Five Summer Food Stories You May Have Missed

Consider these five fantastic food stories you may have missed while your toes and/or head were buried in the sand for the past 12 weeks. From food technology to food-boats-are-the-new-food-truck, it was a steamy summer for culinary news.

First, The Tree of 40 Fruits is a mindbender for everyone who believes that human tinkering with food may represent a horseman of the apocalypse. An artist professor in New York used chip grafting, a low-tech process, to fuse 40 different kinds of fruit trees together to create a single tree that bears 40 types of stone fruits, including cherries, peaches, and apricots. The fruits are heirloom varieties that were in danger of being lost. The tree became a national sensation, with ministers preaching on it and some wondering if it can end world hunger (it can’t).

Food purists generally embraced this as a lovely vision of what is possible with human ingenuity, and I agree. But can you imagine the how freakish it would seem had a large agricultural corporation released the exact same artistic rendering, claiming its diverse beauty? Many would see it as the ultimate frankenfood, a living being pieced together with spare parts. The moral is, intention matters—we see the artist’s motivation as saving endangered foods, the corporation’s motive as co-opting the food system—and at times we fail to look only at whether the end result is an objectively good thing.

Eater’s Review of Yelp Trends. Food makes Big Data fun. Yelp, the ubiquitous website providing user reviews of businesses from churches to strip clubs (with an unsurprising overlap of reviewers of both), introduced a new tool capable of graphing trends in different cities through the frequency of word use.

The online food bible Eater used Yelp Trends to graph the spike in vegan reviews in Paris, diners noshing on kale in Brooklyn, and food trucks in New York and Los Angeles. (As well as the decline of Pabst Blue Ribbon consumption in San Francisco.) If you have a project due in the next week, do not go to this website—it’s addictive.

In case you worried that the recession wasn’t receding, Food Boats are now replacing food trucks as the gastronomic darlings du jour. Here in my hometown of Washington, DC, Nauti Foods carries both the double-entendre name (say it out loud…ha, ha) and buzzy local artisanal fare required for mobile food. But it travels on the waterways rather than the highways. Our nation’s capital (a.k.a. the city on a swamp) has seen shockingly mild weather this season, and the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers were swollen with paddle boarders, kayakers, fishermen, and yachters.

Whom to serve ye hungry mateys vegan cookies and artisanal ice cream push pops? Food boats to the rescue. Now that the idea has been floated, expect a fleet of copycats next summer.

I love the French for so many reasons, one of which is that they know that language matters. They legally protect the words ‘Champagne’ and ‘boulangerie’ from being incorrectly applied to inferior sparkling wine and bakeries. And now the country is protecting the word ‘fait maison’ (homemade) in restaurants. Establishments that prepare all dishes from scratch display a ‘fait maison’ logo on their menus, to distinguish them from proliferating eateries that do no more than heat and serve foods.

Chefs would have preferred the government to regulate the term “restaurant,” which would have unambiguously directed diners to establishments that follow in the French tradition. But regulating homemade, while imperfect, is a first step (and practically unimaginable in America).

Back-to-school time brings with classroom stress over food allergies. When I was a kid, peanut butter was practically the national food. Now, no nuts, no gluten, no dairy. Anything homemade has to arrive with an ingredient list. Play-Doh must be homemade and brought to class because of potential allergens in the commercial kind.

This story on Kotke (my favorite website aside from NatGeoFood.com and another site to avoid if you have a looming deadline) alerted me to Science Magazine’s report that recent studies suggest that the sharp increase in children’s food allergies (50 percent since 1997) may be related to increased antibiotic use wiping out helpful intestinal bacteria in early childhood. The same reasoning has also been applied to the increase in obesity so healthy skepticism is warranted. But it’s a provocative argument that won’t die any time soon.

Those stories should provide water cooler discussion until at least the World Series (go Nats!). Now let’s pull up our socks and get back to work.

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