The sterile and expensive Denver International Airport

November 6, 2022 • 1:30 pm

You know what really bothers me?

I have to cool my heels at DIA for several hours before catching a flight back to Chicago, and I swear that I’ve never seen a more sterile airport in my life.  There are long, soul-less corridors of gates, with nary a nom to be found unless you take a long hike towards Baggage Claim. The place may be efficient, but it provides little comfort.

Here are two panoramas of the corridor (click to enlarge):

Can you name a more sterile airport?

Well, at least the restrooms are clean. But the restaurant is also victim of another pet peeve: overpriced food. After you hike a mile to find something to eat, what’s on offer is grossly overpriced food.

Now all airports (like ballparks and movie theaters) have overpriced food, but it’s gotten worse since the pandemic.  One could explain this with reference to the captive audience: there’s not much competition, and if you remember what happens when demand is high and supply is low, well, that’s what you see.

In the San Francisco Airport I wanted a bagel with a schmear, and it was around five bucks. Here I had a chicken salad sandwich, and had to part with $12, not including tax. Now I have to admit the sandwich was good (photo below), but really—twelve bucks?  Do airport food places make a deal with the airport to charge astronomical prices, or do they kick back a lot of their profit to the place?

Well, if you Google “why is airport food so expensive?”, you get a ton of answers. This site gives six, and I was partly right:

  1. Airport rent and regulations, which include extra fees besides rent.
  2. COMMISSIONS TO THE AIRPORT. These can be as high as 10%
  3. Delivery fees of foodstuffs to airports are higher than delivery to normal outlets. For example, delivery people have to go through security
  4. Limited storage space, so you have to rent more space.
  5. Delivery people have to pass extra background checks.
  6. Airports are out of the way and that makes it harder to retain employees, ergo they have to pay them more.

Their solution is twofold. First, avoid beverages in airports, which have an even higher profit margin. But the best solution is to bring in your own food (but not drinks, which aren’t allowed to go through TSA!). That was not an option for me.

But the chicken sandwich was good, and on my Southwest flight I got a free can of cranberry juice (actually, a mixture of cranberry, apple, and grape juice, with the first ingredient being water and the second HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. The damn can had two ounces (ca. 60 grams) of sugar in it!)



I have landed (in Palo Alto)

November 3, 2022 • 3:15 pm

Strange to say, this is the first time I’ve ever been to Palo Alto, and tomorrow will be the first time I’m visiting Stanford University. The arrival was swift from Davis: a shuttle to the SF airport, and then an Uber to the spiffy hotel where they put me up in Palo Alto.  Now I’m writing a brief post. before setting out for noms.

Here are few photos from the past few days, but not of terrific interest.

First, two plants in Davis I saw on a walk. The captions are guesses by Phil Ward, but if I had the app called “Seek, I could have pointed it at the plant and got a pretty accurate ID. You should download that free app, which is remarkably accurate at telling you what a plant is by pointing the camera at it. (It even does animals: I pointed it at myself and it said Homo sapiens.) I didn’t get it until after I took the next two photos. Readers can help with the identification. Seek also gives you information about what you point the camera at. All you do is hit the green camera once in the app, and after that just point your camera at whatever you fancy.

Phil’s caption: The first one looks to me like Lantana (in the Verbenaceae).

Phil’s caption: Not sure about the second. Maybe ornamental asparagus (Asparagus setaceus).

Here’s a video about the Seek app, a product of iNaturalist that continually updates its photos using AI.

Clouds in Davis:

One night we ate at a dorm near campus, a place called Latitude. Boy, have dining halls changed since I was in college! At William and Mary we got one plate of glop and a side (with Jello or pudding for dessert), and there were no seconds,

Now, at Davis, they have different ethnic foods each night, a huge selection, and it’s all you can eat (and drink). Today’s menu is here, but they only show about half of what they actually have on tap. It’s only $13 for a visitor—cheaper if you’re a UC Davis professor. Talk about the “freshman 15”: here it would be the “freshman 30.” (This refers to weight gain in first-year college students.)

It was Korean, Brazilian, and Middle Eastern Night on Tuesday. Here’s my dinner.

First course: a bowl of cold garlic shrimp, Korean short ribs with (overcooked) broccoli, cucumber salad and rice, and a baklava that I snatched because the desserts turn over during the evening:

Second course: a sort of Brazilian feijoada, with beans, pork with green chile, rice, guacamole, and sour cream. On the side are dried pork cracklings (chicharrones). I washed this all down with an agave vanilla cream soda (the drinks are good, too!)

As I suspected, the baklava disappeared quickly, so later I got a second dessert: a cream puff:

This morning it was 1.5 hours from Davis to the San Francisco airport, where it was dead easy to get an Uber to Palo Alto. Here’s Alcatraz Island with its famous prison on the way (now closed as a prison, but you can take Park Service tours and see Al Capone’s cell):

And a panorama of my hotel room. You can see me in the mirror to the left.

Tomorrow: the Academic Freedom Conference begins. I will of. course report on it.

In which I go to In-N-Out Burger

October 30, 2022 • 11:50 am

Yesterday I discovered that Davis has an In-N-Out Burger, a chain highly extolled by food experts like Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsey (see below). It’s not found anywhere outside of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas and Oregon, so I haven’t had one in many a moon.

After this discovery there was nothing else for me but to take my host to this joint for a late lunchl. There were two of us and this our visit.

First, the location, right off the freeway (I-80). It’s a pleasant sunny spot, and the restaurant is bright and spotless. If you’re driving from San Francisco east, hop off at the Davis exit and get yourself a burger.

Click photos to enlarge them. The exterior:

A pano of the inside.

The menu below looks limited, but there’s a whole slew of stuff not on it—the so-called “secret menu” (see it here). You can get root beer floats, grilled cheese sandwiches, get your fries or burgers “animal style”, and have that burger prepared a gazillion ways.

Below: our order. My friend Phil’s is on the right side: a hamburger served animal style and fries cooked animal style (fries prepared this way on the secret menu).

Mine on the left: the famous “double-double”, animal style, medium well (they don’t do medium rare) with lettuce, tomato, and grilled onion, and regular fries. Phil had lemonade on the side, and I had a root beer float (from the secret menu).

A double-double, animal style. As Bourdain argues below, this is a work of culinary art. Look at that thing: veggies on the bottom, where they should be, and fresh (the potatoes are also cut from fresh spuds and fried on site), two patties of proper size with American cheese, and a schmear of “animal sauce” (sort of like Russian dressing) on the bottom. The regular animal style burger has raw onion, but I like mine grilled.

My first bite: a cheeseburger in paradise!

And my root beer float, half root beer, half soft-serve ice cream. It was a better accompaniment than a milk shake (they do those, too), as it was lighter: a hybrid between a milkshake and a soft drink.

It was a great meal. Price for two people: $19.

The experts weigh in:

I put this short video up the other day; it’s Anthony Bourdain extolling the virtues of In-N-Out burgers (he’s eating a double-double, animal style). Note his claim that this is his favorite restaurant in Los Angeles.

And here’s Gordon Ramsay, who names this the chain as purveyors of favorite fast food, and also praises the double-double, animal style.

Travels: Cambridge, part 2

October 12, 2022 • 9:15 am

It’s been a quiet rest in Cambridge, and I haven’t been overly ambitious because the persistent insomnia produces a near-constant fatigue. Nevertheless, I haven’t been quiescent, either. Here are a few photos from the last two days in Cambridge and the Boston area.

First, you may have forgotten Jack the Cat, staffed by the daughter of my hosts. Jack and staff live in Jamaica Plain, right outside Boston. In September of last year, Jack fell three stories from a porch and landed on a cement driveway, severely injuring himself. I wrote a several posts about it at the time (see link above), documenting Jack’s care at the famous animal hospital Angell Memorial Medical Center.  Jack was badly injured; as I wrote at the time:

He can move and even walk a bit to his litter box on his injured paw, but most of the time, senses dulled by painkillers, he lies on his blanket. His paw is all bandaged and pinned, and the three buttons around his mouth are to keep it stitched shut until his shattered mandible heals (he can open his mouth 1 cm to eat). He’s also wearing the Cone of Shame:

He had a fracture of the second and third metacarpal bones, a fourth and fifth left carpometacarpal joint luxation, as well as the mandibular fractures, a collapsed lung, and contusions on the lung (those have largely healed). He’ll be laid up for six weeks, minimum, but in the end he should be all right, although perhaps without the mobility he used to have.

It was touch and go for a while. Here’s Jack soon after the accident, paw all pinned together and with buttons holding his jaw shut so it could heal. He was one sad moggy!

Yesterday we visited Jack and his staff and I was delighted to see that he’s completely healed, without even a trace of a limp. He was just a normal tuxedo cat, jumping about, chasing a laser pointer, and soliciting scritches on the chin:

A bracing walk around nearby Jamaica Pond, a kettle lake indicating the retreat of glaciers.

kettle (also known as a kettle lakekettle hole, or pothole) is a depression/hole in an outwash plain formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters. The kettles are formed as a result of blocks of dead ice left behind by retreating glaciers, which become surrounded by sediment deposited by meltwater streams as there is increased friction.[1] The ice becomes buried in the sediment and when the ice melts, a depression is left called a kettle hole, creating a dimpled appearance on the outwash plain. Lakes often fill these kettles; these are called kettle hole lakes.

Click to enlarge the panorama:

There were mallards! (I do miss my ducks.)

And what I think are cormorants festooning a boat in the pond. I’m not sure of the ID, however, so readers are welcome to tell us what they are:

The Pond, and Jamaica Plain in general, is studded with gorgeous houses. Here are two:

After a homecooked meal (unfortunately not photographed), we hied ourselves to the best ice cream emporium in Cambridge, and perhaps in the world (I haven’t tried them all): Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream in Inman Square in Cambridge. The flavors are many, all are made with the finest ingredients, and there are some exotic choices:

Here were the choices last night (click to enlarge):

Although the “burnt sugar” flavor is, I maintain, the finest flavor of ice cream in the world, I always get it when I’m there, and so this time chose two new flavors: “khulfi”, an Indian ice cream with cardamom flavoring, and carrot cake, a splendid flavor that tasted just like its namesake, complete with raisins and a ribbon of cream cheese as frosting. My two scoops (carrot cake on the right):

And two children’s appreciation for the place. If you are ever in Cambridge, you must not miss Christina’s, and get the burnt sugar flavor. Tell them that Jerry sent you (they won’t know who I am):

A respite in Cambridge

October 10, 2022 • 9:45 am

I’m in Cambridge among old friends, and October has come again, has come again. All of the bright and bitter leaves, flare up; the maples turn a blazing bitter red, and other leaves turn yellow like a living light.

For old times’ sake, I took a walk down Massachusetts Avenue towards Harvard Square yesterday, though we didn’t quite make the Square due to the press of time. I was also waylaid by a new Indian/Asian grocery store nearby, which turns out to be fantastic. It’s even better than the big Indian grocery stores on Devon Avenue in Chicago, though it looks unprepossessing from the outside:

They had white eggplants, which I’d never seen before:

. . . and big jackfruits beside baby bananas. (Jackfruit is wonderful if you can get hold of a ripe one.)

Tons of chutney:

And the Muslim equivalent of Spam®. In the U.S. it’s made of pork shoulder,  but of course pork isn’t kosher for Muslims, so we have beef Spam-equivalent:

Look at all the different kinds of rice!

On the way to Harvard Square, we ran into HONK!, an annual three-day festival of “activist street bands,” full of, well, activist street bands, as well as jugglers, dancers, and immigrants who now live here, sporting their national finery. It’s quite a show, and tells you why the government should designate Cambridge (as well as Berkeley and Portland) as National Cultural Preserves.

Some scenes from HONK!

A rent-activist street band:

I’m not sure what nationalities are indicated by the costumes in the next two photos. Perhaps readers can help.

The old Art Deco Sears building in Porter Square was built in 1928, It went out of business years ago, became an Asian food court, and in 1994 became part of Lesley University.

We stopped for a minute to visit my friend Andrew Berry, who has often featured in these pages. He teaches evolution and also advises biology students at Harvard, and in the few minutes we visited he managed, as Brits do, to jokingly insult me several times. At least I hope he was joking. One never knows with Brits!

Just a block away is a landmark for movie buffs: the Oxford Laundry and Dry Cleaning emporium, where you do your own washing.

Why is it famous? Because of this 1970 movie:

From the link:

[The laundry] was best known for its cameo in the blockbuster “Love Story,” based on Harvard graduate Erich Segal’s tale of star-crossed love between rich and poor Harvard and Radcliffe students. Some of the movie’s key scenes were shot at Harvard and in the Baldwin neighborhood – including at 104 Oxford, then the Gold Star Laundry. Segal’s novel spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list; the film went on to break 1970s box office records and get seven Academy Award nominations, winning the Oscar for Best Original Score.

The movie was pretty sappy, as I recall, though I haven’t seen it in decades. It starred Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal as two Harvard students who meet in the laundromat, fall in love, get married, and she dies (of leukemia, as I recall). It’s a real tear-jerker, and the iconic phrase “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” comes from the film. Here’s the 50th anniversary trailer that features the famous phrase:

Inside the laundry:

It was at the pet store below, in 1975 or so, that I. bought a baby skunk whom I named Pinkus after my father’s college roommate, Irving Pinkus (it was a Jewish fraternity). I had Pinkus the Skunk for seven years or so before he died. The pet store is still there.

Last night I took my friends to dinner at this old favorite, a Mexican-American restaurant on the Cambridge-Somerville border. The menu is here.

You can’t eat there without starting with “Guacamole en molcajete”, guacamole prepared tableside with (and served in) a mortar and pestle:

A good starter with chips:

. . . and a pitcher of their spicy mango margaritas, which were quite spicy. They didn’t stint on the tequila, so we were a bit tipsy after dinner.

Tacos baja: “beer-battered fish with jicama slaw, cilantro-garlic aioli, and sesame seeds:

Pescado a la Veracruzana: “pan-seared seasonal fish with chunk tomatoes, green olives, and capers. Served with Mexican rice, grilled lemon, and steamed vegetables.”

And my go-to choice to judge a Mexican restaurant: Chilies rellenos, “roasted poblano peppers served with plantains, creme and ranchero sauce, and Mexican rice. stuffed with cheese and pork.  They had duck breast en mole, but I find myself unable to eat duck any more .

Cape Cod: Day 2

October 7, 2022 • 9:15 am

As the map below shows, Cape Cod is a thin arm of land flexed from the southeast corner of Massachusetts. I’m staying at Eastham, not shown on this map but above the elbow between Orleans and Wellfleet. The Pilgrims apparently first landed at Provincetown, on the tip, on November 11, 1620, but established their first colony—the first English settlement in North America—further south at Plymouth shortly thereafter.

Click pictures to enlarge, particularly the panorama below

This thin peninsula, only a few miles wide, marks the farthest extent of glaciation in the area, and contains many glacial landforms and lakes dug out by glaciers. Here’s a satellite view:

In summer it’s crowded with tourists, but they have mostly gone now, and businesses are closing, leaving much of the island to its long-term residents. Many people have summer or “retreat” homes here, including Steve Pinker.  And a lot of the peninsula, particularly on the east side, is public National Seashore. People don’t usually mind you walking on the private beaches, either, so you can almost circumambulate the peninsula on the beach.

Here’s a view of a typical beachside home. You’re never far from bay or sea on Cape Cod

The dune vegetation is lovely and diverse:

A curious tubular seaweed I found at low tide:

Sea rocks:

A panorama of the shore (click to enlarge):

And ripples in the sand at low tide:

On the road, we saw two people standing by the roadside and noticed that they were looking at a giant turtle. It turned out to be a big snapping turtle that they were protecting so that it didn’t go back into the highway and get hit by a car.

We got out, too, and stood by it until  the turtle was clearly out of the roadway and heading into the woods.

Its head, which is cute, belying the fact that these guys can do serious damage with a bite, even taking off your finger

We headed up to Provincetown at the tip, which, I was told, was the gay mecca of the Northeast. (I now realize why this is where Andrew Sullivan goes to relax in summer.) I decided that I would walk around and, pretending I didn’t know of the town’s reputation, see how long it would take me to catch on. First, some views of the town.

The tower is the Pilgrim Monument, built between 1907 and 1910, with another monument below. They both commemorate “the first landfall of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the signing of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor.”

The colorful streets of Provincetown. It looked like a resort town to me, but for a while I couldn’t see signs that it was a gay mecca.

Lots of colorful shops, art stores, restaurants, marijuana dispensaries, and some psychics and crystal shops.

We had lunch at the Lobster Pot, a seafood joint that’s been here since 1979 and is favored by both locals and tourists.

A bloody Mary: half drink, half salad:

My friend Brit’s lunch: Cioppino, a seafood stew/soup, and very substantial

I wanted New England clam chowder, which was served in a bread bowl. Excellent. I much favor the New England style rather than the “Manhattan” style of chowder, which includes tomatoes.

Many people went for the lobster roll, a New England favorite. It’s basically lobster meat (and a bit of mayo or butter) heaped into a hot-dog-style bun. This one has a lot of lobster!

Provincetown Harbor:

There were indeed signs that Provincetown attracts gays (both gay men and lesbians, I’m told). Here’s one: an erotic toy shop (to be sure, these don’t cater solely to gays):

This is a more definitive sign. I was puzzled at the “tea dance” affair, but was told that this place, The Boatslip, is a popular gay hangout with dances and a swimming pool. It’s right on the bay.

The Three Sisters Lighthouses are part of the National Seashore. Built in the early 19th century, they are no longer functional, but were a trio of non-moving lights that told seamen that they were about halfway up the northern part of Cape Cod. They were moved because of erosion, and were also rendered obsolete by the development of moving lights with Fresnel lenses that were a more obvious sign of shore: Here are two of the three, the one in the foreground remaining intact.

This is the famous Nauset Lighthouse nearby, which still functions. It was built in 1877 and moved in 1923 and 1996 because of coastal erosion that endangered the structure. Erosion is a real problem here, and it really cannot be stopped.

The lighthouse features on a local favorite: bags of Cape Cod potato chips.

After driving home, it was time for a nosh.. And that means oysters,  best (and most cheaply) procured at Caroline’s Bar and Restaurant in Eastham.  At happy hour, also known as “buck a shuck” ($1 per each shucked oyster), you can eat your fill at reasonable prices: about a third of the normal price. There are also cocktail shrimp.

The Happy Hour menu.

A plate of gustatory bliss: a dozen Wellfleet oysters and four huge cocktail shrimp These oysters were among the best I’ve ever had; indeed, they may BE the best I’ve ever had. Sadly, the place is closing down in a week. Lack of tourism and of help means that many places close during fall, winter, and early spring

The end of the day: the sun sinks over the mainland, viewed from the west coast of Cape Cod.


Readers’ wildlife photos

August 6, 2022 • 8:00 am

I have about five days worth of photos left, so please send yours in.

Today we have contributions from several readers. Leading off is Bryan Lepore, whose captions are indented. Click the photos to enlarge them:

Dear PCC(E) – here’s a photo of a gray treefrog (Dryophytes versicolor) in my area. I like the anthropomorphically pleasurable facial expression. These little guys use the gutters as resonating chambers to sound their mating calls. This one is near the gutter, but is hiding well with coloration (second photo).

From Christopher Moss, a great blue heron (Ardea herodias):

Found a feathered dinosaur eating my fish and frogs, early this morning. At least he (or she) stands in the shallows and takes the little ones. I noticed on getting up that the bullfrogs were silent this morning, and I wonder if they have the sense to keep quiet when such a monster is looking for breakfast?

That bulge in his neck is one of my fish!

I found this one from Christopher sent last year during our email conversation about this fine dessert, and I couldn’t resist adding it. Maybe we should introduce food posts from readers? I LOVE rice pudding!

Today I decided to make a rice pudding to illustrate the process. I used one Japanese cup of long grain rice, and one of sticky rice, well-rinsed beforehand (the Japanese cup measure that comes with the Zojirushi cookers is about ½ a US cup measure). I didn’t have any short grain rice in the house, and since I’m not allowed out , I decided to wing it. Filled the rice cooker to the 2 cup mark with home made soy milk (I had this and skim milk. Again, not allowed out – my ANC is zero this week! – so I improvised). Switched it on to the white rice program and set a timer for 30 minutes. At that point there is only a little milk left unabsorbed, so I take out the inner liner and put it on the stove to finish the job. I added a total of four TBSP white sugar, one pinch of ground nutmeg and about another cup (US) of soy milk, along with a can of evaporated milk as it simmered very slowly for about another twenty minutes.

Here it is just after going on the stove:

. . . ..and here after cooking. I shall keep it in this container in the fridge and it will be eaten over the next two or three days by three of us. The ludicrously clever Zojirushi is next to it.

And northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), looking a bit shopworn, from Divy in Florida.

The cardinals are the most common and give us the best show. We’ve seem them in all stages, from courting to pairing up, and seeing the brood make their way to our feeders and to our mulberry trees to pick the ripe berries.

The ice cream scams

June 5, 2022 • 9:15 am

When I was younger—actually, it doesn’t seem that long ago—when one bought a big tub of ice cream, it was a full half gallon. Then the companies started shrinking the sizes of the containers from 64 ounces to 56 ounces, and now the big container of most name brands, like Breyers (the go-to “quality brand” of my youth), are a paltry 48 ounces. That’s a quart and a half, or a full 25% reduction in size from the original.

Why do you think they did that? We’re not stupid: they shrunk the containers but did not commensurately shrink the price, so a given amount of ice cream cost more.  It’s capitalism, Jake! Now you could figure this out if you look at the unit price (price per ounce) required to be posted in the grocery stores, but who ever does that? In the end, it was pure duplicity whose effectiveness counted on consumers not paying attention to per-unit prices—or even noticing the size change.

Another trick is that what looks like “ice cream” is, if you scrutinize the label, often described really a “frozen dairy dessert” (this is particularly true of exotic flavors). They are not the same thing. Breyer’s also did this downgrade, as described in the New York Times in 2013 (see picture below):

First, as part of typical trompe l’oeil packaging, the cartons now hold 48 ounces, not the half-gallon’s 64. (The good news is that your hands haven’t become freakishly large; the bad news is that you’re not suddenly much stronger.)

Second, that age-old Breyers boast of “All Natural” has been replaced with “Quality,” which is one of those impressive words that loses impact the more you think about it.

Lastly, not all Breyers is what we once understood the name to mean. A Breyers carton in the store’s freezer might be ice cream, but the Breyers carton right beside it, identical in nearly every way, might be something called “frozen dairy dessert” — which, when translated from the original Orwell, means: not ice cream.

One example from a 2013 article in the New York Times (circle is mine):

More from the NYT:

Remember the old schoolyard song?

I scream,

You scream,

We all scream for frozen dairy dessert …

You might ask what the difference is between ice cream and a frozen dairy dessert, and I might answer that it is the same as the difference between a slice of American cheese and a slice of Kraft Singles American Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product. Since this is not helpful, we turn to a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, the guardian of “standards of identity,” who explained the distinction in a written response: “Ice cream requires specific levels of milk fat content, nonfat milk solids content, total solids in each gallon of ice cream, and total weight in each gallon of ice cream, while frozen dairy products do not.”In general, ice cream has at least 10 percent dairy fat, and a frozen dairy dessert does not. In my freezer, the Breyers vanilla fudge twirl frozen dairy dessert has the ubiquitous corn syrup, and the Breyers vanilla ice cream does not.

Clearly the change in wording is another bit of duplicity to reduce manufacturing costs. I discovered this when I finally started inspecting the cartons, only to find that what I thought was ice cream was in fact a “frozen dairy dessert.” I was not happy.  Here’s how the NYT described the ingredients for Breyers vanilla ice cream vs. vanilla “frozen dairy dessert”.

Breyers natural vanilla ice cream: milk, cream, sugar, tara gum, natural flavor. Period.

Breyers extra-creamy vanilla frozen dairy dessert: milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey, mono and diglycerides, carob bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan, natural flavor, annatto (for color), vitamin A palmitate, tara gum.

Years ago I wrote to Breyer’s about the size change (as a curmudgeon, I did that from time to time), and the company wrote back bloviating about how “it’s what the consumers wanted”.  Of course that’s bullpucky. It’s capitalism, Jake! I want a full half gallon!

Last night I discovered what might be another trick, though I’m not sure. I had a pint of super-premium ice cream in my freezer, and decided to dip into it. When I looked at the calories, it said in big letters “320”.  But I didn’t look close enough, for that was the first nutritional ice cream on the label. But when I looked again, it was “320 calories PER SERVING”.  Closer inspection showed that there were supposed to be THREE servings per pint, so the total calories in the small carton was 960—a substantial number of calories. But that information appeared after the “per serving” information.

(In fact, all containers seem to specify a number of servings greater than those consumed by a normal person. Who decides what a “serving” is?)

Now I may be wrong, but shouldn’t the total calories per container appear first on the label? Do they put the “per serving” calories first so you think you’re eating healthier? Because NOBODY I KNOW GETS THREE SERVINGS OUT OF A PINT OF PREMIUM ICE CREAM!  I usually get two, but many of us, particularly when we need comfort, eat the whole damn pint.

Could it be that what I thought was a favor to the consumer (it isn’t; this is mandated by law) was really a way to make you think what you’re eating is less calorie-laden than it is? And that could result in your buying the ice cream when you wouldn’t if you really knew how many calories it had.

That is for Solomon to decide, but one thing’s for sure: the size reduction (not limited to ice cream, as the NYT mentions) is the result of pure greed. And it’s even more nefarious because it is hidden. You’ll never see on the label: “NEW SMALLER SIZE”.

So we have three potential tricks involving carton size, ingredients, and unrealistic serving sizes.

Oh, and I just remembered Steve Gould’s old Natural History article, “Phyletic size decrease in Hershey bars,” one of his funnier essays (still online), in which he describes the shrinkage in Hershey bars over time, always ultimately accompanied by an increase in the price per ounce. Here’s the graph Gould showed, putting it in an evolutionary context. Note that the article describes how Hershey’s tried to bribe Gould by offering him a free ten pounds of chocolate (they didn’t come through after his piece appeared!).

I haven’t bought a Hershey Bar in years, but I bet it’s a lot more than 25¢ now. And here’s one of his conclusions—classic Gould:

So, your lessons are these:

  1. If you’re counting calories, always look at the “per portion” count as well to see if the portion size is realistic. Will you really consume only one potion?
  2. If you’re out to buy ice cream, look at the carton to see if you’re getting “frozen dairy dessert” instead. Maybe you want this ersatz ice cream, but I don’t.

And get off my lawn!

“You know what really bothers me?”

May 23, 2022 • 2:15 pm

The title of course comes from the late Andy Rooney of CBS, who made a fine living as a Professional Kvetcher. Now it’s my turn.

Look at the photo below. Do we really need to do this? How did fruitmongers survive before the days of these ridiculous stickers?

This is my after-lunch plum, and of course the skin tore when I removed the label.

It’s even worse with ripe tomatoes: there’s almost no way to remove the Dreaded Paper Tags without ripping the skin.

Dinner last night

April 29, 2022 • 3:45 pm

As I am the lecturer for the University of Chicago group on this trip, my duties including hosting two tables on two nights that include all the alumni. Last night was my second night.

The invitation sent to the alumni, front:

Back. Is this a misspelling or some kind of pun?

La carte:

Sopa de pedre, or Portuguese stone soup: “Kidney beans, garlic, onions, pork belly, black sausage and potato. It was good—and hearty:

Mixed grill: “Pork tenderloin, chicken sate, lamb chop, sausage, herb butter, garlic, Pont Neuf potatoes, braised roots celery.” It was, well, mixed. The star was the lamb chop.

Dessert: “Arroz Doce: Portuguese rice pudding”. Judging from this example, the Portuguese like their rice pudding very dry.