Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area


CPGs Taking Clues from Mom Life

Posted on Aug 22, 2010 in Featured, Food |

CPGs Taking Clues from Mom Life

It’s no surprise or any kind of epiphany that consumer package goods companies follow the lead of what its primary customers need and want. It’s a duh, I know. Every CPG I’ve ever worked with has female purchasers at the top of their target lists — complete with massive efforts  like that of  the WalMart Moms and the 1:1 online targeting from P&G and J&J. It seems than any company with an ampersand knows how important it is to target moms online. Marketing to moms is compelling, but its the history of moms directing the goods that fascinates me.

Last weekend I made brunch for a friend’s 40th birthday. I found a Sunset Magazine from the month he was born: August 1970. I was ready for quiche recipes, maybe some heavy sauces, I could slow roast or even make fondue. I was wrong. What I found was a clue to the way women’s changing lives 40 years ago shaped the future of the consumer packaged goods industry.

In the early 1970s, the Women’s Movement had moved from the Mad Men phase into a wide, strong, changing world, led by some of my icons that I was lucky enough to meet, including Betty Friedan and Shirley Chisholm. As middle-class women aggressively hit the workforce, consumer packaged goods  had to scramble to modify their products in order to shift focus from June Cleaver to June Sells Cleavers for Equal Pay.

“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you’re a man, because I’m a woman, W.O.M.A.N., ” sang Peggy Lee (and Miss Piggy). And indeed they could. But quick frying bacon would have been helpful. Oh, and a microwave. Women needed food that was economical with a quick prep time. These working women still had their homemaker duties in full-swing. The food industry needed to respond to the change. Food companies catapulted themselves into the new focus of low prep meals including the launch of  Hamburger Helper, Kraft  Macaroni &  Cheese, Betty Crocker ready-to-eat pudding and the “new” fad of  instant iced tea mix. Instantly, meals were on the table — and along with it,  the children of America began eating processed foods with staggering growth.

Four decades later, the Hamburger HelpHER revolution has resulted in the widely known epidemic of both childhood and adult obesity. Was it the price that parents paid for the women’s movement? Maybe.

The same revolution is happening now at a great and growing pace. Companies are sporting nutrition for children that are actually — stop, gasp — nutritious. Children are being taught at an early age about the importance and ramifications of their diets; and, surprisingly, being given the power to make many of these choices on their own. Ask my kids if they want mac ‘n’cheese and they’ll always say yes, but it’s Annie Mac n’ Cheese, nothing powdered, and, they’ll tell you they are eating carbohydrates, fat and dairy. Give them a chance and they’ll tell you their favorite “superfoods” (blueberries for her, broccoli for him).

I saw savvy, educated kids in action at a Cliff/Luna Bar event in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. The kids spent time planting home gardens, showing off yoga poses and sharing food knowledge. They listened intently, but they listened with the intensity of agreement, not that of learning something new. I chatted with the Cliff lead nutritionist who came with LapTop lunch boxes for kids to decorate and talked about their commitment to healthy quick food. The consumer packaged goods companies are at it again: reaching us where we need them to. We all aspire to live the  Cliff/Luna lifestyle of sports, food, fun and giving.

My life as a working mom means butt-busting, speed-of-light work around the clock. It means I, like June Cleaver, have a responsibility to put food on my family table. But I want more than that:  I want it to feed us, not just put food in our stomachs. The influence of women on the food industry in the 70s leaves a legacy of  quick rising yeast, instant hot chocolate, Bisquick and J-ello. What is the legacy that we, as mothers in 2010,will leave on the food industry?

I was not paid for any marketing or promotion of materials or goods for any company listed above. I did, however, have a great day with the women from Cliff/Luna and ate a casesar wrap and one (okay, two) oatmeal rasin moonpies.

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Box Readers

Posted on Jan 11, 2010 in Food |

Box Readers

Box Readers

Sitting on the floor of Safeway might seems a bit, um, odd? But that’s exactly what we did yesterday when hitting the inevitable sugar-cereals-versus-healthy cereals weekly debate. I’d just had it altogether with the constant arguing over food. I sat down on the ground and had the kids bring me a box of Cheerios. I showed them the nutrition labels (again) and pointed out that Cheerios was going to be the sugar threshold of cereals in the house.

I invited the kids to bring over boxes of cereal they were interested in. Cocoa Krispies (afterall, they must be *just like* Rice Krispies but with cocoa?), both Rice and Corn Chex,  Kix and Trix. They brought Cinnamon Life and Golden Grahams. They brought Fruity Cheerios and Raisin Bran. Soon we were all heckling at the boxes: “Kix, you silly people isn’t for kids, it’s for a sug-ar high!,” says my daughter. Corn Chex and Rice Chex have vastly different nutritional values (rice is better). Some “healthy” cereals were low in fat and carbs but slamming high in sodium. The big kicker was SmartStart which for being smart is pretty dang stupid. The cereal that boasts anti-oxidants and a nice and healthy label is heaped full of sugar. One of my favorite sites, Nutrition Data demonstrates just how UNhealthy SmartStart is: two stars for weight loss, but four stars for weight gain; a heaping 43 grams of carbs (14 g sugar) and almost 300 g of sodium. It has almost double the sugar of Fruity Cheerios (a FruitLoops competitor). What is smart about this? Huh? I’m renaming it StupidStart.

I gave the kids a choice: they could pick a cereal with little to no nutritional value and high sugar content (ie: StupidStart) and it would count as their treat for the day, or, they could pick one of the healthier alternatives *and* get to go to Powells to fill the treat drawer. I know that in the end, the intake of sugar is the same, but I wanted to make the choices clear. I’d rather the kids know what they are eating than assume that all cereals are created equal. They both picked out healthier cereals and proudly walked around the store, each with a box of cereal: Rice Chex and Special K.

The actual nutrition wasn’t the point, it was the lesson about understanding our food and how to understand our food and how to make choices of food. Of all the ways kids are influenced by food choices, our seem to make the right decisions by choice. Nutrition labels are a great way to demonstrate choices. I’m proud of theirs.

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100 Mile Diet: An Unsurmountable Challenge?

Posted on Jan 5, 2010 in Featured, Food |

100 Mile Diet: An Unsurmountable Challenge?

I quit chicken about two months ago. In some ways it’s completely freeing, in others, a pain-in-the-butt. There are days I cook with chicken stock, take sips from my kids’ Chicken Tortilla Soup knowing full well there are a couple of dead birds that went into making that bowl of yumminess. As I get older, I’ve come to understand how important food is to how I feel. Eat crap at the holidays? Feel like crap in January.

I’d heard of the 100-mile diet a few times before. It’s not a “diet” per se, it’s more like a lifestyle choice. In our daily lives, we eat “fresh” food that travels over 1500 miles before it gets on our plate. That’s a bumpy road to the table. Now, I’ve tried the vegetable and fruit delivery from local growers and I love it. There is absolutely no denying that the food looks and tastes so much better. But I’ve always found problems with the foods that show up in my box that we don’t eat at home. A few pounds of rutabaga just can’t be used in this house, even if I cooked with it every day for a week.

Then there is the issue of proteins. We live about 30 miles from the beach — there are plenty of fresh fish to eat and even more shellfish. Is it the best I’ve eaten? Not so much. And how about the turkey, beef and pork? My in-laws live near the famed Harris Ranch and that is a lot more than 100 miles from here.  Cheeses are easier. There are some good dairy options that are very local to the Bay Area. If we could just live on wine alone, I could sustain myself in 20 miles (I think that’s how far away Ridge Winery is). Since I can’t live on hooch alone, I’m faced with the issue: Can I sustain our family’s diet on 100-mile radius of available foods?

100-Mile Diet

100 Mile Diet

According to the 100-Mile-Diet website, I can shop as far south as Salinas, maybe stretching to Fresno, and get a bunch of local goodness from Watsonville, Hollister and Gilroy. I can get food from as far north as Sacramento (they have food in Sacramento?) and up to Santa Rosa. Now, can I do it?

The answer is, probably. The truth is, I probably won’t.

The Localvores movement has hit San Francisco, and smartly, they choose the month of September to take their 100-mile challenge. Perfect weather for fresh fruits, vegetables of both summer and fall seasons. I’m guessing the second week of January isn’t the right time of year to start the challenge.  The Eat Local challenge folks keep a great blog with resources, recipes ideas and hurdles in eating within a 100-mile radius. There is also a site that made me really think seriously about this project. The Eat Wild folks do an amazing job at scoping out farms and ranches that are within the 100-mile range. They also give you resources beyond direct-to-consumer, they give you restaurants, grocery and markets that can help with the challenge. Little excuse left, I suppose.

If I were to take on the challenge, I’d have to make sure that I could provide my family with everything they are used to eating — eggs, milk, cheese, a good burger. I’d need to scope out restaurants that served locally grown fare since there is no way I’m cooking at home every day. I’d go stir-crazy. I’d want to know what grocery stores can make my life easier. Does WholeFoods do a 100-mile line of products?  I’d want sneaky resources at my fingertips so I could wiggle my way through holidays and birthdays. And, I’d need to know that I can cheat and take my kids to the McDonald’s drive-thru on a whim.

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Tastes Like a Dive

Posted on Nov 19, 2009 in Food |

I concocted some random recipes the other day. The favorite? A sloppy dive food-tasting mixture that’s — shock, horror — healthy and feels like you’re being glutenous.

Let’s call it Sloppy Soy

1 package Soyrizo

1 10oz. can white Hominy (I like Juanitas)

1/2 yellow onion

1 clove garlic

Sautee onion and garlic until transparent. Add soyrizo to mixture and cook until slightly browned. Add can of drained hominy. Mix together. Cook 5 minutes or until mixture is fully incorporated. Serve warm.

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Three Breakfasts Under 200 Calories

Posted on Nov 16, 2009 in Food |

I am not a big breakfast person. In fact, it’s my least favorite meal of the day. But I’m no fool either and after reading about seven zillion Self Magazine articles on how eating breakfast can do everything from curb your appetite to making you skinnier to clearing up your skin and improving your sex life (well, maybe not the latter…), I figured I better find a way to like brekky. Here are my five top breakfasts under 200 calories:

1. Greek Yogurt (plain or vanilla) with five almonds or Tbs of slivered almonds. 1/2 baked apple. Coffee with skim milk. The baked apple is the key here. To keep them really on the low cal side, get medium green apples, slice in half lengthwise and sprinkle with cinnamon, dash of nutmeg, squeeze of lemon and quick splash of whiskey. Bake them at 350 degrees until they are soft but not babyfood, basting the apples a couple of times. The should be browned. Do this with just two apples and you have breakfast for four days.

2. Egg white omelet with crispy toast and butter, coffee with skim milk. The key here is the omelet. Get a carton of egg whites rather than wasting four eggs on just whites. It ends up cheaper that way, too. Use a small sautee pan and grill with Pam any veggies you want. I usually use whatever is leftover from the night before — asparagus, mushrooms, onion. Give the veggies a quick toss and remove from pan. Put eggwhites in at a low heat and let it take it’s shape of the pan. Add the veggies back in. Sometimes I add a tiny bit of goat cheese or fresh herbs from the kitchen too. Fold omelet and let the mixture get its groove-on for a minute or so. On the toast: I love toast, man. But toast makes me chunky so I limit the white carbs. If I have leftover piece of sourdough bread or part of a baguette, then I toast it up and put a bit of Brummel and Brown on top.

3. Ham and Cheese Sandwich, hot tea. I’ve had this trick up my sleeve for years! Take one Orowheat Sandwich Thins (completely awesome 100-calories wheat bread product) and put a hefty helping of spicy mustard on it. Place three deli turkey slices (we use Whole Foods roasted turkey since it’s nitrate-free)  on top. Next put sliced tomato with a dash of salt on it. Then sprinkle with lowfat cheddar cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly. Careful with the cheese because it can get too crispy too fast since it’s got a lower fat count.

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El Pollo Loco

Posted on Nov 9, 2009 in Family, Friends, Rants and Raves, Food, Rants |

Spit Chicken

Spit Chicken

When I was pregnant, the smell of chicken made me hurl at first sniff. I just couldn’t stomach even the idea of poultry. I got over it after about a year, but the icky raw chicken thing really stayed with me. I have a cutting board that’s just for raw chicken. When I cook with chicken I scald my hands cleaning off any remaining chicken guts. Even in culinary school chicken, I learned, was an icky, icky protein to work with.  Somehow the clucks have come-a-calling again the past couple of weeks and I just simply can’t even look at chicken.

This latest round of fowl play came from an Ellen show (my remedy for insomnia is to plow through a week’s worth of Ellen looking for anyone interesting she’s interviewed) where she interviewed Johnathan Safran Foer about his new book, “Eating Animals” . The guy was freakishly convincing about the treatment of chickens — even free range chickens — that are grown for human consumption. I was so stunned by his findings that I got out of bed and looked up reviews of his book. I forced myself to not buy the book. I’m so close to the edge of heading back into being vegetarian that I don’t need that extra push. I’m fighting the urge to ditch all chicken products. As it is, I’ve begun cooking anything that isn’t chicken.

Sometimes I think the universe is talking to me, “bok-bok” it says, gently in my ear. I think the chickens are speaking to me. The very night I talked with La Gringa about my clucker issues, we cuddled up to watch TV and an episode of “Bones” was focused on chicken farming. And let me tell you, they let loose. The showed a plucking machine, a lady that rips the beaks off the baby chickens and the machines that actually kill the animals. They also show the vast farms of the chickens. It was done with passion, apparently, as executive producer and lead actress Emily Deschanel is a vegan. It worked.  I tell you, the episode made me completely sick to my stomach. The chicks had spoken.

I’m still not sure where I’m going with all of this. I’m trying to not be rash with all of this. I both make and cook with chicken stock all the time (got veggie stock the past week), I feed a coopfull of chicken to my family and I’m not sure how I would alter that. And where do I draw the line between what I am feeling about eating chicken and what my children need for their diets? For now, I’m in a phase. We’ll see where it goes.

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