Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are We Raising A Generation of "Nincompoops"?

NEW YORK --Second-graders who can't tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who've never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter "literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else."

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her "kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger."

Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care.

"It's so all laid out for them," said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book "The Winter of Our Disconnect," about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. "Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation -- the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we'll take care of it for you!"

The issue hit home for me when a visiting 12-year-old took an ice-cube tray out of my freezer, then stared at it helplessly. Raised in a world where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers, he'd never had to get cubes out of a tray -- in the same way that kids growing up with pull-tab cans don't understand can openers.
But his passivity was what bothered me most. Come on, kid! If your life depended on it, couldn't you wrestle that ice-cube tray to the ground? It's not that complicated!

Mark Bauerlein, author of the best-selling book "The Dumbest Generation," which contends that cyberculture is turning young people into know-nothings, says "the absence of technology" confuses kids faced with simple mechanical tasks.

But Bauerlein says there's a second factor: "a loss of independence and a loss of initiative." He says that growing up with cell phones and Google means kids don't have to figure things out or solve problems any more. They can look up what they need online or call mom or dad for step-by-step instructions. And today's helicopter parents are more than happy to oblige, whether their kids are 12 or 22.

Read the complete story here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why is "Food Security" Sparking Unrest?

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- While nations debate what to do about long-term problems such as climate change and dwindling water supplies, two words send immediate shivers down the spines of government officials across the world: Food security.

A series of environmental disasters fueling a wave of food price volatility has given governments, "a much needed wakeup call," said Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist for the United Nation's Security of Intergovernmental Group on Grains.

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization will be holding a special meeting to discuss the issue and the recent volatility in Rome on September 24.

The meeting was called after Russia decided to ban wheat exports after a punishing drought wiped out 25 percent of its crop. Moscow's decision pushed food prices up about 5 percent worldwide. Bread prices surged in some countries and triggered the deadly riots in Mozambique.

Massive floods in Pakistan also caused huge losses to the country's crops, adding to the uncertainty in the markets.

"The pace in which prices went up, nobody predicted markets could turn so fast," said Abbassian. "It's been two months and we're still struggling with it."

Food security, in simple terms, is defined by the United Nations as food being available in sufficient quantities to reliably feed a nation's population.

Market volatility is nothing new, especially when it comes to commodities. During the food crisis of 2007-2008, prices spiked dramatically: Rice surged more than 200 percent; wheat and corn jumped more than 100 percent. The cause continues to be debated, but the effects led to protests and deadly riots from Haiti to Mogadishu.

But the current market conditions are very different from a few years ago, said Hafez Ghanem, the FAO's assistant director-general for economic and social development.

"(I)n the years ahead we'll probably be seeing more of the turbulence we're experiencing now because markets are set to become more volatile in the medium term for at least three reasons: a) the growing importance as a cereal producer of the Black Sea region, where yields fluctuate greatly from one season to the next; b) the expected increase of extreme weather events linked to climate change; and c) the growing importance of non-commercial actors in commodities markets," Ghanem said in an interview posted on the UN Food and Agricultural Organization website.

If the next few years could be more volatile, the next few decades could be downright frightening.

"The most urgent issue confronting humanity in the next 50 years is not climate change or the financial crisis, it is whether we can achieve and sustain such a harvest," said Julian Cribb, scientist and author of "The Coming Famine."

Read the complete story here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Organic Giving

From NUVO:

Green B.E.A.N. Delivery – formerly known as Farm Fresh Delivery – is doing its part for National Hunger Awareness Month by donating 10,000 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables to local community kitchen, Second Helpings.  That's a lot of chlorophyll.

Organizers at Second Helpings say they'll distribute those veggies among the nearly 3000 meals the group sends out each day to local social service agencies.

For more information on Second Helpings, visit www.secondhelpings.org;  for more on Green B.E.A.N. Delivery, which has several outstanding sustainability, education and charitable initiatives, go to www.GreenBEANDelivery.com.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Food Trucks Are Rolling Into The Mainstream

By Sharon Bernstein, Los Angeles Times
September 9, 2010

Familiar restaurant names are starting to show up in the parade of brightly painted food trucks jostling for customers.

In Los Angeles, the venerable Canter's Deli, a fixture on Fairfax Avenue since 1931, is now also serving potato pancakes and matzo-ball soup from a truck. The upscale Border Grill restaurants have two trucks, serving gourmet tamales in paper cups so they're convenient for pedestrians to eat.

For dessert, there's the Sprinkles Cupcakes chain, which added a truck to its 11 brick-and-mortar locations last year.

And the idea is spreading: Soon Southern Californians will be able to buy barbecued beef from a Sizzler U.S.A. truck, and Arizonans grab a foot-long from a Subway sandwich truck.

Fatburger franchisees have seven trucks on order, for use in the United States and overseas. Johnny Rockets has a truck in Washington, D.C., with plans for more around the country.

These mobile kitchens from established restaurants are nosing into line alongside vehicles run by streetwise-renegade chefs. They are offering food designed in corporate kitchens to compete with the wild and crazy offerings that have created buzz among foodies from coast to coast.

"Ten percent of the top 200 chains will have trucks on the road within the next 24 months," predicted Aaron Noveshen, a restaurant industry consultant who co-owns the Pacific Catch restaurants in San Francisco and the online food-truck portal Mobi Munch. "They're all talking about it."

The idea of running a Sizzler truck grew after the chain's chief executive, Kerry Kramp, saw people wait for nearly an hour to get food from vendors parked along Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice.

"I became a food-truck-crazy maniac like everybody else because I couldn't figure out what in the world was making people stand in line for 45 minutes," he said. "I was thinking, 'These people should be going to Sizzler.'"

Culver City-based Sizzler USA has ordered one truck to start and hopes to put more on the streets if it is successful. During the 10 weeks it will take to outfit the truck, Kramp said, the company will decide what types of food to offer. Some possibilities include fish and chips and tri-tip sandwiches.

Catering trucks have long been lunch and break-time fixtures at factories, office complexes and other locations that didn't have restaurants nearby. The food was often not exactly gourmet quality; one common nickname for these trucks is the unflattering "roach coach."

That image was turned on its head in late 2008, when chef Roy Choi hit L.A. streets with Kogi, offering high-end combinations of Korean, Mexican and other ethnic foods.

About 4,000 food trucks are licensed to do business in Los Angeles County. Roughly 115 are considered gourmet, run by ambitious young chefs who offer unusual foods and use the online service Twitter to let customers know where they will be parking on any given day.

The trend has gone national, with the Food Network recently launching a reality TV show in which seven teams of cooks drive catering trucks across the country in a race to make the best food and win over diners.

"It's definitely here to stay," said Mary Sue Milliken, chef and co-owner of Border Grill, Ciudad and other restaurants. Her company has two trucks in Los Angeles and is considering using one in Las Vegas.

Food trucks, she said, allow restaurateurs to bring food to people in congested areas or places that can't support a full-on restaurant.

Read the complete story here.