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 V.13 No.1 | January 1 - 7, 2004 

The Year in Food

All the News That's Fit to Eat

The top 10 (ok nine) food news stories of the year

The Parkay Tub Says, “Buh-Bye!” One of our favorite events of the year was all of the attention paid to trans fatty acids, the kind of fat found in partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening (like margarine and Crisco). Last summer the Food and Drug Administration announced that they would require food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fatty acids in addition to the breakdown of saturated and unsaturated fats. They also said that trans-fat consumption should be kept to an absolute minimum. While the FDA stopped short of recommending eaters switch to butter or lard (which contain higher amounts of saturated fat but far less trans-fats) we like to interpret their findings as a perfectly good case for the all-butter pie crust and lard-only tamales. Hey, it's all about heart health.

Coffee, Tea, Bennigan's? Remember when the waitresses in the sky used to bring you beverages and a meal? After the events of 9-11, most airlines discontinued food service, citing increased security concerns or some other phrase we all knew was code for “finally we've got an excuse to stop giving away free food!”. In 2003 some airlines got to do what we're sure they've been wanting to do for decades: They started selling food. On a recent flight we were offered a menu breakfast offerings from Au Bon Pain (Asiago cheese bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese at $7) and Bennigan's (a salad topped with chunks of deep-fried chicken, eggs, cheese, tomatoes and bacon with a roll and slice of cheesecake at $10). So now you can get your soggy salads and stale bagels on the plane instead of in the airport. What a convenience!

NBC Tonight: Who Wants to Survive Marrying a Chef? The reality television craze hit the food industry last year, producing chef Rocco DiSpirito's show “The Restaurant” and Naked Chef Jamie Oliver's show. We think DiSpirito should be de-toqued for giving the nation the idea that all chefs are completely self-absorbed megalomaniacs who alternately abuse and ignore their front-of-the-house staff while leaving under-trained cooks (and elderly mothers!!!) in the kitchen preparing food that is widely criticized as slop. The best episode was the one when they set the kitchen on fire and scared away a writer from The New York Times. Meanwhile, on “Jamie's Kitchen”, the pretty, lispy chef women love and men love to hate further endeared himself to the ladies by turning a group of 15 untrained youths from London (with no formal training but plenty of passion for food) into the staff for a new nonprofit restaurant. See Jamie show the pretty girl how to chop an onion! See Jamie be too nice for his own good! See the viewers fall asleep clutching the remote!

Yet Another Reason Never to Leave Albuquerque. While chefs in New York raced to outdo each other with black truffle- and foie gras-stuffed Kobe beef hamburgers that rose steadily above the $50 price mark, here in Albuquerque you could still get a green chile cheeseburger just about anywhere for less than $5. Try finding a deal like that in New York City!

Processed Meat Product Violence On the Rise. Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Randall Simon took a swipe at a Milwaukee Brewer's sausage mascot and knocked her down as she raced around the field in an annual Milwaukee tradition. Simon was charged with misdemeanor battery, fined and ordered to apologize (which we hear he didn't). Here in the Duke City, a feud between rival hot dog vendors boiled over into physical violence (a story this paper covered with relish! sorry, sorry) when one vendor head-butted and broke the nose of another. The bloodied vendor has since packed up and left the Downtown area.

Smokers Exiled to Bars, Sidewalks and JB's in Los Ranchos. Albuquerque restaurant diners began breathing fresh air in restaurants this summer when the city's smoking ordinance went into effect. The ordinance banned smoking in city restaurants but not bars, prompting a surprisingly small number of people to flee the city for smoke-tolerant restaurants in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and Bernalillo. Most managed to make it through the meal without lighting up or finding a table in a bar that also serves food. Nonsmokers shifted their grumblings to the smokiness in bars.

Green Reaper Spreads Hepatitis A. After an extended hiatus from terrorizing fruit-lovers, hepatitis A again reared its ugly head in 2003. This time it was linked to green onions that were distributed to Chi Chi's Mexican restaurants in Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The contaminated onions were responsible for three deaths and over 500 infections between September and early November. In an effort to minimize a huge loss in sales, Chi Chi's announced that it would remove the ingredient from all raw and cooked dishes at its 100 restaurants across the East and Midwest. In case you were wondering, hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver and is spread through raw and undercooked foods that have been contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Symptoms are similar to the flu and may include loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, jaundice, fatigue and fever.

Fried Foods Enlisted to Combat Terrorism. In a childish effort to piss off the French, the House of Representatives cafeteria ousted French fries off their menu in favor of "freedom fries." Several restaurants across the country followed suit, including Fuddruckers, who replaced their old menus in over 200 locations with "corrected" versions. This kind of Orwellian doublethink proved to be largely ineffective in provoking France, however, as the twice-fried potato sticks actually come from Belgium and, well, France just didn't really give a shit in general.

Yet Another Year of Fad Diets. South Beach, Mediterranean and Atkins may sound like expensive vacation packages but they're making waves as magic plans for weight loss. This year fad diets attracted hordes of new followers despite skepticism from some health professionals and the death of one diet founder. (Dr. Robert Atkins, 72, died this year after slipping on an icy sidewalk in front of his New York office. He also suffered a heart attack in 2002, which he claimed was "in no way related to diet.") The South Beach plan developed by Dr. Arthur Agatston attributes obesity to hypoglycemia and advocates replacing refined carbohydrates and animal fats with high-fiber foods like fresh vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Meanwhile, research has found that a Mediterranean diet—one that's rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, grains and beans—actually has significant powers to reducing the risk of heart problems. Atkins is rolling in his grave, we're sure.

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