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.

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.

101 Years and Done… or maybe not

Aficionados of Aplets and Cotlets received some bad news in March. Liberty Orchards, makers of the confection for more than a century, announced they would shut down operations in June. After a hundred-and-one years, there would be no more Aplets & Cotlets.

Mark Balaban and Armen Tertsagian, Armenian immigrants, owned a small orchard in Cashmere Washington. (Cashmere lies in central Washington, halfway between Wenatchee—home to the annual Apple Blossom Festival—and Leavenworth—a faux Bavarian village popular with tourists.)

The partners started the company in 1920 as way to sell surplus apples. They concocted Aplets, a candy combining apples and walnuts and gelatin. The confection was based on a candy they remembered called Turkish Delight. A few years later they introduced an apricot flavor, called Cotlets.

Continue reading “101 Years and Done… or maybe not”

A Mother’s Day Story

Jesus brought a few of his disciples with him to a wedding celebration at Cana. It’s likely that relatives of Mary were getting married and so to please his mother he made the two-day walk from his evangelizing base in Judea.

After he arrived, his mother told him the hosts had run out of wine. Jesus responded that he had come to party, not to work. (“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”) Rather than rebuke her son for speaking so rudely to her or slapping him — or asking who invited the apostles — Mary simply told the servants, ”Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus ordered the servants to fill containers with water and then draw some off and take it to the chief steward. After tasting it, the steward remarked to the bridegroom that instead of following the custom of serving the good wine first and the lesser wine after the guests’ tastes had been dulled, they had held the best for last.

Even though he spoke rudely to his mother, Jesus didn’t just do what Mary wanted, he made her happy by producing excellent quality wine. And thus Jesus began his rather short career by performing his first supernatural phenomenon not to support his proselytizing, but to please his mother.