Emmanuel Quartey

Curious about cities, patterns, media, and marginalia.

The Art and Science of Big Food

Vox pulls back the curtain on the fascinating cast of chefs, future forecasters, and executives who decide what’s on the menu in millions of restaurants and food aisles around the world.

Here’re some of my favourite parts:

The kale salad, in her opinion, was the twenty-first century’s Caesar salad, an international staple that began in the 1920s in a Tijuana hotel and snowballed into the most popular salad trend the world has ever known. “Slowly but surely, the kale salad will make its way to TGI Friday’s menu, then McDonald’s, Kraft, and, eventually, as a Doritos flavor.”

Kale salad actually sounds like a fantastic idea! Throw in a bit of sriracha and pork and you might as well take all my money right now.

There are supplier-originated trends, backed by branding campaigns, like the POM-driven pomegranate craze, and the recent upswing in avocado use, pushed by the Avocado Board, which has helped chains such as Subway develop a popular avocado sub for their menu.

This is so interesting. I remember the Subway avocado campaign. It tasted good, but even then, I was confused by why Subway was pushing avocado so hard. It seemed so random. Guess the Avocado Board (!) had a hand.

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And now I’m deeply curious about the politics of single-handedly making a certain food a “thing.” How do you even start to do something like that?

Trends have births, and those can be strong births (a break-out, like Greek yogurt), stillbirths, and orphaned births, which is when a trend doesn’t have strong parents to champion it. Yes, food trends have parents, and like children, they need support and nourishment or else they’ll fail to thrive. They also need advocates and allies. Just as a trend is born, a trend can morph (whole wheat bread to multigrain bread to single-grain bread to ancient-grain bread), crash (the Atkins Diet becomes discredited), redirect (lactose-free moves from the mainstream back to a niche), and be killed by an adversary (GMO foods go from salvation to pariah, thanks to political opposition from the organic movement).

I firmly believe that there’s a world where shito - a shrimp/fish/spice sauce popular in West Africa - is as big as sriracha. I brought a jar of the shito to college and my Vietnamese roommate couldn’t get enough.

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It’ll take a coalition of shops, restaurants, foodies, and maybe a thumbs-up from a celebrity or two, but I think it could be done. Right now, I’m betting on Essie Spice to make it happen.

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The whole article is worth a read, if for nothing at all because it underscores the degree to which surprising parts of our lives are shaped, scripted, and intentional things.

Someone sees something cool during a trip to Thailand. She mentions it to her roommate, who posts the pictures on her food blog, which gets quoted in a food forecast. The next thing you know, heads are nodding around a table in a boardroom, Doritos is announcing a new flavour, and prices for a particular type of pepper triple overnight.

These things don’t just happen. Someone decides it should, and makes it so.

paperbits:


clarabeau:

henricavyll:

 Advice he’d give a 12-year-old version of himself"It might sound oversimplified, but I’d say, ‘Shhh.’ It’s so funny how noisy my brain is - it’s what it does, it makes thoughts. And the problem is, I think in most of our lives the root of suffering is listening to that brain noise and actually identifying with it as if it’s who you are. That’s just the noise your brain makes. And more often than not, it probably doesn’t have much to say that’s going to help you. I’ve felt my best are the moments that I’ve been able to pull that plug and say, ‘Chris … shhh … shhh.’ And it’s not quitting, it’s not giving up, it’s not washing your hands of the thought, it’s rising above it. All the time I’ve spent suffering as a result of brain noise, hours of my life wasted. So that’s what I’d say: ‘Shhh.’"

MILKSHAKE FRIEND STEVE ROGERS

I could have used this advice.
Zoom
Info
paperbits:


clarabeau:

henricavyll:

 Advice he’d give a 12-year-old version of himself"It might sound oversimplified, but I’d say, ‘Shhh.’ It’s so funny how noisy my brain is - it’s what it does, it makes thoughts. And the problem is, I think in most of our lives the root of suffering is listening to that brain noise and actually identifying with it as if it’s who you are. That’s just the noise your brain makes. And more often than not, it probably doesn’t have much to say that’s going to help you. I’ve felt my best are the moments that I’ve been able to pull that plug and say, ‘Chris … shhh … shhh.’ And it’s not quitting, it’s not giving up, it’s not washing your hands of the thought, it’s rising above it. All the time I’ve spent suffering as a result of brain noise, hours of my life wasted. So that’s what I’d say: ‘Shhh.’"

MILKSHAKE FRIEND STEVE ROGERS

I could have used this advice.
Zoom
Info

paperbits:

clarabeau:

henricavyll:

 Advice he’d give a 12-year-old version of himself"It might sound oversimplified, but I’d say, ‘Shhh.’ It’s so funny how noisy my brain is - it’s what it does, it makes thoughts. And the problem is, I think in most of our lives the root of suffering is listening to that brain noise and actually identifying with it as if it’s who you are. That’s just the noise your brain makes. And more often than not, it probably doesn’t have much to say that’s going to help you. I’ve felt my best are the moments that I’ve been able to pull that plug and say, ‘Chris … shhh … shhh.’ And it’s not quitting, it’s not giving up, it’s not washing your hands of the thought, it’s rising above it. All the time I’ve spent suffering as a result of brain noise, hours of my life wasted. So that’s what I’d say: ‘Shhh.’"

MILKSHAKE FRIEND STEVE ROGERS

I could have used this advice.

Guy Walks into a Bar

There’re some things you read, and:

  • you want to share it with literally everyone
  • you marvel at (and even resent) the author’s command of language
  • you know you’re going to return to it, again and again, for a very long time

Simon Rich’s Guy Walks Into a Bar is one of those things.

Easily one of the best short stories I’ve read in 2014.

Music is so weird.

You don’t think about a musician for years, and then you catch a snippet of a tune and something goes off in your chest like a delayed detonation.

I don’t remember exactly what was going on in my life during the period when I was really into this song, but based on the conflicting emotions it triggers, it appears that I was both deeply sad, and occasionally very happy.

Wonder what La Roux is up to these days.

(Source: Spotify)

Giving Shape to Things

Shape is a short 6 minute film about design.

I keep re-watching it.

The film beautifully articulates how tiny design decisions - size, texture, even placement - can have a cumulatively profound impact on the spaces generated around us.

This is one of my favourite scenes.

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It’s remarkable how the placement of a single window can completely transform the character of a room.

Another favourite scene.

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In this section about how our tools shape how we learn, a teacher’s hand-drawn illustration of the solar system comes alive.

Imagine seeing this the first time you learned about the planets.

Imagine that breathtaking fiery sun swirling right in front of your younger self, and then having the hologram zoom into Earth, your continent, your country, your city, and then the roof of the building you’re in. 

I sincerely believe that being able to dwell within concepts (instead of keeping them at arm’s length like we do with books and videos) would have a profound impact on how we learn.

(Bret Victor discusses the idea of turning rooms into active learning/making spaces in his talk, Seeing Spaces. Also, see the Oculus Rift.)

My one qualm with Shape is that it reinforces the “single genius” narrative of creative work.

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In the scene above, the universe around the character warps and changes as he walks down the corridor. It puts me in mind of the controversial urban planner Robert “Master Builder” Moses, who is both celebrated and reviled for imposing his idea of order upon New York in the mid-20th century.

My worry is that someone watching the video could come away with the mistaken belief that design interventions must be adversarial to surrounding context. I find that the the things I recognize as well-designed were a result of someone embracing constraints and making smart, intentional compromises. 

Quibbles about that subtext aside, this film is a great reminder that we dwell within fiction.

The world is a made thing - an amalgamation of explicit decisions as well the sometimes unforeseen consequences generated by those interventions. Those who are awake to the tools (specifically, those who put in the effort to acquire and master them) are able it give it shape and form.

How DHL differentiates itself from FedEx and UPS

Interesting Bloomberg Businessweek story about DHL’s strategy for competing against FedEx and UPS: 

…the foray into domestic-only shipments strayed from DHL Express’s core competencies of international freight and logistics. The company now focuses exclusively on moving packages to and from the U.S., a business that offers higher margins and not the “pennies on the dollar” that domestic-only packages usually average.

If you have papers that need to get to and from some of the world’s dodgiest locales—Syria, Sudan, Cuba, or North Korea, for example—the German post’s network is a safe bet to get them there. Parra says Uncle Sam is the company’s largest customer, followed by major global shippers such as Amazon.com (AMZN), Dell, Apple(AAPL)Covance (CVD), and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)

I’m fascinated by supply chain and logistics companies. The more I learn that nailing distribution is a pre-requisite for success, the more I admire these companies who’ve made it their business to choreograph complex webs of objects and infrastructure.

It’s always interesting to discover the stories that organizations tell about themselves. Apparently, DHL wants to make it so that when you think international freight, you think DHL.

A gut check says they’ve largely succeeded. As a child growing up in Ghana, the only international courier logo I remember seeing on the streets was DHL (I was surprised when I saw my first UPS truck last week). I also suspect that their How We Made It In Africa blog is one of the most overlooked content marketing success stories on the continent.

I wonder what FedEx and UPS consider to be their core differentiation.

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