Food Stamps, Holey English Muffins, Cranberry Aid


House of Sims/flickr

I often say that the Saturday editions of newspapers—supposedly traditional burial sites for long-held features and "light" stories--are the best of the week, and find myself reading them page by page, rather than the inevitable businesslike scanning of weekday papers or unmanageable bulk of Sunday.

This summer Saturday was a good example: a New York Times editorial scolding Congress for using food-stamp money the way states treat tobacco-settlement money: "like an all-purpose A.T.M. to help cover the cost of state aid." Some of the money is being shunted to school nutrition, a long-overdue and still-too-small reform that is nonetheless worth celebrating (Marion's Q&A on the act here, Atlantic Wire roundup here). But too much is going to non-food-aid programs like protecting jobs for teachers that, however worthy, don't feed families. Too bad Republicans put protecting the livestock industry—the original funding for school nutrition was to come from cuts to existing farm-conservation programs—ahead of school nutrition.

And the Times has a piece on the ongoing lawsuit accusing a defecting employee of absconding with state secrets: how Thomas' English Muffins get their "nooks & crannies." I have no idea whether the employee of the incredibly named Bimbo USA, the Mexican baking group that owns Thomas', promised to bring trade secrets to his new job with Hostess, homeland of cupcakes and Wonder Bread, which had been known for trying to crack the secret of consistency (home bakers can make holey English muffins, but it's a very wet and uncertain process, and you need metal baking rings). But I do find his explanation of what he did after he accepted the offer of a new job irresistible:

Within minutes of hanging up the phone, Bimbo's lawyers say, Mr. Botticella used his laptop computer to access a dozen company files containing confidential information and apparently copied them onto a flash drive. The company said that a search of computer records revealed other activities in the weeks before his departure in which he appeared to have copied sensitive files.

Mr. Botticella said in a deposition that he was merely practicing his computer skills in preparation for his new job.

For now the secret is apparently safe—Hostess, demonstrating typical corporate sensitivity, says it is "moving on" and not holding the job it offered the employee, while he waits for a lawsuit Bimbo brought barring his move to be settled. But it's gotten a lot of publicity for Thomas', and even I feel like going out to a coffee shop and ordering an English muffin "toasted" on a hot, greasy griddle.

And the Boston Globe had a piece on efforts by the Cranberry Marketing Committee, which turns out to have been established by a federal "marketing order" in 1962, to help the U.S. industry, which is the only cranberry industry (it grows 90 percent of world supply), to find uses for a glut resulting from more-efficient plants that, the article says, "can produce double and triple the yields of a decade ago." Any Massachusetts resident will feel a pang in learning that Wisconsin produces more cranberries than we do—it's something like a Vermonter learning that Canada produces 80 percent of the world's maple syrup—but the somewhat rocky road to international popularity nonetheless makes for entertaining reading. Cranberries are of course being marketing for their newly discovered antioxidant and various other health benefits, ahead of the other berry in fashion, blueberries (a help to my summer romance, Maine wild blueberries), and neck-and-neck with pomegranates, the health claims for which will be a subject for another day. As Lillian Cheung, of the Harvard School of Public Health, points out, the amounts of sugar in cranberry sauce and juices makes the claims "a little too good to be true." But I'm in favor of foreign fashion for something that grows here.

Bonus weekend reading: Food Channel contributor Frank Bruni's account of getting a driver's license after he'd let his expire. Two samples:

I have driven in cities where it is less a means of transit than a death wish: Palermo comes to mind.


Examiner X asked me if I'd ever had a license before. Yes, I said, for most of my life.

"In what country!?!?" he shouted.

Doesn't your summer seem more relaxed already?