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The traditional explanation is that you taste the wine to make sure it's not corked, but this explanation never made a lot of sense to me. First of all, wine doesn't get corked all that often — I've received corked wine maybe three times in years of eating at restaurants. Second, you could figure out it was corked after it was poured. Why the necessity to taste it first? And third, waiters go through the tasting ceremony even if it's a screwtop bottle or plastic cork, which means the wine isn't going to be corked.

But I recently came across an alternative explanation in Benjamin Walker's Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man:

'tasting' used to be the common preliminary rite in ancient times. Generally the first drink was taken by the chief of a tribe because he had to be served first as the representative of the god. It also symbolically lifted the taboo that prohibited drinking on ordinary occasions, and neutralized the mana that inheres in sacramental drinks. It was also an assurance to guests that the drink was not poisoned.

Even today in western society the man ordering a bottle of wine for his companions, or offering wine to guests, often has the first sip from his glass and then has the other glasses filled. This is a survival of the old 'tasting' custom, by which the host 'approved' the drink, and ensured that it was free from poison. In Moslem countries the ruler had an official taster, and only after he had tried the sultan's food and drink in his presence without ill effects, did the latter partake of them himself.

I have a hunch Walker is right — that there's nothing very rational about wine tasting in restaurants. It's just long-established ritual. But, of course, there are all kinds of odd customs and superstitions associated with wine, so that shouldn't be too surprising.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 20, 2012
Comments (9)
Perhaps everything tastes like chicken because the chicken you get in supermarkets has a little bit of every other animal in it. This is a BBC documentary, but I'm sure what they talk about holds true for every other country in the world.

Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Sat Mar 10, 2012
Comments (0)
Brooke Kroeger and Cary Abrams have an article in the Local East Village analyzing the Great Banana-Smoking Hoax of 1967 -- in which a rumor spread alleging that you could get high by smoking bananas. Or rather, get high by smoking "bananadine," created by scraping the inside of a banana peel, boiling the residue, then drying out the residue and rolling it into a joint.

They try to get to the bottom of who started the rumor. One contender is the staff of the East Village Other magazine. Another theory has the singer Donovan as the instigator, through his song Mellow Yellow. Or perhaps it was the singer Country Joe.



Kroeger and Abrams think Country Joe is the most likely original source of the rumor, though they concede that "the Great Banana Smoking Hoax has many mothers."

Whoever started the rumor, it eventually had the great effect of inspiring the federal government to study bananas to determine any psychedelic properties they might have. Just in case bananas might have to be added to the list of controlled substances.
Categories: Food, Health/Medicine, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 23, 2012
Comments (4)
live forever juiceLive Forever Juice is a fake product that was created for educational purposes by FDAImports, a consulting company that specializes in advising companies how to comply with FDA regulations. The idea was to make a food product whose packaging was full of illegal claims, then walk people through why the claims are illegal. (via: The Food Watchdog).

The company handed out samples of Live Forever Juice at a recent trade fair in Baltimore. They also have an accompanying website, liveforeverjuice.com, on which they have some videos that explain what kind of claims companies are legally allowed to make on the packaging of their food products, and what claims they can't make. Of course, all claims have to be "true, adequately substantiated, and not misleading." It's the latter category, misleading claims, that are the most interesting, since companies come up with all kinds of ways to make claims that are technically true, but nevertheless misleading. And the FDA has regulations to try to prevent this.

For instance, labels often declare that the product is a "great source" of a nutrient, such as Vitamin C. But if the label says this, then the food must contain at least 20% of that nutrient's recommended daily intake (RDI). Sometimes labels will use more ambiguous language, such as boasting that the food "contains" a nutrient, which could be technically true even if the food only has a tiny amount of it. But the FDA feels that even this more ambiguous claim implies the food is a good source of the nutrient. So the food still must offer at least 10% of that nutrient's RDI in order to make that claim legally.

FDAImports also created a Live Forever Juice party video that offers a "High-Octane Motivational Video Loop with Unicorns." They caution that you shouldn't watch it if you're prone to seizures.

Categories: Advertising, Food
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 04, 2011
Comments (1)
Greg writes:

Found this online - warning about fake chicken eggs, but it seems that eggs are too inexpensive to generate a profit by faking.

Absolutely right. This email hoax about Chinese food counterfeiters mass producing fake eggs has been circulating for a number of years. There are posts debunking it on Boing Boing (2006), Consumerist (2007), and Hoax-Slayer (2007).

What I find to be the most illogical part of the fake egg story is the claim that the counterfeiters are going through an elaborate process to make the inside of the egg look real (i.e. the egg yolk and white). But really, why bother? The shell is all that the consumer would see when buying the egg, so isn't that the only part a counterfeiter would care about?
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 25, 2009
Comments (14)
Two weeks ago I linked to a BBC article by Clive Coleman about the case of the carbolic smoke ball. He must be doing a series on interesting legal cases, because he's back with a great article about the legal case of the snail found in ginger beer. Quick summary — In 1928 May Donoghue claimed to find a snail in her bottle of ginger beer. Her complaint eventually helped bring about modern consumer protection laws in the UK. The catch: "to this day, no-one knows for sure if there ever really was a snail in May Donoghue's bottle of ginger beer."

I should add this case to my list of Gross Things Found in Food.
Categories: Food, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 20, 2009
Comments (2)
I'm a little late with this, but better late than never. From The Boston Phoenix:

An odd press conference took place last week in Post Office Square as a man claiming to be an executive at a soft-drink giant touted “a new era for Coca-Cola,” in which its Dasani bottled water will be labeled “Deception.” Of course, it wasn’t actually a Coca-Cola executive or a real press conference (despite the fake journalists asking fake questions), but activist street theater perpetrated by the guerrilla prankster collective the Yes Men.
The mock press conference, part of Boston-based Corporate Accountability International’s (CIA) Think Outside the Bottle campaign, protested Coca-Cola’s refusal to state Dasani’s origin — public water sources — on its labels, as Pepsi and Nestlé have done with their bottled-water brands.
“This is a classic case of deception,” said Mike Bonanno (a/k/a Igor Vamos), in town that day with main cohort Andy Bichlbaum (né Jacques Servin) for the opening of The Yes Men Fix the World at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. “They don’t want people to know that they’re drinking tap water because it’s pure profit. Basically, they’ve figured out such a great scam that they don’t want it to end.”
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 10, 2009
Comments (7)
About two weeks ago, rumors began to spread online about a flesh-eating robot created by the military. The robot, named the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR™), would be a reconnaissance droid that could survive for long periods behind enemy lines by foraging for fuel. This fuel would include virtually any kind of biomass: twigs, branches, apple cores, stray cats, or even human bodies.

The robot, it turns out, is real, but the claim that it will be able to feed on human bodies is false. The companies building the robot, Cyclone Power Technologies and Robotic Technology Inc., issued a press release addressing the rumor:

RTI’s patent pending robotic system will be able to find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment. Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips – small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.
Categories: Food, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 20, 2009
Comments (6)
The latest case of the gross things found in food scam: A man dining at TGI Friday's claimed he found a rotting snake head in his side order of broccoli. But testing has now revealed that the snake's head was never cooked and must have been placed in the broccoli at some point after the cooking process. So foul play is now suspected. The guy who found the head claims he didn't put it there, and since he isn't suing the restaurant, he may be telling the truth.
Categories: Food, Scams
Posted by Alex on Mon May 11, 2009
Comments (4)
Last July I posted about how radioactive fallout can be used to authenticate art. Isotopes released into the environment from nuclear bombs provide a way of determining if a work of art dates from before or after 1945. Apparently a similar process can be used to authenticate whisky, and experts are discovering that the whisky market is flooded with fakes. Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit say, "So far there have probably been more fakes among the samples we've tested than real examples of old whisky." [Telegraph]
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Thu May 07, 2009
Comments (7)
Following up on Accipiter's post in the forum about the Acai berry weight-loss scam -- one of the interesting (and sleazy) things about the scam is the proliferation of fake diet blogs promoting these Acai berries. The sites go by names such as kirstensweightloss.com, rachelsweightloss.com, patdietblog.com, etc. etc.

The sites have before and after pictures of the Acai berry dieters, but pictures of the same women appear on different sites... under different names. For instance, the woman below, depending on which site you visit, is named Kirsten Hunt, Ann Conrad, Daniella Conrad, Jenna Patterson, and a bunch of other names.



But according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, her real name is Julia. She's a german model who once posed for a stock photo and has never eaten Acai berries. According to the photographer who took the photos, the "after" photos have been digitally manipulated to make her look skinnier.

The wafflesatnoon blog has a collection of all the fake diet girls who are promoting Acai berries.
Categories: Food, Scams, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 25, 2009
Comments (31)

This brings back memories of Hufu (Human-Flavored Tofu). After coming into possession of some of George Clooney's sweat, which had soaked a gym towel he used, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk wrote to the movie actor to ask him if they could use his sweat to produce Clooney-Flavored Tofu (CloFu). She suggested it would be a way of encouraging people to eat more tofu. Clooney replied, "As a mammal, I'm offended."

I'm a bit confused whether the tofu would taste like Clooney's sweat, or would it taste like Clooney's actual flesh? Either way, it sounds unappetizing. (Thanks, Big Gary!)
Categories: Celebrities, Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 13, 2009
Comments (7)
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