I really like Tide. Why can't I use it?

Dear CK:
I read with interest some of your posts on branding, in particular the post on the tuna recall and your other posts about how there's no difference between branded and store-brand products. But some brands actually are better than the generic brand. With laundry detergent for example, I really like Tide. Why can't I use it?

This reader is absolutely correct: some brands are better. Some products are superior to others. And, by definition, you're going to like some brands and some products better than others, just based on your arbitrary personal preferences.

So go ahead and buy those brands! I have no intention of telling readers to buy products they don't like, nor would I tell readers not to buy products they do like. Buy what you want and what you like. That's what consumer empowerment is all about.

That said, I wrote my various articles on brands to give readers a framework to think about the central nature of branding. What it is, how it affects our perceptions of a product, and how we gradually perceive a brand as "better," thanks to certain cues and cognitive shortcuts companies use to impact our perceptions.

In all of my work on this topic, one point I'm consistently trying to make is this: often we unconsciously assume a brand is better--and pay a significant price premium for it too--when it may not be any better at all.

And in the (increasingly common) worst-case scenario, there may be zero difference between a branded product and the store-brand or generic product. Remember the takeaway from the Bumblebee Tuna controversy: identical commodity tuna is canned and sold under various labels by the same third-party food manufacturer. Which means the branding of this particular product amounts to nothing more than a paper label and a 30-50% higher price!

This is why it's worth it on occasion to blind test other brands against store- or generic brands. Often they're not just equivalent, but identical. The only difference is that you pay more for no reason.

Sure, you can pay up for Tide if you confidently believe you receive appropriate value for Tide's price premium over comparable products.* But don't trust blindly. Once in a while, verify.

In the modern era of third-party manufacturing and branding by perception manipulation, why would anybody automatically "trust" a brand?

Stay tuned! Next week, I've got a big surprise for readers interested in learning more about branding, advertising and the various psychological techniques of the consumer products industry.


* A final footnote: Interestingly, here at CK, we at one point had a view similar to this reader regarding Tide, yet we never tested this view by trying another brand. We simply liked Tide, and didn't really pay much attention to what it cost relative to other products. We just bought it without thinking. And as a result, we blindly and habitually paid substantially higher prices for Tide for many years before discovering, to our dismay, that we could not tell any difference whatsoever between it and other laundry products, some of which sold for less than half of Tide’s premium price. Consumer products companies love--love!--consumers like this.



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 August 19, 2016

Links!

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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Articles first this week! Then, see below for some bonus great recipe links:

Some would say these food hacks are weird, even distasteful. Some have said it. (Surviving and Thriving)

Knife skills 101: the four basic cuts. (Nerd Fitness)

Intriguing post on why "baking therapy" works so well. (Cupcake Project)

Useful ideas for college students to cut costs. (WiseBread)

How one family is sending 13 kids to college, living debt free... and still plans to retire early. (Washington Post, via No Gimmicks Nutrition)

If I could live a happy life with the contents of a small bag, why do I have all this other stuff? And why do I buy stuff to add to it? (The Simple Dollar)

Fascinating thoughts on the rationality (and irrationality!) of waiting in line. (Freakonomics)

Now, some really good recipes!
Ramen 2.0: Cold noodles for hot days. (BitterSweet)

Easy: One Pot Pomegranate Roasted Chicken. (Chocolate and Zucchini)

Immensely savory: Chickpeas and Potato Coconut Curry. (Obscene Vegan)

Bonus! Rajma, or Red Bean Curry. (Obscene Vegan)

An epic collection of low-carb tomato recipes. (A Sweet Life)


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.

The Best Corn on the Cob Cooking Hack You’ve Never Heard Of

Since we're right in the heart of sweet corn season right now in many parts of the USA, today's post is a quick cooking hack that saves time, effort, energy and cleanup.

Normally, normal people will just cook corn in a pot of boiling water.

But what if you've got a pot of soup going too? Or better yet, a pot of simmering, homemade stock? Well, the hack is simply this: put the fresh corn right into that pot.

That's right: just gently drop in your ear of corn (you might have to turn up the heat for just a minute or two to get the soup/stock-plus-corn boiling properly), boil it for ten minutes, and then, with a pair of tongs, fish out the ears of corn. Fortunately, they'll be floating on top. You can rinse them off--or not--depending on your preferences.

You can easily cook two, three or even four ears of corn this way. No need to get out another pot, fill it with water, wait until it's heated. And best of all, you won't need to clean up an extra pot once you're done!

CK readers of course know the extraordinary value of making homemade stock (or "bone broth" as iHipsters like to call it these days). We all know how easy it is to make, how much better it is than expensive store-bought stock, and how much it improves the flavor and depth of any homemade soup, stew, risotto, or any recipe requiring broth or water.

Well, just the other day, I had a big pot of stock going, made from the leftovers of an amazing Pernil we had cooked recently. I just dropped in three ears of corn... and ten minutes later I had delicious, gently-flavored ears of corn, ready to eat, at the cost of no effort whatsoever.

They didn't even need butter or salt. Of course, really good corn never does.

Try this hilariously simple cooking hack and see what you think. Enjoy!


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 August 12, 2016

Links!

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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The largest obstacle between a person and a home-cooked meal is not simply free time or money: it's fear of failure. (A Couple Cooks)

My secret to getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight in five months. (Stonesoup)

Overzealous milk inspectors interfering with your food freedom. (Food Renegade)

Related: Raw milk, the irony. (Casual Kitchen)

Highly insightful thoughts on decluttering. (Ombailamos)

"Since I've started this blog, I've worried about our industrial food system, household products, and everything in between that's been linked to cancer. I was fearful." (My Humble Kitchen)

Intriguing article on the decline in cadaver donations to medical schools. (National Geographic)

Excellent, excellent advice here on writing better. (Medium)

The very high cost of prestige. (Fortune Financial)


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.

A Superior, Yet Less Expensive, Solution

I had an email discussion with a reader recently about seeking a less expensive substitute for a $5 daily frappuccino habit. It really got me thinking.

Let's start by looking at the specific needs that this $5 frappuccino habit satisfied. They included:

* A need for a daily treat, a daily pick-me-up
* A need to get out of the office briefly
* A need for something sweet, something good-tasting

The question then, for those of us interested in escaping the work-spend cycle, is this: Can we find another way to satisfy these needs that's not only superior but costs far less too?

A quick sidenote. Once you grasp the astonishing profitability metrics of companies like Starbucks and other consumer products companies, these $5 pick-me-ups ought to make you feel like a sucker. In fact, it makes you want to be an investor, so the company pays you rather than the other way around.

But back to our original topic: finding a superior solution that costs far less. As I thought about this, I was able to arrive at a few intriguing examples from my own life. Here are some of the low-cost things we do at home that are far better than any purchased, high-cost product:

1) Sangria: We make our own homemade Sangria that beats the absolute crap out of any sangria I've ever spent money on. Bar and restaurant sangrias are over-sweetened and can cost $7-8 a glass. And the glass is half-filled with ice! We make it at home for $7-8 a half-gallon. That’s right, a half-gallon. A far superior product at one-eighth the cost.

2) Homemade soups: I have yet to find any store-bought or even restaurant-bought soup that is in remotely the same league as anything I can make at home. Soup in cans, soup ordered in restaurants, it all tastes like salted brine to me. In contrast, the soups I make at home taste like soup, and I know for sure they don't contain any preservatives, additives, masking agents, and so on. Why pay $3 for a lousy can of soup (or worse, $7-10 for a bowl of soup in a restaurant) when my homemade soups are superior in every way at a tiny fraction of the cost?

3) Beverages: Our reader above solved her own challenge. She began making a homemade “chocolate enhanced coffee” concoction that in her opinion tastes light years better than anything at Starbucks. Her solution didn't contain thousands of annual excess calories from sugar, and it didn't cost $5 a cup. Instead, it cost just pennies per cup. Something that both tastes better and is much healthier--yet costs one fiftieth as much? One fiftieth? Sign me up.

Admittedly, these are just a few small--even trivial--examples. And obviously there may be exceptions where you prefer the ease, comfort and mindless consumerism of a purchased, high-cost solution. But, readers, what I'm trying to illustrate here is that the very decision to seek low-cost yet superior solutions is a lens. It's a self-fulfilling way to look at reality. If you decide that there exists a lower-cost and superior solution, and that it is within your power to find it, you will be right. It is self-fulfilling. By using this lens, you'll both build a lot of interesting skills and save a ton of money. And I'll bet you'll enjoy life a lot more.

However, if you conclude a priori that spending money to buy branded and advertised products to meet your "needs" is the best (or worse, the only) solution, you'll also be right, despite the fact that you've chosen a passive, costly and economically disempowering lens to look through. Worse, you'll be filling some company's pockets rather than your own. That lens is self-fulfilling too, and you'll be the poorer for using it.

Readers, what ideas do you have here? Where in your life do you use homemade solutions that are superior to anything you can buy in the consumer marketplace? Share your ideas below!


READ NEXT: Raw Milk: The Irony


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.