CK Links--Friday May 22, 2015

Links from around the internet!

Don't forget! The easiest way to support Casual Kitchen is to buy your items at Amazon using the various links here. Just click over to Amazon, and EVERY purchase you make during that visit pays a modest affiliate commission to support my work here. Best of all, this comes at zero extra cost to you.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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There are good reasons to be optimistic about our ability to meet the food requirements of the projected 9-10 billion people on our planet by the middle of this century. (GMO School)

Even if your calorie counts are off, it's still incredibly helpful to count calories and track your food intake. Here's why. (My Fitness Pal)

We've reached a point of diminishing returns with food safety. (New York Times)

Does "science" belong on our dinner plates? Nope, wrong question. (Science 2.0, via Jayson Lusk)

How do "notoriously low-margin" restaurants scramble to deal with a much higher minimum wage? Note the extraordinary fallacy in this article's final paragraph. (NPR)

Bone broth is a joke. (First We Feast)

Consumers increasingly believe organic labeling is just an excuse to charge more. (Time)

Related: "Organic" is just another aspirational product.

Most products are made from the same basic staples, just like food. Put them together yourself instead of relying on companies to sell them to you at higher cost. (Early Retirement Extreme)

Financial advice that needs to die. (The Simple Dollar)

Book recommendation: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. One reviewer describes this book as "not just a book but a spontaneous act of generosity." I agree, wholeheartedly. A deeply insightful book about personal growth, psychology and mental health, and the most useful book I've read so far this year.



Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

On the True Value of a Forgotten Restaurant Meal

Readers, a quick reminder: during the month of May I’ll be featuring articles from Casual Kitchen’s archives. Enjoy! As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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On the True Value of a Forgotten Restaurant Meal

I had an interesting moment of clarity about the true value of restaurant meals when I recently went through a pile of credit card receipts from a year ago. In that pile were receipts from fifteen or so restaurants we had been to in mid-2008.

These dinners were from barely a year ago, and yet I hardly remembered any of them. Heck, I couldn't even remember the names of some of the restaurants, much less what kind of food they served. And yet the aggregate cost of these culinary experiences was hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

You'd think after spending all that money I'd remember more of these experiences, but sadly, I don't. The ones that really stuck in my mind boiled down to a couple of really fancy restaurant meals we had, Laura's 40th birthday dinner, and the spectacular all-you-can-eat ribs we had last fall during our visit to Belgium. That's three or four restaurant meals--out of fifteen.

In complete contrast, I remember nearly every dinner party I've hosted at our home, going back many years. Those dinners were all truly salient and meaningful experiences, full of fun conversations, good eating (well, I did make the food after all!) and good times with friends. And yet the entire cost of all the food--for everyone--for a dinner in our home was usually far less than what Laura and I would end up spending on just ourselves for the average forgettable restaurant meal in this forgotten pile of receipts.

Readers, get ready, because here's the punchline of this article: you will completely forget most of your restaurant meals, making them an utter waste of money. Only a select few of your dinners out--the ones with particularly special circumstances--will stick in your mind.

Moreoever, you'll get more value from your experiences by going out to eat only for really, really important occasions. Otherwise eat at home. And host lots of dinner parties. You'll spend a lot less money, and you'll probably keep more meaningful and salient memories.

What is the point of spending extra money on an experience if the odds are you'll end up forgetting all about it?

Readers, what do you think about the value of forgotten experiences?


Read Next: Two People, Fifteen Days, Thirty Meals. Thirty-Five Bucks!

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

How to Own the Consumer Products Industry--And I Mean Literally Own It

Readers, a quick reminder: during the month of May I’ll be featuring articles from Casual Kitchen’s archives. Enjoy! As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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How to Own the Consumer Products Industry--And I Mean Literally Own It

Everyone who reads Casual Kitchen should own at least a couple of consumer products stocks.

Yep, you read that right. This blog--which relentlessly criticizes the consumer products industry, urges consumer to fight back against it, and tells readers to drop their loyalty to brands at the slightest provocation--is actually telling you to invest in the very industry we subvert.

Why? Because owning these stocks gives you an inside view of the perspective of these companies' owners and managers. It is by far the most effective route to becoming an informed and empowered consumer.

Getting started
Obviously, this isn't an investment blog (thank heaven). But my 13-year career as a stockpicker on Wall Street gives me a perspective on the food industry that doesn't really exist elsewhere in the food blog world. And in today's post I'll share thoughts on how to get started finding a few good consumer products stocks that can help you not only make money, but get more value for your consumer spending. How? Well, just keep reading.

Uh, and let me also surreptitiously toss in a huge caveat that you should not rely on this post or this site as a source of personalized investment advice.

Now, your first task is to find out which companies actually sell the products you buy. In some cases it'll be obvious: Pepsi makes Pepsi, Coke makes Coke, Whole Foods is a publicly traded company, and so on. In those cases, just type the company name into Google Finance, and whammo: there's your ticker symbol, stock price, chart and other assorted trivia about the company.

In other cases, however, it can take a bit of digging to find the company behind the product. For example, companies like Palmolive and P&G own hundreds of separate brands. And seemingly large companies (like Ben&Jerry's for example) can actually be tiny divisions of huge food conglomerates (like Unilever Corp.). And so on. Ironically, this is one of the reasons so many consumers feel deeply powerless against "Big Food." It's easy to presume that consumers have no power over companies so huge that you can't even tell which products they make.

But that's a deeply flawed perspective. The thing is, the information you need is either right there in the fine print on the product's label, or easily obtainable via a quick internet search. And just knowing which companies make what products puts you in a far-above-average position of cognition about the consumer products industry. Hey, most consumers just wilt in the face of Big Food. You, however, are looking for opportunity, and in just a few short minutes you can determine if a product you buy is owned by company you can invest in. In most cases it will be.

Okay. This is where the real work starts. Next, go to the company's website and download the PDFs of the company's past few annual reports. Look for a link to the investor relations page--everything you need should be there.

And when I say read, I mean really read. Go through the whole report from beginning to end, including the footnotes, all the legal-sounding stuff, the disclaimers and risk factors, everything. Read it all. (A side note: you'd be shocked how many investors, both amateur and professional, ignore this advice to their detriment.) I may have lost half of you already with these instructions, but believe me, after just an hour or two of careful reading, you'll have drastically increased your knowledge and context about the company and its prospects. Better still, this one session of reading will make savvier and more informed than 99% of consumers. Don't worry if there are words or terminology you don't understand. With time and osmosis you'll get your mind around the language and the jargon.

Next, go listen to the last couple of management conference calls. This is where you can pick up some of the best forward-looking insights about the company and the broader industry in which it operates. These calls are sometimes unintendedly amusing (for example, I throw up in my mouth whenever some analyst says "congratulations on a great quarter guys!"), but they give enormous insight on management's values, priorities and strategy. Again, you can usually find webcasts of the most recent calls on that company's investor relations page. Also, if you prefer reading transcripts (this is my preferred method because it's faster), there are free (free!) conference call transcripts available for most major stocks at seekingalpha.com.

When it comes to selecting a stock to research, I usually tell people that it's a good idea to start by considering companies that make products you like. But keep in mind, that's just a starting point. It's not always true that great companies always have great stocks--or vice versa for that matter. And once you begin buying, start small and keep learning about the company, and look for opportunities to buy more if the price goes lower.

Finally, be sure to enjoy the regular dividend checks you receive as a stockholder! Almost all consumer products companies, as well as many retail stocks, pay their shareholders generous dividends. Hey, nothing lessens the sting of paying for groceries, clothes or other consumer items than to know that in a small way you are technically paying yourself.

This total initial research process might take you anywhere from 2-4 hours, a small price to pay to learn much more about the companies you do business with nearly every day. And even if you don't end up actually buying a stock, the simple act of engaging in this process will make you more informed than almost all consumers.

To know your enemy, you must become your enemy
Which brings us to the second money-making aspect of this process. Face the facts: the consumer products industry claims a substantial percentage of our discretionary spending. And once you learn how profitable some of these companies are, you will have no choice but to rethink the value you receive from many of the products you buy.

An example: having a better understanding of the consistently high profit margins of companies like Pepsi or Coca-Cola has helped me think much more objectively about the value of buying soda. It doesn't mean that buying soda (or for that matter, being a shareholder in a company that sells soda) is greedy or wrong, but it has helped me decide to what extent I receive value as a soda consumer. This is exactly what I mean when I say owning consumer products stocks helps you become savvier and more informed.

Thus this is not only an effective wealth-building exercise. It's also a money-saving exercise because the process of learning about a company teaches you much more about the inside of the industry than you'll ever learn from the standpoint of a pure consumer. You will save money by knowing more about what drives these businesses, and you will earn money by collecting dividends (and possible capital gains) from those companies you feel are worthy of your investment dollars.

Double your power
Every long-term Casual Kitchen reader knows that my primary goal here is to empower consumers. After all, we are the ones who agree to pay our hard-earned money to buy the products on our store shelves--and unless and until we do this, no consumer products company can make a single penny of profit. We complete the circle of consumption. And as a result, I believe we have far more power than we think.

In essence, being a stockholder enables you to double your power, because you can have an impact in two ways: 1) as a part-owner, and 2) as a savvier and better-informed consumer.

To all the hand-wringers
A final few words: I know that have a few straggler readers who still subscribe to the ludicrously disempowering view that companies are evil, so the next few sentences are dedicated to them. Companies are not monolithic. There exists a spectrum of good and evil, and various companies exist in various places on that spectrum. Believe it or not, however, the more you learn about these companies, the more you'll learn that many companies are closer to the "good" side of the good and evil spectrum than they are to the "evil" side.

Further, there is an alternative to giving away your power. Instead of pointlessly wringing your hands about Big Food and generalizing about how all companies are evil, you actually have the opportunity--with just a few hours of open-minded reading and listening--to understand which companies are evil and which are good. More importantly, you'll know better what to do about it.

Only then will you be a truly empowered consumer.

Readers, please share your thoughts!

A few final notes and disclaimers:
1) Please keep in mind that stocks--even boring consumer products stocks--can go down.

2) Also keep in mind that expecting a stock to go up the minute you buy it is an act of supreme narcissism.

3) Finally, please don't take this post as direct investment advice--after all, there's a reason why I left Wall Street. My point is simply to encourage you to research and invest in some of these stocks to become a savvier, more powerful and more effective consumer.



Read Next: When It Comes To Banning Soda, Marion Nestle Fights Dirty

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Links--Friday May 15, 2015

Links from around the internet!

Don't forget! The easiest way to support Casual Kitchen is to buy your items at Amazon using the various links here. Just click over to Amazon, and EVERY purchase you make during that visit pays a modest affiliate commission to support my work here. Best of all, this comes at zero extra cost to you.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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Eleven things to do to make your baked goods better. For what it's worth, I totally disagree with #2 and #5. (Bon Appetit)

Diets don't work. But these two strategies do. (Washington Post)

With so many changes and reversals in dietary thought over the past decades, it makes you wonder if we really know anything about nutrition at all. (First We Feast)

Why do people eat processed foods? (Frugal Healthy Simple)

Striking thoughts on the possible reversibility of Type II Diabetes: "A lot of people have perhaps too simplistically thought that once the pancreas starts to fail, and stop producing insulin, it is an inevitable decline." (Daily Mail)

What really happens to the plastic bottle you throw away? While I very much agree with this short video's sentiments, it's a useful critical thinking exercise to take note of the various manipulation techniques it uses to persuade. (Youtube)

A hipster mustache signals... what? (Noahpinion)

"Rationally, no one should be happier about a score of 96 out of 137 (70 percent) than 72 out of 100, but my students were." Fascinating article about how irrelevancies alter our thinking. (New York Times)

An avalanche of unnecessary medical care is harming patients physically and financially. Long-ish but worth it. (New Yorker)

A good discussion of the various problems, side-effects and unintended consequences of raising the minimum wage. (Carpe Diem)

We run the risk of failing to meet our goals because "one-time events" keep happening. (Behavior Gap)

The Millennial generation is about to get systematically screwed over. (Forbes)


Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

On Spice Fade, And the Utter Insanity of Throwing Spices Out After Six Months

Readers, a quick reminder: during the month of May I’ll be featuring articles from Casual Kitchen’s archives. Enjoy! As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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On Spice Fade, And the Utter Insanity of Throwing Spices Out After Six Months

The spice industry--as well as many misguided cooks, chefs and food bloggers--will tell you that if you have any spices in your cupboard that are more than six months old, you should throw them out.

Pure hogwash. This is just another example of how the food industry tries to get you to spend unnecessarily. Worse, it makes cooking at home more expensive than it needs to be.

However, by now every savvy Casual Kitchen reader should have a sixth sense that starts to tingle whenever companies "recommend" doing something that is both in their interest and costs us more money. Most likely it's not in our interest to obey.

That's why you should verify--with a high standard of proof--claims like "throw out your spices after six months." For example, have you ever done a side-by-side recipe taste test of a spice you bought a year ago compared to a brand new jar of that spice? If you did so, would there be a perceptible change in the context of your typical use? Can you actually perceive this alleged "spice fade" in a recipe?

I'd bet against it. Very, very few of us have palates that are that finely tuned, and those of us who think we do still probably don't.

But even if you actually can tell the difference, I have good news: You still shouldn't throw out your spices. Instead, keep reading. I've got a solution for you.

Half Lives
Here's another way to think about spices--think of them as radioactive isotopes, with a half life. (Seriously--stay with me here).

Spices will fade slightly with time. Remember, I'm not arguing that spices don't fade, I'm saying the degree of fade is tiny and barely perceptible. So let's take a hypothetical example of say, cinnamon, and let's pretend cinnamon has a half life of three years (hmmm, kind of like Rhodium 101).

What does "a half life of three years" mean? It means that in three years or so, your cinnamon should lose about half of its flavor and smell. After six years, it should lose another half, which means your cinnamon would be roughly one-fourth as strong.

Using this framework, then, what's going to happen in six months--when that all-important spice industry drop-dead date passes? Well, in six months, your cinnamon is going to be, oh, about 8% less flavorful.

Whoa. Better throw that puppy right out, right?

Again, these numbers are totally hypothetical and made up--although if you think about it, it's probably not unreasonable to think that three-year-old cinnamon might be half as flavorful as newish cinnamon. But just keep in mind that this is just an example to illustrate a point.

So, getting back to those unlucky souls who think they can detect an 8% decline in spice efficacy, here's your solution: use 8% more of that spice.

If your spice has a smell/taste factor that is 92% of what it was, then to bring it back to 100%, all you have to do is add another 8% more. (It's actually 8.7%, but nobody likes a math geek).

The point: if you detect a modest fade in the spices you use, you can always just use slightly more to compensate. Either way, even if you actually can tell whether a spice has a experienced any meaningful decline in flavor, you still should not automatically throw out your old spices.

Don't throw them out after six months. Don't throw them out after a year. Verify for yourself when your spices are truly past their prime. And even then, you can still embrace the solutions in this post to save yourself quite a bit of extra money.

Don't mindlessly take some expert's word for something--especially when those "experts" may have an agenda to get you to needlessly buy more of what they're selling.

Read Next: Should I Be Paranoid About Grocery Store Loyalty Cards?


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.