Pepsi Throwback

Have you seen the “new” Pepsi Throwback? Basically, it’s Pepsi from the ‘70s: In the old packaging but made with sugar.

It’s…sublime. It doesn’t leave a film in your mouth. It has a clean, refreshing taste. Swear to God, it actually bubbles nicer. The bubbles are sharper and more lively. I had this obsession a few years ago with trying to find soda that bubbled the way I remembered—and never could. (Returned a whole lot of fountain drinks as “flat”.)
In the mid-’80s, the soda companies switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup. One of the reasons given for this is that HFCS is “easier to transport”. Curiously, the soda companies don’t use HFCS anywhere else in the world. Just the US. In fact, one trick used by sugar soda fans is to buy sodas imported from Mexico (which I’ve heard CostCo has).
So if it’s not transportation, why would soda companies use it? Well, the Federal Government subsidizes HFCS, making it slightly cheaper than sugar. The Federal Government also jacks up the price of sugar (to seven times the world price!), making sugar a lot more expensive.
It’s probably too soon to blame HFCS for obesity, liver disease, diabetes and autism, but not to soon to blame it for screwing up the soda experience. And never to soon to blame the government for making it all economical.
We already eat quite a bit of corn: On the cob, loose, as chips and tortillas, corn bread, polenta, etc. To then HFCS in virtually every sweetened product on the market? Probably a bad idea.
Meanwhile, the Snapple Company is coming out with Dr. Pepper “Heritage"—the sugar-based version of Dr. Pepper.
And the corn folks are already in full blown PR mode. You’ve probably seen the HFCS commercials. And if you search for it on the web, the industry sites are there. The recent indications of mercury being found in it, probably doesn’t help their image.
Having re-tasted the old sodas (and having drunk a lot of "gourmet” sodas over the years), I sure bet these guys don’t want to go head-to-head with sugar.

Oh, by the way: Tomorrow is the last day for Pepsi (and Mountain Dew) Throwback. I’m gonna stock up.

Penn and Teller on Organics

We’re watching the Penn and Teller on organics. They’ve woven in a typically slightly blasphemous Jesus sketch (which I’m enjoying) and they’re taking organic farming to the woodshed, predictably.

We’ve never done all organic. Even at our richest, it didn’t seem worth it. Sometimes the stuff tastes better–but you can’t really know whether that’s due to some factor in the farming, or just greater care overall. I mean, if you have the money, it’s actually cheaper to go to the tony grocers in the good neighborhood, and it’ll definitely taste better. (And if you don’t like it for any reason, the tony store will take it back, half eaten.)

They do some good stuff: It should be known that organic farming is brutal, environmentally speaking. It’s a luxury. But their taste test is bogus, in the sense that organics might taste better generally, but that doesn’t mean that any given piece of organically grown fruit or vegetable is going to taste better than a non-organically grown counterpart. (I mean, I guess some people–the ones who did their taste test, for example–believed that, but that’s completely insane.)

The real problem with “organic”, of course, is that “organic” means nothing. It is, as they point out, religiously enshrined Luddism. It might be that pesticides are bad. (Or more importantly, that they’re worse than the pests they’re meant to handle.) It might be that genetically modified foods are bad. Or it might be that they’re not, or some of them are and some of them aren’t.

Interestingly enough, my two favorite forms of snake oil don’t have much to say about organics. The current plan I’m on laments the lack of minerals in our foods–but organics don’t have much to say about that. Of course, I’m sure P&T could find people who will assure them that there’s no problem with mineral deficiencies.

Anyway, what I’ve found is that you can’t ever take a blanket label and turn off your brain. Whether it’s “organic” or “green” or whatever. Some organics are going to taste better–even if it’s not because of organic farming methods–and I suspect some are going to be better for you, too. Some “green” things really are going to be better for the ecology.

But some aren’t. Just like you can’t go into a Wal-Mart or a Costco and be confident you’re getting the best deal, either. You have to pay attention.

Also, what do Penn and Teller have against natural breasts? I don’t object to gratuitous nudity, but almost every girl they have strip on that show has implants.

Some things are definitely better organic.

You vs. MacDonald’s

One of the homeschoolers I follow on Twitter linked to this analysis of home cooked versus McDonald’s burgers on a cost basis, coming to the conclusion that you could make McDonald’s burgers more cheaply at home.

In fairness, the guy breaks it down correctly enough to say that you could make 16 burgers more cheaply than you can buy 16 burgers from McDonald’s. But then you have to eat 16 burgers. Granted, at that size, you probably could, or a family of six could, anyway–but would you want to?

There’s a dual edge to this, too, that makes it kind of a pointless effort. On the one hand, if you’re making burgers, why are you making them MacDonald’s style? Could you, really? Wouldn’t you be tempted to get a slightly better cut of meat and use a little more of it? Put on a crisp slice of lettuce and beefsteak tomato (instead of just catsup)?

What’s more, if you really are going for Micky D’s style, you won’t make it. Your children will tell you all the ways your burger is inferior to one of those enriched-flour encased quarter-sized patties. Or, at least, that’s what kids did back in my day. (They’d also trash your ravioli if it weren’t Ravioli-Os.)

You’ll eat (at least figuratively, maybe literally) any mistakes you make, too. And the amount of time you spend prepping, cooking and cleaning up is going to well exceed the cost in time of going to the nearest franchise.

These days, you’re unlikely to be able to beat a fast food franchise for overall cost. The exception might be El Pollo Loco, because they’re rather expensive. (Their chicken is a lot closer to real food, which doubtless factors into it.) There is something to economy of scale in this case. Even if you can achieve the economy of scale that allows you to make 16 burgers at once, you’re probably not going to achieve it on the same scale as the billions of burgers.

On the flip side, you can’t hardly miss beating them in terms of quality. And you can be very selective about where you economize.

Food Porn: DeFranko’s Subs

I’m no Trooper York (who is?) but even in my current ascetic state, I do occasionally indulge. And, of course, when I do, we’re not talking a Big Mac or a footlong from the Subway. No.

No, no.

I prefer to patronize local establishments. While some are quite bad, the good ones are gems: Not much more expensive (if at all) than a fast food place and in the category of real food that doesn’t make you feel bad after you eat it.

The sub sandwich and I have a long history, it being one of the food we’d go out to eat for when I was a kid. (We almost never went out to eat; remember those days?) They were, of course, way too strong for my palette–capicola, or even just a regular Italian salami–but I’d power through.

Finding a good, big sandwich isn’t that hard, but finding a good Italian is very difficult. And what’s more, even if the insides of the sandwich are Boar’s Head, a lot of sandwich shops will stuff them into a crappy roll.

Enough talk, let me show you a picture:
This is from DeFranko’s in Van Nuys. It’s a little shack a block south of the Flyaway. Piles o’ meat topped with diced pickles, tomatoes and onions, stuffed into a roll baked that morning at the owner’s bakery. They default to a hard, chewy roll, but you can get a soft one, too, and whole wheat until they run out.

A lot of my pals love the pastrami, and I do, too, but it’s a lot (even for me). Plus, I can get a good pastrami a lot of places. The meatball subs are great and I’ve been known to just have a cheese sub (when I’m off meat) which is almost as good as one of the more traditional offerings.

Right now they’re selling fresh basil plants on the counter, but you never know what you’ll find there, except you know it’ll be fresh (like a fresh baked brownie or cookie).

The people are friendly, fast and hyper-competent. It’s actually a marvel to watch one of these things put together–but don’t blink. Even so, they can get behind during the lunch hour when the line often goes out the door. I’ve waited 20 minutes or more for a sandwich. It is so worth it. You might get it fast, but it ain’t fast food. (So if you’re in a hurry call ahead.)

My mom’s been buying subs there since the ‘70s. I hope my kids are buying subs there in the 2030s.

Sadder Than A Really Sad Thing

It was sad that I went to eat a veggie dog. (It doesn’t matter that much: Put a bun around it, slather in catsup, mustard, relish, pickles, sauerkraut and sawdust, and it doesn’t matter what the hot dog is made of. A fact hot dog vendors have relied on for years.)

It was sad that I dropped the dog.

It was really sad that The Big White Dog picked up the dog whole.

I had a moment of hope when The Big White Dog spit it out without having bitten into it.

But then, there was this dog on the floor. So I called the Little Black Dog over.

Sadder than a really sad thing? The Big White Dog snatched the veggie dog up and swallowed it whole.

Worse than kids.

Teflon Mouth

It is a tradition going back to The Boy’s second birthday that, on each child’s birthday, I take them out to do whatever they want. The Barbarienne turned three, and so was allowed to pick a restaurant to have lunch at.

But, of course, she’s three. What does she know? I tried to interest her in some local places she had been and liked, but The Flower was hard at work, lobbying for her favorite restaurant.

What I may not have mentioned about The Flower is all the ways in which she is like an old woman. From her quote here (“I’ve got nothing to do today but smoke and boss people around.”) to her disturbing practice of collecting nickels for her grandchildren, The Flower has many characteristics that one normally associates with senior citizens.

Which brings us to Denny’s.

Denny’s usually results in heartburn for me, starting somewhere about the time when someone says, “Let’s go to De–”, and before they can utter “knees” my heart starts to whine. I’m not sure what it is about that place versus all the places I might eat (Tommy’s Burgers, for example, or “that place under the freeway where the day laborers hang out”) but my heart objects.

I’ve had a theory, though: I think they cook everything in some kind of non-stick Pam-like spray. Probably a cheap knock-off. So, on top of the heartburn, the inside of its mouth feels like it’s coated with teflon.

You know that list that floats around about uses for Coke? It’s also about the only thing that will take the teflon off.

Anyway, I don’t have to go back there until The Flower’s birthday when, unless I do some fancy footwork, she’ll want to eat there for lunch and dinner.

Fun fact: One item on the current Denny’s menu is $16.70. Inflation’s a bitch.

Slow Fast

Had to take the weekend to care for the sick. (Next week, I’ll clothe the poor. It’s just the kind of guy I am.)

I realized this afternoon that it had been 16 hours since I had eaten.

That used to be more common for me. I’d just stop eating. After the initial “I’m hungry” phase went away, I’d actually feel better not eating. At one point I went over three days. (Paradoxically, perhaps, the key to fasting for me was to stay physically active.)

I guess you’re supposed to prepare for fasting somehow or drink water or juice to stay hydrated, but when I’ve fasted I’ve usually done it off the cuff and without drinking anything either.

I’ve often wondered about it. It can’t be a good thing to be better off not eating, can it?

On Frozen Yogurt and Other Endangered Foods

In this post on the novel I’m writing in November, 1jpb links to ZPS’s blog entry on Penguin’s Frozen Yogurt.

Penguin’s used to be everywhere. Now they’re not. ZPS wonders why.

I discussed this phenomenon with a savvy investor person not as related to Penguin’s, but as it related to Boston Market. He pointed out that there are very good financial reasons to hyperinflate a company until it bursts–provided you know how to get out before it actually does so.

This happens a lot. Not just with trendy foods, because yogurt was pretty trendy and it’s reasonable to think that any given food trend will pass, as it did with cajun and with–well, does anyone remember the chocolate chip cookie boutique days? That predated yogurt a bit.

So, there perhaps aren’t as many Mrs. Fields as there used to be because of some financial shenanigans–but there are still some cookie boutiques. Same with Penguin’s and frozen yogurt. I don’t know of an equivalent to Boston Market, at least around here, but we seem to have trouble supporting “American food” here. No more Roger’s Roasters, but plenty of chicken places. Salad bars seem to have mostly vanished, to be replaced by buffets, which I suppose are mostly “American food”. (Though the salad bar places used to be pretty high quality, more upscale for a place that made you get your own food, and the buffets seem to be decidedly low rent.) The Sizzler adapted itself a couple of times, including into and out of the “salad bar” phase, though I think it’s finally gone for good.

Bob’s Big Boy–and going back a ways, The Copper Penny (I think that was just local) and Sambo’s, and more recently, Baker’s Square and Coco’s: All American diner’s that used to be everywhere and now aren’t.

The upshot is that there are foods that you used to be able to get and now can’t, or can’t easily. This is a sign of impending old age.

Most of the foods that I like that no longer exist were not from big chains but from little mom & pop shops that went away. Spaghetti from Mike’s Pizza (in Encino or Panorama City), a Pageburger Club from Page’s (Encino), A Poor Boy Pizza from Jo Mama’s (Burbank) or a carob shake from a little shack outside an arcade in Westwood.

The carob shake was insidious. You’d drink a little bit and not like it. But then you’d drink a little more. And by the time you got to the bottom, you were hooked. It was sweet, but a little bitter as well.

Anyway, whaat do you think about remembering lost foods, lost loves, lost places? I tend to think one should severely restrict it, lest one end up sitting on a rocker on the porch, awash in the past, and telling the kids about the orange groves stretching out “as far as the eye can see”.

Have A Coke And A Smile And Shut the F— Up.

I’m “into” alternative medicine (in the sense that I’ve seen miraculous changes from a diet that’s not well understood), and I think there’s a lot of hoo-ha in “conventional wisdom” about the body and health. Still, articles like this set off the BS-meter.

  • In The First 10 minutes: 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. (100% of your recommended daily intake.) You don’t immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor allowing you to keep it down.

A quarter cup of raisins has 44 grams of sugar to a 12 oz soda’s 36 grams. Think you could eat a quarter cup of raisins without barfing? How about 2 oz. of Raisinets, which is 40 grams?

  • 20 minutes: Your blood sugar spikes, causing an insulin burst. Your liver responds to this by turning any sugar it can get its hands on into fat. (There’s plenty of that at this particular moment)

Yeah, if you’re diabetic. Your blood sugar really shouldn’t be spiking much if you’re not. I do imagine you could exhaust your pancreas if you do it too much, but I don’t know.

  • 40 minutes: Caffeine absorption is complete. Your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, as a response your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream. The adenosine receptors in your brain are now blocked preventing drowsiness.

Have you been fasting? Because even then the spike shouldn’t be too large if you’re not diabetic. True about the adenosine receptors, tho’.

  • 45 minutes: Your body ups your dopamine production stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. This is physically the same way heroin works, by the way.

Not quite. Heroin inhibits dopamine uptake while caffeine stimulates dopamine production. N.B. that the amount of caffeine in a 12 oz soda is anywhere from ½ to ¼ the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee, depending both on the kind of soda and kind of coffee.

  • >60 minutes: The phosphoric acid binds calcium, magnesium and zinc in your lower intestine, providing a further boost in metabolism. This is compounded by high doses of sugar and artificial sweeteners also increasing the urinary excretion of calcium.

I thought we’d already suffered sugar shock. This is a diet drink now? Also, apparently, caffeine doesn’t increase the urinary excretion of calcium much at all. (New York Times)

  • >60 Minutes: The caffeine’s diuretic properties come into play. (It makes you have to pee.) It is now assured that you’ll evacuate the bonded calcium, magnesium and zinc that was headed to your bones as well as sodium, electrolyte and water.

As it turns out, caffeine isn’t a diuretic! (New York Times, same article.)

But thanks for making soda sound like an exciting psychotropic experience!


I wanted to re-emphasize this point where the scold switches from “sugar” to “sugar and artificial sweeteners”. This is a common sleight-of-hand: The scold doesn’t want you to do something (or wants you to do something) and they just slip in an element that is similar (soda is soda, right? diet or otherwise?) but which, when you think about it, is dramatically different.

Artificial sweeteners may be bad for you (some people are most certainly affected negatively), but it’s, I think, chemically impossible for them to act the same way on your body sugar does. (Indeed, that’s the whole point.)

Food Doom

A friend of mine (who taught at the Creative Wealth seminar The Boy and I went to) sends along this video trailer. (I’ve been meaning to review the seminar but have been letting it digest for a while.)

This is aimed squarely between the eyes for me as I am a Western-medicine-deriding pill-hatin’ pharmaceutical-mistrustin’ organic-lovin’ GMO-sketpicizin’ snake-oil takin’ left coast fruitbat. My peeps deride “Whole Foods” as “too mainstream”.

And yet. I’m not really impressed by this trailer. I guess because I’ve seen it before so many times. The only thing lacking–and it may well be in the movie–is that Diet For A Small Planet-we’re-doomed-because-three-companies-own-all-the-food motif.

I’m afraid I tend to class that stuff alongside of The Population Bomb and Future Shock.

And when people start dissin’ pesticides–which I think are overused–I can’t help but also think of the million children who die of malaria every year because of Rachel Carson persuaded enough people that DDT was worse than death.

And I get a little deja vu feeling when people start talking about genetically modified stuff. Once again, people are starving in Africa because persuasive people have convinced leaders there that dying is better than eating GMOs.

A cynic might say that environmentalist victories seem to equate to black people dying.

So I have this interesting dichotomy: Western medicine has personally saved people I care about, but it has also consigned people I care about to death. The elimination of whole foods (the concept, not the store) has definitely reduced the health of many people and caused many troubles, but ultimately modern food technologies have essentially saved the world.

It actually doesn’t bug me much: I try to use what’s appropriate for the situation. My kids don’t get a lot of refined sugar, but I don’t sweat the occasional cookie or birthday cake. I take them to the doctor when I think that will help, and take them to the witch doctor when I think that will help.

So perhaps this really is a modest post, after all.