When food isn’t food anymore

July 21, 2008

Back to keep us informed about the latest developments in the nutrition arena is my colleague and friend Amy Snider. Today she has interesting news about how food products are now being classified as health products and what that means for consumers.

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Futurists predict that in the future, rather than sit down with a knife and fork to eat our meals we will simply pop a pill that supplies all our daily nutritional needs. Food lovers like me find this concept rather bleak (especially since I’ll be out of a job as well as bored with my meals!) but have comforted ourselves that the scenario is in the distant future. However, at the recent international launch for Nestea Vitao, I realized we’re already striding down this path.

These cool, flavourful and refreshing teas come in three flavours, Fuji Apple Green Tea, Acai Blueberry Red Tea and Mandarin Orange White Tea. Although these descriptions sound like food and are delivered as a conventional drink experience, instead of being classified as food products, these drinks are considered Natural Health Products.

That’s a distinction worth noting. Rather than a Nutrition Facts Panel on the package (as required by law for all foods and beverages) the label on this product reads like a prescription: “Drink 1 to 3 bottles per day as needed. Do not exceed 3 bottles per day.”

What bothers me is that while these teas are made with natural ingredients and contain healthful antioxidants they still contain calories… how are consumers supposed to balance their caloric intake if there is no information provided?

Expect to see more products take this approach as R&D teams try to give their brands an edge as foodaseuticals. Nanotechnology and other advances in supplementation are pushing the envelope further… I’m paying attention and hope you are, too.

Text written by Amy Snider, PHEC

Amy Snider: not your typical Becky Homecky

April 24, 2008

Amy Snider is the fresh face of fibre and one of my closest colleagues. She devotes a considerable amount of her spare time to working hard to make sure that she and other professional home economists get the respect they deserve. Today she tells us why we all need to revise our opinions about Home Ec.

DM: So, what the heck is a home economist?

AS: A Professional Home Economist has graduated from a degree program related to home economics (in my case a BSc. Human Ecology, Foods and Nutrition) and is registered with the provincial governing body of the Ontario Home Economics Association. (There are also associations in New Brunswick, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba).

As professionals, we can generalize or specialize in many areas such as advertising and marketing, recipe development, food styling, product research, public health, media relations, teaching and textile design.

DM: So you don’t spend all day long making ponchos and teaching kids to macramé?

AS: Very funny, Dana. As you know from hanging out with me on a daily basis, my role in the office is to oversee our recipe development practice. I am also the office authority on nutrition-related issues that come up with our clients’ recipe programs, nutrient analysis, copy writing, product development and current trends and innovations.

DM: Describe your typical workday.

AS: I don’t have a typical work day – some days I spend time at my desk researching nutrition topics, running nutrient analysis or writing and editing recipes. Other days, I’m out of the kitchen doing spokesperson work, meeting with clients, leading recipe tastings or going to trade shows to research innovations in food… There are lots of days where find myself having so much fun that I say to myself – ‘I can’t believe this is part of my work day’ – I love it!

DM: What’s the difference between a home economist and a dietitian?

AS: A dietitian often has the same undergraduate degree (BSc. in Foods and Nutrition or Applied Nutrition) but has also completed a yearlong internship (most commonly in a hospital setting) under the authority of the Dietitians of Canada. After completion they register with the Dietitians of Canada.

DM: Can you tell me three reasons why home economists shouldn’t be the punch line of my jokes?

AS: Just three?
1. We are a vibrant group of professionals who are knowledgeable in our chosen fields.
2. Look at the popularity of programming on the Life Channel, the W Network, The Food Network, TLC and HGTV as key examples of society’s interest in all things domestic. Teaching these basic life skills of nutritious food preparation, household management, budgeting, etc. are at the core of the home economics profession.
3. At the end of the day, a Professional Home Economist has the Canadian consumer at heart.

Paris: a food lover’s paradise

March 4, 2008

FishDoes anyone know the name for the feeling that’s a combination of humility and envy? I need to know ‘cause I’ve been dealing with that unnamed emotion for a week. Last Tuesday I dialed into my RSS feeder to see what was going on in the many food blogs I enjoy reading. Turns out all the cool foodies are writing about their adventures in Paris:

Over at Orangette preparations are under way for a baguette-sampling trip to Paris while David Leibovitz (who I guess should be allowed to write about Paris given that he lives there) is talking about romantic Parisian restaurants. Then there’s Mark Bittman who goes through his archives to bring us the best of his Paris posts. Obviously, Paris is still the quintessential foodie travel destination in springtime.

Then there’s me. I saw the Eiffel tower the other day myself except it was this cheesy knock off and not the one located in actual France. Yeah, I know, I’m the classiest person you know and you really, really want to be my friend.

Despite the snark, I had some great French food experiences in Las Vegas. For instance, there was a great bistro dinner at Bouchon. This Thomas Keller satellite restaurant at the Venetian Hotel is a great place to nibble on silken foie gras terrine (if you go, share it as a starter –it’s huge) and to eat classically perfect trout almandine.

Martin and I also ate at Joel Robuchon’s eponymous restaurant that recently received 3 Michelin stars. Surely dining on the wares of a living French food icon makes me almost as cool as these transatlantic travelers?

Not convinced? Let me persuade you: dinner at Robuchon was a wonderful meal that I’ll always remember. The décor at Joel Robuchon is truly sumptuous: the massive chandelier that dominates the room is a crystalline feat of engineering while dark purple velvet banquettes, lavender silk curtains, black lacquer tables and white leather chairs furnish the room. I know it sounds like a brothel yet the room ends up being chic and elegant. Go figure.

Highlights of the lavish, $250 per person (yes, you read that price correctly and no, that amount didn’t include wine), six course meal we chose included the amuse bouche which featured avocado, fresh cheese and a tomato glee. Also wonderful was a hand-harvested, pan-seared Brittany sea scallop on a lobster sauce. Delish! Of course there were truffles thrown about lavishly (one course featured thinly sliced layers of black truffles used like nori to encase smoked eel and rice) but these two dishes had the most memorable flavours and textures.

Although the Arc du Triomphe I saw last was a miniature used as the entrance to a Vegas hotel breezeway, I suppose I shouldn’t feel jealous of these food writers who are enjoying Paris. After all, going to Paris right now would be like having my cake and eating it, too.

What’s the most memorable French food experiences you’ve had outside of France?

Note: Congratulations to Paul Villeneuve of Surrey, B.C., the winner of our Slow Cooker Mystery Word Contest. His entry was selected in a random draw and he correctly identified “jambalaya” as the mystery word to win a Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 slow cooker and a signed copy of Dana’s Top Ten Table. With almost 12, 000 entries received, thanks everyone who entered this contest and made it a great success.

Afraid of baking?

February 26, 2008

Betty Crocker circa 1996My entire life, I’ve been told by friends and acquaintances that I look like other people’s sisters, cousins and neighbours. But, I didn’t realize how truly average-looking I am until I was hired to be the spokesperson for Betty Crocker in Canada. I was attracted to working with the Betty team because I so often meet people who are freaked out by baking. My hope was that by getting them into the kitchen with mixes and tubs of frosting, they’d gain confidence and end up cooking more of all kinds of foods on a regular basis.

A few weeks after we made our agreement, I was in a meeting discussing how we could make videos that would teach people basic baking skills when one of the marketing folks came in with a copy of the current picture of the fictitious (yet much-loved!) Betty. Although this picture was developed in 1996 when I was only 30 years old, this person easily could be my older, slightly more conservative, sister.

What’s truly telling is how the latest incarnation of Betty came to be. Her picture is the product of a computer averaging exercise that blended the faces of women who embody the Betty Crocker core values. You know, qualities like valuing family, prioritizing sharing meals and stuff like that. Specifically, the designers scanned all of these women’s pictures, blended them together into a composite and created a picture of the quintessential Betty. In other words, she’s your average woman. Just like me!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy being average-looking. In fact, I think it has a lot to do with why I’m so often invited to be a TV guest. I look like so many people that almost everyone can relate to me. The happy result is that viewers can see themselves cooking the foods I demonstrate on air and cook more as a result. In a way, being average is my gift. Don’t buy it? Consider this: good ol’ average Betty Crocker is one of Ad Age magazine’s top 10 advertising icons.

Valentine’s Day food gifts

February 12, 2008


In just two days it will be Valentine’s Day and apparently cash registers are ringing. A group called the National Research Federation reports that their study of American Consumer Intentions reveals that the average person will spend $122.98 US on their loved ones this Valentine’s Day.

While a box of chocolates will never miss the mark with most valentines, this gift won’t likely be remembered for years to come. So why not make your spending count by choosing a gift for your food-loving valentine that carries a memorable message? Here’s a roster of gift ideas appropriate for food-loving valentines of all sorts. Choose the best option to express your feelings for the object of your affection:

• For the adorable wino you want to toast: Champagne always sends a romantic message. Opt for pink-tinged bubbles of Lanson or Mumm’s and your valentine will celebrate you.

• For the many sweet pals you want to remember: Low fat, fun and easy to personalize, friendship exchange packs send a sweet message.

• For the sophisticated chocolate lover you want to impress: A Michel Cluizel plantation specific chocolate sampler may seem like just another box of over priced candy but for students of chocolate it’s a decadent educational experience. Or, check out Candy Addict’s list of top candy gifts for more ideas, or the 10 best chocolate recipes at Homemakers.com.

• For the spicy dish you want to take a bite of right now: Your valentine will realize you want to go from ‘hello’ to ‘hubba hubba’ if you offer them a copy of Erotic Café, a risqué collection of tales that combine food and sex.

• For the hot potato you want to keep warm with all year: Show your Valentine how much you love spending time together by wrapping a copy of former ABC Bachelorette Meredith Phillip’s The Date Night Cookbook up in glossy red paper.


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