We'll soon be saying sayonara to 2012, and as media custom would have it, we're taking a look back at the culinary news that inspired us, enraged us, made us hungry or just gave us a good laugh. In the world of food and drink (and frankly, we don't care about much else here at Chow Bella), the most dramatic national stories of the year were seldom of the heart-warming variety. In fact, to paraphrase Albert King, "If it wasn't for bad news, we wouldn't have no news at all."
The funniest review we've read in ages, for example, was also the meanest. But alas, vicious and hilarious so often go hand-in-hand. Here's a final peek at the stories that had us talking and tweeting in 2012.
"Pink Slime," Outed as Ground Beef Filler, Becomes Gross-out Ingredient of the Year
When ABC News ran a series of reports last March about "pink slime," the nickname for the euphemistic acronym LFTB (lean finely textured beef), consumers were appalled by what they'd been eating in their $12 restaurant burgers. Pink slime, they discovered, had become the beef industry's favorite filler -- a highly processed beef by-product composed of cartilage, connective tissue and sinew, originally used in dog food and not considered fit for human consumption. But in 2001, our trusty USDA did a study and decided (against the advice of their own microbiologists, who asserted the additive was "salvage," not "meat") that what looked like strawberry-flavored Soft Serve or maybe a massive pink poop, treated with gaseous ammonia to kill E. Coli, salmonella and other bacteria, is perfectly safe -- not to mention a real boon for the beef industry. In the wake of public outcry about "pink slime," BPI (one of the industry's largest manufacturers) suspended production at three of its four plants for a time, fast food chains stopped using it and a few consumer-conscious grocery chains pulled the plug on its use. This past fall, BPI sued ABC and Diane Sawyer (among other reporters and foodies, including Jamie Oliver) for $1.2 billion. Meanwhile, the product oozed its way into public school systems around the country. Here's where local chefs stood on the issue and what chef Dan Moody had to say in pink slime's defense.
Chick-fil-A COO Publicly Opposes Same Sex Marriage
During a radio interview on The Ken Coleman Show last June, Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy felt compelled to express his views on marriage equality, repeating a few weeks later that he supported "the biblical definition of the family unit." Not a new stance for this guy, whose charitable foundation has donated millions to anti-gay groups for nearly a decade. But this time, he was so blatantly vocal that just about everyone but Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and the Tea Party went ballistic. Boycotts and protests swept college campuses, while gay and lesbian rights groups planned on-site, same-sex kiss-ins to kiss-off the sanctimonious chicken peddlers once and for all on August 3. Boston's and Chicago's mayors vowed to ban future franchises in their cities, which, of course, they can't really do but they sure sounded pissed. Even The Muppets (Jim Henson's company provided Pajanimals for Chick-fil-A's kid's meals) were eager to break ties with the gay-haters. Turns out, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day (August 1) increased company sales by nearly 30%, while the kiss-in was a bit of a bust.
New York Times Reviewer Pete Wells Writes Blistering Review of Guy Fieri's Times Square Restaurant
Even if you love Mr. Flavor Town and his flaxen spikes, you have to admit: Pete Wells' scorching review of Fieri's three-month-old restaurant, Guy's American Kitchen & Bar, was a scrumptious read. Wells wrote it as a series of rhetorical questions aimed at Fieri, delivered at the same speed as machine gun fire and with about the same outcome. Brutal? Hell, yeah. A Tarantino-style blood bath, and we loved it. Invited to defend himself on the Today show, Fieri suggested that Wells had an agenda, but none of us wanted to see our favorite Camaro-driving TV hotdog reduced to lame excuses. Or did we? Another round of Schadenfreude, please!
Midwest Drought Causes Food Shortages and Drives Up Prices
As sweltering heat and the worst drought in 50 years withered corn, wheat and soybean crops across the Midwest last summer, prices on those commodities jumped to record highs. Soybeans rose 17%, corn and wheat a whopping 25%, which drove up prices for animal feed as well. The dire predictions: we're going to pay more for a whole lot of stuff this coming year, including cooking oil, salad dressing and all the middle-aisle boxed schlock containing soybeans or corn in one egregious form or another. Dairy and meat prices will also climb because farmers have had to cull herds and slaughter animals sooner than they usually would to avoid paying nose-bleed prices for feed. Anticipating a meat shortage or (gasp!) a Bacon Apocalypse, we got nostalgic about our favorite bacon dishes before anyone suggested they would ever go away. But they haven't. Yet.
California Bans the Sale of Foie Gras
July 1 was Foie-mageddon in California, the day an eight-year-old law that prohibits the selling of fattened duck or goose liver finally went into effect. Chefs and foie fanatics were in a flap over the crackdown, buying the pricy liver in massive amounts (to be stored in the freezer) and staging elaborate swan song dinners. Meanwhile, animal rights groups, who consider gavage (the practice of force-feeding the birds with a tube) inhumane, were elated. But their victory may be short-lived. Already, restaurants have found sneaky ways to get around the ban and avoid the $1,000 fine, but some speculate it will never be strictly enforced anyway. What big-city cop has the time to lurk around restaurants, trying to nab scofflaws? As one mystified diner at a foie farewell party put it, "I never thought I'd see the day I could smoke pot in California but not eat foie gras." Papa John's CEO Does the Math on Obamacare, Warns of Higher Pizza Prices
Surely, Papa John's CEO and Romney supporter John Schnatter didn't mean to sound like an idiot when he told shareholders that Obamacare would have a disastrous effect on the price of pizza. But detailed analysis proved that the prez's health care plan -- and its effects on employee health insurance -- would force him to raise pizza prices as much as . . . oh, maybe 14 cents per pie. More importantly, he warned, he'd probably have to cut back employee hours if the Affordable Care Act isn't repealed. Just like Chick-fil-A, Papa John's had its supporters (who staged an eat-in to oppose Obamacare) and its detractors (who elected boycott), but Schnatter is merely the raven-haired poster boy for loads of other corporate restaurant CEO's -- Denny's, Applebee's and Darden Restaurants, which include Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Yard House -- who plan to follow suit.
Hostess -- Maker of Twinkies -- Files Chapter 11
The 82-year-old privately held company, an iconic American brand, had been struggling under a whopping $860 million in debt, escalating labor costs and sluggish consumer demand since it crawled out of its first Chapter 11 in 2009. Then it filed again in January of this year. Management blamed the unions, while union leaders suggested that executives consider their own compensation cuts. For a time, it seemed there was no need for Ding Dong devotees to fret. Hostess received $75 million in financing from a group of lenders, allowing them to continue operating their bakeries and outlet stores. Now, after all the financial finagling, a shutdown might still be imminent. Production at about a dozen of the company's 33 plants has been affected by striking workers who refuse to take a pay cut. The only option for Hostess seems to be finding a buyer with deep pockets and a willingness to bank on the legendary shelf-life of the Twinkie. When the news of Chapter 11 broke early in the year, we asked this pertinent question.
Mega Wine Guru Robert Parker Steps Down as Editor in Chief of the Wine Advocate
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The wine world was rocked on December 10, when its most influential wine critic announced he was stepping down from his position as editor in chief for the bi-monthly newsletter he started in 1978. For over 30 years, Parker not only drove demand and pricing for wines all around the world but also influenced how wines were made. High scores from Parker (who preferred the lush, in-your-face wines typical of California) meant financial success for the wineries he touted. The Wall Street Journal reported he's assigned his editorial duties to Asia-based correspondent Lisa Perrotti-Brown and that he's selling a substantial interest in TWA to Singapore-based investors. And for the first time, the newsletter will accept advertising. Nobody knows what this all means yet and if the newsletter (boasting 50,00 + subscribers) can be as successful (or as ethical) without Parker in a day-to-day role.
Teenage Girl Petitions Hasbro for Gender Neutral Easy-Bake Oven
While 13-year-old McKenna Pope was making her list and checking it twice, she made a disappointing discovery: the Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven she wanted to get her four-year-old brother for Christmas only came in girlie colors (pink and purple) and the packaging only featured girls -- not girls and boys -- cooking. She set up a petition on Change.org, gathered over 40,000 signatures (as well as the support of high-profile chefs such as Bobby Flay) and took her to polite, eloquently written case to Hasbro, arguing that their packaging promotes gender roles. Pope met with Hasbro earlier this week, and Hasbro just announced they're rolling out a black-and-silver prototype in February. Here's the story we ran last week, showing two chefs and their stance on gender-neutral cooking toys.