Categories
Food Policy Opinion Video

NYU’s Quarantine Meal Debacle Is A Wake-Up Call For Colleges Everywhere

As students have been returning to college to start the new school year, some have had to quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At New York University, students that quarantined in the dorms got meals, but their quality was so poor that videos of them went viral all over TikTok.

@benbenfuntime

I can’t make this up ##nyu ##vegan ##quarantine ##fyp

♬ Kouen – Lo-Fi Beats

For the first few days, the NYU quarantine meals program was a mess. Vegans and vegetarians received animal and dairy products, some students had missing meals, others didn’t get them delivered until late in the day… it was chaotic, to say the least.

@cheezitbabey

we literally had to drink our own pee last night ##NYU ##nyumeal ##nyutok ##quarantine ##college ##helpus ##fyp ##survivaltok

♬ original sound – cheezitbabey

After making it onto the news for their low-quality meals, NYU apologized, and pledged to do better. For the most part, they’ve lived up to that, as they’ve added more employees to help prepare and send out meals, and even sent out cases of water and snack boxes to help students get adequate nutrition.

@rico_da_fool

Chicken caesar salad but the chicken caesar salad is silent😌😌😌##nyutiktok ##nyu ##fyp ##expensive ##flex

♬ original sound – drydoodooflakes

It didn’t resolve all of the issues, however, so NYU eventually gave students $30 of delivery credit per day as a way to get dinner for the remainder of the quarantine period. They continued to serve breakfast and lunch throughout that time frame.

Considering that NYU students pay over $38,000 per semester for tuition, housing, and other expenses, the quality of the meals they were getting is shocking. It’s also bringing the value of expensive college fees into question, especially during a pandemic.

If expensive schools are serving low-quality meals, limited access to amenities paid for through tuition costs, and transitioning to online learning, then what are students really paying for? A place to stay to take online classes?

The cost of an online course is about $1,200-$1,300, and monthly, one would spent about $350 in food and $1,000 in rent per person in a 2-bedroom apartment. This means that one could go take 4 online classes at home, in a semester-long timeline, and pay under $10,000 to do so.

It’s understandable that the pandemic has changed how everything operates, including college. Given how much money students are paying schools, however, NYU should serve as a case study of what not to do to ensure student nutrition during a pandemic.

To learn more about the full debacle, check out the entire Foodbeast video on the NYU quarantine meals at the top of this story.

Categories
Culture Opinion

Uncomfortable ‘Black Lives Matter’ Dinner Conversations That Are Necessary

dinner

There’s so much to unpack about this year. We have a raging pandemic, an unsuitable President in the position of leadership, and record high death and unemployment. Overall, a melting pot of unrest, fear, anger, impatience, stewed with a strong sense of feeling unacknowledged. Sirens, explosions and chants soundtrack the nationwide protests. Determined to be heard, those on the front line brave tear gas, rubber bullet and baton.

As we begin our second consecutive week of city-wide protests here in Los Angeles, efforts are being made globally in support of not only justice for George Floyd, but the many lives taken at the hands of police brutality for generations. Black and Brown, White or Yellow, and everything in between; each of us are experiencing first hand what lies behind the veil; a slow reveal of systemic oppression. While intersectionality has existed in many forms over the years, today, our access to witness police brutality in real-time has sparked an overwhelming intersectional, international response that has never before occured.

Fighting for a cause is not easy. It takes courage to voice an unpopular opinion about injustices, to challenge the status quo and to attempt to inspire change in your fellow human beings. No one likes being told what they believe is wrong, especially if they’ve believed it for most of their life. Systemic racism runs centuries deep, so to educate another about its impact requires lots of patience. It requires lots of self-education as well.

Protest doesn’t just reside in the streets, it also has a place in our daily interactions with friends and family, at home or over dinner. Being accustomed to our social routine makes having those “dinner time” conversations challenging. We all have that overt racist relative that for all our lives, we’ve made the excuse, “Oh that’s just how they are.” Other times the racism is less overt and more rooted in a misconception of class inferiority and privilege. Nevertheless, we can no longer allow fear to impede the change we know deep down is necessary.

I’d like to share a quote from Margaret Renkl of The New York Times, “And the problem with writing off people who don’t recognize this country’s pervasive and enduring culture of white supremacy, much less the ways in which they themselves benefit from it, is simple: Being called a racist almost never causes a racist to wake up. Being called a racist almost never causes a racist to say, “Oh, wow, you’re right.”

So how do we have these uncomfortable conversations with close friends and loved ones? How many more family dinners can we have where we allow racist remarks to go unchecked, simply for the sake of not ruining everyone’s meal? These are some questions we’ve asked ourselves here at Foodbeast. With our unique family dynamics and cultural experiences, there seems no single way to approach this conversation. Thinking more about this, I felt that maybe by just sharing personal experiences, we could help to inspire others who are similarly wanting to speak up but unsure of the best method. This is a convo many of us have had or will need to have, so I decided to reach out to close friends as well as fellow Foodbeast fam to share their uncomfortable dinner conversations:

“Yesterday, our city had a scheduled peaceful protest. This was the first time that I really paid attention to my parents’ media consumption. They only have Facebook and watch traditional news from Spanish TV channels. I realized that they haven’t seen any of the peaceful protesting, the policemen that instigate violence, the white looters who destroy cities in the name of BLM, the repeated incidents throughout the country. I took some time to show them some things on my Twitter feed, and reminded them that this stuff is coming from real people on the scene, whereas the stuff that they’re watching is coming from sensationalized news. Although they were surprised, I think I was the one who had a bigger moment of realization. Members of my immediate and extended family are not consuming the same news that I am, and it’s my responsibility to direct them to those sources. As light-skinned Latinos, we don’t have conversations about colorism or American racism in regards to the Black community. I’m now actively responding to them more on Facebook & sharing more about BLM.”


“I call out my family on pretty much everything. Asian families have a deeply rooted anti-Blackness, so anything involving Black people they blame it on them – saying how they’re scary, they’re violent, etc. I try to educate by talking about the bigger picture, how the media frames black people as antagonists, how it’s unfair how we are so anti-Black without questioning why. Of course I’m either met with silence or resistance.”


“The conversation was with my boyfriend and mom regarding looting and rioting. I had to explain to my boyfriend the dangers of telling a non-Black person that you don’t agree with the looting and rioting. Now my mom thinks, “See he is Black and he doesn’t like it either.” Well obviously he doesn’t want his neighborhood fucked up like the riots and Black and Brown business owners suffering from it, but when my mom hears that, she hears “He hates all looting and rioting.”

And I make my case for why looting and rioting happens – deeply embedded in the country’s history, wealth gap, history of ownership and private property and the disparities for Black and Brown folks. And my boyfriend is like, “Yes I get it but I still don’t think they should be fucking up OUR shit.” So I’m like, “You need to make that very clear to my mother.” And my mom said, “No, I get it.” And I know her ass doesn’t.”


“Whenever I have these conversations with my mom, she meets it with resistance (from deeply rooted racism), but the more I talk, the more I explain, the more she listens. But I do remember an instance where she responded to my conversations with, “Oh so now you’re gonna go date a Black guy?” and I got angry because she missed the point. But with more conversations, more calling out, the more I see her think. I had a more broad talk with her when we were talking about the COVID protests, how white people use their privilege to protest their “rights being taken away”, the way that they haven’t been oppressed and how that’s the main issue at hand. It’s never been about how Black people are “bad,” it’s been about how society responds to privilege and the layers of systemic racism. These convos are just going to have to keep happening for change to happen.”


“I talked to my friend who only dates Black males and wasn’t doing anything about this movement that was uncomfortable. She ended up listening to me but I told her, “Hey you’ve only dated men of color the entire time I’ve known you and you are dating one right now…and you’re letting all of these things happen and you can’t even show up when I ask you to come with me to make a difference. It makes me mad that you complain about white people all the time but at a time that it really matters you care more about yourself and your own comfort.”


“I have a friend that used the n-word while I was on the phone with them, the catalyst being a hit-and-run accident on the freeway while raining.

I’ve never had the courage to talk to them about it. I’m deathly afraid because I fear it will destroy a friendship of hundreds of positive experiences together. A friendship that’s had an insanely positive impact on my life.

I believe I’m gathering the courage, but to be honest, I’m so afraid that I can’t stop crying while writing this.”

As you can see, there is no perfect way to go about broaching the sensitive subject of racism. The conversation you have with your elders may be different than the one you have with those in your age group. The common thread in all of these stories is that it requires patience and persistence. Your food might get cold in the process.

New information uproots, shifts and transforms. How that experience feels to us is dependent on our willingness to accept change. Equally important is the messenger. We’re experiencing probably one of the most pivotal moments of our lifetime where if we want real change, it requires real action. Not selfish action, but mindful action. At Foodbeast, we’re working each day to learn how to better support that change. Below are some links that discuss ways to help you break the ice as these necessary conversations are had:

How To Tell Someone You Love They’re Being Racist

How To Talk To Your White Family About Racism

How To Talk To Your Friends And Family About Race

Teaching Tolerance

Categories
#foodbeast Culture FOODBEAST Opinion Restaurants The Katchup

5 New Things You’ll See At Buffets As They Re-Open

The bounty of a buffet has always been the crux of its appeal: all-you-can-eat, get your money’s worth, it’s the American way. Whether it be the high end flourish of a Las Vegas buffet or the comforts of a local Hometown Buffet or Golden Corral, folks have always used the linchpin of a seemingly unending feast to maximize their dining experience. Yet 2020’s pandemic has crippled the restaurant industry, and with the restrictive nature of the new norms, the buffet concept has fallen victim to it.

With social distancing and forcibly limited dining capacities being implemented as the U.S. slowly reopens different segments of business, the future that buffets face has been bleak. Dwindling interest among millennials pre-pandemic already had buffets trying to steer themselves into relevancy by experimenting with different models. But a covid-19 reality these days has universally constrained restaurants, forcing them to take-out and delivery options only, a pivot that doesn’t fit the model of a buffet at all, though places like Golden Corral and Old Country buffet have turned to them for their survival.

However, the challenges the pandemic has brought on buffets have been insurmountable to some, namely the company Garden Fresh Restaurants, owner of AYCE salad bar concepts Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, who recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

In the latest episode of Foodbeast’s The Katchup Podcast, hosts Elie Ayrouth and Geoff Kutnick, along with myself, wax poetic and eulogize just how much Souplantation meant to them, while also exploring the immediately unfortunate prospects buffets have post-pandemic.

Though Souplantaion and Sweet Tomatoes did not decide to give it a go at pivoting to new business models to keep afloat, other buffets have turned to such alternatives, all with varying results. The following are a number of adjustments they’ve done just to survive. Which begs the question: Would Garden Fresh Restaurants have been able to stick around if they tried to maneuver with the times as well?

Cafeteria-Style

Big buffet chain, Golden Corral, has been slowly reopening locations across the country with a new cafeteria-style service model. So think restaurant employees directly serving diners menu items at what otherwise would have been various buffet stations. Also, stanchions are set up as a perimeter around buffet areas, with floor markers indicating where customers can stand safely away from one another. This model also eliminates the prospect of multiple diners touching utensils at once.

Take-Out

Take-out has been the new standard these past couple of months for restaurants to survive. A reliance on third-party delivery apps and their exorbitant fees have proved to be difficult for restaurants to deal with, yet has been enough to keep them afloat, a conundrum in itself that’s brought on separate ethical discussions on the business practices of these apps. Curbside pick-up has also been a helpful option for diners to enjoy their offerings through modified menus designed to coincide with the efficiency of the pick-up.

Family-Style

In this service model, servers treat customers to an “endless buffet” from a selection of menu items. What immediately comes to mind to compare to this would be Brazilian steakhouses, also known as churrascarrias, such as Fogo De Chao, who serve a constant of meats until the diner indicates to stop via a red coaster flipped up. Turning it over to the green side tells servers that they’re welcome to offer more meats to the customer.

Different Payment Options

Before the pandemic, Golden Corral tried to address the waning interest millenials had in buffets by dabbling with different pay systems, namely dropping the pay-one-price model. Further, it was being tested where customers pay at their table, while also being offered three buffet options: soup and salad only, a single trip to the food bar, or unlimited trips. Could experimenting with different pay systems work even better in post-pandemic dining?

Stay As-Is

Fifteen locations of Golden Corral have opted to stick with the old service model. They plan on adhering to the traditional buffet format with an implementation of rigorous cleaning standards and other precautions such as adding hand sanitizing stations and checking diners’ temperatures before being seated. It’s worth noting that 12 of the 15 locations sticking to the original buffet model are in Florida.

Categories
Features Opinion Restaurants

LA Restaurant Owner Journaled Every Day of the Pandemic And It Is Eye-Opening

HomeState

Briana Valdez is a self-described disciple of the restaurant industry. Every day she lives out the crucial tenet of creating a wonderful dining experience for her customers that goes well beyond just the food. Having spent time at legendary chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Beverly Hills, CA, Valdez soaked up everything she learned on what it takes to run a restaurant  — including maintaining a solid base of integrity for not only customers, but staff as well.

Being from Texas, Valdez had her sights set all along on developing the concept that would become HomeState: a restaurant that would serve as her ode to the Lone Star state’s cuisine. First opened back in December 2013, HomeState has since carved itself into the Los Angeles dining scene by serving up distinctive and memorable Texas staples like queso, brisket sandwiches, Frito pies, and crave-worthy breakfast tacos. Her first customer was her mother. Her second? “[He] was a guy who had just moved from San Antonio a few months before. He still comes in a few times a week and has become a good friend,” recalled Valdez. She continued, “He credits HomeState with staving off homesickness and giving him community.”

Growing to three busy locations across the Los Angeles area, HomeState — and as a whole, the city’s robust dining scene — was thriving. That is, all up until just a month ago. The beginning of March was a precipice that the restaurant industry stood at before the COVID-19 pandemic shoved it into a downward spiral of survival, uncertainty, and upheaval. Restaurants have since had to maneuver through a mishmash of mandates that have forced them to either close indefinitely or turn to new business models and operations as a stopgap to the loss of revenue. What’s more, countless jobs in the industry have been lost, leading to a perplexity and lack of confidence in how the recovery will be.

In the state of California alone, the California Restaurant Association was the second largest private employer, with as much as 1.4 million individuals employed, pre-pandemic. And within that astounding number of people, small businesses and those that keep them running were dealt a piercing blow.

briana valdez homestate

For Valdez, the precarious state of the restaurant industry just as the COVID-19 crisis was hitting the U.S. became something she couldn’t ignore. She began journaling and documenting the series of events that have unfolded for her business throughout the pandemic, from pre-quarantine up until recently. Even before Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s executive order to temporarily shut down bars, nightclubs, restaurants (except takeout and delivery), entertainment venues, and other establishments on the evening of March 15th, she knew she had to take preemptive action to anticipate just how drastic the coronavirus concerns were going to affect her business.

And it was the very integrity that she learned coming up that would be her North Star to steer HomeState through the murkiness of this new reality.

What’s resulted is a staggering and intimate glimpse into how the pandemic has affected her and HomeState. And though this example may be an account through Valdez’s lens, such may be what it has been for other small restaurant owners everywhere trying to stay afloat and navigate their businesses through this health and economic crisis.

Below is Briana Valdez’s account from her journaling.


Friday 3/6/20: We received word that SXSW would be cancelled and began reaching out to local bands to play the following weekend on our patio, like a mini South By in LA. Sounded like a great idea at the time.

Saturday 3/7/20: I had family in town. We spent hours catching up on the patio at HomeState Highland Park. It was crowded and overflowing with laughter and good times. Later that night I went to another crowded fundraiser.

Sunday 3/8/20: HomeState celebrated International Women’s Day on our patio by inviting a group of 25 attendees to a panel filled with the women who run/operate HomeState. Later that day, I went to a big Sunday supper at a friend’s house, with no less than 20 people.

Tuesday-Wednesday 3/10-20, 3/11/20: Letters from other companies were pouring in via social media and email. I wasn’t sure what we could say that would be productive or meaningful. I held off on releasing anything from HomeState.

Thursday 3/12/20: With some action items in place we sent a newsletter to our guests notifying them of changes to our operation including elimination of all communal items, free delivery, and curbside pickup.

Thursday 3/12/20: Evening into night I started reading more about the rates of spread and the importance of acting quickly. I couldn’t sleep.

Friday 3/13/20, 3:00am: I couldn’t shake the urgency to do something drastic, like close our three restaurants, in order to keep our teams and community safe. It felt crazy. I came into the office at 7 am, and couldn’t get there fast enough. When our team arrived, I shared my concerns and the conviction to close the restaurants to the public. Thankfully, everyone backed the idea 100% and sprung into action. We decided to close to the public at 2pm that day. That left little time to notify guests or our team. I knew communication would be key to pulling this off quickly, orderly, and with our team’s morale intact. I had to notify our mgmt team, our 150 team members, our investors, and vendors, and most importantly, our guests.
    – 1:30 pm: We had a crowded dining room finishing their lunch. It was raining outside. We posted signs on the front windows saying “To reduce the spread of COVID-19, we are serving our guests via delivery + to-go only. Thank you for understanding.” We allowed guests to finish their meals and kindly prevented additional guests from entering. As we let our team members know the plan, some were relieved, others were scared, others cried. I related to them all.
    – 2:00pm: We locked the doors at both locations and immediately pivoted to curbside pick-up and delivery only. I believe no other restaurant in LA had closed their dining rooms. 

Saturday 3/14/20: First full day with closed dining rooms. It was raining. We had team members outside wearing gloves and using walkie talkies to communicate with team members inside to avoid contact as much as possible. We were trying to figure it out but knew that we had made the right decision to close the dining rooms.

Sunday 3/15/20: Governor Newsom and Mayor Garcetti issued a mandate that all dining rooms close.

Wednesday 3/18/20, 1:00pm: Got on a conference call with fellow chefs and leaders in the hospitality industry to discuss how this impacts us, our employees, and auxiliary vendors and what we can do to mobilize in an effort of support and relief.

Thursday 3/19/20, 8:45pm-1am: Had a roundtable call with the leadership team to discuss pros/cons of keeping stores open for pickup and delivery. What were the risks and benefits to our team members? What were the risks and benefits for our community? The meeting was held on Google Hangouts so we could all see each other. We kept it brutally honest and tried to laugh here and there. Ultimately, we decided what would best serve the overall community was to radically reduce our menu and launch a General Store. This would achieve our overarching goals: 1. Keep our team employed but provide the ability to keep 6’ apart while working. 2. Continue providing food for our community in the form of tacos but ADDING much needed pantry essentials like eggs, flour, milk, butter, and products our vendors were/are still able to provide.

HomeState

Friday 3/20/20: We closed our Playa Vista location and set about planning out the General Store menu and operations. ABC (California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) announced relaxed regulations allowing us to offer cocktails, beer and wine for pickup and delivery. A big boost to our guests and our ability to generate revenue. Margaritas started flowing the next morning, much to our guests’ delight and appreciation!

Saturday 3/21/20, 8:00am: We launched the first ever HomeState General Store at our Hollywood location, shifting our entire way of doing business and interacting with each other and our guests. It was wild. It was crazy. We got lots of praise and some negative commentary when we started selling toilet paper. We wanted to fill the gap of what was most in demand for the community so we drove an hour to pick up toilet paper from our only vendor who could find any to sell us. Our cost was $2.12 plus the drive. We put it on the menu for $3 and people were outraged, one person even told us that we would “burn in hell.” We all did our best to focus on the positive while continuing the hunt for cheaper toilet paper. We could have just removed it from the offerings but we know people were desperately searching for supply. Thankfully, within a few days, we found a cheaper option and reduced the price to $1. We are learning how to be a grocer minute by minute. Grateful to have found an alternative to closing our doors and laying off our team.
We continue to work with incredible vendors who are a pipeline for much needed goods and have workers to employ as well. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Sunday 3/22/20: We strengthened the General Store model with everything we learned on Day 1. Went MUCH smoother.

HomeState

Monday 3/21/20: Began writing letters to state legislators and local officials about the devastating impact on the hospitality industry at large.

Tuesday 3/24/20: We closed all stores for deep clean, allowed teams to rest while we rolled up our sleeves to get General Store #2 ready in the Highland Park location.

Wednesday 3/25/20: We launched the General Store at Highland Park, offering products like olive oil, whole chickens, ground beef and… MARGARITAS. Can’t make margaritas fast enough. I feel like it’s medicine for the city, helping us all cope.

Friday 3/27/20: Watching live coverage of LA CITY council as they hear from fellow operators. Decisions will be made in the next few days that will have lasting effects on HomeState plus the restaurant industry as a whole, including many of our dear friends. Only time will tell. Now we wait, and keep fighting as hard as we can to survive.

 

Feature Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash
Categories
Features Opinion

Our Eating Habits May Never Be The Same After The Pandemic

As self-quarantining has led many of us to do awful things to keep busy, I found myself watching TMZ the other night.

It wasn’t all bad though, as chef Giada DeLaurentiis was interviewed and gave some interesting food-based insight on the current global pandemic.

“I think our whole life is going to change. Instead of complicating food, we’re going to stick to the basics,” Giada told TMZ. “I think you’re going to start to realize that certain ingredients can be used in many many different ways.”

Which is interesting, because with the way aggressive shoppers have made certain foods scarce, those who are trying to cook at home, probably have to get creative and work with what they have available.

With groceries going like crazy, it’s a little hard to dig into a cookbook right now and try to use all of Gordon Ramsay’s 17 ingredients to cook a beef wellington.

With that in mind, DeLaurentiis has even simplified her own recipes for the public. Fully knowing that ingredients are a luxury at the moment, she said on Instagram Tuesday:

“Adapted a lot of my recipes on @thegiadzy to use pantry ingredients & omit ingredients that are hard to find in grocery stores right now. I hope it’s helpful for everyone staying in & cooking at home.”

We’ve already seen this unfold, as people have been using what they have or what they can snag at the store, leading to things such as makeshift French onion soup ramen, low effort banana bread, and microwave risotto.


While off-the-cuff recipes are being done out of necessity of the moment, it’s fair to predict that home cooking could be the new norm, as the way we eat out will be changed.

The combination of both restaurant closures and budgeted spending from consumers after extended work stoppages could very well mean that eating out will become a luxury.

Jonathan Maze, Editor-in-Chief at Restaurant Business Magazine pointed out some of the post-quarantine struggles saying:

“Once this things clears up, we’re probably going to be in an economic recession, and it’s going to be a while before the economy recovers from that. Then you get into a situation where people are really cutting back.”

Record-setting claims for unemployment have been filing in, as business closures have forced a lot of layoffs.

In the restaurant industry alone, the current business shutdown regulations could affect an estimated 5 to 7 million employees over a three month span, according to the National Restaurant Association.

And even as restaurants try to rebuild in the aftermath, Maze added that they will now have to worry about rehiring its employees, assuming they haven’t found a job somewhere else. On top of that, bringing customers back and letting them know they are open again will be a process that could add another couple months as they try to get back in the flow of things.

We can only hope our favorite restaurants can get through this, and as much as we might want to keep patronizing them, our own personal financial situations will ultimately dictate that. So there’s a chance you’ll want to get used to cooking at home, and getting creative, as that could be the new norm.

Categories
Grocery Opinion

Grocery Stores Should Implement Reservation Systems To Curb Panic Buying

For the past couple weeks, the scenes inside of grocery stores can best be described as chaotic In the grocery trips I’ve been to, plus those of many of my co-workers and friends who have shared on social media, entire sections of stores have been cleaned out by everyone stockpiling food and supplies. Lines of customers looking to get extra cases of water or toilet paper form hours before opening.

Unfortunately, this situation has made it hard for many others, including several who are immunocompromised or otherwise can’t shop due to the dangers of exposing themselves to the coronavirus, to obtain just the basics they need to get through the week. Many stores are offering “Elderly-only” hours as one way to fix this, but the store shelves still continue to be wiped out.

This is deeply concerning because it threatens the food security of many people, especially those who may not be able to get to grocers first thing in the morning. Those who can often travel to multiple stores to get just what they need on a short-term basis. Meanwhile, many essentials, including milk, eggs, and other in-demand items, continue to remain out of stock.

However, it’s not a concern of whether we have enough food. Grocery stores have made it clear that is not the case, and are hiring en masse to try to get shelves stocked and supply chains sped up as quickly as possible. At this point, what we need is a drastic solution in order to ensure that more people, and those in need, have the same access to food as those who are stockpiling.

There is a model that some companies and stores have followed that could present a novel solution: creating a reservation system for shoppers to use to shop for the groceries they need, rather than allowing people to stockpile.

A system like this has already been used before by companies like Nike and Disney. Nike will set up reservations to purchase shoes for any hype sneakers they do limited drops on. Disney, meanwhile, had been utilizing “boarding groups” that are called throughout the day for admission to its Rise of the Resistance rides in Disneyland and Disney World before both parks closed.

Disneyland’s system works by opening up reservations for each day at the park’s opening, then cutting them off once a certain number is filled. Anyone who gets a boarding group can then head to the ride when their number is called, and have a two-hour window to enter.

A system like this could work for grocery stores because it would control the amount of people in stores at a time. Combined with the limits some stores are imposing on how many goods you can buy, and it gives stores enough time to restock some major goods or ensure that there’s enough to go around.

Doing this online could be problematic for those without internet access or that show up in person, so it would probably need to be a combination of physically signing up in person as well as online sign-ups, with limits to each.

Could grocery stores be convinced to move to these reservation systems? It’s likely that they would have to set them up themselves (which would require development work) as well as regulate/maintain them. There’s also the possibility that it reduces the amount of purchased goods overall each day, although given that stores tend to run out by lunchtime anyway, that may not be the case.

Whichever the case, there’s clearly a need for some kind of system, as grocers have already started to implement limitations. Some local Trader Joe’s stores, for example, are asking customers to limit the amount of items they purchase. Costco is also informing people that it won’t accept returns on items like water and toilet paper, in addition to other items they run out of regularly these days.

The biggest question of something like this is who would pay for it. Chances are that the government won’t, as they’ve got bigger problems they’re addressing like trying to provide much-needed relief to small businesses (including restaurants).
My guess is that it’s going to have to come from the grocery chains themselves, and they may not want to unless they think such a reservation system is essential to business operations. One can definitely make the argument that it is essential, or at the very least, may help prevent grocers from running out of food daily.

Food shortages aren’t the problem plaguing our grocery stores. People panicking and overbuying in obscene amounts are what’s causing store shelves to go barren. If you find a way to curb that through a reservation system, then you can not only serve more customers, but also ensure those who need food at this time have access to it.

Categories
Culture News Opinion What's New

Food Delivery Services Offer Customers Incentives During Covid-19 Concerns, But What About Their Drivers?

Yesterday, Postmates announced that it would be slashing delivery fees in half for orders worth more than $10 between the hours of 10am-2pm, capitalizing on the recent wave of social isolation due to COVID-19. 

This comes only two days after the company made a dual announcement, stating that it planned to waive commission fees for restaurants, therefore allowing them to join and use the app for free, as well as pay for any COVID-19 medical expenses their drivers accrued. 

The two announcements serve as a microcosm of the juxtaposition delivery services currently lie in: with business surging due to the increased number of people staying home,  what’s the proper response to their workers, who lie at the frontline of exposure, and their struggling restaurant partners?

There appears to be no clear cut answer. 

Postmates took some of the first action in early March by introducing non-contact deliveries, allowing customers to choose a drop off location for their food. But, with most companies working from home, American cities beginning to shut down entirely, and most delivery services remaining tight-lipped about the issues, drivers felt left in the dust.

As lawmakers pressed companies like DoorDash and Uber to improve situations for their workers, food delivery services scrambled to distance themselves from the issue. DoorDash and InstaCart quickly announced paid sick leave for workers diagnosed with COVID-19, and Postmates took the aforementioned measures.

This still doesn’t leave drivers with much room to breath, though. If one is infected, money will be lost regardless, either in the form of time spent going to the doctors or time spent quarantined.

Grubhub took effort to help only restaurants, with a similar strategy to Postmates, by slashing their marketing fees. No word, however, was said about the affected Grubhub delivery drivers.

Though, certainly, these companies seem to be trying to help their associated restaurants and individuals, business is still going on as usual.

And we’ve seen, in multiple countries, what will happen if business goes on as usual, and what happens when it doesn’t.

Delivery services can’t come to terms with the scale of the virus, and the measures it’s going to take to prevent widespread infection. There’s too much money to be lost. And, with no one wanting to leave the house, and drivers relying on the wage they earn for sustenance, the money will continue to roll in.

As long as delivery companies are delivering, and drivers are still dependent on work, ordering delivery with timely promotions doesn’t offer much of an ethical issue. Though, the privilege of being able to put another human at-risk to allow oneself to self-isolate should be noted, and also warrant a hell of a tip.

But, if these companies are as serious as they say they are about preventing infection, that would mean halting business for a week or two, since their entire business plans revolve around sending drivers through different cities to interact with others. This, in turn, would probably harm already struggling restaurants, as well. 

It’s hard to see a right answer with how our gastronomic economy is set up. It’s an ecosystem that runs out of necessity, one that won’t stop turning until it’s forced to.

Categories
Opinion Science

If Cilantro Tastes Like Soap To You, You Could Be Making BANK

The other day, Foodbeast Elie ran up on me with some food science questions to help build his TikTok clout. One of the things he asked me was about cilantro tasting like soap.

@yungfoodbeast#AskCosta: why does CILANTRO taste like SOAP 🧼?! || #foodbeast outhereflourishing _bookofelie♬ original sound – yungfoodbeast

A lot of y’all responded with questions about it, especially the part where I said you could be making bank off of it. So I decided to write out a more in-depth response than what 15-20 seconds of TikTok content can get you. That, and Elie hits me with these questions off-guard usually, and as a scientist, I want to make sure I’m getting you the best information possible, rather than what I cobble together in my brain in a half-second.

Hopefully, this answers most, if not all, of what you’re curious to know when it comes to cilantro, your palate, and how you could be making money off of it.

Cilantro itself can taste like soap to those who have the genes coded for it. How this works is simple: those who have the genes coded for it have receptors in our nose  (called olfactory receptors) that pick up the soapy aroma of cilantro when it’s released. These chemicals are released no matter what, it’s just a matter of whether we can detect them or not.

Those that can pick them up will get that soapy aroma, which also translates to a bitter taste when you bite into cilantro. If that’s the case for you, there’s a chance that you could be something called a “supertaster.

Supertasters are those who have specific taste receptors that pick up bitter compounds called phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and propylthiouracil (PROP), compounds often found in vegetables like kale, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. It’s unclear yet if this compound is present in cilantro, but these taste receptors (or other ones on the tongue) could play into why cilantro has a bitter taste to some. The aroma receptor definitely is a key factor, however.

Those who have these receptors also generally have more tastebuds on their tongue than the average population; supertasters can comprise as much as 25% of the general population.

In a similar vein to supertasters, there are also “supersmellers” who have more, and a higher variety, of types of aroma/olfactory receptors in their noses. Folks who think cilantro tastes like soap often fall into this category as well.

When it comes to making money, supertasters’ and supersmellers’ palates are valued because of both the variety and frequency of their taste buds and olfactory receptors. It means that they are more likely to discern the slightest of differences between products, especially when it comes to more bitter foods like chocolate and coffee.

In the food industry, those with heightened taste and smell can actually get hired to sample product right as it’s coming off the production line. They’re mainly looking to find if there are any slight differences in taste between batches, and if one is detected, they can alert the food science team and let them know something is amiss. These taste testers are a key part of quality control, and often get paid pretty well as a result of that.

Of course, being a food taster for one of these companies is no walk in the park. It requires extensive training to ensure you recognize what the flavor of a product should taste like, calibrating your tongue like a machine tuned to exactly what the company desires their food and drink to be. This can take years of practice to get right, and requires regular checkups to ensure your idea of the taste hasn’t deviated.

For those who do get to this point, though, they get the potential of a career where their primary job is to taste chocolate, coffee, or something else for 8 hours a day and then go back home. Not a bad gig, if I do say so myself.

In terms of actual salary, the number will vary based on experience and training, as well as where you are located. According to job listing aggregate site SimplyHired, a job in the category of “coffee tasting” has an average of $80,000 per year. For wine, that number could fall into the range of about $71,000. There are even “master tasters” of ice cream that reportedly make six figure salaries, although these are usually folks who have been in their jobs for decades.

My field of study in school was sensory science, which involves not just training these tasters and monitoring their results, but also analyzing them and interpreting them to help make better and more consistent-tasting products. In that field, the average salary is about $76,000.

These pay figures obviously come with time and experience factored in, so while you can’t expect to be making that much starting out, you could be literally using your palate to get into a relatively well-paying gig.

So, if cilantro does taste like soap to you, you may have that combination of both supertaster and the olfactory receptors that could prove invaluable to companies that want to make sure their products’ tastes never change. You probably want to get tested on these yourself (there are test kits available for cheap on Amazon), and also undergo palate training.

If you have that and a connection to the food industry, chances are you could find yourself landing one of those tasting jobs.

Illustrations: Sam Brosnan