Food Innovators’ Legacies

The world recently lost two pioneers who made important contributions to civilization’s eating habits: Bob Moore, founder of Bob’s Red Mill whole grain products and William Post, co-inventor of Pop-Tarts breakfast pastry. Both were in their mid-nineties, proof that proper diet leads to longevity.

Bob Moore and his wife, Charlee, started their business in 1978. Their innovation was a back-to-the-future story. They purchased stone grinding wheels and moved them into an old flour mill that they painted red. The business now makes more than two-hundred products and has international distribution. Bob’s trademarked visage, with his white beard and cap, looks out from every package. The company’s retail store in Milwaukie Oregon also sells baked goods and offers informal dining.

The Moores had many offers to buy the business. Instead, to celebrate Bob’s 81st birthday, in 2010, they converted the company’s shares into an employee stock ownership program, benefiting its 700 employees.

William Post managed a Kellogg’s plant where in 1964 he helped develop Pop-Tarts. The trend-setting breakfast snack consists of a sweet filling layered between two rectangles of dry pastry — presumably not whole-grain — to be heated in a toaster. Mr. Post’s three children tested the product and its original four flavors. Several years after Kelloggs introduced Pop-Tarts, Post developed a new innovation, frosting, adding icing to the pastry’s outside.

Billions of Pop-Tarts are sold every year in more than thirty flavors.

The frosting, however, made a warning necessary, cautioning people to use the lowest toaster setting, to avoid burning the house down. Dave Barry researched the likelihood of strawberry Pop-Tarts being set aflame in the toaster. Read his report from 1993 here.

“The thing I like best about being a journalist, aside from being able to clip my toenails while working, is that sometimes, through hard work and perseverance and opening my mail, I come across a story that can really help you, the consumer, gain a better understanding of how you can be killed by breakfast snack food.”

(Dave Barry is also known for his annual month-by-month “Year in Review.” Here is his 2023 report.)

MAGA Travel News

Dennis Prager, pundit for the MAGA crowd, kicked off 2024’s Black History Month by declaring he would not fly on United Airlines because they have too many Black (and women) pilots.

He just learned that United issued a statement in 2021: “Our flight deck should reflect the diverse group of people on board our planes every day. That’s why we plan for 50% of the 5,000 pilots we train in the next decade to be women or people of color.”

Mr. Prager asserts that United has lowered standards to recruit pilots of color. There are no facts to support this idiotic claim – and no matter that all pilots are trained to the same quantifiable FAA standards.

Prager sprinkled his fact-free rant with favorite MAGA buzzwords: “affirmative action”, “woke”, “DEI” (diversity equity inclusion).

In other travel news, Senator Ted Cruz, who was famously photographed in the Cancun, Mexico airport, on vacation while his constituents in Texas suffered through freezing weather and power outages, has proposed legislation to avoid such embarrassments in the future. Sen Cruz’s amendment to a transportation bill would mandate T.S.A. to provide VIP lawmakers a dedicated security escort at airports, along with expedited screening outside of public view, thus avoiding scorn from citizens and ridicule from late-night comedians.

What To Eat on Ground Hog Day

The world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, has predicted an early spring in 2024. Phil ended his hibernation on February 2, as he does every year. When he emerged from his burrow, he did not see his shadow, thus signifying the end of winter.

Groundhog Day shares the date with another important observance: National Tater Tot Day.

National Tater Tot Day was not created by an act of Congress, nor by Presidential proclamation. A food writer from Birmingham, Alabama, John-Bryan Hopkins, originated the holiday in 2009.

The Tater Tot is an Oregon invention. Ore-Ida foods, was looking for a profitable way to dispose of potato scraps from their production of frozen French fries than livestock feed. By chopping the scraps, mixing in a little flour and seasoning, then pushing the mush through an extruder and cutting into bite-sized pieces. Fried, then frozen, Tater Tots landed in grocery stores in 1956.

H. J. Heinz – now Kraft-Heinz – purchased Ore-Ida in 1965. Americans consume 70 million pounds of the frozen delicacy each year.

What Snakes Are Teaching Us

As an alumnus of the University of Oregon (Ducks), I couldn’t help smirking upon learning that Oregon State University (Beavers) is home to 26,000 garter snakes. Not slithering, though. The snakes, accumulated over three decades, are brined in alcohol and stored in glass jars.

I’m not smirking any more. The specimens are useful in studying the effects of earth’s changing climate. Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles. They cannot regulate their internal body temperature and so are more quickly susceptible to their environment. As one OSU researcher put it, they “evolve rapidly in response to climate change.”

With specimens spanning decades and records of where the snakes were collected, scientists can measure how the reptiles have adapted to a warming climate. Snakes from drier areas have larger scales, but fewer of them, a response to the stress of dehydration. Larger scales retain moisture better than smaller scales. Scientists also track changes in immune system over the years.

This information is useful to humans, because, according to the scientists, “We actually share more in common with reptiles than we have that’s dissimilar.”

Meanwhile, in a refuge near the San Francisco International Airport, garter snakes are so far winning their battle for survival. The protected 180-acre site in this dense urban area, is home to 1,300 snakes and increasing numbers of deer, foxes and birds, along with thousands of invertebrates. SFO is improving its infrastructure to protect the airport from rising sea level. Wildlife in the adjacent refuge are also susceptible to encroaching salt water, which would be fatal to the California red-legged frog, a mainstay of the garter snake’s diet.

And unlike birds, the snakes do not pose a danger to aircraft taking off.

Where Are the Thin Mints?

Did you miss your annual splurge of Thin Mints this year? Were you not accosted by cute little girls in Girl Scout uniforms as you entered your neighborhood grocery store? You’ve been working from home so no colleague of yours had a sign-up sheet to order cookies from a daughter’s Girl Scout troop?

The Covid-19 pandemic took its toll on the Girl Scouts. Membership in the venerable organization is down. In 2021, Girl Scouts of USA projected reduced sales. Even so, orders from the local councils were overly optimistic. The cookie season finished with 15 million unsold boxes.

For more than a century local Girl Scout troops have funded programs, travel, camps and other activities with their yearly cookie sale. The annual promotion typically sells 200 million boxes, bringing in $800 million.

For safety, there was very little person-to-person selling this year. Local scout councils tried taking orders on-line, drive-thru sales, even partnering with GrubHub.

As if the fear of Covid were not enough, in some areas cookie sales suffered from boycotts of products made with palm oil. News stories had linked palm oil with child labor.

Girl Scouts of USA is working with their two cookie bakers to sell or donate excess cookies to food banks, the military or prisons.

They are hopeful for a better season next year. ”Girl Scout cookie season isn’t just when you get to buy cookies,” said one leader. “It’s interacting with the girls. It’s Americana.”

RIP Medical Debt

The number one driver of bankruptcies in the United States is the country’s dysfunctional health care system. Medical expenses cause 62% of bankruptcies in the U.S., a statistic unfathomable to residents of other first-world countries. Per capita medical cost in the U.S. was $11,172 in 2018. That’s 17.7% of Gross Domestic Product.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 26% of Americans aged eighteen through sixty-four have difficulty with medical bills, more than half of whom have medical insurance. (Medicare kicks in at age sixty-five.)

Hospitals and other medical providers typically sell their unpaid bills to collection agencies after ninety to a hundred-eighty days. Collection agencies pay pennies on the dollar for the right to collect the full amount of unpaid bills.
Enter RIP Medical Debt. Founded in 2014 by two veteran debt collectors, RIP buys debt portfolios from collection agencies and wipes out the indebtedness at no cost to the indebted. So far they have erased more than $4.5 billion of medical bills for more than 2.5 million individuals and families.

RIP Medical Debt recently purchased unpaid medical bills for the first time directly from a health care provider. Ballad Heath, a network of hospitals in Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina, sold $278 million of unpaid bills to RIP. Terms were not announced, but presumably the deal was more advantageous to RIP Medical Debt than with a collection agency in the middle. More than 80,000 low-income patients will have their outstanding bills, some as old as ten years, wiped out.

RIP Medical Debt is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization and states that contributions to them are tax deductible. You can make a donation on their web site.