No one surpasses me in the nose mustache!
This is why we can't have nice things.
One thing I've most enjoyed experimenting with over the past year is broth. I suppose the style of broth I'm interested in would technically be considered vegetable broth. That said, this isn't what one tends to think of as a typical vegetable broth - I rarely kick things off with the holy trinity of onion, carrots, and celery. Instead, I might focus one around a favorite chile pepper, or varietal of dried mushroom, or, in this case, lemongrass. It might be more helpful to think of this as thin, flavor-forward soup, where I attempt to build on a short list of intense flavors. I like broths to be compelling on their own, but also like them to function as a dynamic base for other preparations. Now, I know summer tends to be the time of year people rally around grilling and outdoor cooking, but I have to tell you, it's also the time of year I like a light, clean brothy soup. So the broth experiments continue. This one, in particular, was a standout - as a pot of water is on the stove, coming to a simmer, you add a host of ingredients like chopped lemongrass, shallots, ginger, tomatoes, and coriander. Simmer, season with miso, and you have a beautiful, unique component beautiful served straight, but also wonderful and surprising as a base for noodles, poached eggs, or rice soup.
Are many of you making broths from scratch? To enjoy on their own, or to use as a component?...As you can imagine, I'd love to hear any favorites. I feel like a lot of cooks, home cooks in particular, make the occasional vegetable broth. Or, if you're not vegetarian/vegan, chicken broth/stock seems like it is still a quite common endeavor. But, I'm curious about any favorites or a level of enthusiasm for this sort of thing beyond that. I always love hearing what you're doing in your kitchens surrounding various themes, and I'm particularly excited about this one - I suspect you might have great ideas. xo -hContinue reading Lemongrass Miso Soup...
by Benn Ray
Here are a collection of excerpts from one-star reviews from John Waters New York Times bestseller, Carsick.
"Seeing as I'm 75 and have never been into what I consider porn, straight or homosexual, I found what little I have read to be disgusting. I can't see why it was recommended by the people on Morning Joe." -Ann
You take book recommendations from Morning Joe? Wait! Morning Joe recommended Carsick?!!
"...This was awful! I brought it on a plane, and even though it was the only book I had with me, after a few chapters, I could not take it anymore...." -readerrunnermom
I know what you mean. I've been on long flights next to people like you where I felt exactly the same way.
"Absolute trash from beginning to end. ..." -Holan
You know one of John's nicknames is "The Pope Of Trash", right? That being said, you should upgrade your review to 5 stars.
"Couldn't get by the sex crap - wish I hadn't purchased it." -Paul Ashworth
"Sex crap?" Sounds like you have some hangups to work out.
"...It took me a while to figure out that the first chapters are fiction. I thought the author was simply on acid. ..." -Larry E. Naylor
John pretty much spells it all out right up front.
"This book is sick. It's set up in three sections. The 'bad' rides turned my stomach. ..." -Michael Barcelona
That was kind of the point.
"KILL ALL PEOPLE NOW LEGALISE CANIBALISM NO MORE OF YOU HAVE BEen found guilty OF ASSHOLism." -GDC
"This is a truly terrible book. I bought it thinking that it would be the story of John Waters hitchhiking across America. A reasonable assumption, no? Instead, it's a collection of his fantasies, most of them without any redeeming merit. (At least that's the reality of what I read, before giving up a quarter of the way through in disgust.) ..." -David E. Arnold
If you wouldn't have given up, you would have eventually gotten to the point of the book you're looking for. A little patience goes a long way.
"... There are certain things that I do not understand: Kim Kardashian's fame, rap music, horror pictures, Jello, blood sausages, and comb-overs. Now, I have to add John Waters. ...After I read the first eight chapters that covered his imaginary best hitchhiking trips, I was happy that I did not continue on to read his imaginary worst trips. While his material is high on imagination, it's low on content. In my opinion, the product is over-the-top, weird, perverted, and most important, not funny. ..." -bobbyr
Coming from someone who claims to not understand rap, Jello, blood sausages or horror pictures, you pretty much invalidate your own review.
"... Am sorry I ever wasted my money on this total waste of time and money. Will never buy another book by this author again." -David Goulhart
Are there other "total wastes of time and money" you aren't sorry for wasting your money on? Can you give examples?
"This was a waste of my money. Mr. Waters, you are full of yourself.... " -Corredor
Right - how dare an author make themselves the subject of their own book. The nerve!
"I stopped reading about halfway through. Waters mentions the recent discovery that Travels With Charlie was totally fabricated in the prologue, then tells a pulp hitchhiking story that’s so racy and short on detail as to seem even more fictional. There’s far too much luck and coincidence, and too little character development or discussion of the challenges of hitchhiking for this story to seem remotely plausible." -rs695
You do get the first 2/3s of the book was fiction right? As an astute reader, you did pick up on that?
"I don't believe a word of it. I want my money back. Fiction is fine, but if I wanted that I would have bought it." -Shoehorse
Actually, that's what you did buy. Fictitious fantasy stories. Nightmare stories. Then real stories. It's right in the front of the book.
"John Waters' writing, like his movies, are clearly an acquired taste....one which I, apparently, have not acquired. An unending saga of sexual escapades, real or not, this book is certainly NOT Travels with Charlie...." -Dohn D. Boyd
At least this "critic" acknowledges the problem is they have no taste.
"I called BS before his first ride was over-- when a stranger gives him $5 million cash to make a movie, explaining that he got rich selling pot and the money was chump change to him. I gave up on the book after 6 rides. That first ride was actually the most believable. ... I assumed this thing was supposed to be some parody of Fear and Loathing meets Alice in Wonderland, but when I poked around the Internet, apparently the author is claiming this to a a true story. Alice in Wonderland is more believe-able. This man tells stories like an 8 year old, not a 68 year old. I'm going to call Amazon and ask for a refund. This is the most ridiculous book I've ever downloaded." - Lindalealphamale
Can't get one by you. You figured it out. The first section was fantasy rides, the seconde section was nightmare rides, and the third was what really happened. It's not really rocket science here people.
This cat is such a jerk. I love him.
Zack - let's make some fancy noodles.
The container of bones, a more or less permanent denizen of the fridge, was particularly full recently; I had grilled a couple of chickens on a lovely afternoon when some friends came over and there were also two beef bones from a decadent ribeye dinner a few evenings prior. There aren’t a lot of bones that make better stock than grilled chicken, and the addition of some deep beefiness to that flavor was too tempting to resist. I needed to make ramen.
Lacking kansui, the alkaline salts used to impart a yellow color and characteristic chew to the noodles, I used Harold McGee’s nifty trick: if you bake baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) for an hour or so at around 300˚F, you end up with sodium carbonate, one of the two components of kansui and a stronger alkali than bicarb. I used a teaspoon in two cups of AP flour, plus a handful of gluten, with about a cup of water, and let it knead in the mixer for about ten minutes. Then I wrapped and rested it in the fridge.
The extra gluten and alkali make for a seriously springy dough, much more rubbery than regular pasta dough with or without eggs. It required many more trips than usual through the pasta roller on the thickest setting before it was supple enough to begin cranking the rollers closer together. If you try this, remember that it will look like a shit show for the first few minutes. I stopped at the second-narrowest setting, then rested the sheets for a bit before running them through the spaghetti cutter. I made the noodles into little nests and tossed them in plenty of flour until it was time to cook them.
About 45 seconds is enough at a rolling boil. I had skimmed, strained, and seasoned the stock, soft-boiled some eggs, and chopped some wild chives and mustard greens. The last of the homemade sambal added the perfect punctuation. It’s deeply satisfying to make food this compelling with a minimum of effort. Once the garden really gets going, I’ll revisit this with different greens, fresh peas, and kimchi.
The UAW's messaging around the works council idea. (UAW.org)
This week at Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., 1,570 workers will vote on whether to join the United Auto Workers. It's a big deal: While the big three American carmakers are all unionized, so far the foreign companies have avoided it by locating in Southern states with strong Right to Work laws. From their perspective, unions usually just mean work stoppages, expensive benefit plans, and the inability to fire people at will.
That's what's weird about the VW vote: The German company is campaigning for the UAW, not against it, in a kind of employer-union partnership America has seldom seen. What gives?
Well, VW is kind of different, as automakers go. It understands how having a union can boost productivity and allow it greater flexibility in adjusting to downturns. It should know: The rest of its plants are unionized too.
This would also be something new for the United Auto Workers. They wouldn't have the same relationship with VW as they do with Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford. Rather, the idea is to create something called a "works council," which are widespread across Europe and enjoy tremendous influence over how plants are run. In America, that kind of body can't be established without a union vote -- but crucially, the works council would be independent of the union, meaning the UAW would give up some control as soon as it gained it.
While the details of the arrangement would be ironed out after the election, works councils -- which are elected by all workers in a factory, both blue and white collar, whether or not they belong to the union -- usually help decide things like staffing schedules and working conditions, while the union bargains on wages and benefits. They have the right to review certain types of information about how the company is doing financially, which often means that they're more sympathetic towards management's desire to make cutbacks when times are tough. During the recession, for example, German works councils helped the company reduce hours across the board rather than laying people off, containing unemployment until the economy recovered.
There are three major advantages of councils. You're forced to consider in your decision making process the effect on the employees in advance…this avoids costly mistakes. Second, works councils will in the final run support the company. They will take into account the pressing needs of the company more than a trade union can, on the outside. And third, works councils explain and defend certain decisions of the company towards the employees. Once decisions are made, they are easier to implement.
In that way, works councils can be an ally of management in keeping the business strong for the sake of keeping workers employed over the long term. Weiler was given this example:
[The parent company made] an agreement with the works council to introduce a flexible work-time system, around-the-clock operation through Saturday, starting again Sunday night. They were under tremendous pressure from the union not to do this, but let us go ahead. We couldn't have gotten that out of the union.… Our works council people are not hostile to rationalization of automation. On the contrary, they ask us to automate, to modernize our machinery so that our operations can be competitive. They say, 'We know that we lose jobs by this, but we agree that this is a good thing.'
Works councils are also typically not allowed to call strikes, but they also don't usually need to, because their authority is baked into their agreements with the company (and, in Europe, usually enforced by law). If the UAW wants to strike over wages and benefits, it's still able to do so, but the likelihood of arriving at a mutually agreeable solution without one is much higher.
That's why VW wants its plant to go union. According to VW's global works council leader, Bernard Osterloh, the company even sees its culture of worker codetermination as a "competitive advantage."
That doesn't mean, however, that the vote is unopposed. National anti-union groups and the state's Republican leaders are campaigning against the UAW, saying unionization will spread like a contagion through Tennessee's other auto plants. “Then it’s BMW, then it’s Mercedes, then it’s Nissan, hurting the entire Southeast if they get the momentum," said Sen. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.).
BMW likes its works councils too, though. Apparently, some politicians think they know what's good for auto makers better than the companies do themselves.
Same thing happens in our house, daily.
The nation’s top telecom regulator is planning to propose allowing passengers to make cellphone calls and use their data plans while on an airliner, officials said Thursday. Read more at the Switch.
Rumors of witchcraft began spreading through the Salem Massachusetts colony prior to 1692 and helped fuel the turmoil between the different religious sects in the area. Life at that time was strictly governed by the church. Music, dancing and the celebration of holidays were forbidden because the belief was this activity was Pagan. Ironically, the only celebrating tolerated was for the agricultural harvest.
The children of John Goodwin, a local mason, apparently were tempted by the Devil himself to steal linen from an old woman named Mary Glover who was miserable and often described as a “Witch”. She allegedly retaliated and was accused of casting a spell on the Goodwin children for their crime. When four of the six kids began to suffer from the “Disease of Astonishment,” with symptoms of hallucinations, back and neck pain, random outcries and loss of neurological control over body functionality, witchcraft was implicated and so began the craze of 1692.
Crops of rye were grown in the Salem vicinity around the time when many individuals were deemed “Possessed” by the Court of Law. The cold winter followed by a wet spring caused “Claviceps” (a group of fungi) to grow on some of the grains. The “Ergot” fungus blight, which formed an alkaloid producing mold was toxic and actually caused the strange behaviors exemplified by the people who were thought to be affected by witchcraft. A foodborne intoxication occurred when the contaminated rye was consumed and this theory was not discovered until 1976 by Linda Caporael.
Adulterated food can kill you in more ways than one.
Nineteen of the accused witches were hanged to death. Their bodies cut from the trees and throw into shallow ditches only to be recovered by family members under the cover of darkness and buried in unmarked graves. Others refused to testify in court and were subject to “Peine Forte Et Dure” where they were placed under rocks and pressed with the heavy load until information was disclosed or in one case, crushed to death.
Most of the evidence used to convict the witches in 1692 was “Spectral,” where the accused admitted to seeing a ghostly apparition, shape or Devil afflict them with the loss of body control, delirium and odd speech.
This tragic case of American history can repeat itself in the sometimes complacent food service industry in regards to food safety. Just like in 1692, some people are unaware of the ever changing, “Emerging” pathogenic dangers that are out there. Education through training is paramount in protecting the health and well-being of today’s consumer.
Unfortunately in some cases, it is the liability — not the witchcraft — that motivates compliance.
I don't understand anything about anything.
If Grover Norquist thinks you're an asshole, you're definitely an asshole.
Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and the creator of the anti-tax pledge that nearly every Republican in Congress has signed. We spoke on Tuesday about the government shutdown and its consequences for his agenda. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.
Ezra Klein: So, do you think a shutdown is good for the issues and ideas you’re trying to push?
Grover Norquist: Not necessarily. I think the original plan for the Republicans was to move the continuing resolution past the debt ceiling and then to sit down with Obama and decide whether he would be willing to trade some relaxation of the sequester for significant reforms of entitlements. That was something Obama might well do. Democrats in the House and the Senate are very concerned about caps and limits in sequestration. Republicans could get significant long-term entitlement reform -- all on the spending side, I’m assured by leadership -- for some relaxation of sequester.
Something like that might’ve worked out. There was also the possibility, and I was an advocate, of pushing for delay. I thought Obama might do that. And even if he didn’t, I liked the idea of a two-month conversation over how Obama has delayed Obamacare for big business and big contributors and organized labor but not for you. So how about all Americans get treated equally and we have rule of law and delay everything? Obama was thoughtful enough to time Obamacare and its taxes to kick in after he was safely reelected. Those senators running in 2014 were not given the same courtesy. Why not give them that?
EK: That sounds like the strategy that got us the shutdown, though.
GN: No, the leverage isn’t the debt ceiling. It’s not the CR. It’s the sequester. Democrats think this is desperate privation. It’s like the Kennedy kids with only one six-pack. They feel they’ve never been so mistreated. So there’s something they want. And there’s something Republicans want. So you could see a deal there. And the leverage was the sequester. That’s what struck me as what leadership was thinking about, and it made a great deal of sense.
The second thought was to have a conversation over the one-year delay. A two-month conversation about delay would be healthy for the body politic. And maybe you’d get the delay. There’s no shame in the delay. Microsoft is always delaying Office. You could do it without humiliating the president.
But that’s not what we did. Ted Cruz, from left field, said we have to defund Obamacare permanently in this CR. If they offered the Keystone pipeline and the privatization of Fannie and Freddie you couldn’t take that. We only want this, and we only want it on Tuesday -- Wednesday is no good. The debt ceiling is no good. So that got locked in as a principle. And people went out on talk radio and said if you’re not for this you’re a coward, you’re a RINO.
EK: And that got in the way of the larger strategy?
GN: I’m cheerful because every Republicans is for repeal of Obamacare. When’s the last time we passed a big government entitlement and every Republican opposed it and kept pointing out that it’s a mistake? There’s unanimity among Republicans. They all voted against the thing being created and for it being repealed.
The only confusion that comes out is that Cruz stood on the side and confused people about the fact that every Republican agrees. He said if you don’t agree with my tactic and with the specific structure of my idea, you’re bad. He said if the House would simply pass the bill with defunding he would force the Senate to act. He would lead this grass-roots movement that would get Democrats to change their mind. So the House passed it, it went to the Senate, and Ted Cruz said, oh, we don’t have the votes over here. And I can’t find the e-mails or ads targeting Democrats to support it. Cruz said he would deliver the votes and he didn’t deliver any Democratic votes. He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away.
So then the House said, breaking completely with Cruz because Cruz thinks if you’re not defunding the whole thing it’s treason, that there’s delay. There’s getting rid of medical device taxes. They’ve done a series of things to hold together Republicans and break with Cruz. But because we started with the Cruz approach this got to the shutdown.
EK: What do you think happens next?
GN: I think the president must think he can spin a government shutdown. I think he’s already screwed it up. Putting up barriers so guys in wheelchairs can’t go to the World War II memorial. It’s an open-air memorial. They put up those barriers in the middle of the night. They did it on overtime!
The president threatened not to pay the military. So Republicans passed the bill paying the military. Democrats threatened to not pay veterans. So Republicans are passing a bill to pay veterans. Democrats cannot with a straight face blame Republicans for any of the things that happen in these agencies. It’s the president playing politics. I think it puts him in an awkward position.
And now we have a series of Democrats running for the Senate trying desperately to show they’re not clones of Reid and Obama, and they just made them vote once again for Obamacare. Just to remind everybody. We have enough votes in the last few days showing these Democrats do what Harry Reid and Barack Obama want and not what North Carolina and Arkansas and Alaska want. I don’t think Reid’s paying attention to what he’s doing to his candidates.
Look, these were the guys who thought sequestration was a great win for them and who made 85 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent. The Bush tax cuts were an upper hand he could have used to control the country for years. If he would have extended it for a year we’d be talking about whether there should be a tax increase right now. You shouldn’t spend too much time thinking you’re dealing with political geniuses here.
EK: Walk me through the endgame though. The day before the shutdown ends, what will have happened in Washington?
GN: Unlike some other institutions in this town, I work to give some reasonable advice to members of Congress and shape public opinion. But I don’t micromanage the negotiations of House and Senate guys with the White House or stand outside the negotiations and announce somebody should lay down a nonnegotiable demand with a tactic and a date attached to it.
Republicans have their principles. Let’s have health-care be more consumer-oriented, let’s not raise taxes, let’s reform government. I could imagine many things that would work inside those principles, but I’m not in Obama’s head. I don’t know how he values those things. If I were him I’d trade some money off the sequester today for reforms in entitlements that take place a long time from now. Those reforms will be done by somebody. You might as well get something for them. Someday Republicans will hold the White House and the Senate and they’ll pass the Ryan plan. You might as well get something for it.
EK: One aspect of this that you mention quite a bit, but that’s been somewhat lost in the debate, is that Republicans have really managed to hold the spending levels in the CR down. They’re below the original Ryan budget, for instance, and well below what President Obama and the Senate Democrats wanted. Yet Republicans feel like they’re failing because they’re focused on Obamacare. Do you think Republicans are winning on spending?
GN: Yes, absolutely. We won in 2011 and then again with the president making 85 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent. We really did get caps and sequestration that limits government spending. If we just went home and put the government on autopilot it would be a win. This Republican Congress has made a fundamental shift in the size of government equation.
Sequester is the big win. It defines the decade. You still have to fix long-term entitlements, but the other team isn’t willing to do that. So you either wait for a Republican president and the Ryan plan or you get people so concerned about sequestration that they’re willing to come to the table and fix entitlements long-term.
EK: You say the other side isn’t willing to fix entitlements. But President Obama has a budget that includes chained-CPI. It includes the same level of Medicare savings that Ryan includes over the next decade. They’ve said they’re open to a deal on Social Security. They say the problem is that your side simply refuses to accept any tax increases -- even if it’s just in the form of cutting tax breaks -- as part of the deal and that that’s what is standing in the way of fixing entitlements.
GN: We’re in favor of phasing out any and all tax credits and deductions in return for lower rates. But we’re not for the effort by the administration to cripple tax reform by taking them and spending them.
The sequester changed the dynamic. You might’ve been able to sell some Republican bean counter on the idea that raising taxes and cutting spending are the same things because they reduce the deficit. But they’re not. We’re not raising taxes for entitlement reform. The Republican leadership has been very clear all along that no tax increase is on the table and if they did chained-CPI then the part of chained-CPI that’s a tax increase would have to be offset by rate reductions or tax cuts.
The administration asking us to raise taxes is not an offer; that’s not a compromise. That’s just losing. I’m in favor of compromise. When we did the $2.5 trillion spending restraint in the BCA, we wanted $6 trillion. I considered myself very compromised. Overly reasonable.
There’s going to be a lot — a lot — of coverage today on the federal shutdown, what it means and how long it might go on. I thought it might be worth quickly highlighting how it affects the parts of the government readers here care most about: public health, global health, food safety and the spread of scary diseases.
Most of those government functions are contained within the Cabinet-level Department of Health and Human Services, where 52 percent of the employees have been sent home. So the news is not good.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention furloughed 68 percent of its people — not just here in Atlanta, but globally. Yesterday I asked a longtime acquaintance there what was likely to happen and she said:
“I know that we will not be conducting multi-state outbreak investigations. States may continue to find outbreaks, but we won’t be doing the cross-state consultation and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders, such as a recent Hep A outbreak. We will not be doing rapid response for vaccine preventable disease cases or outbreaks, such as measles. We won’t be monitoring seasonal influenza activity in the U.S. as flu season begins.
“Surveillance for other emerging infectious disease outbreaks, such as H7N9 and MERS, will be weakened. We won’t be doing routine inspections of BSL3 and BSL 4 labs as part of the select agent program. Our work to prevent HIV/STDs and TB in the states using molecular epidemiology will be discontinued.”
Let’s unpack that a little bit. In the U.S., the flu season is beginning. This year’s flu vaccine has been manufactured and is either already in the hands of state and local health departments or with doctors or on its way to them via the commercial middlemen who handle distribution for the manufacturers. (OnTwitter today, Jim Garrow of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health confirmed that they already have an inventory of flu vaccine.)
So flu prevention won’t necessarily be harmed — except for those people who don’t get a flu shot unless CDC’s public health campaigns remind them because there won’t be any such campaigns. But flu surveillance, which CDC conducts and also assembles out of data sent to it by health departments and by networks of physicians, is on the shelf. Here’s what CDC’s flu-surveillance homepage looks like right now:
(The original page is here.)
And here is what that means: We are now at the start of flu season. If this season becomes a bad one — a rogue virus, an uneven epidemic, a concentration of cases in the elderly or the very young or in a particular city or state — we’ll have no way of knowing. And, for what it’s worth, we’ll have no way of directing additional public-health or research help because they’ve all been sent home. In tracking flu, one of the most unpredictable and mutable human-disease viruses around, we have been blinded. And, if the shutdown continues more than a few weeks, then that blindness will also blanket development of next year’s flu vaccine — because, within a few weeks, CDC researchers would start analyzing this year’s northern and southern hemisphere viruses to determine what ought to be included in next year’s vaccine mix.
That blindness is not limited to the U.S. CDC loans scientists and sends money to the World Health Organization and to dozens of countries in the industrialized and developing worlds. One of its specialties is helping to track the emergence of new flu viruses that have pandemic potential. That global spyglass has just been shuttered. And, we are less than two weeks from the official beginning of the hajj, the worldwide pilgrimage of observant Muslims to the holy sites of Saudi Arabia — where, if you’ve been following along, MERS has been slowly growing for more than a year. Health planners have been quietly fretting for months that the hajj might allow the spread of MERS outside of the Middle East — a reasonable fear, as that has happened in past hajj seasons with other diseases. But with the shutdown, we lose some of the most accurate tools for finding that out.
This enforced ignorance of disease spread isn’t hypothetical. Just this morning, the WHO tweeted that there is a three-country outbreak of more than 200 cases of polio in the Horn of Africa. The top polio-hunters in the worldwide eradication effort, the ones who developed the “molecular clock” that allows the eradication campaign to trace new cases back to their source, work at — yup, CDC.
The shutdown’s risks to health aren’t limited to what CDC does. The Food and Drug Administration has sent home 45 percent of its staff. The ones who remain can do so because they work in programs that receive user fees such as reviews of proposed new pharmaceuticals. Those can continue provided the application for review was already submitted. (New reviews, according to FDA’s statement today, are out of luck.) But food safety — always an underfunded mandate — is in real danger. HHS’s memo on shutdown staffing acknowledged this:
“FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.”
At the U.S. Department of Agriculture — which attends to about 15 percent of the U.S. food supply, including meat, compared to FDA’s 85 percent — things are a bit better. Eighty-seven percent of its staff have been retained, including most of the Food Safety and Inspection Service. In its shutdown memo, USDA says FSIS falls under an Office of Management and Budget shutdown category described as “necessary to perform activities necessarily implied by law” (for wonks, that’s No. 3 of the five categories). Thus, they can continue to conduct meat, poultry and egg inspections on-site; that is, at plants and packing houses. However, the agency loses personnel as follows:
“The following headquarters staffs performing the central program guidance, coordination, direction and planning functions described will be furloughed except as minimally required in direct support of Agency field operations:
- Inspection Operations (Office of Field Operations): Responsible for planning, coordinating and directing the Meat, Poultry, and Egg Products Inspection programs. Due to the large numbers of in plant inspection personnel who support excepted activities, most individuals in this area would be excepted and on duty.
- Public Health Science (Office of Public Health Science): The Public Health Science Program is responsible for planning, coordinating and directing all scientific guidance and support in chemistry, epidemiology, pathology, toxicology, nutrition, and parasitological. The Public Health Science Program also performs Agency risk assessments, directs the residue testing program, and also performs activities that address zoonotic diseases. With the exception of the laboratory function within Public Health Science, designations for these functions would be non-excepted, with limited individuals being identified as excepted and on duty. The majority of all Laboratory functions will be excepted.
- International Programs (Office of Field Operations, Office of Policy and Program Development, and Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit): The International Programs are responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and egg products from foreign countries are safe and wholesome. Program personnel also confer with foreign governments on issues involving imports and exports of meat, poultry and egg products and international food safety standards. A substantial number of these programs other than inspection of imports and certifying products for export would not be excepted.”
I know other Wired colleagues are going to tackle the shutdown’s effect on the rest of the government science apparatus. There is no question, though, that public and global health and food safety are experiencing great impact. Better hope there are no major outbreaks brewing and that no food producer or manufacturer — or food importer in a country with lower standards — decides that now is the time to try to slip something by government-funded detection and response. As of this morning, the protections we rely on are no longer there.
The National Endowment for the Arts came out Thursday with its quadrennial survey of public participation in the arts, and the topline numbers are pretty dismal. The percent of U.S. adults who attended at least one kind of arts performance or visited an art museum or gallery is the lowest it's ever been measured, having declined nearly 8 percent since 1992.
The shrinkage was particularly pronounced for non-musical plays, which dove 12 percent over the last four years, though the percentage of those attending jazz and classical performances, outdoor music festivals and opera dropped as well.
What's going on here? Could it be falling public investment in the arts? Maybe, although that's not dramatically lower than it was in 1992, according to Americans for the Arts:
That doesn't seem like it could be totally responsible. Perhaps, instead, it's because peoples' discretionary incomes took such a beating over the past five years. Movie-going was actually up substantially, suggesting that Americans might have opted for lower-cost entertainment. And it looks like Americans for the Arts' "Arts Index," which incorporates arts exports, tourism, the health of non-profits and education, closely tracks the broader economy:
Still, as far as willingness to shell out for concert tickets, it seems that there's something more fundamental going on. People just aren't as interested in sitting down and having art rendered unto them in a completely passive way, says Americans for the Arts' vice president for research and policy Randy Cohen. The Washington National Opera may have needed to be bailed out by the Kennedy Center, he points out, but its simulcasts before Washington Nationals games became popular.
"You could ask the question, are Washingtonians no longer interested in opera?" says Cohen. "The problem may not be opera so much, but rather how people want to experience it. Sometimes, wouldn't you rather have a chili dog and a beer while you watch the opera?"
Or even be in the opera -- or symphony, like the Baltimore Symphony allows fans to do with its "rusty musicians" program. There's evidence that Americans are more interested in making art part of their daily lives: Arts volunteerism is up, musical instrument sales are rising from their 2009 low point, the number of arts degrees conferred by colleges has grown from 75,000 per year a decade ago to 129,000 today, and more than a third of Americans in the NEA survey reported consuming art in some form through their mobile devices. Some of it looks a little different: There's the more technology-oriented Maker movement, for example, and a boom in the discipline of industrial design.
All of which may not be good news for the professional arts organizations that have served as our suppliers of high culture for centuries. But we do know, at least, that America has not collapsed into Philistinism yet.
More things you can never eat again.
A large number of fish imported from China and Vietnam and sold in at least some U.S. supermarkets contain unnatural levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, according to tests performed and verified by researchers at a North Carolina chemical engineering firm and North Carolina State University.
Around 25 percent of all the fish purchased from supermarkets by researchers in the Raleigh, N.C., area were found to contain formaldehyde, a toxic chemical compound commonly used as a medical disinfectant or embalming agent. All of the fish found to contain the compound were imported from Asian countries, and it was not found in fish from the U.S. or other regions.
The researchers only collected samples from supermarkets around Raleigh, N.C., and could not comment on whether or not the same results could be applied to fish sold nationwide.
Formaldehyde is illegal in food beyond any naturally occurring trace amounts. But, according to chemical engineer A. James Attar and his colleagues who conducted the tests, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not test any imported fish for formaldehyde contamination, and only 4 percent of imported fish gets tested for any contaminants at all.
“The look on my face when we found this – it was a complete shocker,” said Jason Morton, Attar’s colleague at N.C.-based Appealing Products, Inc.
Attar, Morton and another colleague at Appealing Products, Matthew Schwartz, came across the alarming revelation when they set out to validate a new formaldehyde test they developed for Bangladeshi clients who needed a cheap way to detect contaminated fish.
To verify the accuracy of their test, the team purchased domestic and imported fish from supermarkets around Raleigh, NC, with the intent of purposefully contaminating them with formaldehyde and then verifying that their test worked.
Instead, they found that about one in four fish was already contaminated with formaldehyde. The commonality between all the contaminated fish? They were imported from Asian countries, predominantly China and Vietnam.
Not all of the Asian fish were contaminated, but many were, Attar said.
The FDA has not had the opportunity to analyze the fish samples tested by Appealing Products, nor has the agency had the opportunity to review the test methods utilized.
“The FDA’s priority is to ensure that both domestic and imported seafood is safe and that we are protecting consumers from products that can cause illness,” the agency told Food Safety News. “To accomplish this, FDA oversees a comprehensive food safety program designed to ensure the safety of all seafood sold in the United States. This prevention-oriented program includes risk based inspections, product testing, and assessments of foreign countries regulation of aquaculture facilities.”
All foods imports entering the U.S. are screened electronically by the FDA. A subset of those foods are physically inspected at rates based on the potential risk associated with them, with some samples undergoing lab analysis.
“FDA encourages anyone who has evidence that an FDA regulated product violates food safety laws and regulations to contact FDA,” the agency added.
Attar and Morton stopped short of accusing Asian fish companies of intentionally adding formaldehyde to fish to prevent spoilage, though it appears to be a common problem in Bangladesh, where formaldehyde might preserve fish when refrigerators or ice aren’t available. (Think of frogs preserved for dissection in a high-school science lab.)
Attar and his team first uncovered the issue in February 2013, and then spent six months routinely testing samples, finding the same results. Their results were then verified by researchers at North Carolina State.
Attar said the sampling was restricted to purchases from Raleigh only and might not reflect fish in supermarkets nationwide.
“But, empirically, this is what we found,” he added.
Formaldehyde is present in some fish at small, naturally occurring levels. But everything observed in the Asian fish found that they were contaminated with far higher-than-normal or acceptable levels, Attar said.
The team tested whether or not levels of formaldehyde increased in cuts of fish as they aged, but the levels remained the same. They also tested the same species harvested from both Chinese and U.S. companies, finding that the Chinese-caught fish contained formaldehyde, while the U.S.-caught fish of the same species did not.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the U.S. imports approximately 91 percent of its seafood. China alone accounts for approximately 89 percent of global aquaculture production.
Appealing Products’ formaldehyde test costs approximately $1 per swab, which is applied to a cut of fish and turns purple in the presence of formaldehyde. The company has shipped 100,000 tests to Bangladesh and anticipates orders from companies in other Asian countries. More information on the tests can be found at formaldehydetests.com.
Documented instances of intentional formaldehyde contamination of food have occurred in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.
Attar and Morton said that their evidence makes a strong case for improved testing on seafood imports in the U.S., especially from Asian countries.
“I cannot say that companies are adding formaldehyde to fish, but our findings are higher than what naturally occurs,” Morton said.
Perhaps of interest to Zack, who is reading the Henrietta Lacks book now.
In her 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot told the story of Henrietta Lacks and the cell lines derived from her cervical tumor biospecimen (cell lines known to scientists simply as “HeLa cells”). To make a long story short, in 1951 physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a biopsy from a patient, Henrietta Lacks, and from that biospecimen developed the first human cancer cell line. The biospecimen was taken without Lacks’ knowledge or informed consent. No laws were broken in the creation of the HeLa cell lines that are now recognized (pdf) as “the most widely used human cell line in the world.” She died in 1951, and it was reportedly not until 1973 that her family learned about the HeLa cells (two years after Henrietta Lacks’ name was published as the source of HeLa cells in a scientific journal). As the table below shows, this incident occurred long before the adoption of regulations and ethical guidelines for biomedical research that, today, generally require researchers to obtain voluntary, informed consent from individuals before performing biomedical experiments.
Significant Developments in Ethical and Legal Governance of Biomedical Research
|Year||Policy||Policy Summary||Source of Policy|
|1947||Nuremburg Code (pdf)||Advocates for informed consent and voluntary participation in medical research||United States v. Brandt (Nuremberg Military Tribunal)|
|1948||Universal Declaration of Human Rights||Includes Art. 27 (1): “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”||United Nations|
|1964||Declaration of Helsinki||Issues ethical principles for medical research||World Medical Association|
National Research Act (pdf),
Pub. L. 93-348
|Creates the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research and requiring creation of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to review study protocols – Prompted by publicity of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study||U.S. Congress|
|1979||Belmont Report||Articulates ethical principles of (1) respect for persons, (2) beneficence, and (3) justice for research involving human subjects||National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research|
The Common Rule,
45 CFR 46 subpart A
|Establishes basic protections for human subjects in research conducted by or supported by the DHHS||Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies and departments|
|2011||“Human Subjects Research Protections: Enhancing Protections for Research Subjects and Reducing Burden, Delay, and Ambiguity for Investigators” Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking (ANPRM) (pdf), 76 FR 44512||Proposes policy changes to the basic protections for research involving human subjects/participants||Department of Health and Human Services|
Recent HeLa Genome Sequencing Efforts and Bioethical Controversy
In March 2013, scientists from European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, published the genomic sequencing of a HeLa cell line and deposited that genomic sequence data in an online, open-access database (JJ Landry et al. 2013). At that time, a separate, more detailed sequencing effort of a second HeLa cell line was in preparation for publication by scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA (Adey et al. 2013). The family of Henrietta Lacks had not been consulted or notified prior to the publication of the HeLa cell line sequence. While there was no law requiring such action, the circumstances surrounding the Henrietta Lacks story led many bioethicists to question why the family was left in the dark yet again.
The initial reaction to the publication of the HeLa cell line sequence data prompted the researchers to remove the data from the online databases. While some scholars wondered how this drastic action could be warranted given the vast amounts of genomic data for HeLa cell lines already published, other scholars questioned how the peer-review process failed to consider the interests of the family of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot herself responded critically to the publication in an op-ed piece published in the New York Times as “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: the Sequel.” There, Skloot underscored that privacy concerns by and respect for members of the Lacks family are at the heart of the controversy. And while she acknowledged that consent had not been required, Skloot condemned the “whole system” of biomedical research for failing to raise questions about consent during the peer-review process.
For further reading on the March incident and discussion:
Special Rules for HeLa Genomic Research
Over the following four months (April to July 2013), engagement with family members of Henrietta Lacks by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – along with the assistance of Rebecca Skloot – culminated in a consent agreement setting forth how genome sequence data from HeLa cell lines can be published and shared for additional research. The agreement requires (1) any publication of HeLa sequence data to be placed in a controlled-access database (known as dbGaP, the Database of Genotypes And Phenotypes), (2) the creation of a HeLa Genome Data Access Working Group that will process applications for access to the data and on which the Henrietta Lacks family members will have representation, and (3) a request that any research study provide acknowledgement to Henrietta Lacks and her family for their generous contributions to the biomedical community. The agreement does not involve any compensation or rights to benefit from products and discoveries generated with or derived from the HeLa cell lines or genomic data. These rules – involvement of family members to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether access to HeLa genomic data should be granted and a mandate regarding where data can be deposited – are described by the NIH Director and NIH Deputy Director for Science, Outreach, and Policy as “not setting a precedent for research with previously stored, de-identified specimens.” The factors identified by Hudson and Collins as setting the Lacks case apart and justifying the special rules for HeLa genome research are (1) the collection of the biospecimens without consent for collection and use, (2) the pervasive usage of the resulting cell lines in biomedical research, and (3) the extent to which the family members of the biospecimen’s source are known by name. The researchers who sequenced two HeLa cell lines have cooperated with the consent agreement described above.
For further reading on the August updates:
Beyond Henrietta Lacks and HeLa Cell Lines
There are many challenging ethical and legal issues raised by the Henrietta Lacks case:
These topics — informed consent, open access for genomic research, property rights in genetic material and data, gene patents, familial searching, and surreptitious testing — are familiar and frequent topics in the Genomics Law Report. While the Lacks case is the focus of much attention these days, the challenges of informed consent were also brought to the forefront not too long ago in the controversial research involving the Havasupai Indians. In 2010 the Havasupai, challenging the adequacy of the informed consent when biospecimens were believed to have been collected only for diabetes research but were later discovered to have been used in research for other purposes, successfully limited genomic research using their samples and settled litigation against the researchers at Arizona State University. Another example of the bioethical challenges with research involving samples collected prior to modern bioethical research principles is the persistent controversy surrounding Yanomami studies by James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon in the 1960s and 1970s. (For further reading on the Yanomami controversy, see “Sociobalderdash and the Yanomami?” Part I and Part II at The Mermaid’s Tale). Even the Personal Genome Project — with an intricate informed consent process (including an entrance exam), participant control of their profile information, and participant assumption of risk associated with the placement of their genomic data into the public domain — has had its own brush with controversy, as differing expectations popped up regarding demonstrations of participant’s risk of re-identification.
While policymakers debate potential reforms to provide better protection for research participants in this global, mobile, genomic, informational age, there are no easy answers. Context has always been key, and what is “reasonable” is an evolving standard. It is also important to avoid falling into the trap of the historian’s fallacy. Practices considered appropriate and acceptable for biomedical research decades ago may be considered wholly unacceptable today. Using one family’s experience as a case study to advocate for policy reform can be persuasive and effective. But there is a point at which the advocacy itself becomes exploitative and even counter-productive. Has Skloot (any of the bioethicists, journalists, or others for that matter) crossed that line by continuing to draw attention to the Lacks family? Declaring HeLa cells as her “legacy” or the Lacks family legacy (as has been done in reporting the agreement reached for HeLa genomic research to continue with Lacks family support) does not demonstrate that the important lessons of the Henrietta Lacks case have been learned. Indeed, it seems quite presumptuous of us all to declare what someone else’s (or indeed what an entire family’s) legacy is – a point more fully articulated by Ken Weiss at The Mermaid’s Tale. To learn the lesson requires all of us to engage in active and proactive policymaking rather than reactive cries for policy reform. Personally, I am tired of the lack of political will to do anything on any issue unless we have a tragedy with which to force the reforms through. That type of policymaking is bad for all of us.
We must consider the diverse perspectives, needs, and interests of the individuals making generous contributions to science. At the same time, we must determine the boundaries of their say regarding what happens with those contributions (whether biospecimens or data), both now and in the future. We need to throw away the “one-size-fits-none” approach to the protection of research participants. Transforming the biomedical research enterprise into a participatory process is one step in the right direction, but it is not possible for all situations (unless research with archived samples were to cease). There is no one (singular) ethical “right way” to conduct scientific research. Ethical issues are not just implications, complications, or after-the-fact consequences of genomic research. The ethical dimensions must be integrated within research design and practice in order, quite simply, to do better science.
1) It was going to be a long day. It was important to pack snacks.
2) And to stay cool.
3. Look at how many people were there.
4) Seriously. So many people.
5) No caption needed.
6) What Lincoln saw.
More great photos here.
About a year ago, in Washington’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, an independent grocer called Bestway changed hands. The new owner is In Suk Pak, a South Korean by way of Pennsylvania. He renamed the store Bestworld, replacing the second word of the big-block letters out front. Then he rejiggered the store’s product mix to fit the neighborhood’s changing demographics, adding gourmet chips and high-end beers, and Asian items like wasabi peas and dried seaweed.
But there was one aisle he didn’t touch: Goya’s, which is festooned with blue Goya-labeled tape and features a Goya-logoed spice rack. The aisle is densely packed with sacks, cans, boxes, bottles and jars of every imaginable bean, grain, sauce, juice and spice. The Goya salesperson just tells him what he needs to fill the section, and he’s happy to take the advice.
In Suk Pak, not shown, owner of the grocery store Bestworld, caters to his customers by stocking his store with a wide variety of Goya products. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
“I’m not Latino. I don’t know what they eat,” says Pak, shuffling around in a pink striped polo shirt supervising stocking on a Wednesday morning. Plus, he says, all the neighborhood’s non-Hispanic residents will buy Goya, too. Though it’s not as if there’s any shortage: Just a block away, Progreso International also stocks Goya products — they’re both cheap and of good quality, the proprietor says. That level of trust among urban Hispanic communities has landed Goya in nearly every corner bodega and medium-size independent grocery store like Bestworld.
And while Goya seems exotic, the company, is based in New Jersey. It was founded 77 years ago by Spaniards who had come to New York through Puerto Rico. It’s hired enough natives to develop a flavor profile that’s decently close to the real thing and has marketed itself as an Hispanic-owned company. Now, it’s the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, with $1.3 billion in sales last year (still a long way behind market giants like General Mills, which brought in $16.7 billion in 2012).
But the burgeoning Hispanic population isn’t enough for Goya. It has started moving into other foreign cuisines, like Indian and Chinese, in a bid to become the food company for all people new to America. It’s also developing products for second and third generations of immigrants, who might want something pre-cooked but still homey-tasting, or who might have intermarried with other nationalities and want to mix everything together (“Latin Fusion” is featured prominently in the Web site’s recipe section).
“It’s a United Nations kind of label,” says Bob Gorland, a supermarket consultant at Matthew P. Casey & Associates. He regards Goya, more than any other brand, as a section unto itself, much like the kosher aisle or natural foods area.
Now, as the “general market” becomes more interested in ethnic cuisines, Goya has positioned itself as the “authentic” option that you don’t have to rummage through ethnic markets to find. In other words, Goya is becoming mainstream.
Which, commercially, is a pretty unbeatable approach.
Goya — so named after the Spanish painter because founder Prudencio Unanue Ortiz liked the simplicity and vague familiarity of the name — started out packing and selling olives and olive oil in Lower Manhattan. It’s now a sprawling network of 16 worldwide processing and distribution centers, mostly U.S. based in the United States. In Spain, Goya now supplies the reverse immigrant population from Latin American countries. Although the bulk of Goya’s beans are grown in the United States, many of its specialty products come from around the world: coconut water from Thailand, yucca from Costa Rica, quinoa from Peru.
The company headquarters is across the street from the Secaucus, N.J., train station, but visitors are advised to take a cab door to door, so as not to get lost in the nest of highways in between. The factory entryway, lined with little plaques signifying production records, smells like motes of adobo have drifted through ceiling vents. On the reception desk is a copy of “The Inferno,” by Dan Brown, who after “The Da Vinci Code” moved on to conspiracies surrounding public health. (Later the book would pop into a conversation with a senior executive, who thought of it when speaking of the trade-off between relying on genetically modified crops and the need to feed a booming global population.)
To see the actual packing underway, visitors don a hairnet and earplugs and push through a door to the factory floor, where machines deposit rice into pre-printed boxes, spice into packets and beans into bags (most of the canning is done up in Buffalo). A scale can tell whether there are even a few grams are missing and will boot an offending product off the assembly line into a bin. From there, conveyor belts run along the ceiling, ferrying boxes toward a device that packs them neatly into palettes, ready for storage.
In modern food processing, everyone’s a manager, just watching to make sure the robots are doing their jobs right and sweep up the stray grains that fall onto the floor. From there, it’s another very short cab ride to the cavernous warehouse, which is a vast facility stacked floor to ceiling both with gigantic sacks of raw ingredients on their way to packaging as well as Goya’s 2,200 finished products (plus quite a few products from other big brands like Nestle that Goya stores and distributes). Forklifts glide silently among them, pulling things out for loading onto trucks for delivery runs up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
The fact that Goya has warehouses at all is unusual. Many big food companies just ship their products directly to ones belonging to grocery chains, like Safeway, which load their own trucks from there. Goya has always done direct store delivery (or “DSD” in industry jargon), because, as the owners see it, every store has a different audience. The sales staff researches local immigrant groups with the help of a business intelligence tool called Geoscape, as well as more enterprising techniques, like hanging out at the local money transfer franchise to see where people are sending checks home to. That way, Goya they know how to stock exactly what Cubans or Salvadorans or Peruvians are looking for, which creates brand loyalty.
“To us, it’s important to make the connection through a product that maybe we’re not going to sell truckloads of, but we’re going to have the product on the shelf so when a consumer goes in they say, ‘Wow, I can relate to Goya because it’s authentic, this product makes me feel like I’m at home,’” says Peter Unanue, the chief executive’s younger brother and an executive vice president in charge of distribution.
In regentrified neighborhoods, like parts of downtown Philadelphia that are now packed with yuppies, the less exotic products sell better. “You put a pacaya or a loroco in, and they don’t know what to do with it,” says Juan Lopez, Goya’s district manager for the Mid-Atlantic. “You put a low-sodium yellow rice, pretty much everybody across the board eats beans and rice.” (Though a jar of pacaya or loroco might also convince yuppies that the rest of Goya’s products are more authentic than most). Often, Goya’s representatives will even help the big supermarkets decide how to stock the rest of their store to welcome local immigrant groups, like selling plantains and yucca in the produce section if there are lots of Mexicans living nearby, and consulting on the right cuts of meat.
In more and more demographics, Goya is now familiar.
“People have the tendency to be a little more creative with what they’re cooking, and I think they get that alternative with the products Goya offers,” says Gary Budd, who manages stocking for Giant Foods in the Mid-Atlantic. Usually he’ll put all Goya’s products in one aisle, but if it looks like they’re selling well and have crossover appeal — like yellow rice — he’ll stock some of them in the general sections as well. At Giant, Goya advertisements play on the intercom, in a female voice with no hint of a Hispanic accent.
Some natural foods have made that leap, too: Kashi cereal, for example, appears both in the natural-foods section and the regular cereal aisle. “We see a lot of that, switching over to the mainstream,” he says.
Now even Wal-Mart is seeing things Goya’s way. “When we first started to do business with them, they wanted to put a generic program in place,” Lopez says. “It wasn’t successful because of the diverse ethnicities.”
Goya certainly isn’t without competition — from name brands like Del Monte and Bush’s, but also often from supermarkets themselves. Giant and Target will put a store-brand can of beans right next to Goya’s, at a few nickels off the price. In those situations, Goya likes to contend that its products are just higher quality than the generic brand; it has run ads showing a dumped-out Goya can having more actual beans in it than a cheaper substitute.
“Can the homemaker risk saving 10 cents, to make a dish, and they go home, and it turns out lousy?” says Joe Perez, Goya’s senior vice president in charge of sales and marketing.
The difference in quality isn’t necessarily noticeable, even to discerning palates. “They’ve never seemed better to me,” says Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer and best-selling cookbook author. “I’ve never detected the slightest difference in canned beans, except sometimes they taste tinny. And overly salty. But both of those phenomena have occurred with Goya, in my experience.”
Ubiquity, however, is an even bigger advantage for Goya than perceptions of quality. Food bloggers will sometimes specify Goya ingredients because it’s the easiest way to identify what to look for.
Yvette Marquez runs a popular Mexican food Web site called Muy Bueno. She started out in El Paso, where there were lots of options for ingredients. Now she’s in Denver, where she’s found that the ethnic food aisles often can be pretty much are more limited to Goya products. “I’ve recommended Goya products because I know people will be able to find it,” she says. Plus, they have items like ready-made empanada dough.
But, she notes, it’s not exactly gourmet fare. The hipster foodies will still probably seek out super-specialty items in bodegas that carry things the supermarkets won’t. For everyone else, there’s Goya.
Upstairs from the break room at the Goya plant, past the test kitchen, across a floor full of sales and advertising people, is Bob Unanue’s office. It’s full of the memorabilia from the past of a three quarters of a century run, including a 6.6-pound coffee-table book commemorating Goya’s 75th anniversary and a three-foot-tall model can of beans.
In 2004, Unanue took over from his uncle Joseph, who died in June. Inheriting an empire has piled on the frequent-flier miles. He breezes in, puts down his coat and heaves himself into a couch, just back from a few days at a bean convention in Chicago.
At conventions, buyers like Unanue forge and maintain relationships with farmers from the “bean belt” that stretches from New York over the mountains to Idaho. “I learned something yesterday I didn’t know, which happens a lot,” Unanue begins in a soft Jersey accent. “The average age of a bean farmer is 63 years old. It’s a lot more work than if you’re planting corn or soybeans.” That launches a diatribe against federal ethanol requirements for gasoline that have boosted the price of corn — and the cost of farming, even for beans.
That’s a real concern for Goya, which can’t stray far from its low-cost price point and which is scrambling to supply a ballooning infrastructure. The company has opened facilities in the past few years in Miami, Houston and outside Chicago, and it’s expanding westward and into Mexico. Meanwhile, its product line has doubled over the past eight years, moving into categories like healthy food lines and organics.
Huge food companies typically diversify their offerings — and bolster their authenticity in hopes of resonating with the immigrant crowd — by buying smaller brands like Hormel Foods did with La Victoria Mexican products, Campbell Soup did with Pace Salsa, and B&G Foods did with Ortega.
Goya banks on its own authenticity, developing all its own products along two basic principles: First, stick with tropical cuisines that share ingredients, like coconut milk and pigeon peas that can be adapted for Indian recipes (they also sell imported Basmati rice and Jasmine rice for Thai food). Second, develop more convenient products that serve the upwardly mobile immigrant, like microwaveable rice and beans, low-sodium and sugar-free colas, baby food in Latin flavors and even stuff in squeeze tubes. And all the while, teach the rest of the market how to use your foods, which Goya does through a series of cookbooks, especially for cuisines as they start growing popular — Peruvian ceviche, for example.
“People get educated through a trendy approach,” Unanue says.
Sometimes, though, Goya you can’t do it all itself. For its new line of baked beans, which have no Spanish on their shiny metallic labels, Goya partnered with another processor. If the product starts to sell well, Unanue says, they’ll bring the production in house.
While charging into the 21st century, Goya is also a very old-world American company in many ways. It has a high cost structure, with a large sales force and labor-intensive delivery model. At the same time, its growth potential makes it an attractive acquisition target. Buyout offers come his way “all the time,” Unanue says. But he says he couldn’t be less interested in selling to some megacorporation or hedge fund that might turn Goya into a financial instrument, like KKR did with Nabisco.
“Sometimes, an outside company would come in and say, ‘Well, the way you do business is very expensive,’ ” Unanue says. “We can cut costs, and then there’s hundreds of brokers out of jobs, hundreds of drivers out of jobs, and warehouse people, and we’re not serving the consumer.”
Plus, that might ultimately not be good for the business. Joe Perez takes Progresso Soup — now owned by General Mills — as a cautionary tale.
“Progresso in its day, the 1950s and 1960s, was the Goya of Italian food. And now what is Progresso? It’s a soup company,” Perez says. “They were lulled into believing ‘yes, go through the major chains, don’t have a single focus, we’ll take these items only.’ For two or three years, sales were booming, and after that, they started to decline. Then it became a question of the chain saying, ‘We don’t need all these items, let’s get rid of them.’ You lose your authenticity. It becomes, ‘Well, we don’t really need you anymore, there’s all these other lines. You’re not that special. You’ve lost your reason for being.’ ”
America already has a Sysco foods, after all, which supplies general staples in bulk. What Goya is becoming is a Sysco for the new America, where chipotle is as common as ketchup. At the end of the day, what’s good for immigrant America is good for Goya.
“We are a country of immigrants, and thank goodness,” he says. “Because that way, we can tailor our product lines to all those who are coming in.”