October 6, 2011
I’m somewhat shocked and appalled that human behavior allows for recurring blog posts on criminal behavior involving food. Not that I’m one to complain about my muse. The month of September alone was rife with new shenanigans, and a couple of convictions, from society’s dark underbelly.
September, 2011. Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The raw food movement?
On the afternoon of Monday, September 12, Wal-Mart security officers saw a man opening packages of raw hamburger and stew beef and eating some of the contents before putting the items back on the shelf. Police were contacted and arrested Scott Shover, 53, at taser point and charged him with felony theft. While only about $25 worth of meat was involved in this particular incident, Shover received the felony charge as this was his fifth retail theft offense.
September, 2011. Mount Prospect, Illinois. A Late Night Snack.
When most people get hungry in the middle of the night, they make a beeline for the kitchen. Hachem Gomez, 19, preferred to make a 3:00 a.m. trip out to Mr. Beef and Pizza. No matter that the restaurant was closed and the drive-through window was barred: Gomez broke through the security grating to gain access to the kitchen, where he began to prepare himself chicken tenders and fries in the microwave. Officers arrived on the scene at 3:30, and when asked if he worked there, Gomez simply said no and that he was just hungry. He was arrested and charged with burglary.
August, 2011. Denver, Colorado. Bring out your dead.
In the 1989 movie comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, two men, promised a ritzy weekend at their boss’ weekend home, arrive to find their boss dead, but decide to tote the corpse around so that they can enjoy the few days of luxury they felt entitled to. According to police reports, on the evening of August 27, Robert Young, 43, arrived at the home of Jeffrey Jarrett, only to find the man unresponsive. In lieu of calling 911, Young, along with friend Mark Rubinson, 25, piled the corpse into a car and went to Teddy T’s Bar and Grill. Jarrett was left in the car while the other two enjoyed libations charged to his card. Next stop was Sam’s No. 3, a diner, before they returned Jarret’s corpse to his house. Young and Rubinson next made a pit stop at a strip club, using Jarrett’s ATM card to withdraw $400, and before the night was over, they flagged down a police officer notifying him that they suspected their buddy was dead in his home. The pair was later arrested, and while they are not suspected of causing Jarrett’s death, they stand charged with abusing a corpse, identity theft and criminal impersonation. Both men were released on bail. Young has an arraignment date set for October 6. Rubinson has since been arrested again for drunk driving. He also happened to be driving in a stolen vehicle, but whether he was the one who snatched it has yet to be determined.
September, 2010. Denver, Colorado. Playing chicken.
To some, like The New York Times, raw chicken evokes l’amour in a big way. But 58-year-old lobbyist Ronald Smith was feeling less than amorous when he placed raw chicken in the heating ducts of his ex-wife’s home. (Other non-food-related acts of vandalism included wiping the hard drive of her computer, pouring bleach on her grand piano and marring her hardwood floors with mountain bike cleats.) Michelle Young, the former Mrs. Smith, discovered the damage on returning from a California vacation. It was allegedly the culmination of months of harassment, and while prosecutors could not produce eyewitnesses to definitively place Smith at the scene, they were, however, able to illustrate that the blue duct tape used to package the chicken pieces matched the roll of duct tape found in Smith’s home. Jurors deliberated for about six hours before arriving at their decision. Smith was convicted in September 2011 of second degree burglary and criminal mischief and is awaiting sentencing. He could face up to 18 years in prison.
January 2010. Leeds, England. A big break.
On the evening of January 30, Hussein Yusuf had been drinking at a local pub when he asked the chef, Roger Mwebiha, to cook him a meal. After repeatedly entering the kitchen asking if his food was ready yet, Mwebiha got fed up to the point where he returned Yusuf’s money. At 3:00 a.m. the following morning, Yusuf again asked the chef to prepare him some food and the two began to argue. Mwebiha went to take out the trash when he was confronted outside by Yusuf, who kicked the chef’s right shin, shattering both lower leg bones. Yusuf fled the scene while Mwebiha spent months recuperating from the injury. But about a year later, in a logic-defying move, Yusuf returned to the restaurant. The chef recognized his attacker and notified police. Yusuf, 23, admitted to the crime and was sentenced in September 2011. He is currently serving a 15-month prison term.
October 5, 2011
Every year I try to plan ahead and think up a clever Halloween costume, only to end up rushing around the day before a party trying to scrape up something passable. It helps to have a theme; one year I was invited to a “one-hit wonders” party, to which I went as Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, with leg warmers, an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and a welding mask. The food world is also rife with costume potential. Although you could go as or with a food itself, like a bunch of grapes made out of balloons, I think character-based looks are more fun.
Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing while there’s still time:
Paula Deen: The Food Network’s high priestess of high-cholesterol food is easy to emulate. Just don a white, feathery-coiffed wig, a generous amount of mascara and a pastel-color collared shirt. To complete the look you’ll need some reference to her favorite ingredient, butter—maybe wrap a couple sticks of yellow-painted styrofoam in a butter wrapper (or waxed paper) and turn them into earrings.
The Swedish Chef: If only all cooking shows were as entertaining as this recurring sketch on The Muppet Show. And considering that a new Muppet movie is due out this holiday season, the cheerfully indecipherable chef is newly relevant. You’ll need a chef’s hat and either a chef’s jacket or a pin-striped shirt, bow tie and white apron, a bushy orange wig, mustache and eyebrows. If you ever run out of party conversation, you can always retreat into character, lilting, “Bork, bork, bork!”
Colonel Sanders: The KFC founder’s secret fashion recipe was simple—white suit, string tie, horn-rimmed glasses and a cane. And don’t forget the white hair, mustache and goatee. Bonus item: a classic red and white chicken bucket, which can double as a trick-or-treating basket for the kiddies. In fact, this look works for kids too—I mean, how cute is this?
Wendy and Jack in the Box—the couple: What if two of the burger world’s biggest celebrities got together? One half of the couple could go as freckle-faced Wendy, the other as cone-hatted Jack. The pièce de résistance: their globe-headed, red-braided baby. I thought I was pretty clever for thinking this one up, but it appears others have beat me to it. Oh well, chances are no one at your party will have seen the idea before.
The Unknown Restaurant Critic: The supposed anonymity of critics has been a topic of foodie discussion this year, with one Los Angeles Times writer outed—and kicked out—by an irate restaurateur. You could go two ways with this: either a paper bag over the head with eye holes cut out, à la the Unknown Comic, or a classic nose-mustache-and-glasses disguise. Either way, you’ll need accessories to indicate you’re a food critic—maybe a reporter’s notebook and pen, and a napkin tucked into your collar.
Anyone else have fun food-related costume ideas?
September 30, 2011
Whether for career development or their own edification, the culinarily curious can gorge on all kinds of food knowledge online. Here are a few of the offerings:
Sharpen your cooking skills. Everything from nifty tips on peeling garlic to full-fledged cooking shows are available online. Saveur (source of the amazing garlic video), Epicurious, Chow and Cook’s Illustrated (for subscribers only) are good sites to check for short technique and recipe demonstrations. The Culinary Institute of America’s ciaprochef.com is full of recipes and videos. And a number of YouTube cooking shows have gained a loyal following, including Show Me the Curry, where Hetal and Anuja help you navigate South Asian and occasionally other cuisines; Great Depression Cooking, starring 96-year-old Clara; and the amusingly enigmatic Cooking with Dog (tagline: It’s not what you think…), where you can learn to make all kinds of Japanese dishes while the host’s coiffed poodle looks serenely on.
Get a culinary degree. Until someone figures out how to transport food via the Internet, you can’t actually attend cooking school online. But you can earn an online degree in a culinary-related subject that doesn’t involve cooking. Le Cordon Bleu USA offers a bachelor of arts in culinary management and an associate of occupational studies in hospitality and restaurant management. If you can’t move to Vermont (which you should consider, because it really is lovely), the New England Culinary Institute offers an online bachelor of arts in hospitality and restaurant management. And Virginia College Online’s culinary arts associate’s degree is designed for those who have already completed cooking school elsewhere.
Feed your inner geek. One of the greatest developments in recent years for people like me who love to learn but live far from a big university is iTunes U. Institutions like Oxford University, the University of California at Berkeley and the National Portrait Gallery upload audio and video of lectures—and most of them are free to download from iTunes. A few of the foodie offerings are Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Science’s public lecture series on science and cooking, with demonstrations from top chefs like Wylie Dufresne, on meat glue (transglutaminase), and José Andrés, on gelation; the University of Warwick on how to build a chocolate-powered race car; and culinary historian Jessica Harris speaking at the Library of Congress National Book Festival.
Learn how to write about food. If you already know plenty about food and want to share your knowledge with the world, online food-writing classes can help tune up your presentation. Indian cookbook author Monica Bhide offers occasional e-courses covering everything from recipe writing to food memoir. The latest class started in September, but check her site for upcoming dates. Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s next 11-week course, which includes a Q&A session with a New York Times food editor, begins October 4.
September 28, 2011
Conscientious eaters want to know all about where their food came from, how it was grown and who grew it. Part of the appeal of farmers’ markets is getting face time with those who spend their days with their hands in the dirt. Suddenly, consumers want to have a “relationship” with their small-scale farmers, ranchers and cheese makers — people who once toiled in obscurity. (This is still usually the case in the larger agricultural industry, where the vast majority of our food comes from.)
One unintended consequence is that, now, personality counts. A grower with a winning smile or the gift of the gab may get the sale even when the wares at the next table are just as fresh and succulent-looking. There’s a pair of young, attractive male farmers in my area whose tent always seems to be crowded with female customers.
Now, technology that wasn’t around a decade ago—blogs, smartphones, Facebook and Twitter—is taking the farmer-consumer relationship to another level. It’s how CSA members can find out what’s likely to be in their share soon, get recipes for what to do with bok choy or celeriac, and read cute little stories about how the farm animals are doing. The farmer gets to communicate with current and potential customers, and office-bound readers get to live vicariously through their computer or phone screens.
Ree Drummond, who has parlayed her rural life as the wife of a cattle rancher into a wildly successful site called The Pioneer Woman, gives a glimpse of the possibilities for savvy online self-marketing. She doesn’t quite qualify as a rancher herself—although she often rides along and helps out with the chores, she seems to usually have a camera in hand—but her gorgeous photographs and folksy anecdotes about life on the range are about as good an advertisement as any for making a living off the land.
Most farmer blogs are far simpler (and, some might argue, more authentic). The Dairyman’s Blog, written by a young Alabama dairy farmer, offers “MooTube” videos of life on the farm. Self-described farm wife Jill Heemstra focuses on the funny side of farming at Fence Post Diaries, with blog titles like “You Might Be a Farmer’s Wife If…” (example: “…you use the phrase ‘semen tank’ in casual conversation”).
Blogs and tweets are also providing a new platform for farmers of all stripes to express their views on agriculture and politics. Missouri hog farmer Chris Chinn advocates on her blog for fewer government regulations and conventional farm practices that she feels have gotten a bad rap, while small-scale farmer Gavin Venn tweets as @morethanorganic with his thoughts on animal welfare and genetically modified foods.
Social media has become a stand-in for the kind of conversations farmers have always had in person, about the weather, what’s growing, advice and opinions. The Twitter hashtag #agchat encompasses discussions of parenting on the farm, venting about too much or too little rain, links to agriculture news and just about everything else of interest to the ag-minded.
But tweeting from the tractor has its perils. As Stewart Skinner, a Canadian pig farmer with the Twitter handle @ModernFarmer tweeted recently about his gadget, “The blackberry can’t stand up to the rigors of the barn. RIM needs to come up with a smartphone for farmers.”
September 13, 2011
Food is a basic human need and humans are prone to unusual behavior. That combination has provided fodder for several blog posts that take a look at people behaving badly with edibles. Once again we’re serving up a helping of criminal behavior involving food and the food industry.
Kalamazoo, Michigan. September, 2011. Dine, dash and defraud.
Stacy Skartsiaris, 65, had been the owner of Theo and Stacy’s restaurant for 38 years and had never had a problem with customer violence until the morning of September 1. Two women, Deaunka Lynn Dunning and Sheba Jean Kirk, both 30, stopped by the downtown restaurant for breakfast, but as they went to leave with doggie bags in tow, they complained about the quality of the food and informed Skartsiaris that they were not going to pay for the meal. Skartsiaris followed them as they left and said she was going to call police. That’s when the pair allegedly attacked her, kicking her in the midsection and striking her face, leaving her with bumps and bruises. The belligerent pair was eventually arrested and charged with aggravated assault and defrauding an innkeeper. They are due back in court on September 14 for pretrial hearings.
Carlisle, Pennsylvania. August, 2011. BYOB (Bring Your Own… Bag?).
In a push to cut down on plastic usage and be more environmentally friendly, many grocery stores are encouraging customers to bring in reusable bags. Some people interpret the term “reusable bag” fairly loosely, subbing their pants for a traditional shopping bag. Donald Noone, 65, is one of those people. While intoxicated, he went to a Giant grocery store and tried to secret about $20 worth of ribs down his trousers. He was arrested and charged with retail theft and public drunkenness. Turns out he’s also a repeat offender: he tried pulling the exact same stunt back in May. Noone plead guilty to the charges.
Patton Township, Pennsylvania. August, 2011. Something “borrowed.”
Planning what foods to serve at a wedding reception is a big deal—and can be a big chunk of your budget. One Pennsylvanian decided to try to avoid the financial burden. Married on August 18, Brittany Lurch, 22, and Arthur Phillips III, 32, stopped off at a Wegman’s after their ceremony to pick up food for a reception to be held two days later. Cops keeping a keen eye on security cameras observed the newlyweds piling over $1,000 of merchandise in their cart and casually walking out of the store. They were soon apprehended by police and sent to Centre County Jail with bail set at $2,500, more than twice what the reception spread would have cost them. Both were charged with retail theft and receiving stolen property and, of course, they missed their own party.
St. Louis, Missouri. August, 2011. She came in through the drive-through window.
At 2:50 in the morning, a car pulled up to the drive-through at the White Castle on Herbert Street and North Florissant. But instead of cash, the two attending White Castle employees were handed a note demanding all the money in the cash register from a woman who seemed to be packing heat. The two employees ran and locked themselves inside a nearby office and called police. Meanwhile the woman climbed halfway through the drive-through window to grab the cashbox before speeding away, dropping her weapon—a toy gun—in the process. Police were able to track the still-unnamed 33-year-old suspect to her home where, in a last-ditch effort to elude capture, she climbed to the roof and took a three-story leap to the ground. She was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and now faces robbery charges.
Taichung, Taiwan. July, 2008. Watch what you write.
A blogger, identified only by the surname Liu, went to a beef noodle restaurant and wrote about her dining experience on her blog. Her words were far from glowing, describing the food as salty and the dining conditions unsanitary. When the restaurant owner learned about the review, he filed defamation charges against her. The court found that the salty food remarks were out of line as she had only one main dish and two sides at the establishment. Her cockroach criticisms, however, could not be classified as slander. Liu was sentenced to 30 days in detention, suspended for two years, and fined NT$200,000 (approximately $6,900 in American dollars.)