you can't do that, stop fooling yourself. You'll fail, and then you'll go back to complaining about how you can't keep the weight off.

I have been discussing fat at this point, but many of the same criticisms also apply to those who wish for greater muscular definition but find it hard to achieve. Some people can lift a weight once per day and look like Hercules. Others can lift weights all day long and still only see middling results. These people have it easier than those who are overweight because of our focus on an ascetic ideal, but it can still be difficult for them.

These poor saps are taken for a ride in ways that dieters aren't. Magic pills and powders intended to make you FREAKIN' 'UGE sell for silly amounts of money and usually don't do anything. At least lots of the diet foods out there are still food. It might be terrible food, but it's at least a meal. Pills, powders, shakes, creams, bars, and all of the other things promising you an Arnold-like physique only work with extreme work-outs, and then you don't need them. The difficult part is already done. Just eat chicken and rice.

Our world is an Eden of excess. Our primordial drives don't know what to do with what we've wrought. Food and pleasure is everywhere, so we indulge it. We then feel bad about it. The problem is not the desire, or even the indulging, it's the regret that we as a society feel afterward. We eat like crazy and lie about, then we say that we simply can't avoid it! We say that we'd have those six-pack abs, only if this or that was different. We'd be thin, only if. We'd run every day, only if. All excuses for a choice that you are making but then pretending like you didn't. No. You made the choice, and it's time to stop whining that you did so.

My father has given me a few choice pieces of wisdom. I'd say the one that has had the greatest effect on me is that a loser is not defined by what they have achieved in life, but whether they whine. If you spend all day long complaining, it doesn't matter whether you live under a bridge or in a palace, you're a loser. By rendering the choices we make explicit and taking responsibility for them, we lose the ability to whine and complain, because it was our choice. It is our power. And they are our bodies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yet Another Poor Study Shows Benefits For Organic

There are many studies that show benefits to organic foods over traditional foods, with an equal number showing no difference at all. The only difference is that the ones showing no difference are usually of a greater scale, both in sample size and time. This new study is of decent size, twenty-two brands in all, done over two years. They sampled milk during the winter and during the summer and it's that bit of info that I find interesting, which I'll get to in a bit.

The study was measuring levels of various fatty compounds in the milk and it found that organic milks had higher levels of good fats and lower levels of bad fats. Ohh, but the story isn't nearly that simple. As I mentioned, measurements were taken during the summer and winter, which produced wild fluctuations in fat levels for both conventional and organic. This indicates, as they mention in the article, that diet likely has a large part to play, since both milk and meat from grass-fed cows is lower in fat than cows fed with feed products. But one then has to ask, why bother advocating organic foods and not simply say we should feed our cows grass? Easy! You can't get self-righteous about grass.

Moreover, there are areas where conventional milk did better than organic, namely one C12 and all four measures of C14 fats. It is too much of a stretch to advocate organic from this study, or any of the other studies measuring similar things, even from a purely healthful perspective.

One interesting aspect of the data that they briefly mention in the article is that bad fats appear to be trending up in both types of milk as time goes on and good fats are trending down. Obviously, within ten years, cows will be producing 100% butter directly from their udders.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How TV Did Nothing To Your Life UPDATED

Ok, I totally meant to post this to another one of my blogs. I might as well leave it up, but yeah. That's why it seems so out of place.

I've been thinking a great deal about How TV Ruined Your Life and its anti-consumerist message. It rips apart many of the arguably very negative aspects of our material society and highlights grotesque examples like My Super Sweet 16.

But hidden in these attacks, and truly the attacks from anyone who talks about how modern aspects of life are bad is the sociological fallacy of The Good Ol' Days. It is the same phenomenon as the World in Decay perspective that so many religions have. Essentially, now is bad, some other time is necessarily better. By almost every metric, this is wrong. That's why I call it a fallacy.

Instead, what I think the show, and all of the synonymous perspectives are lamenting are symptoms of underlying issues. Materialism, celebrity culture; these are not the problems. The problem is a society filled with shallow, half-dead shells of humans. People two-hundred years ago would have been materialistic just as they are today, only they didn't have the materials with which to do it. If anything, the only variable keeping the general population of this bygone day from turning to the perverted excesses of the the elite (who's opulence was either equal to or far greater than that of today) was a society that told them the abandon all hope.

The problem we need to address is a population of unfulfilled humans who reach out into the world for things that fulfill primal, nebulous, hind-brain type pleasures. These provide fleeting bits of happiness, and they're left unsatisfied and yearning for more, but at least they were something approximating happiness for a short time.

It's then no surprise that the things that he attacks directly in his show are all of the pleasures and fears that cater strongly to the reptilian parts of noodle: Fear, death, possessions, and sex & companionship. We focus on these because we are animals programmed to focus on them. We shouldn't be pointing to TV and media, we should be pointing to an educational and societal system that doesn't bother to give kids an understanding of the world to inoculate them to such thinking and behavior.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: Wal-Mart Great Value V8 Fusion

Well, much like a musician when Weird Al parodies their work, or an entertainer being roasted by the Friars' Club, a product knows that it's hit when Wal-Mart produces a "Great Value" rip-off. V8 Fusion is officially a mega-hit.

The Great Value version is fifty-nine cents cheaper, $2.39 compared to $2.98, and after checking the ingredients and nutrition info, I had hopes that the flavors would be similar. No such luck. As you can see from the photo, the Great Value variant is significantly lighter in color. The same effect can be seen in the taste. It's both less flavorful and more watery in texture. The official V8 is better in ever regard.

Great Value's juice isn't bad, but one of the reasons why the Fusion is such a hit is because it tastes very good in pretty much every way. It's a tasty combination of vegetable and fruit juices that even picky (also known as pricky) children would like. Wal-Mart's made the juice taste cheaper and more like "kid's" juice. It's not bad enough to not recommend, but at the same time, I have a hard time recommending it. If budget is a serious concern, and you buy a LOT of this stuff, that sixty cents per bottle could mean significant savings over a year. But if if you don't fit that scenario, buy the V8.

Great Value V8 Fusion: RECOMMENDED

Sunday, March 13, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: Starbucks Tribute Coffee

Starbucks' new Tribute coffee, celebrating forty years of life, is ironically appropriate. But before I get to that, a peeve. Starbucks has not been around for forty years. Yes, the very first Starbucks was founded in 1971, but it is so distantly related to the current permutation of Starbucks as to be significant in name only. They didn't sell drinks until 1987, when Howard Schultz bought the chain from the founders and rebranded his own burgeoning coffee chain, Il Giornale, as Starbucks. Thus, the Starbucks of today is actually Il Giornale with a different name. I've posted the original logo so you can see the strong similarity between it and Starbucks' current logo. Basically, the Starbucks name is forty years old. Starbucks as it is is only twenty-four.

Now on to the coffee. After my last roast review of Casi Cielo was such a success, I came into this one with high hopes. Sadly, I have had my hopes run through a grinder like so many coffee beans. I said that this coffee is ironically appropriate, and by that I mean it is ironic that a company that has been so known for burnt coffee as to earn the moniker Charbucks should celebrate its anniversary with a blend that is burnt indeed. It is further ironic that a company that made its name and fortune with expensive espresso drinks should celebrate with a roast that doesn't go terribly well in espresso.

As a semi-objective measurement of roast level, I use my grinder, a Rancilio Rocky, and the required grind to get a perfect espresso shot. Most good espresso grinds like Black Cat require grinds in the area of 10 on my grinder. Casi Cielo required a 9, the darkest Starbucks I've ever had required a 4, with most Starbucks coffees requiring a 5. Tribute requires a grind of 5-6, so it's right in line with their other offerings. Amazingly, it tastes darker than this would indicate. I can taste almost nothing but roast. Smooth, yes, but roast nonetheless.

I'm left with some confusion. Until Casi Cielo, I always assumed that Starbucks was actually incompetent, but I now know that they aren't. They can produce an excellent roast if they want to, which means that this coffee is a conscious choice. Why would a company knowingly create a dark, blasted husk of a bean (I mean that in general, not to Tribute specifically)? What flavor profile are they shooting for? To what demographic are they trying to appeal? I'm very confused. Regardless, this was a disappointing coffee. Their standard espresso roast is much better for espresso, and I've had better pour over with a multitude of their other blends and single origins. It's certainly not disgusting, and in less-gourmet times, I might give a thumbs up. But in the face of stiff competition from local roasters and even Starbucks' own selection, I can't recommend this coffee.

Starbucks Tribute Coffee: NOT RECOMMENDED

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Grant Achatz Makes a Burger

Grant Achatz of Alinea fame likes burgers, apparently. His burger recipe isn't what surprised me with this article and video clip, no. It's how his name is pronounced. I think that the source is pretty definitive, too. It's him, saying his own name. I always assumed that it was pronounced ay-SHATZ, or perhaps ay-CHATZ. I was WAY off. It's actually AKE-etz. Also, perhaps it was the sauve, serious photography that he's always in, but I didn't expect Grant to be so... nerdy. As he was making the burger, I half-expected him to drop a Dungeons & Dragons reference. Which would have been really cool.

Grant Achatz Makes the Ultimate Burger (Men's Health)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yes, Do End Farm Subsidies

Mark Bittman has a good post over at the NY Times, titled "Don’t End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them." His thesis is right there in the headline. He argues that our ridiculous farm subsidies, manifested in comical situations like houses with subsidized lawns because the land once grew corn, should not be simply ended, but diverted to medium-sized farms and other crops. I think that this is a wonderful idea. Doing this would, in an instant, transform the American dietary landscape for the better. It is such a good idea, in fact, that it will undoubtedly never happen.

What Bittman is asking of our government is subtly, logic, common sense, and leadership. Our government is incapable of that. Whether it was ever capable of that is academic, but it's certainly not capable of it now. In the past, I could simply point to the Republicans and say that they're the problem, because they usually are, but here, I can't say that. Just as many Democrats as Republicans are in the pockets of big agribusiness. And yes, I do mean to imply that they are taking bribes. I think most level-headed people can agree that lobbyists are borderline bribes, so I'll just go ahead and call them outright bribes. According to, agribusiness is the number six lobbying industry in the country. With that much money being spent by evil empires like Monsanto and ConAgra, change is an impossibility.

We have to move in bold, neanderthal-like steps for our government to get anything done. We either keep the farm subsidies as-is, or we get rid of them. To argue that there is an achievable middle ground is the perspective of a political Pollyanna.