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kottke.org posts about food

Fried Egg Friday

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2021

Hi! This is a fried egg blog now. A couple of weeks ago, I shared how master chef Jacques Pépin fries an egg: as gently as the summer breeze on the cheek of a butterfly. That post resulted in several tweets and emails from people saying they had tried it and become instant converts. But like the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to fry an egg. A few years back, José Andrés showed Stephen Colbert how to make Spanish fried eggs:

I have to say…witnessing this technique (which is similar to those used in Asian cooking) blew my dang socks off. My favorite dinner for the past several months has been avocado toast and the key, IMO, is a crispy fried egg on top. I’ve slowly been upping the heat and amount of oil I use when frying, but Andrés has empowered me to go for broke next time with full power and deep oil. Can’t wait. (thx, @Erik_Naught_6)

Harvesting Salt From a Very Salty Lake

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2021

In this video, Eater visits Lake Retba in Senegal to watch how they harvest salt from the lake. As you’ll see, the process differs from harvesting sea salt. Lake Retba is so salty — Wikipedia has it listed as the world’s second most saline body of water, more than 10X saltier than the ocean — that salt crystals naturally form at the surface of the lake and then fall to the lake bed. Harvesting it then becomes a matter of collecting it from the bottom and the lake naturally replenishes the supply every 45 days or so.

The Table Saw That Won’t Cut Your Fingers Off

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2021

In a recent issue of the MachinePix newsletter, Kane Hsieh interviewed Dr. Steve Gass, the inventor of the SawStop, the table saw that automatically stops cutting when it detects human skin (therefore saving fingers and hands from being cut off). Before we get to that, you’ve probably seen the company’s hot dog demo but if you haven’t, check out these super slow-motion clips of the SawStop blades stopping in a matter of milliseconds after making contact:

The minuscule amount of damage to the hot dog is mind-blowing. Where did this demo idea come from? From the interview:

What was the first thing? It was probably a stationary blade with me just touching it with my finger. Once we started spinning the blade, I wasn’t too eager to do that test with my finger, so we just thought ‘what do we have that’s sort of finger like with similar electrical properties’ — hot dogs are similar, and I had one in the fridge, so I grabbed one and ran it into the blade. Sure enough, it worked.

There was a point where we had to know a hotdog was a good surrogate for a finger. You can imagine, we could do this demo at trade shows with a hot dog, but there’s always a smart-ass that says they don’t care about hot dogs, and wanted to see it with a finger. So before the first trade show I had to test it with my actual finger. Thankfully it worked!

And because what the saw is detecting is “the capacitance of the human body”, you have to be holding the hot dog in order for the demo to work.

The whole interview is worth a read — like this bit about why big tool companies were not interested in licensing this feature: because they aren’t liable for the injuries caused by their products:

The fundamental question came down to economics. Almost a societal economic structure question. The CPSC says table saws result in about $4B in damage annually. The market for table saws is about $200-400M. This is a product that does almost 10x in damage as the market size. There’s a disconnect — these costs are borne by individuals, the medical system, workers comp — and not paid by the power tools company. Because of that, there’s not that much incentive to improve the safety of these tools. Societally if there was an opportunity to spend $5 to save $10, we’d want to do that. But in this chain there’s a break in people that can make those changes and people that are affected, so it’s not done.

Hey, Let’s Watch Jacques P├ępin Fry Eggs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2021

Fried eggs are something almost everyone, regardless of culinary prowess, can cook. Even so, in the hands of a master chef like Jacques Pépin, even this simple dish can be improved upon. For starters, he uses waaaay more butter in the pan than most people probably do. And there’s water involved? The finished product looks amazing.

After you’re done watching that, you should check out Pépin making scrambled eggs:

And then finally, here’s Pépin making omelettes two ways (country/”American-style” and classic French):

Love that backhand plating technique!

The Cute New Burger King Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

I’d like to take a brief moment at the end of this weird and difficult week to appreciate this monogram that’s part of Burger King’s new brand identity.

Burger King monogram logo

B + K + burger = perfect. I hereby dub this new tiny logo “The Slider”. It was designed by Stephen Kelleher Studio; you can see some of their other “explorations” as they worked on refining the finished monogram. Reminds me of Sandwich’s excellent logo.

2000-Year-Old Snack Bar Unearthed in Pompeii

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

Pompeii Snack Bar

Pompeii Snack Bar

This was widely shared last week but I wanted to post about it anyway in case you didn’t see it because it seems just so strikingly contemporary: a Roman snack bar from 79 ACE was recently unearthed in Pompeii.

In this new phase of excavation, the last section of the counter to be unearthed revealed other exquisite scenes of still life, with depictions of animals which were likely butchered and sold here. Bone fragments belonging to the same animals were also discovered inside containers embedded in the counter, which held foodstuffs intended for sale, such as in the case of the two mallard ducks shown upside down, ready to be cooked and eaten; a rooster; and a dog on a lead, the latter serving almost as a warning in the manner of the famed Cave Canem.

The photos are blowing my mind here. You never really think about the to-go food stall as an architectural archetype — much less one that’s 2000 years old — but all the elements are right there. It doesn’t look so much different from a hot food bar at an NYC bodega or Whole Foods. Archaeologists also found graffiti scrawled on the wall of the snack bar, just like that on the walls & tables of a place like John’s Pizzeria. You could completely imagine yourself standing there, two millennia ago, looking at the pictures and containers of what’s on offer, ordering some lunch, and chuckling at the graffiti with a pal.

Tea Bag Watercolor Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2020

Ruby Silvious

Ruby Silvious

Ruby Silvious

Ruby Silvious

Ruby Silvious paints watercolors on used tea bags. Art is everywhere and anything is a canvas. Check out her Instagram for regular updates. Prints and original art are available. (via colossal)

Unsettling Photographs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2020

Thundergirl

Thundergirl

Thundergirl

Thundergirl

Some unsettling/weird/funny photos from @thundergirl_xtal on Instagram. They have a separate account just for nails/hands. (via swissmiss)

The Swiss Cheese Covid-19 Defense

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2020

The Swiss cheese respiratory virus pandemic defense

The Swiss cheese model of accident causation is a framework for thinking about how to layer security measures to minimize risk and prevent failure. The idea is that when several layers of interventions, despite their weaknesses, are properly stacked up between a hazard and a potentially bad outcome, they are able to cumulatively prevent that outcome because there’s no single point of failure. During the pandemic, health care workers and public health officials have been using the Swiss cheese model to visualize how various measures can work together to help keep people safe.

Virologist Dr. Ian Mackay has visualized the Swiss cheese Covid-19 defense in a wonderful way (pictured above). Each layer of cheese represents a personal or shared intervention — like mask wearing, limiting your time indoors w/ crowds, proper ventilation, quarantine, vaccines — and the holes are imperfections. Applied together, these imperfect measures work like a filter and can vastly improve chances of success.1 He even added a “misinformation mouse” chewing through one of the cheese slices to represent how deceptive information can weaken these defenses.

Mackay has released this graphic under a Creative Commons license (free to share and adapt w/ attribution) and is available in English, German, French, Spanish, Korean, and several other languages. (via @EricTopol)

  1. It’s interesting that the Swiss cheese model is physically how masks work to stop aerosols and droplets — like layered filters and not sieves.

The Wobble Dog 9003i Hot Dog Wobbling Machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2020

I didn’t know I needed the Wobble Dog 9003i hot dog wobbling machine in my life before watching this video but now I can’t imagine living without it. Q: Can something be both hilarious and kinda-but-not-really erotic at the same time? A: Yes? (via @machinepix)

How Soy Sauce Is Made Using Traditional Methods

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2020

Since 1789, Fueki Syoyu Brewing has been making soy sauce using simple ingredients, big wooden barrels for aging, and traditional methods handed down through the generations to ensure the signature richness and taste of their product. This video from Eater takes us inside the brewery to see how the magic happens.

Is the McDonald’s Ice Cream Machine Broken?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2020

Map of McDonald's locations and their ice cream machine status

Software developer Rashiq Zahid figured out McDonald’s ordering API and built a program that attempts to order ice cream from every single McDonald’s in the US to check if their ice cream machine is working. If your McFlurry or McSundae cannot be added to the shopping cart, the program assumes the ice cream machine is broken. The program runs several times a day and the results are displayed on a map. From The Verge:

Initially, he created an API that attempted to add a McSundae from every McDonald’s location to its cart once every minute. The app figured out what he was up to and blocked him — “It was like, you can’t do this, you look like a bot,” he recalled.

After a night of trial and error, Zahid figured out the magic time frame. Now, his bot attempts to add a McSundae every 30 minutes. If the bot successfully adds the item, it lets McBroken know that the location’s machine is working. If it can’t, the location gets a red dot.

From the current map, it looks like almost 10% of McDonald’s ice cream machines in the US are not working. In NYC, nearly a quarter of McDonald’s restaurants don’t have a working ice cream machine. I’m wondering though: is the assumption that the machine is broken a good one? What if ice cream ingredients are out of stock or some franchises don’t offer ice cream products at all hours? When The Verge wrote their story last night, they reported only 7.5% of national machines and 15.2% of NYC machines were broken. Did 10% of McDonald’s ice cream machines in NYC break in the last 12 hours? Or are they just not selling McSundaes at 10am?

How Artisanal French Butter Is Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2020

In Brittany, France, Le Beurre Bordier still makes butter by hand using wooden machines. In this video, we travel to their small factory and meet artisan butter maker (and goofy chap) Jean-Yves Bordier to see how they make what some people call the best butter in the world.

To Jean-Yves, the malaxage is a more romantic way to make butter. At his workshop, everything is churned, kneaded, and shaped by hand.

Bordier is such a character, and it’s genuinely delightful to see how he thinks like an artist about his work. (via colossal)

Xi’an Famous Foods Cookbook!

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

Xi'an Famous Foods Cookbook

I moved away from NYC more than four years ago, and I still think about Xi’an Famous Foods all the time. I miss going there and pondering the make-up of the mind-bendingly delicious sauces they ladled out onto their hand-pulled noodles — “What the hell is in here that makes it taste so good?” Xi’an is one of my favorite restaurants, but with the pandemic and all, the last time I ate there was nearly an entire year ago. So it’s not an understatement to say that I’m overjoyed to see that they are coming out with a cookbook: Xi’an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York’s Favorite Noodle Shop .

CEO Jason Wang divulges the untold story of how this empire came to be, alongside the never-before-published recipes that helped create this New York City icon. From heavenly ribbons of liang pi doused in a bright vinegar sauce to flatbread filled with caramelized pork to cumin lamb over hand-pulled Biang Biang noodles, this cookbook helps home cooks make the dishes that fans of Xi’an Famous Foods line up for while also exploring the vibrant cuisine and culture of Xi’an.

Lemme just highlight the most important part of that paragraph: never-before-published recipes. YESSSSS. The cookbook is coming out next week, but you can pre-order it now from Bookshop.org and Amazon.

Polluted Water Popsicles

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2020

Polluted Water Popsicles

Three art students, Hung I-chen, Guo Yi-hui, and Cheng Yu-ti, collected polluted water from all over Taiwan and turned them into popsicles.

Hung and her teammates visited 100 locations across Taiwan to collect waste. They then placed the samples — complete with dirt, bugs, and trash — into a freezer, turning them into popsicles. In order to preserve them, they encased the popsicles in a polyester resin.

Hung tells Quartz she hopes the project will raise awareness about water pollution. Her team chose to use popsicles as a motif because they are translucent and because popsicles typically look appealing to the eye. “Such pretty popsicles, would you still want to eat them?” she asks.

The same group did a similar polluted soap project for Hong Kong. (thx, naomi)

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA & Good Humor Partner to Create a New Ice Cream Truck Jingle

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

Ice cream maker Good Humor has teamed up with legendary rapper/musician RZA to produce a new ice cream truck jingle to replace the ubiquitous “Turkey in the Straw”, a tune that gained popularity as a minstrel song with racist lyrics.

“Turkey in the Straw” is one of the most iconic ice cream truck jingles today. However, many people don’t realize that this familiar tune has racist roots.

Turkey in the Straw’s melody originated from British and Irish folk songs, which had no racial connotations. But the song itself was first performed (and gained popularity) in American minstrel shows in the 1800s. Some songs using its same melody contained highly offensive, racist lyrics.

Throughout the 19th century, minstrel songs like Turkey in the Straw were commonly played in ice cream parlors, and later, adapted as ice cream truck jingles.

While these associations of “Turkey in the Straw” are not the only part of its legacy, it is undeniable that this melody conjures memories of its racist iterations.

RZA explains the story behind the new jingle:

And from a press release:

To create an original jingle, The RZA drew inspiration from his own childhood memories of chasing after the ice cream truck in his neighborhood. The track borrows from traditional ice cream truck music and adds jazz and hip-hop elements. Expect trap drumbeats, some old-school bells that reference Good Humor’s original ice cream trucks, and a distinct RZA hook that you will not be able to get out of your head.

Here’s the full jingle:

Song of the Summer 2020? I could totally see Drake or whoever sampling this for an end-of-the-summer ice cream anthem.

Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2020

Jazz legend Miles Davis? That dude could cook. He could cook in the studio, on stage, and in the kitchen. One of his favorite dishes to make was a chili recipe he concocted through practice and improvisation: Miles’s South Side Chicago Chili Mack. Here’s the ingredients list:

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

You’ll have to click through for the instructions (as well as another of Davis’s chili recipes) but I will reveal that the last step is “Open a Heineken.”

See also the hamburger recipes of Dean Martin (minimalist), Frank Sinatra (even more minimalist), and Ernest Hemingway (surprisingly maximalist). (via @tedgioia)

Watch Popcorn Popping in Super Slow Motion (100,000 fps)

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2020

Popped popcorn kernels are like snowflakes: no two are alike. If you watch popcorn popping at the ludicrously slow speed of 100,000 fps, you can see these individualized forms flowering into existence. Pro tip: turn off the upbeat music on the video and supply a mellower soundtrack of your own — slow motion video requires meditative music.

See also How to Make Popcorn Using a Blow Torch & Hair Dryer. (via moss & fog)

A Long Walk Along Japan’s Historic Nakasendo Highway to Eat Pizza Toast

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2020

Kissa By Kissa

Kissa By Kissa

Last year, Craig Mod walked 620 miles from Tokyo to Kyoto along the Nakasendō historic highway and along the way he stopped at kissaten (or kissa), old-school Japanese cafes known for their pizza toast. Mod wrote about his quest late last year for Eater and has now turned a fuller account of the journey into a gorgeous book called Kissa By Kissa.

Those kissaten — or kissa — served up toast. I ate that toast. So. Much. Toast. Much of it pizza toast. If you buy this book, you’ll learn more than you ever dared to know about this variety of toast available all across Japan. It’s a classic post-war food staple. Kissa by kissa, and slice by thick slice of beautiful, white toast, I took a heckuva affecting and long walk. This book is my sharing with you, of that walk, the people I met along the way, and the food I ate.

Even more interesting is that to sell the book, Mod built a Kickstarter clone on top of Shopify called Craigstarter. And he’s released the code for it on Github.

Kickstarter is an excellent way to run a crowdfunding campaign. But if you already have a community built up, and have communication channels in place (via a newsletter, for example), and already run an online shop, then Kickstarter can be unnecessarily cumbersome. Kickstarter’s 10% fee is also quite hefty. By leaning on Shopify’s flexible Liquid templating system and reasonable CC processing fees, an independent publisher running a campaign can save some ~$7,000 for every $100,000 of sales by using Craigstarter instead of Kickstarter. That’s materially meaningful, especially in the world of books.

You can order Kissa By Kissa right here.

The Death of Rice

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2020

Oh god, I needed this video in my life this morning. Watch as Uncle Roger (a character created by comedian Nigel Ng) hilariously critiques a BBC Food video about how to cook fried rice. Spoiler alert: the cook drains the rice in a colander and then rinses it with water. Oh, and no MSG.

If you sad in life, use MSG. If you happy in life, use MSG. Put MSG in everything, it’ll turn it better. You just get a baby? Put MSG on baby, it’ll be better baby, smarter.

On Instagram, Uncle Roger shared how to cook rice properly.

Uncle Roger have many white friend tell me they use saucepan. Saucepan? Haiyaaa. World War II is over, use technology. Proper Asian use rice cooker.

(via @jennyyangtv <— this thread is an entertaining read as well)

Update: Uncle Roger meets up with the woman who cooked the egg fried rice in the BBC video:

No Dining Out Right Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2020

Eater food critic Ryan Sutton, who had Covid-19 back in March, isn’t dining out at restaurants right now and explains why.

What’s more is that local health regulations for dining out aren’t strong enough. Before every shift, restaurants have to screen employees with health based questions, but temperature checks aren’t mandatory for either staffers or employees. And even though patrons are encouraged to wear masks at tables while they’re not actively eating or drinking, few really do. Even if no one dies or is sent to intensive care under these conditions, the notion of being in a place where underpaid staffers are financially compelled to interact with unscreened and unprotected patrons seeking leisure is unacceptable to me on a very basic human level.

I miss dining out so SO much. I miss my friends in the industry and am furious that federal and state governments have pushed them back into unsafe working conditions in the idiotic & dangerous race to “open up the economy” before any reasonable system of test/trace/isolate + a mask mandate is put into place nationwide. But I haven’t been in a restaurant since early March and will not return to one, outside dining or no, until the pandemic is over.1 I’ve been ordering takeout as much as I can (and heavily tipping) to support local businesses that are operating safely. But the whole concept of dining out seems very irresponsible to me and should not even be an option right now.

  1. If “over” actually has any meaning in the context of the pandemic. I keep saying “when this is over” and hearing others say it, but I have no idea what it means. Whatever “this” eventually is, I’m not sure it has an end, happy or otherwise.

Zuck the Butcher

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2020

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Kara Swisher argues that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “cannot hold on to such enormous power and avoid responsibility when things get tough”. She uses an analogy about a butcher shop to explain the problem at the heart of Facebook:

This week, I finally settled on a simpler comparison: Think about Facebook as a seller of meat products.

Most of the meat is produced by others, and some of the cuts are delicious and uncontaminated. But tainted meat — say, Trump steaks — also gets out the door in ever increasing amounts and without regulatory oversight.

The argument from the head butcher is this: People should be free to eat rotten hamburger, even if it wreaks havoc on their gastrointestinal tract, and the seller of the meat should not be the one to tell them which meat is good and which is bad (even though the butcher can tell in most cases).

Basically, the message is that you should find the truth through vomiting and — so sorry — maybe even death.

She goes on to say:

In this, Mr. Zuckerberg is serving up a rancid meal that he says he’s not comfortable cooking himself, even as his hands control every aspect of the operation.

What’s particularly interesting about this analogy (and Swisher is possibly referencing this between the lines here) is that in 2011, Zuckerberg’s “annual challenge” was only eating meat from animals that he had personally killed.

This year, my personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have. This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself.

This project later led to a meme-worthy video of him smoking meat in his backyard and Zuckerberg inviting fellow tech CEO Jack Dorsey over to feast on a goat he’d raised and killed.

Dorsey said he and Zuckerberg waited around 30 minutes for the goat to cook in the oven. Afterward, Zuckerberg believed the meal was ready and the two sat together to eat.

“We go in the dining room. He puts the goat down. It was cold,” said Dorsey in Rolling Stone. “That was memorable. I don’t know if it went back in the oven. I just ate my salad.”

Surreal. If all this were from the screenplay of a proposed The Social Network sequel, there’s no way this movie gets greenlit. (via daring fireball)

Pandemic Creativity: Edible Versions of Famous Artworks

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2020

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

In yet another example of how the constraints of the pandemic are fostering creativity, LA-based artist Claire Salvo is creating edible versions of notable artworks and posting the results to Instagram. Says Salvo of her new pursuit:

i make art using a bunch of media, but one sleepless night a few weeks ago, i thought i’d try playing with food. these pieces make me laugh while i’m creating them, and i’m really enjoying the response from everyone watching the process. thanks for all the kind feedback.

i’ve spent nearly 30 years honing my drawing skills, and approximately 1 week pushing banana peels and lentils around a canvas. but i’m learning to #trusttheprocess because #art.

I think the Dali portrait is my favorite, closely followed by the Lichtenstein. And you know I love this: Girl with a Pea Earring.

See also Famous Art Recreated at Home During the Pandemic. (via jenni leder)

This Japanese Man Paints a Picture of Every Meal He Eats

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

Itsuo Kobayashi

Itsuo Kobayashi

Itsuo Kobayashi

For 32 years, Itsuo Kobayashi has been painting top-down pictures of the meals he eats. The paintings are accompanied by descriptions of each meal. Kobayashi worked as a chef for years until he suffered an illness that left his movement impaired, causing him to double-down on his art.

The Official Recipe for Ikea Meatballs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2020

Ikea Meatballs Recipe

On Twitter the other day, Ikea UK shared the official recipe for their iconic meatballs and cream sauce,— in the form of Ikea instructions naturally. As a midwesterner of partial Swedish heritage, this sort of thing is right up my alley.

It’s kind of amazing that society has collectively decided to give up all its secrets and control in the face of the pandemic — museums putting their collections online, filmmakers streaming their movies for free, people indiscriminately sending each other nudes, bands putting live performances on YouTube for free, and now this Ikea meatballs thing. The world has turned upside down. (via why is this interesting?)

How to Shop Safely in a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

Note: Please check the updates below for some important corrections to some of the information in this video.

From Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen MD, a video on how to ensure that your grocery shopping experience is as safe as possible and to avoid potential COVID-19 infection from plastic and metal surfaces. I’m going to be honest with you: a lot of this seems like overkill (as it should — see the Paradox of Preparation). However, this is also pretty much what I’ve been doing after grocery shopping for the past 2 weeks because I am a fastidious motherfucker1 with plenty of time to wipe down groceries. If it comes down to a choice between watching 7 more minutes of The Mandalorian or wiping down my groceries before putting them in the fridge, I’m gonna wipe them groceries. Baby Yoda can wait.

See also this PDF from Crumpton Group about how to keep your household free of the outside effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Household members should understand that their principal effort should be directed towards isolating the inside of the home from the pandemic effects outside. All physical thresholds of the home will serve as a cordon sanitaire. Strive to decontaminate everyone and everything to the best practical degree before entering.

Many of Dr. VanWingen’s recommendations mirror those in the PDF. See also expert guidance on COVID-19 and food safety. (thx, meg)

Update: I have not had a chance to read it yet (was attending to some other things this evening — family, trying to have some normalcy), but I’ve been told that this thread is a good response to the video above. I’ll have a closer look at it tomorrow.

Update: Ok, I’ve read Don Schaffner’s thread criticizing this video. At least I think this is the video he’s referring to because he never says it outright — which I’ll get to in a minute. (Schaffner is a professor in the food science department at Rutgers who I linked to the other day in my post on COVID-19 and food safety.) As he notes, there are a couple of factual errors and VanWingen does offer some dubious advice, particularly about washing food with soap (which I didn’t take seriously). I do not believe, however, that VanWingen was suggesting that people leave frozen items and perishables in a warm garage for 3 days and that the normal rules of food safety are somehow countermanded by potential coronavirus contamination. If you want to leave that box of Cheerios that you don’t need in the car for 3 days, go right ahead. He definitely should have been clearer on that point though.

But the bulk of VanWingen’s video was about how to handle your groceries and takeout food coming into your house to minimize the chance of infection. (And as I mentioned, much of it mirrors the advice in this document and in Dr. Michael Lin’s document from a couple of weeks ago — this isn’t just his opinon or my opinion.) If we are to take seriously a) the assumption that anyone could have COVID-19 (including yourself & grocery workers) that we are operating under w/r/t to handwashing & keeping a 6-foot distance, b) the preliminary results that suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can last on some surfaces for days, and c) that person-to-surface-to-person transfer of SARS-CoV-2 might result in infection (i.e. the reason we are doing all this handwashing and face not-touching), then we should be disinfecting surfaces that other people have been touching recently. Right? We should assume that all surfaces are contaminated. This doesn’t seem outlandish, especially when grocery stores are restocking shelves continuously — that bag of chips that you put into your cart may have been placed on the shelf only 30 minutes before. How is disinfecting your Oreos package when you get home from the store a bad idea? Sure, wash your hands before you eat, but if you have kids, you know how futile that can be sometimes, especially when Oreos are involved. So why not just clean the package? Ditto with transferring takeout food to new containers and giving it a blast in the microwave to warm it up.

Schaffner’s stance is that most surfaces aren’t contaminated to a high degree, which is undoubtably true. Having watched the video & read Schaffner’s advice (and other advice by other experts), where your personal comfort level with making sure the surfaces you and your family come into contact to are disinfected is up to you. Ultimately, advice from experts is still advice and you have to figure out whether it works for you. It’s easy to believe you should wash your hands frequently because that’s universal advice. But “you should disinfect surfaces you touch” and “you don’t have to worry too much about disinfecting your grocery packages” are genuinely conflicting bits of advice from well-meaning experts! You’ve gotta use your noggin and make up your own mind, based on your personal idea of risk and safety. It’s gonna land differently with different people.

Finally, I’m going to get a little cranky here, but I found Schaffner’s overall tone in the first few tweets of that thread mocking, ungenerous, and unhelpful. Instead of gently offering alternative authoritative advice, he subtweeted (by refusing to link to the video and calling Dr. VanWingen not by his name but referring to him as “the video MD”) and made fun of VanWingen’s outfit. I know it must be frustrating to see what you perceive as misinformation out there, but we do not need Doctor vs Doctor battles here. Everyone’s just going to get defensive and dig their heels in. </cranky>

Update: From Joseph Allen of Harvard’s School of Public Health, Don’t panic about shopping, getting delivery or accepting packages.

Yes, the virus can be detected on some surfaces for up to a day, but the reality is that the levels drop off quickly. For example, the article shows that the virus’s half-life on stainless steel and plastic was 5.6 hours and 6.8 hours, respectively. (Half-life is how long it takes the viral concentration to decrease by half, then half of that half, and so on until it’s gone.)

And here’s how to take reasonable precautions when getting a package delivery or going to the grocery store:

You can leave that cardboard package at your door for a few hours - or bring it inside and leave it right inside your door, then wash your hands again. If you’re still concerned there was any virus on the package, you could wipe down the exterior with a disinfectant, or open it outdoors and put the packaging in the recycling can. (Then wash your hands again.)

What about going to the grocery store? The same approach applies.

Shop when you need to (keeping six feet from other customers) and load items into your cart or basket. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and wash them as soon as you’re home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. If you wait even a few hours before using anything you just purchased, most of the virus that was on any package will be significantly reduced. If you need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, wipe the package down with a disinfectant. Last, wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would.

Important caveat: the coronavirus half-life times are for room temperature. For colder temperatures (like in the fridge or especially the freezer), the virus will last longer. So maybe wipe down that bag of frozen peas even if you’re not going to use them for a couple of days.

  1. Hey, if you don’t know what you should be doing in a certain situation w/r/t to coronavirus, just ask your most detail-oriented friend. You know, the one who shows up to things on time and is usually a fussy pain in your ass. They’ll have a plan all ready to go and will be happy to share it with you because they’ve been waiting YEARS for some shit like this to happen. NOW IS OUR TIME TO SHINE!

Even Waffle House Is Closed for COVID-19

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

When America wants to know how bad things are in a crisis, they look not to the President or FEMA, they look to Waffle House.

The “Waffle House Index,” first coined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Director W. Craig Fugate, is based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm and indicates how prepared a business is in case of a natural disaster.

For example, if a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well prepared for disasters, Kouvelis said, it’s rare for the index to hit red. For example, the Joplin, Mo., Waffle House survived the tornado and remained open.

At last count (as of 10:42am on 3/25), 418 Waffle House restaurants across the country were closed, an unprecedented event. The remainder, from what I can gather from social media and news reports, are operating on a carry-out basis only. Kudos to them for doing the right thing in trying to keep their employees and patrons safe.

COVID-19 and Food Safety

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Like many of you, I’ve been wondering about COVID-19 & food safety. Is it safe to eat takeout prepared by your local restaurant? To answer that and many other questions, Kenji Lopez-Alt has compiled a comprehensive guide to food safety and coronavirus for Serious Eats. Kenji is the most fastidious and exacting food person I know — how could you think otherwise after having read The Food Lab? — so I take his thoughts and research on this very seriously.

Even so, plenty of folks — myself included — have been confused or curious about the safety of allowing restaurants to continue preparing and serving food. Is it actually safe? Should I reheat the food when I get it home? Is it better to support local businesses by ordering food, or am I only putting workers and delivery people at risk? And if I’m cooking my own food, what guidelines should I follow?

To answer these questions, I referenced dozens of articles and scientific reports and enlisted the help of Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist from the North Carolina State University and cohost of Risky or Not and Food Safety Talk.

Let’s get right to the nitty gritty:

Q: Can I get COVID-19 from touching or eating contaminated food?

According to multiple health and safety organizations worldwide, including the CDC, the USDA, and the European Food Safety Authority, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging. Previous coronavirus epidemics likewise showed no evidence of having been spread through food or packaging.

Be sure to read on for answers to questions like “Are we going to run out of food?” and “Am I more likely to get COVID-19 from take-out, delivery, or cooking at home?”

The FDA has a coronavirus safety page on their website as well.

Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.

In a piece from March 14, Amanda Mull talked with epidemiologist Stephen Morse from Columbia University about food safety:

Even if the person preparing it is sick, he told me via email, “cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking.” He granted that “a salad, if someone sneezes on it, might possibly be some risk,” but as long as the food is handled properly, he said, “there should be very little risk.”

And Don Schaffner, a professor in the food science department at Rutgers, has been posting information on food safety & COVID-19 on Twitter.

Even if a sick worker sneezed on my food (I know that’s gross), my risk of contracting COVID-19 from it are very low.

First it’s important to realize that this is a respiratory illness as far as we know. The biggest risk is being around sick people who are shedding the virus when they sneeze or cough.

Even if the virus did get onto food, we’re going to put that food in our mouth and swallow it so the virus will end up in our stomach. Our stomachs have a low pH which would likely in activate the virus.

Why Do New Diseases Like COVID-19 Appear First in China?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

This video from Vox is a few days old but is still a good look at why diseases like SARS and COVID-19 originate in China. It involved the designation of wild animals as “natural resources” by the Chinese government, which caused a large increase in wildlife farming, with many more and different kinds of animals being put into contact with humans and each other on a regular basis. Add illegally trafficked animals into the mix, and you’ve got the right conditions for diseases to jump from the animals to humans. Then potentially infected animals and their meat, accompanied by potentially infected humans who raised those animals and butchered that meat, are then brought to the wet markets for sale to the public.

It’s important to note, as Christopher St. Cavish says in the LA Times, “most wet markets are not wildlife markets, and confusing the two is dangerous”:

“Wet” markets are what China calls its fresh food markets, the kind you see all over the developing world and in many parts of Europe, where small stalls sell fresh vegetables and butchers sell meat, primarily pork. They are the daily market for tens of millions of Chinese who prefer to talk to the people who sell them produce, meat, seafood and tofu, and in small cities, are often the only outlet for small-scale farmers who can’t meet the supplier requirements for supermarkets.

I couldn’t find any up-to-date information on which animal is suspected of passing the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 along to humans, but bats are a prime suspect with a possible pangolin intermediary. (via open culture)

Roxane Gay’s Ode to Baking

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2020

For Wirecutter, Roxane Gay talks about her love of baking and how her KitchenAid stand mixer helps her achieve the consistent results that baking demands.

I’ve always loved baking, the patience and precision it requires, the end result when baking goes well, the lessons learned when it doesn’t. It’s actually quite conducive to writing because it forces you to step away from your work and tend to the baking process at specific intervals. When I am feeling down, when I am stressed, when I want to procrastinate, when I want to nourish people I love, I bake, which is to say I bake a lot.

I found this link via my friend David, who has gotten into baking in a big way over the past couple of years, perfecting his recipes for pizza dough and bread. I got a KitchenAid for Christmas this year, but I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. Maybe this week…