Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Sunday, January 10, 2021

When it comes to the lifestyle habits of the modern-day urban paleolithic hipster, committing to the raw foods and infrequent eating schedules of our Stone Age ancestors isn’t the weird part. Here’s what is:

Another caveman trick involves donating blood frequently. The idea is that various hardships might have occasionally left ancient humans a pint short. Asked when he last gave blood, Andrew Sanocki said it had been three months. He and his brother looked at each other. “We’re due,” Andrew said.

So amongst the other ill effects of our softy agrarian society is the tendency to bottle up too much of our own blood in our veins. I didn’t realize that one of the definitions of “paleo” was “light-headed”. If I were one of these latter-age hunter-gatherers, I’d chill the hell out and treat myself to a brontosaurus burger.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/10/2021 02:35pm
Category: Food, Science, Society
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Tuesday, December 08, 2021

At one point during dinner last night at La Bonne Soupe (where I, somewhat ironically, did not have the soup), I was convinced that Sarah Silverman was sitting just a couple of tables over.

Then the woman got up to leave, and I could see clearly that it wasn’t her. I mean, it was certainly her, in that she was whoever she was. But she wasn’t Sarah Silverman.

I dejectedly turned my attention back to my table’s post-dessert chit-chat. I’m pretty sure my dining companions hadn’t noticed my preoccupation, nor my subsequent disappointment.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/08/2021 09:16am
Category: Celebrity, Food, New Yorkin'
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Wednesday, November 25, 2021

Interestingly, beermaker Molson Canadian recently rolled out a low-calorie brewski called Molson 67. The number in the name refers to the calorie-count per bottle.

I find that interesting because, being a student of history, I instantly recognized that “67″ as a reference to 1867, the year that Canada’s nationhood was established. Invoking the year of independence, in whole or in part, is fairly recognizable as a patriotic gesture north of the border, exemplified by a storied junior hockey team in the Canadian capital. The parallel with America’s 1776 — Spirit of ‘76, 76er’s, etc. — is obvious.

It can’t be a coincidence. You have to believe that Molson purposely concocted this special beer with a caloric value that matches Canada’s birth-year, all for the subtle-but-inherent marketing value. What red-blooded Canuck wouldn’t want to knock back a couple of cold ones that suggest love of country merely when you ask the bartender for the brand?

And yet, a cursory search of the news mentions and corporate communication surrounding last month’s launch of Molson 67 doesn’t seem to mention the patriotism angle. They wouldn’t want to be overbearing with it, but I’m surprised it didn’t get at least a passing mention. Is it possible that this crucial part of the marketing message got diluted by the time the beer hit the market? Or are Canadians not sufficiently gung-ho enough about their history to care?

It’s amazing some U.S.-based brewer hasn’t thought of a similar 76-calorie beer for the American market. Molson, of course, is part of Molson Coors, which is headquartered in Denver. So I’m guessing that a red-white-and-blue festooned “Coors 76″ will appear on Stateside store shelves in the near future.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/25/2009 09:58pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, Food, History, Society
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Tuesday, November 24, 2021

wascally wine
For Thanksgiving, I’ve taken it upon myself to meet the needs of both the generational extremes that will converge at my mother’s house this Thursday. Translation: I bought a small batch of toys and games for my little nephews, so that they’re sufficiently occupied-slash-out of our hair; and I sprung for the wine, so that they rest of us have sufficient social lubrication.

As always, I’m a sucker for standout novelty wine-bottle labels. So when I saw this Rudolf Müller “Rabbit” Riesling on the store rack, I couldn’t resist adding it to my selection. Heck, it even calls itself “aka The Bunny Wine” on the back label.

Hopefully the taste measures up with the cutesy bottle-art. I like rieslings anyway, and I’m guessing the dry sweetness will match well with the turkey meat. If not, at least I’ll have a conversation piece.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/24/2009 09:02am
Category: Creative, Food
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Tuesday, November 03, 2021

If Kraft Foods Australia learned anything from the strident, New Coke-like public backlash to its recent name-that-foodstuff promotion, it’s this: Aussie are very touchy about their Vegemite.

It all began in July when jars of caramel-brown Vegemite mixed with cream cheese began appearing on supermarket shelves with brightly colored labels inviting consumers to “Name Me.” After weeks of secrecy, during which the company sold more than 3 million jars of the new product to a population of just 22 million people, Kraft took an expensive advertising slot during a nationally televised Australian-rules football final Sept. 26 to announce its winner: Vegemite iSnack 2.0.

The reaction was fierce. Vegemite-loving consumers took to the Internet to voice their collective indignation about the name. Thousands of Twitter posts, at least a dozen Facebook groups and a Web site dedicated to “Names that are better than iSnack 2.0” blasted American-owned Kraft for tampering with an Australian icon…

After four days, Kraft announced that it would put the name back to a vote. This time, it put forward six rather more conventional choices — including Vegemate, Snackmate and Vegemild — from which Cheesybite was elected through an online and telephone poll. The controversy quickly died away.

I’m extremely skeptical about this chain of events. I’d bet anything that Kraft orchestrated this controversy by choosing a “winning” name that they knew would incite negative reaction. I mean, come on — “iSnack 2.0″?? Even the most insular corporate groupthink wouldn’t deem that worthy. The quick turnaround in rolling out a backup name is another tipoff. This was an in-house guerrilla marketing stunt, all the way. It succeeded by overblowing what would have otherwise been a so-what product launch, Vegemite fervor notwithstanding.

I wonder how the photo above, which I snapped a year ago near 1st and 1st in the East Village, would look with jars of Cheesybite interspersed among the straight-yeast flavor. Probably not as visually appealing.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/03/2021 10:17pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food, Photography
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Saturday, October 31, 2021

It’s a testament to Caprice Crane’s writing chops that I cannot get this Halloween-appropriate tweet of her’s out of my mind:

Kids’ first experience with Orwellian language comes when they see those tiny candy bars entitled: “Fun Size.”

No better way to instill Newspeak into the head than by going through the stomach (by way of the sweet tooth). Trick-or-treat totalitarianism! I’m sure Orwell, as well as Big Brother himself, would concur.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 10/31/2009 04:29pm
Category: Comedy, Food, Wordsmithing
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Wednesday, October 28, 2021

There is a spectre haunting your supermarket aisle — the spectre of “simple”:

The new marketing code word being used to boast about fewer ingredients: simple. From 2005 to 2008, there’s been a 64.7% increase in new products using the words “simple” or “simply” in the product or brand name, reports researcher Datamonitor.

In 2010, products that tout simplified labels will be more sought after than those clinging to the formerly hot buzzwords “organic” or “natural,” says [trends guru Lynn] Dornblaser.

At its simplest, simple sells.

“The food business has always been ingenious at turning any criticism into a new way to sell food to us,” says Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. The best-selling book popularized the notion of buying only foods with five or fewer ingredients. “As soon as you stress fewer ingredients, you’re implying that the food is healthy.”

Strength in fewer numbers, so to speak. There’s also the sense of transparency in your foodstuff. The typical run-on sentence of chemical additives found in processed foods is countered by this stripped-down simplicity.

But what good is it? Plenty of fatty foods are just as “simple”, and no less unhealthy due to the lack of preservatives. As usual, it’s purely perceptional:

At [a consumer focus group] gathering in San Francisco, one of Häagen-Dazs’ strongest markets, a panelist mentioned that when he shopped recently, he found himself comparing a bag of potato chips that had 20 ingredients with a bag that had three. He said the bag with the short list was the obvious choice.

Just another trend. Although I’m intrigued by how the further deconstruction of our munchies will manifest next. Will we soon be buying bags of mixed-together protein strands and vitamins? Bring it on…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/28/2009 11:03pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food
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A couple of days ago, I picked up a new flavor of tea: A maté-citrus black tea blend. It’s labeled as “energizing”, presumably moreso than regular caffeine-chocked black tea.

I have to say I haven’t felt the energizing burst, despite drinking at least one cup of this brew every day for nearly a week. It certainly wakes me up, but no more so than any other black tea. The flavor variety alone is worth the switch-up, but beyond that, I’m not feeling any added zip.

Mentioning this, someone told me that the maté rush comes only if you drink it every day for a prolonged period, so I simply haven’t been drinking it long enough yet. I’m pretty sure that’s nonsense. What’s more, I know how that notion came about: Because maté drinkers tend to be fanatical about the beverage, they wind up drinking it all the time. In South American countries, it’s the national drink, so it’s a virtual water substitute. So the theory sprouted up that copious intake was the only way maté’s effects worked, because that’s how regular drinkers take it anyway.

As for me, I’ll certainly finish this box that I bought. No rush to replenish it after that, though.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/28/2009 09:10am
Category: Food, Society
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Thursday, October 22, 2021

I can’t attend this Thursday’s Halloween-eve Ted & Amy Supper Club gathering, so I’m recording the holiday-themed menu as a way to experience it vicariously:

Zombie Brains
(pan-fried calf brains served with lemon aioli)

Headless Horseman Soup
(pumpkin soup topped with cloves and honey)

Skeleton Bones
(roasted bone marrow with parsley salad)

Creature from the Black Lagoon
(grilled calamari over squid ink linguine)

The Devil’s Food Cake
(individual chocolate-caramel cakes served warm with whipped cream)

Cocktail: Red Rum

Selection of Wine

I tell you, the fried brains would definitely send me running for the hills of Fort Greene. The Black Lagoon course, on the other hand, I could devour like an eater possessed.

Too bad I can’t make it. Aside from the fun of wandering around Brooklyn in pre-Halloween costume, I could contribute to the wine selection with a Vampire Merlot and a black cat German white.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 10/22/2009 10:44pm
Category: Creative, Food, New Yorkin'
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Thursday, October 15, 2021

Yesterday, I hit upon a new (for me) lunch option: A sushi rice bowl. Basically an unconstructed sushi roll, with the sashimi artfully layered atop a pile of white grains. Tasty.

As I was munching, I wondered if I could, indeed, take the contents of that bowl and actually roll my own sushi. The rice was certainly sticky enough, probably sushi-quality. There wasn’t enough salmon, crab, and vegetable (couldn’t quite tell what that was) to make more than two or three bites, but that just meant extra rice on the side.

Maybe they should market these rice bowls as sushi-roll erector sets, for those more ambitious during lunchtime. Or is that anathema with the lazy preference for unorganized foodstuff in bowl form?

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 10/15/2009 10:26pm
Category: Creative, Food
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Last night, I was told how to make a “ghetto sangria”, and it really couldn’t be any easier:

- 1/2 red wine
- 1/2 Diet Coke

…Nor much more disgusting.

Obviously, the common theme for such ghetto-ized cocktails is sugar — lots and lots of liquid sugar, in soda and/or juice form. And since you’re killing the alcoholic spirit with all that sweet stuff, the next element should be just as obvious: The booze better be a bargain.

In fact, let’s make that the rule of thumb for these down-low drinks: If the bottle of alcohol is as cheap, or (gulp) cheaper than the bottle of mixer, then you’re imbibing in a ghetto-fabulous way. In which case, by all means, drink up.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 10/15/2009 04:07pm
Category: Food, Pop Culture, Society
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Wednesday, October 07, 2021

My fortune-cookie fortune, cracked open just minutes ago:

Hard work pays off in the future,
laziness pays off now.

I’m sure the intent of this little chestnut of wisdom is to encourage sensible preparation for the future. However, as I check my timepiece, I see that it’s precisely… now o’clock. So clearly, I know what to do — or, to the point, not do — to get that instant payoff.

Too bad I’m too busy to heed that cookie-borne advice. All told, I’d have been better off with a non-committal, if enigmatic, empty fortune cookie.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/07/2021 01:29pm
Category: Comedy, Creative, Food
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Tuesday, October 06, 2021

Not long ago, in a little town in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture, ordering an orange juice at a certain outdoor cafe would have gotten you, instead, an “Appletizer” and some candy:

At this cafe, you get what the person before you ordered. The next person gets what you ordered.

For the record, here are the rules of the Ogori cafe:

1. Let’s treat the next person. What to treat them with? It’s your choice.

2. Even if it’s a group of friends or a family, please form a single-file line. Also, you can’t buy twice in a row.

3. Please enjoy what you get, even if you hate it. (If you really, really hate it, let’s quietly give it to another while saying, “It’s my treat…”)

4. Let’s say “Thank You! (Gochihosama)” if you find the person with your Ogori cafe card.

5. We can’t issue a receipt.

Basically, the food service is purposely out of sync with the food delivery. (What happens if you’re the first one to place an order that day — do you come away empty-handed?) The element of surprise is key, I think. Knowing the deal ahead of time obviously affects what you’d order; the results are “purer” when someone truly doesn’t expect the time-shifted pre-order. It’s a little bit crowdsourcing, a little bit roulette, and a whole lot of Japanese-style weird. Although maybe it’s better summed up this way:

It forced one to “let go”, just for a brief moment, of the total control we’re so used to exerting through commerce. It led you to taste something new, that you might not normally have ordered. It was a delight.

Taking away that element of control, when we’re so accustomed to a “customer is always right” concept, is the kicker. If you can’t trust your everyday consumer routine, you get a jarring feeling.

It seems that the Ogori cafe was a limited-time experiment in social behavior, because it’s since closed shop. Or maybe it pissed off the wrong patron. I’d love to witness the mayhem triggered by a Stateside edition…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 10/06/2021 09:04am
Category: Business, Creative, Food, Society
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Sunday, October 04, 2021

As much as I deplore zombie culture, I deplore those non-stop Subway commercials even more. I’m glad someone else picked up on the built-in wordplay in the sandwich shop’s former “Subway — Eat Fresh!” tagline, which I bastardized to “Subway — Eat FLESH!” long ago, out of disgust. Re-dubbing the brand as “Zombway” is a little much, but I’ll allow it.

Admit it: You can totally see Jared as a drooling, shuffling undead. Let’s see him keep those pounds off with a steady diet of brainssssssss…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/04/2021 06:06pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Comedy, Food, Pop Culture
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Tuesday, September 15, 2021

If that ocean of font names seem overly ornate, you might consider a food-based mnemonic to keep them straight. Or you just might want to see if you can distinguish between a typeface and a fancy hunk of milk curd, with Cheese or Font?.

In other words, is Holland’s own Gouda truly bolder than Goudy Bold? And can you tell the difference? Without using either bread or paper as a testing medium, of course.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/15/2009 11:53pm
Category: Creative, Food, Publishing
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lesser color
We’ve all heard the rumors about the ridiculous contractual demands made by pop bands when they’re on tour. Among the screwiest is Van Halen’s early-1980s insistence upon being served M&M’S with all brown-colored pieces removed — which turns out to be absolutely true.

I take a similar approach while enjoying my M&M’S, although with a reversed premise: Instead of discarding a particular color, I eat around all the green pieces, saving them for last. (Why green? Because they’re the tastiest ones, duh — and it’s my favorite color, not-so-incidentally.) When you’re digging into a little single-serving bag of the candy, it takes some finger-digital dexterity to successfully extract the non-greens. It quickly becomes an Easter-egg hunt if I luck out with a bag overloaded with greenies.

So I guess this irrational segregation of sugary snacks is my way of being the rockstar that I’m not, and never will be. At least I’m left with chocolate.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/15/2009 08:57am
Category: Celebrity, Comedy, Food, Pop Culture
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Wednesday, September 02, 2021

Building off those body-decay anti-smoking ads from a few years back, New York City is applying the gross-out warning to sugar-packed soft drinks, in the form of a too-detailed visual representation of human fat.

The ads — which cost about $277,000 to develop over three fiscal years, including money for creative work and focus groups — will run in 1,500 subway cars for three months. (The $90,000 cost of the subway advertisement comes through a private donor, the Fund for Public Health in New York.)

Cathy Nonas, a dietitian who directs physical activity and nutrition programs at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which developed the ad, said that officials concluded, after conducting focus groups, that a graphic, in-your-face approach worked…

“We had to make sure it looked like real human fat,” said Ms. Nonas, of the health department. “We did want those little blood vessels and things like that.”

“Pouring on the pounds” and “don’t drink yourself fat” provide the textual subtlety to counterbalance those cascading globs of sugar-spawned lard. Mentally hitting the straphanger high and low, I suppose.

High time that Gotham lashed out at the sugarwater scourge. I’m sure these tactics will be just as effective in stamping out sweetener-spiked beverages as they were in eliminating ciggies — because you can’t find anyone lighting up in New York anymore, right?

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/02/2021 08:50am
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food, New Yorkin', Society
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Sunday, August 30, 2021

dropI first read this product description for “Da’ Bomb” in Mo Hotta Mo Betta’s novelty hot-sauce catalogue some 15 years ago:

When a sauce gets this hot, flavor is not really an issue. Pain is the issue.

Da’ Bomb is the hottest we’ve got, so if it’s scathing heat you’re after, you’ve found your dream sauce. Ka boooom!

Nothing drives home the tastebud-searing sensation of blended habanero peppers like those first two sentences. That little snatch of marketing copy stayed with me through the years, in no small part due to my having sampled this hellish concoction — barely a drop, which was enough to set my mouth on fire for literally hours, and keep me from ever cracking open that little bottle again. (It wound up sitting on my desk for years afterward, giving me and visitors a kick just from the warning label.)

It’s amusing that Mo Hotta has preserved that marketing language for so long. I’d like to think it’s because it’s been so effective all this time. But judging from their fairly basic website, I think they simply haven’t bothered to update the copywriting that they transferred online from the old print catalogues. The giveaway is that second part of Da’ Bomb’s description: At 119,700 Scoville Units of heat, this little vial of pain still ranks up there, but is well behind several other of the company’s extreme-hot sauces. Aside from the 1-million Scoville beasts, one notable concoction clocks in at 283,000, earning it the horrific tagline “Dresden in a bottle”.

Indeed, death’s-head imagery pairs up well with these barely-edible flavoring/pain agents. I haven’t seen such gratuitous mixing of food and violence since Suicide Food’s chronicle of barnyard self-immolations.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/30/2009 12:15pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, Food
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Monday, August 17, 2021

that's the spirit
I wasn’t the only one who suspected some unreported product-placement going on with “Mad Men”: AdWeek poked around for evidence.

It found some, specifically regarding Season 3’s unique inclusion of Stolichnaya vodka:

Andrey Skurikhin, a partner at SPI Group, which owns the Stoli brand, said that he didn’t pay for placement. Skurikhin said ["Mad Men" network home] AMC contacted him and, he, being a fan of the show, gladly acquiesced, even producing a bottle from 1963 to conform to the show’s historical accuracy. But was Stoli even available in the U.S. at that time? Not widely, Skurikhin said, but it’s plausible that the high rollers at Sterling Cooper might have been able to access a bottle.

Like I said in my previous post, I don’t have a problem with this premise, because I think it does preserve the authenticity of the storyline. Do I believe Stoli really didn’t pay for this placement? Maybe, maybe not. It could be that the creative folks had that brand in mind, and didn’t want to start a bidding war between Stoli, Smirnoff, and any other historically-eligible Eastern European vodkas. Or maybe AMC will make up the value given to Stoli by hitting them, or other liquor brands, with desirable ad rates for commercial time in later seasons.

There’s no way of telling, other than taking everyone at their words. And that cloak of secrecy is intentional:

When asked whether other brands mentioned on the show on previous seasons like Utz and Cadillac were paid placements, AMC president and general manager Charlie Collier was coy: “We absolutely have product integration on the show, but you shouldn’t know which ones are paid and which ones aren’t.”

Perception is critical. If everyone starts talking about which props are paid-for, that will color the perception of the show, fairly or not. It underlines how much product-placement is still considered a less-than-honorable advertising practice.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/17/2009 08:07pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food, TV
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Wednesday, August 12, 2021

If you’re a fan of “Mad Men”, then you’re probably a fan of the show’s dedication to historical accuracy in libations:

Liquor is not only an integral part of many plotlines (last season, it played a pivotal role in a car crash, a divorce, a rape and two career implosions), but often a telling sign of character. When it comes to choosing a character’s poison, [show prop master Gay] Perello said, many people have input, starting with the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner: “Matt will say, ‘I want them to have a brown liquor.’ And I’ll go, ‘Let’s do a nonblended Scotch, because this is a person who would appreciate that.’ ”

The cocktail historian David Wondrich, 48, thinks an old-fashioned is a conservative choice for the young [main character Dan] Draper, but considers his preference for Canadian Club “exactly right. We’d had years of destruction of the American whiskey industry up until then. So the Canadian stuff was viewed as being pretty good.”

What this article doesn’t bring up: Such a central role for name-brand alcohol creates the perfect environment for product placement. Liquor companies are known to be especially aggressive in positioning their brands into movies, TV shows, and even songs. So regardless of what the prop master strives for, I’m sure there’s plenty of paid-for insertion of specific Scotch, vodka, gin, and beer bottles in the storylines.

In fact, a plot point from the upcoming Season 3 illustrates a seamless method of selling this, without compromising the authenticity:

This season, Sterling gets his hands on some prized contraband: Soviet-made Stolichnaya (then not available in the United States). His priorities remain solidly in place. “Help yourself,” he tells a colleague. “Not the Stoli.”

I’d bet anything that this bit was written into the show expressly because Stoli paid for it. They’d have to forgo the modern-day logo and design, but that’s insignificant — having the vodka mentioned by name by a popular character on a popular show guarantees mindshare, and sales. The minds at Sterling Cooper couldn’t have cooked up a more effective advertising campaign.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/12/2021 03:26pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food, History, Pop Culture, TV
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Sunday, August 02, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I lamented that I’d overloaded myself by cooking too much rice for dinner. Somehow, I figured that four cups wouldn’t be too much to eat in a couple of days. I plead ignorance based on kitchen math, in that the 1:1.5 ratio of rice-to-water seemed easier to achieve when multiplied to reach whole numbers…

Turns out I needed close to two weeks to finally finish off the leftovers. Managed to clear out the big metal container from my fridge on Friday, and am now thankful for the freed-up space. As I said, lesson learned — a little bit of long-grain goes a long way.

Or maybe I didn’t learn my lesson. Apparently, six days is the upper limit for cooked-rice storage. So I was risking food poisoning, all for the sake of not wasting a few grains. Luckily, I didn’t detect any spoilage, or experience any ill effects. All the same, next time I’ll whip up my rice in small-batch quantities.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/02/2021 01:58pm
Category: Food
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