Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Menu Globalization--Fast Food Oddities in Any Language

Update October 2015

These Mcfood items from around the world include items such as lobster, taro root, or curry.

November 2013--Sixteen Fast-food Chains that Should Come to the United States. At least that's what these writers think, and with companies like China's "Kung-fu," Germany's "Weinerwald," and South Africa's "Chicken Licken," it all sounds like fun.

I tried many types of food during my years in Tokyo, but I never had the Panda Burger—no, it does not contain Panda bear meat. I also missed the Foie Gras Burger, Beard Papa’s Mille-Feuille (yeah, it’s an ice cream concoction--I had to look it up), and the coffee jelly frappuccino. But this photo-adorned website lets me enjoy a vast array of Japanese fast food vicariously—and in most cases, that’s good enough. My blog entry below (from 2012) looks at the globalization that’s occurring in a fast food industry that seems to be moving “freaky fast.” 

I’m Lovin’ It?

A recent online story highlights the obvious: Tastes around the world vary.  And even though major fast-food companies appear to be homogenizing the world with a one-size-fits-all product, they occasionally bend to local customs and sometimes benefit from taking their menus outside the box.  The MSN article, “Ten Fast Foods You Can’t Buy Here,” shows food items that major companies have modified to appeal to local tastes outside the United States.  Subway outlets in India offer curry and tandoori flavors in their sandwiches; Pizza Hut’s Chunky Loaded Pizza in Malaysia has so many layers, some think of it as a casserole; and Burger King’s dessert in Holland, The Hot Blondie, might not be politically correct to everyone, but the brownie, chocolate, and ice cream mix would probably appeal to most taste buds.

I should have jumped on this trend long ago. My wife and I spent four years in Australia during the 70s, and we knew we weren’t in Iowa anymore when the burgers we ordered came with “the works.”  Aussie grass-fed beef patties were topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, a fried egg, and beetroot; some snack bars in the Outback added baked beans and mashed potatoes. I needed a funnel to get it in my mouth without losing half of it. So now in the online article I see that Wendy’s in New Zealand stacked up a similar formula and called it a Rugby Burger. I’m not sure how many in the United States would scrum up for a burger garnished with beets. 

And in Japan, Burger King has the Meat Monster with cheese, bacon, onions, tomato, and chicken precariously perched on a burger.The carnivorous irony of it all. When we lived in Japan during the 80s and 90s, the object was to do as much as possible with small portions of meat. At that time, McDonald’s offered a Ginger Chicken burger and a three-section rice container, with sprinkles of tuna, egg, and hamburger layered over the respective sections. The McEverywhere franchise had the traditional meat patty in a bun wherever we travelled, but I did hear rumors of protests in cow-worshipping parts of Hindu India. Now I see they’ve added a McVeggie there, plus a type of Bubur Ayam chicken soup in Malaysia, and two items in Switzerland that must make the locals yodel with joy: the McZuri (veal) and the McGrillschnagg (sausage).

Before McDonald’s and Starbucks conquered the universe, Kentucky Fried Chicken had outposts in most of the countries we visited. As far as I know, the secret recipe for chicken did not lose much in translation, but I see that KFC has now added a dessert called the Krusher in Australia, Germany, and South Africa. With flavors like mango, Kit Kat, and Triple Choc Crunch, the drinks are mixed with large chunks of fruit or candy. How do you say “finger-lickin’ good” in German?

Of course, mass-produced fast food does not represent what the “locals” eat in general. Consumer tastes are influenced by tradition, religion, availability, climate, and economics. But the world has become more internationalized, and global corporations overwhelm local restaurants and threaten mom-and-pop grocery stores, so I guess it’s good to see that the mega-companies occasionally bend a bit too. Maybe the influence works both ways. Twenty years ago we took our children to a Tokyo Pizza Hut for the lunch buffet that included pizza slices topped with everything from corn to pineapple to squid. Nowadays in Ames, Iowa, I can order a large variety of pizza toppings and sample plenty of ethnic food. The old days of choosing only between a meat or cheese pizza are over. No McSquid burgers here yet, but I’m fine with that.   
by Dan Gogerty (photo from businessinsider.com)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Big Data, Small Towns, and Big Brother in Drag

2015--Big Data, Ag, and Big Questions: 

September, 2015:  Big Data Comes to the Farm--In this overview, the writer praises technology that helps farmers plant more accurately and successfully, and he is optimistic about what will happen with the data from thousands of tractors on thousands of farms is collected, aggregated, and analyzed in real time. 

 Media sites are loaded with articles about precision ag and tech-driven farming. This 2015 article represents the general message: Big Data and Technology are Changing the Face of Agriculture.

Some months ago, AgriPulse looked at various angles: Big data has become a big topic among commodity growers, and there are lots of questions but no easy answers. 

With eyes in the sky and monitors on the ground, some worry about the type of data, who controls it, and how it is used. This article gives a basic background, and this story admits the positive aspects but also recommends that farmers ask who controls the information. 

Big Data Ain't Nothin' New--
Party Line NSA
Revelations about government snooping and corporate data mining don’t shock me. When I was a kid, our phone was tapped repeatedly, and a local Big Brother knew everything about us. Big Brother’s name was Pauline, the town switchboard operator. She gathered data more efficiently than the NSA, but unlike the overlord in Orwell’s famous novel, Pauline was liked and respected.

Many rural folks used the party-line telephone system during the first half of the 20th century. Subscribers saved money by joining a group, and each of the six or eight households had its own identifying ring. Ours was two shorts and a long, and when anyone in our house was on the phone, no one else in the group could use the line. If I called my fourth-grade buddy about the baseball cards I was taking to the next day’s show-and-tell, the other families had to wait to use the phone.

The system had obvious drawbacks. Any member of the party line could listen in, and some became expert snoops. If you heard the specific ring for another household, you could carefully lift the receiver and hear about Bernice’s lumbago or the cattle Albert bought at the Lawn Hill Livestock Sale. If you sneezed or dropped the receiver, the gig was up.

Pauline had control of the links, lines, and metadata. She sat at the main server in our town of 511 people, and her talents ranged from plugging in the right connectors to building her own type of rural algorithm. She needed to listen in to know that callers hooked up, and at times, she did some data mining to help out. If Alice called to get a message to her husband Roy at the feed store, Pauline might say, “Well Alice, I just saw him cross the street and go into Johnson’s Hardware. I’ll ring there.” I’m not sure what Pauline would have said if Roy had ambled down the street to the pool hall for a beer.

Pauline could make a general ring when the need arose—town events or emergencies. She was a combination of Google search, a 911 call center, and Twitter. Her tweets might be about severe weather, a kid lost in a cornfield, or some local boy just back from military service. Her messages were a lot clearer and more relevant than most tweets that float in the digital world now.

A few members of our party line were tweeters—concise and quick. But others were bloggers—they chronicled every detail of their exciting day. “Raymond spent all morning working on that greasy tractor engine, and I’ve been baking cookies. Now here’s the recipe I picked up at the church social.”

I was barely a teenager when the system ended, so my social media habits were juvenile at best. Kids like me were more into spamming than eavesdropping. For example, a young man down the road spent hours matching sighs on our party line with his girlfriend. “Whatcha doin?” Sigh. Pause. “Not much.” She’d sigh. “You?” Sigh. “Me too.”  That’s about the time a ten-year-old like me would make a Three Stooges noise into the phone in hopes they would finally hang up so I could call Nick to find out what Eddie Haskell did on last night’s episode of Leave It to Beaver.

Like the Big Data of today, the party line was a double-edged sword. We got to know the neighbors, and the town’s Big Brother gave us a certain sense of community. And as with the digital world, privacy was almost nonexistent. We had an open Facebook without the visuals, and sometimes the imagination conjures up better images than awkward family pics.
But unlike today, the data we mined seemed a bit less edgy. Pauline’s general message about the weekend horse show in town probably wouldn’t stir the attention of homeland security. And my wiretapping of the young lovers down the road had me thinking romance was meaningless and boring. Sigh. 
by dan gogerty (photo from homestretch-annie.blogspot)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Health Food and Vending Machines—a Contradiction of Terms?

October 2014:
This article looks at some early versions of vending machines going farm fresh.

Feb. 2014: Man Attacks Vending Machine:
A man was fired after using a forklift to retrieve a stubborn Twix candy bar from a vending machine

Free Beer: Amstel beer has a vending machine offer--stand perfectly still for three straight minutes and this harbinger of serenity will reward you with a free beer.

Note: Doc Callahan, retired professor, part-time farmer, and full-time pontificator, occasionally adds his advice column expertise to our blog. Doc’s viewpoints are not necessarily those held by CAST—or, frankly, anyone else.

Matching Wits with a Vending Machine

I’ve had several love-hate relationships with vending machines, and sure enough, other people seem to have parallel experiences, as these inquiries demonstrate. Also, check below for some useful links about all this.

Dear Doc,
The school board voted to take Cheetos, Pop Tarts, and candy bars out of our school cafeteria vending machine. I’m an active 14-year old. Carrot sticks and raisins won’t get me through Mrs. Kerfawful’s afternoon writing class. Sugar-starved in St. Louis

Dear Sugar-starved,
You kids are caught in another adult battle, and you’ll hear words like “healthful, choice, and obesity.” I’m not much for mandates, but in the future, you might be glad you missed the diabetes train because someone vetoed the junk food. In my day, we had other means of staying awake during classes—spit wads, rubber bands, and rude noises. Ask your school to install a vending machine that sells those.  Doc

Dear Doc,
Maybe I’ve been watching too much science fiction, but I swear the vending machine at work has human traits. If my dollar bill has the slightest wrinkle, the machine spits it back out and seems to make a mechanical jeering sound. When I’m desperate for a savory snack, the machine makes sure the bag of peanuts gets stuck in a spot just out of reach. And the Dr Pepper “sold out” light is never on even when that choice is all gone. I’m forced to drink Mountain Dew! Do you think the machine is picking on me?  Paranoid in Peoria

Dear Paranoid,
I’ve lost numerous battles with vending machines, so I know what you mean. I worked in Japan—the vending machine paradise—and the drink machines were like cyber sirens. “Irasshiamasu,” it would say to welcome me in a female, robotic voice. Then the paper cup would drop into the slot on its side and the Fanta Orange would dribble off into the drain. But the machine would stay positive as it thanked me, “Arigato Gozaimashita.” You could get just about anything but handguns in Japanese vending machines—whiskey, potted plants, dress shirts. But that was years ago. With smartphones and apps, you won’t be outwitted by vending machines anymore. You’ll be ignored. Your iPhone will have a meaningful conversation with a sandwich machine. Your phone already knows what you want for lunch. Doc

Dear Doc,
The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) set standards for food and beverages in vending machines. My boss has gone gung ho about these recommendations, and now I’m suffering at the office. The vending machine in our lounge has granola, juice, and something called Organic Berfunkle. By 10:00 a.m. I start getting Twinkies tremors, and in the afternoon a lack of high fructose makes me feel low and lethargic. This NANA word seems more like “nanny” to me. Any ideas?  Hungry for Freedom in Philly

Dear Hungry,
Many agree with you that we should be able to choose snacks without Big Brother watching. Others think junk food pushers have used ads and sugar addiction to make us all think we have choice when it’s actually a selection among heart problems, diabetes, and obesity. At my age, my “sweet tooths” have fallen out, so I no longer think lemon drops, jelly beans, and candied orange slices provide three of the basic food groups. I even eat broccoli, kale, and tofu now—by choice. But I still like having options, so I advise that you try some of the healthy stuff—and then smuggle in jelly-filled donuts as needed. Just remember to wipe the powdered sugar and raspberry filling off your keyboard before your job evaluation session. Doc  

** Related sites:  1. Why healthful vending machines might hurt the blind.   2. The wild and wonderful world of Japanese vending machines.  3. Pepsi’s latest vending machine gives you a free Pepsi in exchange for a ‘like’ on Facebook.  

dan gogerty (top photo from seriouseats.com; second photo from toxel.com)