Saturday, October 18, 2008

AFJ and Roberta Anding

Roberta Anding, Texas Children's Hospital Adolescent Sports Department, followed Berube and noted that information for the average consumer and try to apply that to athletes. For example, the low-carb craze has been completely misinterpreted. This does not apply to athletes. Some athletes cramp regularly due too little sodium.

Also, BMI does not apply to athletes. Noted one retired Houston Texan who had BMI of 37 but had 19 percent body fat. The rules are different.

It's a misconception that want athletes want grease, fried foods and big portions. She created a line for people with cholesterol issues, body fat management and heredity cancer risks. Eighty percent of her athletes choose this "lean line."

She's seeing a trend towards "eating clean." The average Texan will consume 5,000 calories a day. She has to tell athletes that she doesn't want them to eat a lot of animal fat, but add pesto and pecan crusted chicken. Food must have a lot of calories in relatively small volume. It's not good nutrition if they're wearing it on their shoes.

There is now emphasis on homemade sports nutrition -- making sports or recovery drinks. She worked with Hakeem Olajuwon and they made a sports drink with pineapple juice plus salt.

The number one performance buster is dehydration. At least 50 percent of athletes are dehydrated and don't know they are. You have to think about not merely drinking but how much. So weigh to see how much water weight you lose. Every pound you lose is equivalent to 16 oz. of sweat. An athlete who drinks a gallon of water but may have lost more than that. Hyponatremia, or overhydration with not enough sodium, can kill and its symptoms are insidious.

You would also want high water volume foods -- fruit, vegetables, milk and yogurt. Athletes know when they sit down they need 50 percent of the plate as fruit and vegetables and 50 percent other stuff. Rarely does she that 80 percent of fluid comes from voluntary drinking and 20 percent from food. If you lose 1 to 2 percent of body weight, you lose 15 percent of performance. Fluid is best legal ergogenic aid. Also, athletes should look at first morning urine. We have all heard that if your urine is clear, you're hydrated. Your kidneys may get the fluid, but your muscles may not. But the clear urine is a fallacy.

You should know when to use a sports drink. Sweat is salty so you can't drink water all the time. For the average person, excess sodium is an issue. But you can have seizures, cerebral edema and then can you die. You don't need salt to watch, but if you play, you do need salt for recovery especially if the area is humid and hot.

Coaches set body weights, not nutritionists. So athletes to dehydrate themselves to make weight. Anding would recommend not fining athletes for being overweight. Plus, dietary supplements with items like ephedra and bitter orange raise core body temperature and accelerate dehydration. Texans only team in NFL who has a lean line.

There comes a time when athletes need to replace carbohydrate and salt from performance. What determines carbohydrate needs is intensity and duration of their activity. Sustained activity for 45 minutes burns 100 percent carbs. If you ramp up the intensity, the fuel burn will change. Take a female freshman soccer player. She doesn't play much, but she practices hard. So she needs carbohydrate after practice but not on game day.

Anding would love to see some homemade recipes for concentrated carbs. Athletes are looking for more choices. It would have to be portable, and have carbs and salt. Sportsbeans are jelly beans with sport. You could time this story to preparation for your local marathon.

Sugars are sprinting carbs. If you're looking for sustained energy, you want something with a lower glycemic index. A pre race meal of lentils, yogurt and chopped up apples, which slows glucose absorption. A good story idea would be raceday nutrition.

Also, the concept of recovery crosses all sports, age groups and classes. Anding works with inner city schools. Recovery is feeding the muscles when muscles are hungry, which is about 30 minutes after exercise.

Heat recovery food should be something liquid with 4 grams of carbs to 1 gram to protein. Chocolate milk works (solid foods divert cooling blood to the stomach and are not recommended). as does the old reliable PBJ. Liquid is better but you can eat if that's your only option. Pre competition and recovery foods should be low in fat. The timing of the pre-competition meal is important. General rule of thumb is largest meal no more than 3 to 4 hours before game time.

Closer to game time, go from solid to liquid. Anxiety shuts down digestive process. She has awakened athletes at 4 a.m., fed them so they can race at 8 a.m.

Some aesthetically oriented athletes want low volume foods to avoid the appearance of bloat.

Moving on to protein, most guys think they need more protein to make more muscle. The average athletes need more protein. The average person needs a half gram of protein per pound of body weight; athletes need twice as much. Carbohydrate acts as protein's bodyguard. Female triad athletes think they need more protein, but really they need carbs to protect protein's role in sustaining you. She needs to help bust the myth of protein consumption.

Carnation Instant Breakfast is as good as high-dollar protein supplements. Do the comparison.

One resource for writers is Nancy Clarke's Sports Nutrition Guide. You can also find Anding's information at Click on the Fan Zone link, then scroll down to "fitness."

People think that athletes don't have heart disease, diabetes or hypertension. They do, so look at the sources of protein. She recounted a 27-year old who had a heart attack and had one of the worst lipid panels she had ever seen. Most athletes want to win, but they also want to be mommies, daddies and family members.

You should see a nutritionist if you have a chronic condition and want to compete.

Hyponatremia mimicks dehydration, except for weight gain, upper respiratory symptoms and swollen hands and feet. Weigh yourself to check for it. If you gain weight after workouts, be aware. More likely in women who are slow runners.

AFJ Bonnie Berube and Nutritional Analysis

Bonnie Berube presented on nutritional analysis and gave a handout detailing the information. This will be posted on the AFJ website since it is information dense and I would be hard pressed to summarize accurately in real time.

She did point out the gluten intolerance craze and other allergens have impacted nutritional analysis. IBS is the trendy new disease.

Berube has found some resistance to packaging things as healthy so she recommends using other terms.

While many people keep an eye on fat content, most of the average consumers do not pay as close attention to sodium and fiber content. Her company also does labeling, with one employee doing boudin.

Berube offered her website,, as a resource. For foreign foods, there are two options. If you're using ballpark shot or no physician needs the accurate information, you could use a substitution. But that can raise issues.

Berube was asked for a recommendation for a nutritional database program for food editors. her company has looked at programs through the years. She likes Nutritionist Pro, which is user friendly and gives sound information. They also have good technical support.

It was asked if Berube's firm did analysis by serving or by portion. Their company analyzes by portion, which may be multiple servings. Most restaurants don't want to reduce portions since they think customers will not patronize them. Also, look at the largest item on some platters. It's usually some fried item like French fries.

AFJ ethics and business meeting

The ethical discussion panel brought up issues facing many of our members. It will probably be better for AFJ if I don't summarize a lot of that discussion here, but I encourage attendees to use the forums on our website to explore some of these issues further. I think the same is true for the business meeting.

AFJ with Jonathan Gold

Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Gold tried to write like Calvin Trillin and noted that the great thing about being a journalist was being able to call anyone up and tie them up for part of a day. He notes that you should be well read because you can't write well if you don't read well. He once had an editor who wold read copy aloud and you would anything to please him after hearing your prose fired back at you.

For readers the consumer part is the most interesting, but as a writer it's the least interesting part. For different audiences you have to explain different references. You don't explain bechamel to Gourmet readers; you don't explain Fat Boy Slim to readers of the LA Weekly.

The more you get paid, the more you get people denuding your prose style. At some of the slicks, a piece goes through 12 or 14 editors and you have to be strong to survive that process.

How does Gold find his spots? When he started in the 80s, LA was a food hot center, exporting chefs and trends. The ethnic immigration brought populations to LA that gave rise to more cuisine. It's odd to follow international geopolitics through the restaurants in your neighbhorhood.

You have to eat a lot of mediocre meals to find ones that stand out. He reads ethnic newspapers to skim the restaurant ads even if he doesn't read the language.

He tries to read as much as he can in English about a particular cuisine. He recommended The Complete Guide to Asian Food published in Australia (didn't catch the author's name).

He has a lot different Indian cookbooks> Personal favorite: Tasty Dishes from Waste Items, which includes multiple recipes for banana peels.

He doesn't think you need a lot of space for restaurant reviews. At Gourmet he wanted to do for restaurant writing what Pauline Kael did for film writing. For the first year, it's was good. For a writer, thinking about a restaurant for a month is a maddening intellectual exercise most restaurant can't stand up to.

For a restaurant review, if you talk about more than 8 or 10 dishes, you lose the readers, so dig deep into two or three.

Moderator Dallas Morning News critic Bill Addison asked how to keep it fresh after 25 years? Gold said if he thought about keeping it fresh, he'd be mad in a corner talking to himself. Keep reading. Cited an example of chemist who writes perfume reviews. Read it and 27 ways of describing something pop into your mind. As long as you keep what you're thinking fresh, your writing will be fresh.

First places with Shangdong cuisine were fascinating. The 14th one has to be really freaking good in order to merit attention.

A huge fad in LA and Houston in Cantonese community of Cajun food cooked by Vietnamese. Many of these will be gone in two year. There's a dynamic of faddishness in all restaurant cultures.

Gold writes 800-1,000 CounterIntelligence column, an advice column called Ask Mr. Gold and 600-word First Bites, which is three a week. Some restaurants are as good as they're going to get when they first open. However, Gold thinks some places settle into their groove in six weeks to 2 months after opening.

Most people who want to break into writing are doing a blog, and they will get better with adult supervision, Gold says. The Weekly advertised for someone to cover restaurant gossip, and was inundated with resumes. They will end probably going with the person who is already blogging about it.

The Pulitzer has meant Gold gets phone calls returned quicker. He's not getting calls as much for some freelance work, because people think he's too busy. He's not.

Gold says he often doesn't remember faces but can remember soup eaten 15 years ago and whether it's garnished with parsley or chevril.

He looks for a throughline of narrative in a dish. Not many chefs can do that. Sometimes he's not sure what he thinks until he finishes the piece. He's more descriptive than thumbs up or thumbs down.

Gold has gone to some restaurants at many as 17 times. Taiwanese cuisine is different with stinky tofu that smells like a dumpster, plus bitter melon that's bitter like cancer medicine and soups that taste like someone put out a cigar in them. People were enjoying the dishes and he didn't bring the cultural values to the cuisine. He kept going back, never loved it but could explain it.

He likes to lead stories with the food, but it depends. He works for a weekly owned by misers but likes value cuisines so his expenses don't compare with being at Gourmet with a $10,000 budget.

As for anonymity, most chefs know who you are. Gold doesn't do television, but has been photographed. He has chefs he's friends with and his wife is former food editor. He is willing to lose friends to write the review he has to write, and he has. Back in the days where he thought no one knew who he was, but would run into chefs who could tell him chapter and verse when he had been in.

He writes longer pieces in spurts, but jams out shorter pieces. Gold quoted Annie Lamott in saying the secret of good writing is a shitty first draft. He knows his own work well enough to find some of his own weaknesses. You also have to earn the first person. Don't be too fancy. It would be nice if there were more words for salty.

You are always better served by looking at your copy afterwards and striking out two of three adverbs. If they'renot too fruity, analogies are your friends.

Friday, October 17, 2008

AASFE afternoon idea swap

The session on ideas for various yearly events were presented in a PowerPoint presentation. The section fronts will be on on the AFJ and the AASFE websites, which are linked to here. There was also a discussion of industry changes affecting features and food sections. Some editors are seeing their writers turning up in other areas in the paper, others see section front ads, others are wrapping comics around classified. Some are using more reader-generated content with some reluctance. But it's been successful as part of a zoning plan in Omaha. Someone asked about viability for pet obits. Silence. Many editors are seeing their writers writing for other sections, but others are looking and plug and play reporters, overlooking the fact that multimedia success is about an identifiable persona. Many editors are fighting the battle to keep local critics in our sections and to keep standalone sections. Weirdest idea: melding features and sports in one section.

Many ideas for cooperating were shared. All in all sobering but useful.

Creating multimedia food content at AASFE

Addie Broyles deconstructed Twitter and how its microblogging capabilities resemble watercooler conversation or church chat. You can link your Tweets to your blog and there is some software that helps with that. Facebook also a good way to reach out to users. Giveaways also connect with users. Perhaps extend membership in AJ to bloggers (Editorial comment: assuming bloggers meet basic ethical standards). Broyles says she puts recipes from blogs in print. She is struggling with how to compensate bloggers fur using content. Don't think of them as competition, think of them as resources.

Jill Silva of the Kansas City Star talked about adding online slide shows and videos to augment print content. Demonstrated video on making marshmallows with flash photography interrupting events. They try to post videos weekly. They did a food stamp buying story with vlogs and photos. They also did a multimedia Thanksgiving package with web recipes, pro Q&As, podcasts, message boards and videos plus archives of past Thanksgiving stories.

Robin Davis of the Columbus Dispatch. The paper is family-owned. They melded other sections but left the food section to a standalone. They are only one left in Ohio and are down to four pages from eight. But they decided to cross brand and do a branded website,

Davis now does weekly television segments with the co-owned CBS affiliate. The station did not have a studio kitchen, but they built the Dispatch Kitchen in the North Market in Columbus (like the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles). They work with the Market on using the space. They usually tape on Wednesday mornings. The market offers cooking classes when the space is not in use.

The site has all of the print content but the recipe search is not functional due to the usual paradigm shifts. The video doesn't work on Macs, and is irregularly functional. Print ads are down, and consolidation is looming. They did three TV specials, including a holiday special that won its time slot. Online ads are on the increase.

Davis' face is associated with food in Columbus. She often gets recognized as lady on TV, lady on the Web and the lady in the newspapers. Ike affected Columbus with 300,000 without power for about a week. Readers were calling about food safety, and they did content on TV, in print and on the Web. The Red Cross asked her to present their food safety information because she was trusted and reliable. She is here and couldn't do it.

Broyles mentioned Google reader and RSS syndication (I'm not explaining them fully but go to wikipedia and all will be revealed). Davis says she hardly writes longer, award fodder pieces since she doesn't have time, spending 20 percent of her time on the TV side.

Integrating Food Coverage Throughout the Paper

The panel here featured Teresa Farney of the Colorado Springs Gazette, JoLene Krawczak of the Oregonian and former Atlanta Journal Constitution food editor Susan Puckett. Farney began by speaking about food news moving out of the food section. She collaborated with a metro reporter on a new ethnic grocery store where the other reporter conducted interviews in Spanish.

Susan Puckett said there was an expectation at the AJC of food stories moving out of the section as needed. She worked on a synergy with multimedia and the Web. She worked with online producers and became more nimble, resourceful and open-minded. The staff is now divided into print, online and newsgathering with writers producing stories across platform. Evening Edge aggregates content from dining channel, with quick fixes for busy people getting dinner on the table. A recipe database, which is searchable, is maintained by a staff member. Chefs do video "Dinner Dare" with video of them coming up with a quick dish. This evolved from a chef who became a "biscuit therapist," blogging in response to users' biscuit challenges. There was also a photo gallery, which did well.

Food never goes out of style and survives all economic situations.

Krawczak talked about extending the food brand beyond the paper. Food section moved from one floor down and now share a pod in the newsroom with the political team. The move increased cooperation and reducd poaching. Experiment was to develop a new mag from the food staff. Mix magazine was started by Martha Holmberg, former editor for Fine Cooking. Portland is an innovative food town. Staff did not increase. she has one-part time writer, two part-time editors and a part-timer in the test kitchen. Mag goes to nonsubscribers 30-45 young marrieds without children and singles, about 40,000 households. Publishes six times a year. Been successful. Have 2,000 subscribers, growing at about 200 per issue. Six thousands copies on newsstands. Goes for messy, funky look but sometimes it comes out more beautiful than planned.

Do restaurant trends. Other newsroom staffers want to write for the magazine. Has unified the newsroom. May repurpose reviews into capsules at the back of the book. Friday night dinner party reader throws casual dinner party and it's rewritten and published. It's the most popular feature in the magazine. Originally had to seed, but now people line up to do it. They use mostly staff photographers. There's a big freelance budget for Mix, and now share branding with the paper. Feature on Kitchens, which are a state of mind. Also includes a wine panel. Two other glossty magazines -- Northwest (do restaurant reviews) and Homes and Gardens Northwest (done by newspaper staff). Mix more about food and lifestyle.

Primary advertisers lto fo nontraditional food and drink ad, e.g. new condos, Macy's, wineries and restaurants have little ads.

The mags go to 40,000 people in in different target audiences, plus 5,000 on newsstands. Advertisers can do all three since they reach different audiences. Subscriptions are $10 for six issues $18 for 12 issues. Some readers complain if they know someone who gets it for free. The editor spends half her time on Mix, and is more efficient on the front end of the weekly section.

Mix has new website mixpdx. Ad ratio is 50-50 but she fights for 60-40 and it ends up somewhere in between.

AASFE -AFJ joint session two

Rob King, formerly of the Philadelphia Tribune, now works for He presented about job transitions, a subject close to my heart at this moment. He said to cherish these three things -- yourself, your audience (constituents not necessarily readers but friends, family and your social circle), and your promise (what and who you invest in).

He reminded us we were not powerless and showed a picture of the future Palin son-in-law. He also said we were in our new jobs. Your job is changing now and will keep changing. That's fine. Really.

Talk about work/life balancing. He added kids and life changed. Kids taught him about management and audience expectation.

It's not a career, it's a journey. It's going to work out, but you don't know how yet. He showed his list of jobs. He says writers stay open to opportunities, facts, rumors,

King related an anecdote about his son and a fire truck ride to school. The take home message; do anything to please the audience. The newspaper brand is a huge asset. Idiotic decisions are not new to this business.

He posted the ESPN motto and talked about some home examples of creating expectations.

Next move? Out of the comfort zone. Think about community. Remember the "third screen (PDA, Web-enabled phones)." You should try to delight and surprise.

For example, hired a physical therapist who wrote about injuries impact on fantasy sports. She just renegotiated a three year deal is on TV, radio blogs and elsewhere and generated 36 million page views one Monday.

ESPN has added sites in rugby, cricket and foreign language soccer sites.

Blogging sites for NFL teams using bloggers and local beat writers and also same approach to college conferences. They are told to refer out to sources of video and other content. Make users happy by making the information easy to access and communicate with them. Answer e-mail.

Metrics and market research are important. Page views in the millions, unique visitors same, for mobile product as well as online. Pay attention to this stuff.

With story sharing, focus on quality. You must trust your audience to make you better. Digital options are about sharing control. People want to use your content but want it fit into their lives. Think about duration. The stories don't end.

Use diversity of voices and points of view. Think about alternate delivery systems such as video etc. Think about context as much as content. Also add utilities such as games and timewasters (so to speak). People could do the Masters instead of just reading about it.

AFJ pirates board feature and Sunday editors vessel

The AFJ membership were surprisingly talkative at 7 a.m. as they rode over to the ZaZa hotel in the Museum District to join up with the Association of Sunday and Feature Editors. Caffeine was essential. We introduced ourselves and then Matt Thompson from the Minneapolis Star Tribune talked about user generated content and how to incentivize contributions. Twitter, the microblogging platform, was also discussed, including how to use hash tags (example #afj08) to highlight events. He noted that Twitter has a narrative flow, and users do remixes (or mashups if you're really cutting edge).

Naturally, Power Point was involved. Thompson also notes that having user write captions or having users comment on a particular topic (best cocktail in the Cities, for example). He also talked about service features (best breakfast, downtown lunch) being wikied, that is, users updating and commenting continuously.

He then moved on to the topic of general features, grouped under a heading such as $1,000. 48 Hours. The Twin Cities. What do you do? Winner got $1,000 to enact the weekend. Specialty reporting takes the same approach to niche topics. He recommended, an aggregator of emotional states from blogs around the world.

Thompson also offered the idea of a best feature section, which would be the top blog in the area. His awards are taking place in the area of user generated content.

Michael Bauer from the San Francisco Chronicle talked about how that organization is using multimedia. Because they are in a JOA, the sfgate website had different standards for city and suburban restaurant reviews. Bauer worked out an agreement to standardize practices. Bauer blogs and has done so for about 2 1/2 years. he's garnering 150,000 page views a month. The blog made him less of an asshole in the public eye.

They do service, including video of 10 basic cooking techniques, oyster opening and cleaning squid. Also folding egg whites. Resources are not quite there, including a recipe database that could include 20,000 locally generated recipes. He sees newspapers as being able to combat the East Coast-centric quality of the national sites, and highlight the best of the region.

Bauer does a weekly newsletter which does repurpose some print content. Also added virtual tours of the Top 100 restaurant with a 360 degree view of the restaurant. To try to keep list current, removing closings and updating. As a result, tourists e-mail for recommendations. Also do tasting reviews in the Travel section of the site.

Holiday pages are big. They offer a Turkey Training Camp with video. The food and wine content draws 1.2 million page views a month.

When asked how to use print to drive traffic to the website, Thompson said Vitamin is printed weekly and offers meetups and other events to bond with the user community.

AFJ in Houston Day Two recap

First of all, the second day of the conference was nonstop knowledge absorption and bus time. We started at the Omni with a pair of sessions with noted editor Judith Jones (John Updike, Julia Child) talking about the world of cookbook publishing and how the rise of celebrity chef cookbooks is more or less dumbing down the cookbook. For those of you who want to check out more of Jones' wisdom, your humble blogger debuted her Flip video camera and uploaded the 14 segments to AFJ's own YouTube channel. The sound isn't great but it's worth checking out.

After Jones, Marion Nestle, author of Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, gave an enlightening presentation on food safety as it affects our animal companions. The AFJ published a biography from some of Nestle's detractors that made her sound like the scourge of the food industry. She's not. She's woman committed to digging down into the quicksand of research studies, corporate practices and chemical mayhem exacerbated by the emerging free market in the developing world. She also informed the assembled of the existence of a food study and food science library at New York University which is open to the public. Since your blogger lives 12 minutes away by subway, she'll check it out and post about the collection once she gets home to New Jersey.

After Nestle and Jones, we all boarded a bus down to Alvin, home of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, to visit Rice Tec. The company is famous for its Texmati rice and also for developing different hybrids and seeds. We toured their greenhouses, which lost their roofs during Ike, and saw their labs where they test rice for water absorption, gelatinousness and other properties important to consumers. We ate BBQ before the tour that included Texmati rice and beans as sides.

Then we were off to NASA to check out space food. NASA is located in Clear Lake, which is about 20 minutes north of Galveston. More damage from Ike is evident in this part of town with blue tarps everywhere and broken trees by the road side.

The visit to NASA expanded on much of what Michele Perchonok talked about in the tech food session on Day One. We were shown how some of the food is packaged and how to control liquids in space. A favorite astronaut meal is freeze-dried shrimp cocktail which has something of a kick due to horseradish in the cocktail sauce. There is some sensory impairment in space so food needs to convey tastes.

After that, we bused to Central Market in the Highland Village to check out its stunning array of products. I found out the fish guy was originally from Ivory Coast. I have also run into immigrants from Senegal and other West African countries. I would predict more African food restaurants in Houston in the near future.

After ogling the displays at Central Market, were retired to the Central Market kitchen to sample barbecue from Pizzatola's, beers from the craft brewers St. Arnold and Shiner, local cheeses from Houston Dairymaid and chocolates from Vosges and Paper Bag Chocolate. We talked about and experienced beer and food pairings.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taste of Houston AFJ Day One

After talk of Texas, Tang and taxation of resources, we needed to eat. So the AFJ attendees sampled food from eight of Houston's best restaurants -- Indika, Reef, Hugo's, Cafe Annie, T'afia and Beavers, Brennan's and The Grove. The best sports of the evening were Judy Walker and Dale Curry of New Orleans, who were very gracious about the blogger's knocking over a flower vase and soaking our table with water. Even more gracious was Addie Broyles of Austin, whose tote bag ended up covered in wine thanks to the chain reaction from the vase. Who could be in a bad mood after such food? The quail and little stuffed doohickeys (this a technical foodie term based on a recent paradigm shift and focus group research) from Indika were dazzling, as was smoked quail on a corn base from the Grove, Brennan's arrayed some tasty Texas cheese with honeycomb mayhew jelly and tasso ham. Robert Del Grande from Cafe Annie offered scallop with polenta and something green and fabulous (recipes will be posted so please excuse the blogger's imprecision). The fried brownie with peanut butter and such was glorious as was the flourless chocolate flan with chipotle, ice cream with a dulce de leche style cream and more chipotle in the syrup. It was an incendiary set of flavors that played well together. Hugo's was the perpetrator. Call them guilty of goodness.

Texas wines from Inwood Estates Vineyards in Dallas and McPherson Cellars were poured. The McPherson Viognier was a stunner, the psychotic teenager of a grape without the nose ring and the scary friends. The McPherson Sangiovese was intriguing but could stand a bit more bottle age to this mind. The Inwood Chardonnay-Palomino blend was light on oak and had some melon and honey notes, but at $79.50 a bottle, the QPR is not too good. The tasting notes will be posted on the AFJ website and I will blog about the wines on my own blog.

Anyway, there's more to come. Please feel free to correct or add comments.

AFJ in Houston Day One Session Three

Thanks to apple retrieval, I missed a little bit of the first part of "The High Price of Food," moderated by Robin Davis of the Columbus Dispatch. Rosalinda Benner, RD/LD, the corporate dietitian for the HEB Grocery Company, said the average family has cut out 70 per cent of its eating out. The store is trying to help the takeout-dependent learn how to cook simple, fast, nutritious meals. HEB stocks its stores in accordance with local demographic patterns, so North San Antonio won't have the same foods as South San Antonio. By eating takeout, people are used to instant gratification, so they must learn to cook and budget. She offered a handout with several tips such as shopping for weekly specials, getting family members to take a team approach to food preparation, saving grocery receipts to track spending, doubling recipes and freezing leftovers, don't take the kids shopping and eat before you go. HEB does community outreach with recipe cards and a seasonal magazine with recipes and advice. She has seen sales of organic food drop in the tight economy.

Brian Greene, president and CEO of the Houston Food Bank, offered some sobering statistics about food and income. Lowe income families spend 32 percent of their income on food compared to 11 percent for families of average income. For fuel, the numbers are 11 and 4 percent, respectively. The food bank gets food donated by grocery stores like HEB of their overstock and surplus commodities from the USDA. Restaurants are not a large source of donations since their kitchens are very efficient. However, the Bank through an affiliate does take excess hotel event food. Thanks improved resource shifting learned by FEMA post-Katrina, the Food Bank did well during Ike in Houston, and still sending food to communities south of Houston and Galveston which were harder hit.

Factors affecting food banks (you can check to find one locally) are less excess inventory at grocers, fewer surplus commodities (the Houston Food Bank got 2 million less pounds last year than in previous years as farmers reduced production due to falling prices and rising costs).

Brian Anderson, a livestock and dairy economist from Texas A&M, laid out the intricate interplay between oil, corn, ethanol and livestock and dairy prices. Nitrogen fertilizer is derived from natural gas and hay prices are at record highs. All of the commodities futures markets experienced the same rapid devaluation as the stock market. We're just seeing the beginning of the price increases since there's a lag between calving and slaughter of 16-18 months. You will see lower beef prices in the short term, but pork and chicken will rise. Supplies will also be reduced as production costs rise.

The weak dollar has increased exports (Russia is a big market for dark poultry meat). However, corn is used for farm raised fish as feed so the prices will be impacted. Even cheap and reliable turkey will increase in price. If all beef were grass fed, production would decrease by 50 percent (editorial comment: This would be a bad thing?). Also, with research on using other forms of biofuel besides corn-based ethanol (in West Texas getting fuel from algae is being studied) is on the horizon.

As one attendee noted, "I could be squeezing algae for a living." However, there were better things to come

AFJ in Houston Day One Session Two

"The Future of High Tech Foods" was moderated by Nancy Stohs of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Michele Perchonok of NASA shot down a long held misconception that Tang was designed for NASA. It just happened to fit with NASA's needs and is still in use. They need food to be safe, acceptable (no crumbs in the switches) and use resources carefully. Astronauts usually lose muscle and bone density in flight. The space shuttle astronauts used 4 lbs. of food per person a day. The new Orion spacecraft, which will resemble a bigger Apollo capsule with 4-6 astronauts, will only allow for 2.5 lbs. There's no refrigeration in space so the foods must be shelf stable. They use freeze-dried foods, thermostabilized foods and some existing dried foods repackaged in vacuum sealed packaging. The astronauts find the foods are not as flavorful mostly because microgravity reduces smell conveyance. Also, the food is not piping hot. And, the astronauts are congested and swollen, leading to a phenomenon known as "Charlie Brown face." Plus, they are stressed by being away from the familiar. One astronaut never eats mac and cheese at home but craves it in orbit. Water is an issue due to weight and storage but recycling even of urine for longer missions, will become standard. As Perchonok pointed out, "We recycle urine on Earth, it's just someone else's urine."

Gene Lester, a research plant physiologist from the USDA, presented a handout on comparing studies of nutrients of organic vs. conventional foods. Some of the studies he went over in his handout were not statistically significant, and there was only a minor different between the types if the soil profile was comparable. He also talked about additional funding being available from the new Farm Bill for the next five years to research food crops more thoroughly.
Quote of the day: "We know more about outer space than what's going on six inches under the soil where most of our food comes from."

Marcia Walker, vice president technology and microbiology with Fresherized Foods, talked about ultra-high pressure food processing as a way to eliminate pathogens in raw produce. They produce Wholly Guacamole, which has an average shelf life of 30 days compared to chemically stabilized guac of 7-10 days. The pressure is about 100,000 psi compared to 60,000 psi at the deepest depths of the ocean. The machinery costs about $1.8 million and can process 215 liters per batch. There's a new, larger machine that can hold 350 liters. The capacity depends on the packaging. Hormel is using the technology for sliced deli-style meats and it's shown some promise with salsa.

This was a fascinating session and it was nice not to hear anything about molecular gastronomy. Any other attendees who remember more about the Q&A feel free to comment. I really needed an apple.

AFJ in Houston Day One Session One

Hello all and sundry. I'm Claudia Perry, a new member of AFJ and I have volunteered to post daily from our convention in Houston. I mostly write about wine. If you're curious, you can check out my blog.

Anyway, there are only 40 of us registered this year,which probably says a lot about the fate of print media and the economy of late. A few attendees mentioned section-front ads and consolidation with the daily features sections as unnerving but increasingly common practices.

Since everyone suffers from eye fatigue from reading on a screen, I'll summarize the three sessions that were held today in separate entries. All were held in Salon B here at the Omni Hotel, and, as is typical in Texas, it was as cold as a meat locker. Wraps and hot beverages may be essential in the coming days.

Session 1 "Texas Food Past and Present" featured Dai Huynh from the Houston Chronicle as moderator, with "Dishes of the Wild Horse Desert" author Melissa Guerra, Chronicle restaurant critic Allison Cook, Houston Press restaurant author and cookbook writer Robb Walsh (coming soon "Sex, Death and Oysters") and cook book historian Elizabeth White from the Texas Medical Center library.

Main talking points: Guerra, an eighth-generation Texan , says state's food history started in 1845 and was shaped by things that were free, flourishing and favored. The South Texas natives were identified by how they looked and what they ate. There were 107 indigenous groups along the Rio Grande. There are at least seven ecosystems in Texas and multiple microclimates. Key to the food is mesquite wood and chile pequine, a small native pepper that was distributed by bird migration and the seeds dropping where they fell from the birds.
The Border cuisine was meaty and cheesy since water and refrigeration were scarce. Interestingly, McAllen and Brownsville are now mad for sushi. One indigenous group, the Mariami, followed the pecan harvest north and brought the nuts back for trade from Fredericksburg. Guerra expects a rise in Texas cooking similar to the Cajun boom in the 80s.

Cook, who in the interests of full disclosure is a Facebook friend, recalled an early Houston restaurant called Sonny Look's Sir-Loin Inn, which featured a knight on a live horse at the door and the owner wearing a coat covered with sequined crustacaeans. Culinary highlight was butter compounded with strawberries, a nod to Helen Corbin of "Texas Caviar" fame. Two major forces in restaurant development in Houston, lifting of immigration quotas in 1965 and liquor by the drink becoming legal in 1972. Houstonians like exuberant flavors, big portions and nothing too subtle about their cooking. In the 80s the arrival of the "New" Southwestern cuisine was somewhat precious and rigid but the cultural culinary mix is now more relaxed and natural. Houstonians look at Tex-Mex cooking as nursery food eaten for comfort and usually on Friday nights, which may be due to the TGIF need for a margarita, but could also be related to the high school football (that last observation is mine not Cook's).

You're seeing a sensory overload such as shrimp stuffed in a jalapeno wrapped in bacon, which Cook says put flavors in conflict but is pretty tasty. She also noted that Texas craft cheese is where California was a few years ago.

White has collected Texas cookbooks pre-sesquecentennial (1986 if you're not from here). The first Texas cookbook was published in 1883 and included a recipe for yacht pie, as if to demonstrate the Houston level of sophistication. Gale Horton put together the first recipe collection in Galveston in 1855. White identifies seven regions of Texas cooking.
The Coastal Prairie influenced by rice, sugar soy beans and cotton. Cottonseed oil was the second largest crop in Texas at the beginning of the 20th century. Rice production improved with the arrival of Japanese growers in 1904 with tolerant varieties and expertise. The Lower Rio Grande Valley produced its first grapefruit crop in 1904. There was also a nonkosher Jewish cookbook published in Houston in 1920s with ads for butchers selling pork and bacon. White thinks this was the community's way of proving they weren't imsular.
The Piney Woods of East Texas were abundant in game, cropland, wood for smoking and
were also influenced by Southern cuisine and Louisiana cuisine.

The Panhandle was hot, dry, sunny and had little water so wheat, cattle and cotton drove the economy. There is very little population and farming didn't really take off until widespread irrigation in the 20s.
The Prairie Lakes (think Dallas-Fort Worth) produced Thomas Munson, who originally hailed from Denison. He was one of three Americans who sent root stock to France during the phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s.

The Hill Country was thickly settled with Germans with three German language cookbooks from 1915 coming from New Braunfels. White has not found any Spanish-language cookbooks, which may be due to cultural factors such as literacy and access to printing (last observation also the blogger's, not White's) Corbin introduced Texas Caviar in Austin in 1931. San Antonio, home of Fritos, also gave us Frito pie and the first Bermuda onions in the state.

The Upper Rio Grande Valley is pretty much the cultural mezcla (mix if you're Spanglish challenged) of Mexico and Texas as found in El Paso and influenced by Juarez.

Robb Walsh sees Texas food as the division between haute and folk culture. He noted that oyster culture in Texas is very blue collar whereas places like New York and San Francisco, that effectively murdered their native crop, it's become a hoity toity experience. Two-thirds of the oysters in the United States come from the Gulf Coast. He thinks Texas does folk cuisine best.

For the various BBQ traditions of Texas (Walsh is leading the travel writers around next week), the best examples in Houston are Thelma's on Live Oak downtown near the convention center (African American style), El Hidalgese on Long Point (Mexican barbacoa), Pizzatola's on Shepherd, Goode Company BBQ on Kirby(German links) and Que Huong in the wilds of Southwest Houston on Bissonnet for Vietnamese style.

More later. I've got to go eat.