Food fads are fascinating, especially when they turn previously disgusting biological curiosities into expensive delicacies. Lobsters were once only served to prisoners and lowly servants, but now these crustaceans are highly-priced entrees. Casu marzu is a traditional Italian cheese that contains live insect larvae (with an aftertaste that can reportedly last several hours). The maggots can jump about 6 inches, so diners should be careful to block these bugs from jumping into their mouths if they don't want to eat them. Casu marzu has a questionable legal status (for health and safety reasons), but it's sometimes available on the black market for a hefty markup in price. Here are just a few other menu items that might (or might not) be appetizing to you.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been trying to get the meat industry to reduce its use of antibiotics, even proposing a set of voluntary guidelines in 2012, but it hasn't done much with it since. In the meantime, antibiotic (ab)use on livestock farms continues to grow. According to data from the FDA, the livestock industry now uses almost 80% of all the antibiotics used in the U.S. The main concern is that the practice of dosing healthy farm animals daily with antibiotics will create drug-resistant bacteria. About three-quarters of Salmonella found on ground turkey and chicken breast are now resistant to at least one antibiotic, and almost half of the Campylobacter found on chicken products are resistant to tetracyclines. Here are some other examples of antibiotic abuse in the food industry.
The food industry has a growing number of problems, ranging from food labeling to determining what ingredients are actually considered safe to eat. One of the oldest issues people have brought up about food is whether or not to eat meat. It's a serious question, but the answers aren't so easy for the multi-billion dollar meat industry. Someday, meat producers may need to change their ways, and here are just a few dramatic suggestions.
Just when you thought the horse meat scandal in Europe was winding down, it's once again getting media attention as more cases continue to pop up. But is horse meat really that bad? According to people who have (willingly) eaten it, horse meat has been described as being lean, tender, sweet, juicy, like a mix between beef and venison, and better than a really good beef steak. Perhaps beef products in Europe should just come with a label that says: "May contain traces of horse meat." Here are a few more links about horse meat.
Here are some fun facts about eating horse meat: During World War II, Americans ate lots of horse meat when beef was scarce; In 723 A.D., Pope Gregory III declared that eating horse meat was a "filthy and abominable" pagan custom; In 2011, President Obama made horse slaughter for human consumption legal again; Until 1985, the Harvard Faculty Club reportedly served horse steaks, prepared "chicken fried" with a mushroom sauce; and apparently, horse meat is a healthier option than beef, since it's high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, low in fat and cholesterol, and has twice as much iron and Vitamin B. [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post.
Cupcakes were really trendy for a while, but they've probably jumped the shark by now. Still, who doesn't enjoy a good cupcake every now and then? Here are just a few examples of some interesting twists on the traditional cupcake -- that include a few more animal parts than you might expect (or want).
Back in May, we were one of the first to write about some people claiming to have figured out a new cut of steak, and trying to patent that cut. The story got a lot of attention in a lot of places, as many people (reasonably) think that patenting a cut of meat seems particularly crazy. The good folks over at Planet Money just recently decided to explore the question of meat cut patents. They talk to Tony Mata, the "inventor" of that new meat cut, dubbed the Las Vegas steak, but the... er... "meat" of the conversation actually involves talking to his mentor, Gene Gagliardi, the "inventor" of the Steak-Umm, KFC's popcorn chicken and, according to this video, Popeyes' "Rip'n Chick'n", which Gagliardi calls "Fing'r Pick'n Chick'n" and for which he holds US Patent 5,346,711 on a "Method of making an animal muscle strip product."
In the Planet Money podcast, he also demonstrates some other cuts, which he won't let them videotape. I'm guessing he's okay with showing off the method in the '711 patent because, if I read it right, that patent expires in a month. In the video, he actually appears to admit that the "invention" itself wasn't original. He was "inspired" by the famed "Bloomin' Onion" at Outback Steakhouse, and a challenge from his wife to make a chicken version of the Bloomin' Onion.
Gagliardi appears to hold somewhere around 40 patents on various cuts of meat, all starting from back in the day when he tried to make the meat in Philly Cheesesteaks easier to chew, and supposedly came up with the product that eventually went on to be marketed as "Steak-umms," which were popular when I was a kid. As for "popcorn chicken," well that's US Patent 5,266,064, for a "Method of making a food product from the thigh of a bird and food product made in accordance with the method." And, if I'm reading it correctly, that patent should have expired earlier this year. Assuming that's the case, you may now be able to make your own popcorn chicken without infringing. How exciting.
Of course, for some of us, this still seems ridiculous. Is the progress of the "useful arts" really being promoted by giving a monopoly to someone figuring out new and different ways for fast food joints to chop up their chickens?
An amazing number of cupcake stores have been popping up everywhere over the last few years, in what's been called the "Cupcake Bubble". (Just check out CRMB on NASDAQ for one public company dedicated to cupcake bakeries -- or the reality show about cupcakes, Cupcake Wars.) These tasty treats are not only easy to make cheaply, but scaling up also doesn't require too much effort. As a result, there are tons of different cupcake choices out there, and stores are distinguishing themselves by offering cupcakes with a twist. Here are just a few examples.
Analyzing baseball statistics turned into a huge field called sabermetrics. A long time ago, geeks were weird people who performed strange stunts like biting the heads off chickens. But geeks nowadays are gathering stats on just about everything, so here are just a few meaty figures to chew on.
A lot of vegetarians were likely inspired by The Jungle (the novel about the meat packing industry), but a lot has changed in the field of meat since the early 1900s. However, transparency about how animals are treated before they're served onto dinner plates could perhaps use a little more work. Here are just a few recent stories that are starting to gross out some meat-eating Americans.
Some people don't eat meat at all for a variety of reasons, and some omnivores are just picky about the types of meat they eat. There are a lot of other animals besides cows and pigs. Here are just a few less commonly consumed meats that seem more suitable for exporting.