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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Viewpoint

FOCUS: So You Want To Be A Food Writer?

This week we received an email from a young food blogger, who asked about writing opportunities at THE NIBBLE. She wanted to “gain industry experience.” We get frequent inquiries of this nature from people of all ages. Here’s our advice.

There are limited career opportunities in food writing. If by “career” you mean an occupation with an income that can support you, the continued demise of magazines and newspapers has resulted in fewer and fewer full-time writing and editing jobs. The outlook is not good.

There always have been many more people aspiring to earn a living as a writer, than there have been positions for them. Now, full-time jobs are drying up. Freelance writing is hard to get; the good jobs rely on connections, and even those pay less and less as the publishing industry profits erode. Many people think they can “pay their dues” by writing for a pittance, or even for free, and subsequently turn that experience into more profitable assignments. Those “dues” will rarely turn into properly paid work. We have colleagues who are highly respected and connected freelancers, with 20 years of experience; they are still offered a few hundred dollars for a large amount of work.

 

Writing can be very satisfying, but it’s usually far from lucrative. Photo by C. Unie | SXC.

 
The people we know who blog for different sites get $5 to $10 a blog post, whether it be restaurant reviews, product reviews, recipes or other types of food writing. Like pursuit of the creative arts (acting, music, painting, etc.), pursue the art you love but have a “day job” to pay the bills.

That‘a the down side, the reality of the business. But if you want to give it your best shot, here’s what we suggest:

Have a blog and expand it. If you already have readers, ask them what they’d like to see. Every time you research new content, you add to your professional expertise. Consider interviewing bakers, pastry chefs and industry executives for trends and tips. By interviewing people, you make connections that could lead you to other work.

Ask for ideas and constructive criticism. Speak with people who read other food blogs and ask them for input on yours. Don’t respond directly to criticism; one can’t help but be defensive when one’s work of passion is being judged. Just “take it under advisement” and decide how to address the input.

Get business cards with the title Food Writer or Freelance Food Writer and the link to your blog. You can do this inexpensively at Moo.com or Vistaprint.com. Every time the topic of food or your occupation comes up, hand out a card. You never know when a connection will be made, if not that day then down the road.

Join industry associations. Not only will you meet people, but the memberships will strengthen your resume. Go to the meetings of local groups, participate in the message boards, attend conferences. Make friends and hand out those cards. Volunteer for committees, where you get to really know people and they see your skills in action. We think the best committee is the programming or speaker committee. It gives you the opportunity to call leaders in the industry and invite them to speak. You’ll get to introduce yourself to someone who would never take your call under other circumstances.

Network, network, network. Take a class and/or read books on networking. Learn how to find leads in every encounter with everyone, from your hairdresser to friends’ parents. Then, give your “elevator pitch” to everyone you speak with (You’ll learn what that is).

Build the skills you need to stand out. The key talent required for success in most fields is not the industry expertise itself, but the business skills: pitching, selling, deal-making. Read books or find a mentor who can help you to build the ability to sell yourself and your ideas.

Get as close as you can to working in a food related business, in any capacity. It’s by meeting people and getting them to know and like you that other opportunities develop. Even if you had a clerical job at an ingredients manufacturer or a restaurant equipment distributor, for example, you could volunteer to do their blog or social media and build the credentials to move up to a job that focuses on writing. Often, a job that gives you the opportunity to write is not a full-time writing job.

Get a certificate in food studies. See what‘s available in your area or online. This will seriously differentiate you from other job candidates. Many major media outlets require their entry-level people to have such a certificate, even if they are Phi Beta Kappa graduates of Harvard who edited the school paper.

DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR ASPIRING FOOD WRITERS? ADD IT HERE!

  

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FOOD FILM: Butter, The Movie

Got plans this weekend?

How about Butter? The latest film from The Weinstein Company opens today in the United States and Canada.

When we were first invited to a screening of the film, we knew nothing about it except the cast. We thought it would be related to food, hence the invitation.

Well, it’s not about butter, the food. It’s about butter, the sculptural medium.

If you’ve never seen butter sculpture competitions at state or county fairs, you’ll be wowed by the art showcased in the film. Some of it’s tongue in cheek, but all of it made us say “Wow!”

We’re not going to provide a proper film review: We’re food reviewers, not film reviewers.

But in one sentence: We thought the film was quite the tasty spread. We’d see it again.

 

Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company.

 

The cast, given fun characters to chew on, includes the boldface names in the movie poster (above) and a preturnaturally wise child, Yara Shahidi. Kristen Schaal also deserves a shout-out.

If the film inspires you to learn the history of butter, the different types of butter, butter storage tips or the how to bake with butter, we’ve got it covered.

And check out our compiled list of real “food films.”

  

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ISSUE: Bee-Ware Of Dishonest Honey

Do you care if your honey is “honest honey”—ethically sourced? Then read the labels.

Last year, the U.S. produced only about 144 million pounds of the 382 million pounds of honey consumed. The remainder was imported from Argentina, Brazil, Canada and other countries.

And it’s the “other countries” wherein the problem lies—specifically, Asian imports.

Two years ago, the U.S. imposed a 500% tariff on honey from China because the Chinese government subsidizes Chinese honey makers, with the goal of driving U.S. producers out of the market. The practice nearly ruined the market for domestic honey.

To get around the tariff, China has been using labels such as “Product of Thailand” or “Product of Indonesia” on 100% Chinese honey, rerouting its products through other countries and/or mixing tiny amounts of Thai or Indonesian honey into Chinese honey. This is neither ethical nor legal. And it’s certainly not sweet.

 

Only buy “honest honey.” Photo courtesy
National Honey Board.

So keep your eyes open, read labels and strike a blow for justice by buying “honest honey.”

Learn more at HonestHoney.com.

Find the sweet side of honey in THE NIBBLE’s Honey Section: product reviews, recipes, food and honey pairings and articles all about honey.

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VIEWPOINT: Change Your Diet For Earth Day

rib-chops-230

Save yourself and save the planet:
Be sure meat comprises no more than 1/3
of your dish, with 2/3 vegetables. Photo
courtesy National Pork Board.

 

Thursday is Earth Day, and experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) say one way you can help the planet is by taking a good look at what’s on your plate. If you didn’t get around to healthier eating as a New year’s resolution, now’s a good time to start.

You can choose healthier foods and simultaneously make a difference in preserving some of the earth’s natural resources.

  • By eating more veggies and downsizing meat portions, you’re helping to conserve topsoil and save millions of gallons of water. According to the American Dietetic Association, a 3-ounce beef burger may require about 26 times more water than if you choose a similarly sized veggie burger.
  • Beef requires a lot of energy—for feed, manure management, transportation, slaughter and processing—before it gets to your market. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates if all Americans ate one less serving of beef weekly, we’d lower greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount as if we took about 5 million cars off our roads.
  • And don’t think chicken is the solution: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that all livestock generate more greenhouse gas emissions than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet!
  • You don’t need to eliminate meat from your diet; but the experts point to convincing evidence that diets high in meat increase risk for colon cancer. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans should be the focus of most meals, with meat taking up a supporting role—a 2/3 to 1/3 ratio.

    Tips For Health & Earth Day

    1. Adopt The New Ratio. It’s easy to follow the “2/3 plants to 1/3 meat” plan. For example, mix a small scoop of brown rice with plenty of colorful vegetables to fill most of your plate, accompanied by 3 ounces of roasted chicken.

    2. Size Does Matter. In your 2/3:1/3 plan, keep your portions modest. Recommended sizes: a rounded handful for a serving of pasta or dried beans; a baseball-sized serving for fresh fruit; a meat serving about the size of a deck of cards. Still hungry? Eat a large salad with oil and vinegar.

    3. Vegetarian Day. Have a “vegetarian day” once or twice a week. Go dairy-free if you can: A dairy cow contributes as much manure/greenhouse gas as a beef steer.

    Download New American Plate brochures and recipes from the AICR to help you save the earth as you improve your health.

    Comments

    NEWS: Sara Lee “Organics” Controversy

    Boo, Sara Lee!

    According to corporate and governmental watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit farm policy research group, Sara Lee is trying to pull one over on consumers.

    The popular supermarket brand has launched a marketing campaign for its EarthGrains bread, using misleading environmental-friendly catchphrases with the hope of attracting people who want to buy organics because they’re better for the environment and healthier to eat.

    Sara Lee claims that “Eco-Grain™”—its trademarked ingredient that comprises just 20% of the grain in EarthGrains breads—is more sustainable than organic grain. This is not true, and the Cornucopia Institute has created a comparison chart to detail the differences.

     

    saralee-earthgrains-230

    Sara Lee’s EarthGrains line. Not particularly
    earth-friendly. Photo courtesy Sara Lee.

    According to Charlotte Vallaeys, a Food and Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, “Sara Lee is doing practically nothing to ensure its ingredients are truly ecologically produced. It’s a crass example of a corporation trying to capitalize on the valuable market cachet of organic, while intentionally misleading consumers—without making any meaningful commitment to protect the environment or produce safer and more nutritious food.”

  • The farmers who grow Eco-Grain differ very little from most conventional grain producers who use petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.
  • Organic farmers, on the other hand, use natural fertilizers, compost and crop rotations to enrich the long-term health of the soil, without damaging the environment or potentially contaminating the food produced.
  • Sara Lee’s eco-claim for Eco-Grain production is that their farmers incorporate technology that has reduced chemical fertilizer usage by 15%. That means they’re using 85% chemical fertilizers.
  • In contrast, as mandated by federal law, organic farmers are required by law to reduce their synthetic fertilizer use by 100%—i.e., 0% chemical fertilizers.
  • Plus, as Cornucopia’s Vallaeys points out that, “Even if their new fancy wheat were truly superior, each EarthGrains 24 ounce loaf contains only 20% flour from Eco-Grain, with the remainder of the bread’s wheat coming from regular, conventional wheat. The total reduction in chemical fertilizer use in a loaf of EarthGrains bread therefore amounts to a meager 3%.” According to a Sara Lee press release, “the brand will look to increase the percentage of Eco-Grain in its products.”
  • To educate consumers about EarthGrains bread made with Eco-Grain wheat, Sara Lee launched a consumer marketing program called “The Plot to Save the Earth, One Field at a Time.“ The campaign includes print, TV, radio and digital advertising, public relations, social media and point-of-sale materials that take a whimsical approach to catch consumers’ eyes with tag lines like, “How your turkey sandwich can help preserve the earth.”

    “If advertising executives could be charged with malpractice, this would be a major felony,” said Mark A. Kastel, Co-Director at The Cornucopia Institute.

    Now that you’re aware, make your own decisions. If you want to help the environment and eat pesticide-free food, look for the USDA certified organic seal.

    Sara Lee also owns the brands Ambi Pur, Ball Park, Douwe Egberts, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Kiwi, Sanex and Senseo.

    Comments

    ISSUE: Watch Out For Farmed Salmon & Norwegian Salmon

    salmon_farm-monterey-aquarium

    A salmon farm. Photo courtesy Monterey
    Aquarium.

     

    Farmed fish is controversial for numerous reasons, but one is threatening the wild salmon population. There are concerns that in another generation, there may be no more wild salmon.

    Millions of farmed salmon, raised in pens along coastlines, escape each year (due to equipment failure, extreme weather conditions and human error). In the northern Atlantic Ocean alone, an estimated two million farmed salmon escape annually.

    These fugitives fish go on to harm the wild salmon population. Farmed salmon carry parasites that can attack the wild salmon population. Farmed salmon are larger and more aggressive than wild salmon; they compete with wild salmon for the food supply. And worse, they interbreed with the wild salmon population, creating hybrids. (Read more about farmed salmon issues.)

    Top seafood chef Rick Moonen, a Las Vegas chef, restaurant owner and early champion for sustainable fishing practices, is now an exclusive supporter of wild salmon. Moonen had endorsed Norwegian farmed salmon years ago, but has since learned the harm caused by the open net technology used in Norway and other places. Even a major retail chain can make a commitment to healthier, more sustainable seafood: Target stores has announced that farmed salmon will be eliminated from their more than 1,700 stores. The company will sell only wild salmon.

    Still, if you want to do the right thing, you can be misled by false advertising. According to Food & Water Watch, a non-profit organization that works with grassroots organizations around the world to create an economically and environmentally viable future, the Norwegian Seafood Export Council (NSEC) is misleading U.S. consumers with the false impression that Norwegian salmon is wild, not farmed.

    Browse through Food & Water Watch’s website for more information on this and other food issues. You’ll be surprised—and chagrined—at the number of issues facing our food supply.

    Comments

    ISSUES: Kids’ Nutrition

    If you read THE NIBBLE, you enjoy good food. But how about what children eat, especially at school? And what of the families who don’t understand nutrition? (Their is no protein in toaster pastries, and juice drinks don’t substitute for milk.)

    Even if you don’t have kids, many experts believe that nutritious food helps improve school performance and helps to create healthy eating habits that will be carried into adulthood and passed on to the next generation. That impacts all of us as employers, supervisors, colleagues, neighbors and citizens. Nutrition also plays an important part in helping to reduce obesity, diabetes and other food-related diseases.

    During the next two months, Congress will consider a Child Nutrition Reauthorization that will establish the budget and priorities for school lunches for years to come. Now is the time to let our representatives know that we care about the type and quality of food served in our nation’s schools.

    Let your voice be heard; tell Congress you want schools serve better lunches to our kids:

     

    boy-milk-wmmb

    If you don’t enjoy good nutrition at home,
    maybe you can learn it at school. Photo
    courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

  • Provide $1 more per day per child for better school food.
  • Strengthen nutritional standards regarding all the food offered in schools.
  • Provide funding for healthy eating education and regional farm to school initiatives.
  • President Obama has committed $1 billion more to the cause of child nutrition, but it’s a big country: an extra dollar per day per child is needed. But funding for anything at this point is tight. You can let Congress know that America’s kids need more…$1 per day per child… for their school food. This is where you can help.

  • You can add your name to this petition at SlowFoodUSA.com.

  • Comments

    VIEWPOINT: A Chat With Top Chef Master Rick Bayless



    rick-bayless-230

    Top Chef Master Rick Bayless.

     

    We spent the weekend enjoying a Top Chef Masters marathon on the DVR. We were thrilled with every contestant; anyone who loves great food—and especially those of us who try to cook it—can’t help but give thanks daily for all of the people who expend so much passion, backbreaking labor and stress to please us with their fine cuisine (or great burritos, or whatever). We have experienced the cuisine of all three finalists: the Mexican cooking of Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago; the Italian-influenced California cuisine of Michael Chiarello at Tra Vigne in Napa Valley (the restaurant is still thriving in St. Helena although there have been many chef changes since; Michael recently opened Bottega restaurant in nearby Yountville); and the elegant food of classic French-trained Hubert Keller of San Francisco landmark restaurant Fleur de Lys.

    Last week, we caught up by phone with the winner of Top Chef Masters, Rick Bayless, and chatted about his win on Top Chef Masters, against a formidable field of America’s most lauded chefs. We had the chance to ask what really happens behind the scenes on the show.

    TN: Because of your celebrity, were the master chefs treated better than the regular Top Chef contestants?
    RB: The only difference was that we had private rooms in a nice hotel [as opposed to sharing rooms in a group house]. Otherwise, we ran ragged day and night. I lost 10 pounds. I didn’t have time to phone my wife or restaurants once in the four-day finale. Not a minute to make a call—that’s unheard of for me!

    TN: Did you really have absolutely no help to get all that work done—especially in the finale when you were plating food for nine judges (Top Chef judges Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons as well as the five winners of the original Top Chef program)?

    RB: No help at all. We did everything ourselves, including peeling and chopping garlic and washing pots. If you needed a certain pan and there was only one of them, after another chef used it, you had to wash it yourself.

    TN: Given the skill level of the master chef contestants, what do you consider the keys to success in the competition?
    RB: The ability to handle the stress and to get it all done with no help. Chefs at the masters level have been working with a team of assistants for a long time. We were on our own. I was shredding 180-degree tongue with my bare fingers against a clock, burning my hands. There’s also the luck of the draw; with the street food challenge, for example, as well as with the ingredients you’re given. I’m very comfortable with making street food, I was very comfortable with my ingredients; I won the challenge. Finally, there’s the luck of making the right decision in the first place. If what you’ve chosen to do isn’t working, there’s no time to go back and change things.

    TN: You’ve won $100,000 for the Frontera Farmer Foundation, which gives grants to family farmers for equipment that helps them in important ways. It will be a huge help for the Foundation. If you could do Top Chef Masters again and potentially win another $100,000, would you be game?
    RB: I’d have to think long and hard about it!

    You can learn more about the Frontera Farmer Foundation and make a contribution to this worthy cause. If it weren’t for family farmers, there wouldn’t be such exceptional produce and meat—not to mention cream, cheese, herbs and so many more types of food—that go into making meals so special at the fine restaurants we love so much.


    Comments

    VIEWPOINT: The “Mayonnaise Myth”



    547019_mayo_JasperGreekGolangco

    Photo by Jasper Golangco | SXC.

     

    For years, mayonnaise-based foods like potato salad and macaroni salad have taken the rap for food poisoning at summer picnics. As the story went, unrefrigerated mayo-based dishes spoiled more easily in the heat than others…or the combination of mayo with other proteins plus heat caused Salmonella. Mayonnaise should never be used in picnic foods, mother cautioned; mayo-based foods left on the kitchen counter should be tossed.

    But these common misconceptions simply are not true. According to The Association for Dressings & Sauces, an international association of salad dressing, mayonnaise, mustard and other condiment manufacturers and their suppliers, commercial mayonnaise is one of the safest products you can eat.

    Carefully prepared under strict quality controls, mayonnaise is made with pasteurized eggs that are free of Salmonella and other dangerous bacteria. Additional ingredients such as vinegar and lemon juice create a high-acid environment that slows, and even stops, bacterial growth. The salt in the recipe also contributes to an unfavorable environment for bacteria. In fact, hazardous bacteria die off if placed in a commercially prepared mayo!

    Once, there was truth in the story. Many years ago, when mayonnaise was prepared from scratch, home cooks used unpasteurized eggs, which we now know can sometimes be contaminated by Salmonella bacteria. Also, homemade mayonnaise, unlike commercial products, may not contain
    enough salt and vinegar to counteract the growth of harmful bacteria.

    While mayonnaise does contribute 100 calories a tablespoon and cholesterol from egg yolks (that’s the bad news), it is made with healthy oils such as soybean and canola. Both are natural sources of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid—no trans fat. Both are also a major source of vitamin E. Read the label of your favorite mayonnaise to see what healthy oils it contains (some have olive oil, for example).

  • Check out Lemonaise, one of our favorites and a Top Pick Of The Week, also available in Lemonaise Light.
  • See the mayonnaises available from San Francisco’s Restaurant Lulu, including the kickin’ garlic aïoli—all Top Picks Of The Week.
  • Make Julia Child’s mayonnaise recipe from scratch, plus green mayonnaise with spinach and herbs.
  • Comments

    VIEWPOINT: Clamato Tomato Cocktail, The Worst Product Of The Year?

    A few weeks ago, we were at a food trade show in San Francisco, tasting away. Almost everything is good, if not electrifying (that is to say, not “Nibblelicious”). But at one booth, an attractive-looking white and dark chocolate pastry with coconut was so vile, we had to spit it out.

    (As one NIBBLE staffer commented, “I not only spit it out, I also had to scrape my tongue.”) Generally at the Fancy Food Show, it never gets this bad; even in the supermarket, it doesn’t.

    But as we were picking up a few supermarket items this week, we found a contender for the worst thing tasted this year.

    The market was out of the organic brand of tomato juice we usually buy. As our eyes scanned the shelves, they noticed Clamato juice, a brand owned by Cadbury-Schweppes that we haven’t had in more than 20 years.

    Hmm, we thought, healthy tomato juice and healthy clam juice combined. We’re in!

    Ladies and gentlemen: Read the labels before buying, even on what you think is a simple bottle of juice!

     


    Too much sugar in our savory foods!

     

    Because when we got home and poured ourselves what we thought would be a healthy, tasty glass of it, we couldn’t believe our taste buds. Think tomato juice with tablespoons of sugar mixed in—only it was high fructose corn syrup. When we went back to the store, shell-shocked (note pun), we compared the ingredients in the Tomato Clam Juice Cocktail from White Rose. Same sad story. Same vile taste.

    Why, oh why, does Big Manufacturing have to throw sweetener into every savory product from bagels to soup to tomato juice?

    Not only does it taste horrific (to the refined palate, anyway—obviously somebody is buying it). It adds sugar calories where they aren’t needed or wanted, contributes to the obesity epidemic and warps the palates of the majority of Americans who don’t know better and think that this is what food is supposed to taste like.

    We’re so spooked by this, we’re going to start reading labels on milk and egg cartons.

      

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