Category Archives: Food

Buy Your Canned Goods Now!

Associated Press:

Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February — double the 0.8 percent rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2 percent, less than January’s 0.5 percent rise.

Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Most of that increase was due to a sharp rise in vegetable costs, which increased nearly 50 percent. That was the most in almost a year. Meat and dairy products also rose.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

I believe that food inflation is in the midst of its greatest run-up (by one measurement of a basket of basic foodstuffs) since 1974. The lead story on Drudge reports on the most recent data.

Under the rubric of QE2, the Federal Reserve Bank is engaged in the venture of increasing the money supply with the goal of moderately increasing inflation. I fear that this venture is misguided and destructive. I believe it will result in inflation exceeding the Fed’s goal, if it has not done so already, and that the Fed will apply the brakes well after the damage has been done, as is its style.

What sayeth the Fed?

Ed Morrissey:

Scott cleverly titles his post, “Let them eat iPads.”  I’m not sure I’d draw a line between QE2 and what has happened in food and oil prices, at least not as a primary factor.  The effect of QE2 will be to weaken the dollar, which will hike the cost of imports, to be sure, and that may account for a little of the large price jump.  If it was the main factor — if the dollar had been weakened to that extent — then prices would be up across the board, especially on imports.  At least according to today’s report from the BEA on the trade deficit, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The real source of this problem is America’s continuing refusal to exploit its own energy sources.  We remain too dependent on imports for energy while deliberately sidelining at least hundreds of thousands of potential high-paying jobs by refusing to extract our own oil and natural gas.  When the unstable countries that produce oil go through political paroxysms, it spooks investors and sends commodity prices soaring on the increased risk to distribution.  Those price increases mean higher transportation costs, which impacts all goods and services that require transport to get to consumers.  It’s a multiplier factor that we have seen a number of times over the last four decades, and which our political class continues to pretend doesn’t exist.

Ron Scherer at Christian Science Monitor:

In the year ahead, expect to see the largest food price increases in the protein group: chicken, beef, and pork, as well as dairy items. One key reason: The price of corn, used as feed by ranchers and farmers, has doubled in the past year. But vegetarians won’t get off easy: Produce and orange juice are rising sharply, as well.

Higher food prices have wide economic ramifications and are being watched closely by the Federal Reserve. From a business standpoint, food producers – from agricultural giants to the corner pizza parlor – must raise prices or watch their profit margins evaporate. Many middle-class households are financially stretched to the limit, so any extra expense for such basics as milk or bread makes their life even tougher. Organizations that help the poor with food, moreover, find they can’t help as many people because their dollar doesn’t go as far.

“The more you have to spend on a loaf of bread and a pound of ground beef, the less you have to spend on everything else,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa. “It’s like a tax increase, although it’s not quite as bad as rising oil prices, since at least the revenues go to US farmers, truckers, and ag-equipment manufacturers.”

The US Department of Agriculture expects the average price of food in 2011 to be 4 percent higher than last year. Some private forecasters say that, by December, prices could be as much as 6 percent higher than in December 2010.

“If food inflation comes in at 6 percent, it would be the most dramatic increase since 1982,” says William Lapp, a consumer foods economist with his own firm, Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. “We had a 10-year period, from 1972 to 1981, when annual food prices rose sharply – including a two-year period when increases averaged 8.7 percent.”

Mark Huffman at Consumer Affairs:

When you factor in crude foodstuff and feedstuff to food costs to producers, food prices rose at the fastest rate since 1974, when the U.S. economy was in the grips of what was known as “stagflation.” Prices were rising rapidly despite little or no growth in the economy.

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It Is Ezra Klein Week Here At Around The Sphere

Ezra Klein:

There’s lots of interesting stuff in Ed Glaeser’s new book, “The Triumph of the City.” One of Glaeser’s themes, for instance, is the apparent paradox of cities becoming more expensive and more crowded even as the cost of communicating over great distances has fallen dramatically. New York is a good example of this, but Silicon Valley is a better one

[…]

The overarching theme of Glaeser’s book is that cities make us smarter, more productive and more innovative. To put it plainly, they make us richer. And the evidence in favor of this point is very, very strong. But it would of course be political suicide for President Obama to say that part of winning the future is ending the raft of subsidies we devote to sustaining rural living. And the U.S. Senate is literally set up to ensure that such a policy never becomes politically plausible.

Klein again:

Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a “usda.gov” address. “Secretary Vilsack read your blog post ‘Why we still need cities’ over the weekend, and he has some thoughts and reflections, particularly about the importance of rural America,” it said. A call was set for a little later in the day. I think it’s safe to say Vilsack didn’t like the post. A lightly edited transcript of our discussion about rural America, subsidies and values follows.

Ezra Klein: Let’s talk about the post.

Tom Vilsack: I took it as a slam on rural America. Rural America is a unique and interesting place that I don’t think a lot of folks fully appreciate and understand. They don’t understand that that while it represents 16 percent of America’s population, 44 percent of the military comes from rural America. It’s the source of our food, fiber and feed, and 88 percent of our renewable water resources. One of every 12 jobs in the American economy is connected in some way to what happens in rural America. It’s one of the few parts of our economy that still has a trade surplus. And sometimes people don’t realize that 90 percent of the persistent poverty counties are located in rural America.

EK: Let me stop you there for a moment. Are 90 percent of the people in persistent poverty in rural America? Or just 90 percent of the counties?

TV: Well, I’m sure that more people live in cities who are below the poverty level. In terms of abject poverty and significant poverty, there’s a lot of it in rural America.

The other thing is that people don’t understand is how difficult farming is. There are really three different kinds of farmers. Of the 2.1 million people who counted as farmers, about 1.3 million of them live in a farmstead in rural America. They don’t really make any money from their operation. Then there are 600,000 people who, if you ask them what they do for a living, they’re farmers. They produce more than $10,000 but less than $250,000 in sales. Those folks are good people, they populate rural communities and support good schools and serve important functions. And those are the folks for whom I’m trying to figure out how to diversify income opportunities, help them spread out into renewable fuel sources. And then the balance of farmers, roughly 200,000 to 300,000, are commercial operations, and they do pretty well, particularly when commodity prices are high. But they have a tremendous amount of capital at risk. And they’re aging at a rapid rate, with 37 percent over 65. Who’s going to replace those folks?

EK: You keep saying that rural Americans are good and decent people, that they work hard and participate in their communities. But no one is questioning that. The issue is that people who live in cities are also good people. People who live in exurbs work hard and mow their lawns. So what does the character of rural America have to do with subsidies for rural America?

TV: It is an argument. There is a value system that’s important to support. If there’s not economic opportunity, we can’t utilize the resources of rural America. I think it’s a complicated discussion and it does start with the fact that these are good, hardworking people who feel underappreciated. When you spend 6 or 7 percent of your paycheck for groceries and people in other countries spend 20 percent, that’s partly because of these farmers.

More Klein here and here

Will Wilkinson at DiA at The Economist:

IN THIS chat with Ezra Klein, Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, offers a pandering defence of agricultural subsidies so thoroughly bereft of substance I began to fear that Mr Vilsack would be sucked into the vacuum of his mouth and disappear.When Mr Klein first raises the subject of subsidies for sugar and corn, Mr Vilsack admirably says, “I admit and acknowledge that over a period of time, those subsidies need to be phased out.” But not yet! Vilsack immediately thereafter scrambles to defend the injurious practice. Ethanol subsidies help to wean us off foreign fuels and dampen price volatility when there is no peace is the Middle East, Mr Vilsack contends. Anyway, he continues, undoing the economic dislocation created by decades of corporate welfare for the likes of ADM and Cargill will create economic dislocation. Neither of these points is entirely lacking in merit, but they at best argue for phasing out subsidies slowly starting now.

Mr Vilsack should have stopped here, since this is as strong as his case is ever going to be, but instead he goes on to argue that these subsidies sustain rural culture, which is a patriotic culture that honours and encourages vital military service:

[S]mall-town folks in rural America don’t feel appreciated. They feel they do a great service for America. They send their children to the military not just because it’s an opportunity, but because they have a value system from the farm: They have to give something back to the land that sustains them.

Mr Klein follows up sanely:

It sounds to me like the policy you’re suggesting here is to subsidize the military by subsidizing rural America. Why not just increase military pay? Do you believe that if there was a substantial shift in geography over the next 15 years, that we wouldn’t be able to furnish a military?

To which Mr Vilsack says:

I think we would have fewer people. There’s a value system there. Service is important for rural folks. Country is important, patriotism is important. And people grow up with that. I wish I could give you all the examples over the last two years as secretary of agriculture, where I hear people in rural America constantly being criticized, without any expression of appreciation for what they do do.

In the end, Mr Vilsack’s argument comes down to the notion that the people of rural America feel that they have lost social status, and that subsidies amount to a form of just compensation for this injury. I don’t think Mr Vilsack really believes that in the absence of welfare for farmers, the armed services would be hard-pressed to find young men and women willing to make war for the American state. He’s using willingness-to-volunteer as proof of superior patriotism, and superior patriotism is the one claim to status left to those who have no other.

Ryan Avent at Free Exchange at The Economist:

I’ll add a few comments. First, it may be that the economists who understand the economic virtues of city life aren’t doing a sufficiently good job explaining that it’s not the people in cities that contribute the extra economic punch; it’s the cities or, more exactly, the interactions between the people cities facilitate. It’s fine to love the peace of rural life. Just understand that the price of peace is isolation, which reduces productivity.

Second, the idea that economically virtuous actors deserve to be rewarded not simply with economic success but with subsidies is remarkably common in America (and elsewhere) and is not by any means a characteristic limited to rural people. I also find it strange how upset Mr Vilsack is by the fact that he “ha[s] a hard time finding journalists who will speak for them”. Agricultural interests are represented by some of the most effective lobbyists in the country, but their feelings are hurt by the fact that journalists aren’t saying how great they are? This reminds me of the argument that business leaders aren’t investing because they’re put off by the president’s populist rhetoric. When did people become so sensitive? When did hurt feelings become a sufficient justification for untold government subsidies?

Finally, what Mr Klein doesn’t mention is that rural voters are purchasing respect or dignity at the price of livelihoods in much poorer places. If Americans truly cared for the values of an urban life and truly wished to address rural poverty, they’d get rid of agricultural policies that primarily punish farmers in developing economies.

Andrew Sullivan

Arnold Kling:

Ezra Klein sounds like my clone when arguing with the Secretary of Agriculture.

James Joyner:

Essentially, Vilsack justifies subsiding farmers on the basis that rural America is the storehouse of our values, for which he has no evidence. And he’s befuddled when confronted with someone who doesn’t take his homilies as obvious facts.

Nobody argues that America’s farmers aren’t a vital part of our economy or denies that rural areas provide a disproportionate number of our soldiers. But the notion that country folks are somehow better people or even better Americans has no basis in reality.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Why is it so common to praise the character of rural America? Part of it is doubtless that rural life represents the past, and we think of the past as a simpler and more honest time. But surely another element is simply that rural America is overwhelmingly white and Protestant. And completely aside from the policy ramifications, the deep-seated veneration of rural America reflects, at bottom, a prejudice few would be willing to openly spell out.

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The “Where’s The Beef?” Lady Is Probably Dead By Now

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic:

Taco Bell’s “seasoned beef” appears to be a clever mirage. That’s what an Alabama law firm is alleging when it slapped the chain with a “false advertising” suit for misleading customers about the actual content of its Taco fillings. Surprise! The “meat” is only 36 percent actual beef.

Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo:

Taco Bell “beef” pseudo-Mexican delicacies are really made of a gross mixture called “Taco Meat Filling” as shown on their big container’s labels, like the one pictured here. The list of ingredients is gruesome. Updated.

Beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.

It looks bad but passable… until you learn that—according to the Alabama law firm suing Taco Bell—only 36% of that is beef. Thirty-six percent. The other 64% is mostly tasteless fibers, various industrial additives and some flavoring and coloring. Everything is processed into a mass that actually looks like beef, and packed into big containers labeled as “taco meat filling.” These containers get shipped to Taco Bell’s outlets and cooked into something that looks like beef, is called beef and is advertised as beef by the fast food chain.

Can you call beef something that looks like ground beef but it’s 64% lots-of-other-stuff? Taco Bell thinks they can.

Jonathan Turley:

Taco Bell Corporation spokesman Rob Poetsch responded by saying that “Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value. We’re happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit.” That is an interesting statement. It does not appear to deny that it is serving marginal beef products but that the company never really promised anything more than it serves. Presumably, if the company issued a statement that it was in fact serving “beef” in response to this lawsuit, it could be cited as part of the alleged effort to deceive in advertising (assuming they are not serving “beef” as defined by federal law).

The class action alleges the company is serving what is referred to as “taco meat filling, which is comprised mainly of “extenders” and other non-meat substances, including wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate as well as beef and seasonings. Of course, the company could claim that it is the anti-dusting agents and maltrodrexin that gives it that “high quality Mexican inspired food” taste but it would not actually have most Americans “running to the border.”

MB Quirk at The Consumerist:

Hey, at least they’re making the distinction of “Mexican inspired food,” although that might be stretching it, too.

Robert Sietsema at The Village Voice:

Five Reasons You Should Hate Taco Bell, Besides the Lack of Real Meat

1. Meat, schmeat – are you ever certain of the meat supply at any fast food outlet? A few years ago, there was a website that claimed the average McDonald’s hamburger had been lodged in permafrost for around three years before it was thawed and served at an outlet. The rancid meat explains the odd smell you associate with stepping into a McDonalds.

2. When you order something made with ground meat (we used to call it “mystery meat” in school), you get exactly what you deserve. I’m much more annoyed by the other ingredients at Taco Bell – the gummy flour tortillas that turn into glue in your mouth, or the weird micro-“cheese” curls that seem to be poking out of every orifice: The white ones look exactly like pinworms.

3. The astonishing lack of spice in nearly everything you get at TB (that’s Taco Bell, not tuberculosis – though maybe you’ll get that, too, if you linger long enough). And the little plastic packets containing what tastes like Tabasco — when there are zillions of authentic Mexican hot sauces available — don’t help at all.

4. What Taco Bell has done to Mexican food, which – with its dependence on minimally refined corn products, beans, and fresh vegetables – must be one of the healthiest cuisines on earth, is criminal! The chiles, cumin, oregano, scallions, and other herbs and spices seem to be entirely missing, and in their place, bad mayo.

5. Have you ever seen a Mexican eating in Taco Bell?

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Get Yr Water Boiling: Hitchens V. Ono

Caitlin Dickson at The Atlantic with the round-up.

Yoko Ono at The New York Times:

JOHN and I are in our Dakota kitchen in the middle of the night. Three cats — Sasha, Micha and Charo — are looking up at John, who is making tea for us two.

Sasha is all white, Micha is all black. They are both gorgeous, classy Persian cats. Charo, on the other hand, is a mutt. John used to have a special love for Charo. “You’ve got a funny face, Charo!” he would say, and pat her.

“Yoko, Yoko, you’re supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water.” John took the role of the tea maker, for being English. So I gave up doing it.

It was nice to be up in the middle of the night, when there was no sound in the house, and sip the tea John would make. One night, however, John said: “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but …”

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”

“Yeah …”

We both cracked up. That was in 1980. Neither of us knew that it was to be the last year of our life together.

Christopher Hitchens at Slate:

I simply hate to think of the harm that might result from this. It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to. It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate. The drink itself is then best thrown away, though if swallowed, it will have about the same effect on morale as a reading of the memoirs of President James Earl Carter

Now, imagine that tea, like coffee, came without a bag (as it used to do—and still does if you buy a proper tin of it). Would you consider, in either case, pouring the hot water, letting it sit for a bit, and then throwing the grounds or the leaves on top? I thought not. Try it once, and you will never repeat the experience, even if you have a good strainer to hand. In the case of coffee, it might just work if you are quick enough, though where would be the point? But ground beans are heavier and denser, and in any case many good coffees require water that is just fractionally off the boil. Whereas tea is a herb (or an herb if you insist) that has been thoroughly dried. In order for it to release its innate qualities, it requires to be infused. And an infusion, by definition, needs the water to be boiling when it hits the tea. Grasp only this, and you hold the root of the matter.

[…]

If you use a pot at all, make sure it is pre-warmed. (I would add that you should do the same thing even if you are only using a cup or a mug.) Stir the tea before letting it steep. But this above all: “[O]ne should take the teapot to the kettle, and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours.” This isn’t hard to do, even if you are using electricity rather than gas, once you have brought all the makings to the same scene of operations right next to the kettle.

It’s not quite over yet. If you use milk, use the least creamy type or the tea will acquire a sickly taste. And do not put the milk in the cup first—family feuds have lasted generations over this—because you will almost certainly put in too much. Add it later, and be very careful when you pour. Finally, a decent cylindrical mug will preserve the needful heat and flavor for longer than will a shallow and wide-mouthed—how often those attributes seem to go together—teacup. Orwell thought that sugar overwhelmed the taste, but brown sugar or honey are, I believe, permissible and sometimes necessary.

Patrick Kingsley at The Guardian:

As Hitchens himself acknowledges, his analysis places him within a canon of tea-based literature that dates back to George Orwell. But though Hitch is broadly in agreement with Orwell’s take on tea, the pair do deviate on some crucial matters. Hitch feels that Orwell’s preference for china teapots and “Indian or Ceylonese” tealeaf is outmoded. And while Orwell argues that it is “misguided” to add sugar, for Hitch, “brown sugar or honey are, I believe, permissible and sometimes necessary”.

But Hitch’s closing remarks are ones that Orwell would surely not quibble with. “Next time you are in a Starbucks or its equivalent and want some tea,” he writes, “don’t be afraid to decline that hasty cup of hot water with added bag. It’s NOT what you asked for.”

Andrew Sullivan:

Starbucks’ London Fog or Earl Grey Tea Latte unsweetened is the best approximation of my mother’s cup of cha that I have been able to find. Except she would proceed to add three teaspoons of sugar and one artificial sweetener.

Nate Freeman at The New York Observer:

When Chistopher Hitchens pontificates on the subject of beverage, it’s a safe bet to assume it’s concerning alcohol. Up until his diagnosis with cancer and subsequent chemo, Hitch would consume no less than a bottle of wine and few gulps of whiskey per day, he wrote in Hitch-22. And tales of larger excess are out there, even encouraged by the man. But we are greeted in Slate today by a tempered Hitch, one who simply wants to share with his readers the proper way to make tea. And no, spiking it with liquor is not part of the recipe (though feel free to make an amendment or two!).

Tom Scocca at Slate:

I applaud Christopher Hitchens’ tea-making instructions, including his tactful decision to give Yoko Ono a grace period before correcting the misinformation she had published in the New York Times in John Lennon’s name. Tea goes in first.

Please do not allow Hitchens’ contrarian reputation, Englishness, ideological fervor, or disparagement of teabags to distract you from his essential message: the water must be boiling.

This is not about being finicky or snobbish. The boiling-water rule applies at every level of quality. A cheapo Lipton teabag needs and deserves fully boiling water every bit as much as a handful of top-grade single-plantation Assam does. A cup of black tea made with less-than-boiling water is like a hamburger that’s still cold in the middle. Whether it’s a McDonald’s burger or a gourmet burger is beside the point.

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“Norm!”

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Sarah Laskow at Capitol New York:

LONGTIME VILLAGERS OFTEN TALK ABOUT the change in their neighborhood as synonymous with the rise of bars and restaurants that create street traffic and noise unlike that in any other neighborhood. Words and phrases like rowdy, circus atmosphere, zoo are used to describe the street scene at night. When bar owners and nightlife operators argue that the East Village has always been a nightlife destination, they respond: Yes, but. Something’s different now.

Academics have a word for what the neighborhood has become: a nightscape. Bars and restaurants were once peripheral to the main drag’s primary economic drivers: supermarkets, coffeehouses, boutique shops, record stores. But in post-industrial cities, nightlife has grown into an industry in its own right. As in any industry, shop owners tend to cluster. A century ago, that meant the creation of a Garment District. Now it means the creation of a Party District.

There are a few of them of course. You’ll hear similar complaints about the Meatpacking District, about areas of Fifth Avenue or Smith Street in Brooklyn, or the side streets of the Flatiron District. But the Party District below 14th street east of Third Avenue is the largest, the densest, and still growing. To hear the people who live further up near the Stuyvesant Town end of the East Village talk, the Party District is spreading largely north, and somewhere around the summer of 2009, it wholly enveloped the stretch of Avenue A between the northwest corner of Tompkins Square Park and 14th Street.

Superdive, more than any other establishment, was the sign that the area has reached some sort of tipping point. There were already more bars in the area than there had been ever before, but none like Superdive. When Superdive opened, bright young things across the city talked about it. They also talked about keg service, the bar’s primary innovation. By calling in advance, customers could secure a keg of almost any beer imaginable: PorkS.L.A.p, Chimay, Allagash White, or any one of the hundreds of German, Czech, Belgian, or British beers on the 16-page keg menu prepared by “Kegmaster Matt.” A New York Press review noted that Superdive was “the stuff of frat-boy dreams—in a good way. We think.” Urban Daddy called it “a world of crazy—an all-out raucous, beautiful disaster of a bar.” It was rumored, briefly, that customers could pour their own well drinks.

In short order, party-seekers were lined up behind the bar’s velvet rope to get in. Positive reviews came rolling in on Yelp, and private parties booked the space, night after night. Upper Avenue A had had theme bars (one of Superdive’s predecessors at the space was Korova Milk Bar, which had a Clockwork Orange leitmotif lost on many of the patrons), and the original location of the neighborhoods most notorious gay bar, The Cock. Superdive was self-conscious, though. It promised not just beer or a dance floor, but an experience directly targeted at a crowd the East Village had perhaps hoped it hadn’t overtly been catering to: Not some group of characters out of an old Lou Reed song, so much as the group of characters you’d find on Bourbon Street, or worse, North Avenue in White Plains. There was some irony in the marketing of Superdive, but not much.

Matthew Yglesias:

Street noise is a very real issue in large swathes of Manhattan and I think it’s perfectly understandable that people prefer not to have lively nightlife scenes located directly outside their windows. So when I read Sarah Laskow’s long and excellent account of liquor license battles in the East Village, I’m not-unsympathetic to the incumbent residents’ concerns. But as she observes at the end, there’s a real cost to this attitude:

At the meeting with Kao, the locals gave him the same reason for opposing him that they had given Warren, when he wanted to open a burger bar in the space: according to the current license, the only type of business that should be selling liquor at 200 Ave. A is a bookshop. With rent set at $10,000 in the East Village Party District, that’s as unlikely as it sounds.

The broader issue, as she explains, is that cities are driven by agglomeration:

Academics have a word for what the neighborhood has become: a nightscape. Bars and restaurants were once peripheral to the main drag’s primary economic drivers: supermarkets, coffeehouses, boutique shops, record stores. But in post-industrial cities, nightlife has grown into an industry in its own right. As in any industry, shop owners tend to cluster. A century ago, that meant the creation of a Garment District. Now it means the creation of a Party District.

Basically the East Village really “wants” to be full of nightlife establishments just like Qiaotou, China wants button factories. Restricting the creation of new button factories in Qiatou will help incumbent button makers (and alleviate neighborhood concerns about factory smoot) but it’s hard to call a bar scene into existence that way. Similarly, making it hard to open a new bar in the East Village isn’t going to create a button factory. It’s going to create an underutilized space. That means somewhat more unemployment in the city, somewhat less tax revenue in the city, and thus at the margin higher tax rates and fewer social services for everyone.

Meanwhile, as a policy analyst living in a different city the right way to look at the neighborhood concerns is this. Will another bar on the block make living on that block worse? I have no reason to doubt it. But it’s not like there’s some excessive quantity of affordable housing in Manhattan. If a given block becomes less desirable to live on, that just means someone else will live there. In equilibrium, we’re looking at lower housing costs and higher employment rates.

Ryan Avent:

Matt is right that “nightlife”, like a lot of other industries, often clusters. People like to have options when they go out, and they like going where there are other people around, so watering holes that cluster together often find that they do better than they might outside of a nightlife cluster, despite the impact of increased competition within the cluster. And Matt is right to say that when you limit liquor licenses in an area, you cut off the potential gains of clustering to the consumer, you cut off the potential gains of clustering to the businesses, and you cut off the potential gains of competition to the consumer, since you effectively hand existing businesses a great deal of market power.

But I’m constantly reminded of another side of this equation whenever I’m in London. London, like cities and towns across the British Isles, is filled with pubs. They vary in type, quality, and clientele. I was very lucky this time around to find a near-perfect gastropub just a five minute walk from my flat. It was quiet and well-maintained with a great menu, and while there were always people there, there was also always a free seat. Kids were welcome during the day, as were dogs. Every time I went I thought to myself how great it would be to have such a place close by back in Washington. And every time I thought that, I immediately reminded myself that such a place, back in Washington, would be perpetually packed and fairly unpleasant. In the Washington area, you can’t have a place that’s both really good and quiet in a neighborhood-y sort of way.

That’s largely because it’s very difficult to open new bars. And the result is a pernicious feedback loop. With too few bars around, most good bars are typically crowded. This crowdedness alienates neighbors, and it also has a selecting effect on the types of people who choose to go to bars — those interested in a loud, rowdy environment, who will often tend to be loud and rowdy. This alienates neighbors even more, leading to tighter restrictions still and exacerbating the problem.

Megan McArdle:

I don’t want to push this argument too far–London has a sizeable population of obnoxious drunks, many of whom decide to get into fistfights outside their local pub.  (An editor at the Economist who had recently moved to the United States was asked how he had enjoyed his first New Year’s in New York.  “It made me quite homesick,” he replied.  “All those drunks throwing up in the subway were like a breath of London.”)

But it is true that London also has more quiet pubs New York–and New York, in turn, has more of them (outside of the East Village) than DC does.  And this does make bars and cafes noticeably more unpleasant for the neighbors, as well as the customers.  Which in turn causes residents to fight like hell to keep out any business that might attract a late-night crowd.

One possible solution is upzoning–neighborhood bars aren’t so obnoxious when you’re ten floors above them. But of course, the local residents tend to fight that as well.

Matthew Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

I think these observations are all apt, but I’m also wondering why a comparison of pub quality in these three places would focus primarily on regulatory or economic issues rather than that diffuse and confusing beast we call culture. I can think of two reasons why people tend to write disproportionately about economic and regulatory reasons for these kinds of problems. First, they’re concrete. You can investigate the regulatory issues surrounding licensing businesses in your area pretty easily, and those rules are discrete and public and clear. Then you can analyze the expected results. Second, problems with regulatory and eocnomic origins are amenable to solution. Change the regulations and you might in principle have solved the problem, even if in this case nobody can figure out quite how to do that.

But what strikes me overwhelmingly about the difference between bars/pubs in London, New York and Washington is that these three cities have completely different nightlife cultures. Those cultures are irreducible to the regulatory environment or to economic behaviour. The regulatory environment in London doesn’t do much to explain why, when you walk through Southwark on a winter’s evening at 6:30pm with the thermometer tipping 0 degrees centigrade, you see crowds of men and women in long dark coats standing on the sidewalk sipping pints of bitter. It doesn’t explain the fact that up until 1990 there basically wasn’t a decent atmospheric bar with good food in Washington, DC, or not one that would be recognised as such by someone from New York or London. It doesn’t explain the fact that even though breweries are allowed to own pubs in England, and are prevented from doing so in America, most pubs in London that are bought up by breweries or conglomerates have retained their individual characters and atmospheres, while in America they would almost certainly be swept under by company-wide branding campaigns. It doesn’t even explain why bars in Washington have gotten so much better over the past 15 years that when I go back, I barely recognise the place.

Andrew Sullivan

McArdle responds to Steinglass:

One can argue about whether our posts should reflect more on culture, but I can tell you why they do focus on regulatory issues:  we all live in DC.  And in DC, regulatory decisions are very clearly driving what the bar culture looks like.

The gentrification boom in DC has hit up against a limited supply of bars–and neighborhood commissions that are very resistant to quickly opening more of them.  The result is that no bar stays un-crowded for long; if it’s any good at all, it’s soon overwhelmed with a tidal wave of people fleeing the standing-room-only crowds at all the other bars.  The bars aren’t like this because most people in DC want to spend their Friday nights packed like cheap sardines; the bars are like this because there are so few of them in the areas where people under 35 live, that the only people who can bear to be in them are the people who will tolerate any conditions, including those of veal calves, if only they can endure them while holding a drink.
This is a new development in the areas of DC where, as it happens, Matthew Yglesias, Ryan Avent and I, all like to go out of an evening.  When I moved to DC a scant three and a half years ago, there were enough bars where you could enjoy a Thursday night seated in the company of friends. Then came January 2009, when I held a birthday get-together at a previously local place on 11th street.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much getting together; more than half the people were turned away because of overcrowding.  Several bars had been shut down in Adams Morgan because the weren’t serving enough food to comply with their tavern licenses; the result was that Adams Morgan relocated to U Street.
Since then, this pattern has been repeated over and over; any bar that opens is pleasant for a month or so, then completely, miserably jammed.

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“Red, Red Wine… Stay Close To Me…”

John Cloud at Time:

One of the most contentious issues in the vast literature about alcohol consumption has been the consistent finding that those who don’t drink tend to die sooner than those who do. The standard Alcoholics Anonymous explanation for this finding is that many of those who show up as abstainers in such research are actually former hard-core drunks who had already incurred health problems associated with drinking.

But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren’t entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does tend to increase one’s risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers’ mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.

Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don’t have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

Ben Yakas at Gothamist:

The study done by a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas, and released in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, followed 1,824 participants over 20 years, and found that mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers (which is defined as one-to-three drinks per day). The study used slightly more men, 63 percent; over 69 percent of the never-drinkers died during the 20 years, 60 percent of the heavy drinkers died, and only 41 percent of the moderate drinkers died.

Time magazine points out that the study (which you need a subscription to read) does not do a good job explaining their results, though they try to make sense of this data. Even though heavy drinking is associated with higher risk for cirrhosis and several types of cancer, they note that “alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health.” It was crazy when we discovered that beer gives us stronger bones, but this is next-level stuff. At least now we know that wine in grocery stores really will solve all our problems.

James Joyner:

I’ve learned over the years to be skeptical of media reports of medical studies.  But we’ve certainly seen a lot of other reports along these lines in recent years.   And this looks to be a legitimate study:  a large sample size, control for a large number of variables, and long time frame.

Alex Balk at The Awl:

It’s not a 100% endorsement of the advanced drinker’s life: middling drinkers (defined here as those who take 1-3 a day) live longer than the professionals. Still, there’s plenty of good to take away from this, unless you happen to be a non-drinker. Although you’re probably happy to die early given your joyless, alcohol-free existence.

Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair:

If the news comes as a surprise to the scientific community—Time calls the statistics “remarkable”—it comes as an even bigger shock to the heavy-drinking demographic, historically a lackadaisical and stuporous group. For reactions to this news, we interviewed four subjects who all characterize themselves as “heavy drinkers” according to the standards set forth by the Center for Disease Control.

One interviewee, Marlin*, notes that the side effects he’s experienced as a result of heavy drinking—“anxiety shakes, blurred vision, weak bowel movements,” he says—are not those that’d he typically associate with longevity. Richard, like Marlin, thought that heavy drinking has contributed to his poor health. “It seems like the more I drink heavily regularly, the worse and more often the hangovers are getting,” he said. Meghan, also a heavy drinker, hasn’t perceived any casual relationship between her increased imbibition and frequent illness. However, Pascal, who counts Kingsley Amis’s Everyday Drinking among his favorite books, was not surprised by the results of the study. In fact, he thinks the stigma against liberal attitudes toward alcohol consumption is the product of media bias. “In a cultural climate where obesity is one of our primary killers, I think we need to stop stressing so much about alcohol and stress more about food,” he said. “People who drink heavily, at least in my experience, don’t seem to eat as much or as badly. This is probably because they have another vice.” Of course, the study also concluded that moderate drinkers have the lowest mortality rates of all three groups. None of the four interviewees said that they would change their drinking habits because an academic paper suggested doing so would make them healthier. “No one is under the impression that heavy drinking is great for you long term,” said Richard. Well, not “great,” but apparently still better than sobriety. Here’s to your health!

Max Read at Gawker:

But why is that the case? One possibility is that heavy drinkers get more of the social benefits of alcohol use than nondrinkers—i.e., the gnarly parties that are vital to your mental and physical health. (And your sexual health, am I right? Parties! Who’s with me?) Abstainers, as Time‘s John Cloud wrote last year, are at a higher risk of depression than drinkers, which makes sense, because I’ve been the only sober person at a party, and let me tell you, it is depressing.

Now, obviously, alcohol can ruin your relationships, and your career, and destroy your liver, and make you barf on the subway and say rude things to policemen. But it’s still better for your health than confronting the world, and social situations, sober.

The Takeaway: If you’re not drunk right now, you are probably going to die tomorrow.

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Over-Easy, Scrambled, Hard Boiled, Full Of Salmonella…

Marion Nestle at The Atlantic:

On Wednesday, the FDA announced yet another voluntary recall of eggs produced by Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. The first announcement on August 13 covered 228 million eggs. This one adds 152 million for a grand total of 380 million—so far.

In that first announcement, the Wright company said: “Our farm strives to provide our customers with safe, high-quality eggs—that is our responsibility and our commitment.”

That, however, is not how the New York Times sees it. According to a recent account, Wright has a long history of “run-ins with regulators over poor or unsafe working conditions, environmental violations, the harassment of workers, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.”

Okay, so where are we on safety regulation? The FDA, after many, many years of trying, finally introduced safety regulations for shell eggs. These supposedly went into effect on July 9.

I recount the history of FDA’s persistence in the chapter entitled “Eggs and the Salmonella problem” in What to Eat. Check out the table listing the key events in this history from 1980 to 2005. It’s not pretty.

Preventing Salmonella should not be difficult. The rules require producers to take precautions to prevent transmission, control pests and rodents, test for Salmonella, clean and disinfect poultry houses that test positive, divert eggs from positive-testing flocks, refrigerate the eggs right away, and keep records. These sound reasonable to me, but I care about not making people sick.

Problems with Wright County Eggs started in May before the FDA’s mandatory rules went into effect, meaning that the procedures were still voluntary. The recalls this month are after the fact. Chances are that most of the recalled eggs have already been eaten.

Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir:

More egg brands were recalled Friday, bringing the total number recalled due to salmonella concerns to more than half a billion eggs.

Hillandale Farms of Iowa is the latest producer to recall its eggs — more than 170 million that were distributed to 14  states, according to a press release from the company. The were sold under the names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms and Sunny Meadow and were distributed in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Only those with plant number P1860 and date codes ranging from 099 to 230, or plant number P1663 and date codes ranging from 137 to 230 are affected.

Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity:

The eggs were sold under the following litany of brand names:  Lucerne, Mountain Dairy, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Albertson, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps,  and Pacific Coast.  Some eggs recalled were shipped as recently as two days ago, in the early stages of the outbreak.  According to the CDC, you can tell the safety of your eggs by looking at the plant code and date stamped on the label or carton.  The dates range from 136-229, and the plant numbers are 1026, 1413, 1942, and 1946.  At least, those are the current ones.

Remember the old days, when eggs were only bad for your long-term health and not instantly dangerous?  And when giant eggs were cool oddities, not death-spheres full of double-yolked poison?

Curtis Silver at Wired:

What is the danger if I eat contaminated eggs?

This question will come from the daring and the stubborn ones. The ones who challenge the facts and want to know – what’s so bad about eating the eggs? Just throw this word at them – salmonella. I’m pretty sure they’ve heard it before, when handling raw chicken or raw eggs. It’s always a possibility, and is the most common bacterial form of food poisoning. In fact, it leads to about 30 deaths in the annual average 142,000 cases a year. Clearly that’s not a high number compared to the population, but it’s a number nonetheless. Salmonella (Kingdom, Bacteria; Class, Gamma Proteobacteria; Order, Enterobacteriales; Family, Enterobacteriaceae; Genus, Salmonella) will make you sick, and many more people get sick each year than get reported. That number goes up considerably when there is a contaminated product like this batch of eggs.

If you want to show your kids one of the worst slide shows ever to illustrate a sickness, check out this one over at CBS.com. It deftly illustrates that salmonella will cause stomach cramps, nausea, unfortunate bowel movements and so on. Basically, your abdomen wants to expel the germs as much as possible so it makes your abdomen contract over and over, which causes the cramps and stomach sickness. Basically, there is no way for your child to fake salmonella poisoning to get out of going back to school. If your child is sick, you’ll know it and so will they. If they aren’t old enough to be forced to drink, the emergency room is in your immediate future as you don’t want dehydration to set in.

Here’s the rub though, and the smart ones might figure this out: If you cook infected eggs you will kill the bacteria. Cooking eggs to the temperature of 72°Celsius/160°Fahrenheit is all you need to kill the bacteria. Of course, you still run a risk if you under cook the eggs. So really, if you have a two dollar carton of eggs in the fridge you have two choices, cook them anyway and save yourself two bucks, or throw them out. Well, three choices, you can draw targets on the fence and you and the kids can have target practice. Just sayin’.

So what came first? The Chicken or the egg?

The egg. Because dinosaurs laid eggs. And dinosaurs came before chickens. So there.

How do I know if my eggs are bad?

That’s the easy part: Check out this handy list to see if your carton number is on there. Have the kids do a little number comparison and see if they can find a pattern. Of course, the article gives away the range, but perhaps there is something deeper in the numbers. If you can figure it out, leave it in the comments. Of course, I might just be making it up – but I’m sure you’ll come up with something. You awesome geeks always do.

Alan Ng at Products Review:

As reported from CBSNews and according to the Mayo Clinic, there are nine types of Salmonella symptoms. We have the full list to give you now, which will help to determine if you have contracted the disease or not.

The first symptom is Nausea, as vomiting is one key factor associated with salmonella poisoning. Another factor may be diarrhoea. If you find yourself going to the toilet a lot lately, you may have caught salmonella without knowing it. Other symptoms include abdominal pain and fever.

You can check out the full list of salmonella symptoms here.

Julian Pecquet at The Hill:

The recall of 380 million eggs — almost 32 million dozen — due to a possible salmonella contamination is sparking calls for the quick passage of food-safety legislation after the August recess.

The recent outbreak has sickened hundreds of people across multiple states.

The Senate health panel unveiled a manager’s package last week that grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded powers to recall tainted food, quarantine geographical areas and access food producers’ records. Similar legislation cleared the House in July 2009.

“This outbreak is just further proof of how quickly a food borne illness can multiply across states, sickening Americans and causing widespread distrust over the safety of our food system,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday. “And it adds to the urgency that, for far too long, has told the story of why comprehensive food safety legislation is needed. Our 100-year-old plus food safety structure needs to be modernized.”

Harkin went on to detail how the egg contamination may have played out differently had the bill’s provisions been in effect.

UPDATE: Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

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