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.
Protein is protein to some folks. But not all protein comes from happy soybeans or chicken eggs. Domesticated animals are pretty tasty sources of meat, but the treatment of farmed vertebrates is distasteful to some people. Here are just a few interesting links on cooking meaty meals.
The world's population recently exceeded 7 billion, so maybe it's time to start thinking about new methods to grow food in sustainable ways. Farming techniques are already pretty advanced (compared to just a few decades ago), but there's always room for improvement. Here are some examples of food technology that could help keep food availability at a comfortable level before we have to resort to Soylent Green.
The art and science of cooking has a bright future, especially given all the different cooking shows and TV networks dedicated to food. As more and more people discover and learn about the science behind cooking, it stands to reason that there will be a growing number of interesting ways to cook. Maybe cooking is the key to teaching the scientific method to kids...?