Thursday, April 10, 2014

A lesson in lean visual management from Michelangelo

The artist's visual grocery shopping list, circa 16th Century. Hat tip to Spike.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Food waste, guest opinion

I recently posted an article about Doug Rauch who's creating a restaurant based on "expired food." Robert Lambert, our source for marmalades, fruitcake and fruit syrups wrote a note I thought was worth sharing. Plus I love Robert and a good rant now and then, especially when it's true.
The piece about using expired food hit a lot of buttons for me, and forced me to comment. I’ve read that as much as 1/3 of our food is wasted because of those damn expiration dates. I was at my local market last week when the woman who’d been checked out before me came back into the store and said her bag of potato chips was expired. What the fuck could possibly happen to a potato chip?

At home I actually prefer expired cream, as it thickens and gets more like clotted cream. I rarely use eggs and can keep a carton for weeks, with no ill effect. I grew up in a time before dated foods—as the man says, you simply smelled it. People now seem to think "Best if used before ____. Use after ____ and it will kill you." An English friend says she only refrigerates her ketchup and mustard in America, because her friends here would be horrified if they saw it in her pantry, but she’d never do that in England. What on earth do they think is going to happen to ketchup and mustard?

The one question I’m asked by customers more than any other is, “How long will it last?” I never know what to say—it’s like, well, it’s preserved, that’s the whole point, it will last indefinitely, that’s the function of the process. It will be good for a very long time, probably years, until it isn’t any more, and at that point anyone with any brains should be able to tell. Nothing is going to suddenly turn into poison and kill you without warning. And as the man said, all cases of food poisoning are from unexpired foods.

It really is a case of overly zealous bureaucratic safeguards making people stupider. Nature builds in all the warnings you need, and it is our responsibility to be able to recognize them. I used to make a Coconut Dark Chocolate Sauce, stopped about 4 years ago, but kept a couple of jars in the closet. I opened one the other night, and while I know you might dispute that it was ever any good to begin with, it was unchanged, and delicious, and we had it for dessert. Had it been covered in mold and smelled bad, we probably wouldn’t have.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pricing madness in health care, the worst run industry in America


I've written about how health care providers have two sets of books. There's one book with the prices for insured patients. And there's a second book with prices for uninsured patients.

I was wrong about that. Heath care providers don't have two sets of books. They have dozens. They set different prices for all kinds of different customers: insurance company A, insurance company B, Medicare, Medicaid, uninsured patients and so on. On top of that they have so many different prices for so many different procedures that no one can keep track of them all unless they're a billing specialist.

This has led to a couple bizarre outcomes. One is that there is a particular job for an expert billing specialist. It's called a coder. The entire job of a coder is to translate the procedure a doctor did into a code used to bill the insurance company. It is a full time job for thousands of people. People with this job get paid enough to own a house and raise a child. (I know this because my niece has this job.) Can you imagine another industry where this kind of cost waste would be allowed to exist? Can you imagine Apple hiring thousands of people who, after you ordered and received an iPhone, sat at home and checked the code on your order—only the code, not whether you ordered the correct phone, not whether it worked well, not whether you liked it, not anything at all other than making sure the correct code was billed? It's like a scene from Brazil, except it's real and it's how we run what's arguably one of the most important industries in our country.

Another outcome from this pricing madness is that there is no way for you and I to find out how much a medical procedure costs until we get the bill. You can't find out beforehand. Try it, ask someone. The nurse won't know, the doctor won't know, the administrator who charges your co-pay won't know, your insurance company won't know. Even my niece won't know; coders only know codes, not costs, and they're not on any Contact Us list anyway. None of these people will even know who to call to find out—I've tried, I've asked. So who knows? Actually, I have no idea, I've never figured it out. There's no other business I can think of where you can't find out what something costs before you buy it.

More reading on the terrifying inscrutability of American healthcare pricing:

The Worst Run Industry In America is my look at the American health care industry, its service, prices and promises, from my view as a merchant.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Did you mean that?

This bus stop ad for the Whitney museum's every-two-years art show appeared in New York this week. Clearly it wants to be make a point about being a discoverer versus being a follower. But the phrasing makes me feel like it's promoting overpaying and inconvenience today versus ubiquitous easy access tomorrow. Tomorrow sounds better, I think I'll wait thanks.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Recent Reading, Multimedia Edition

What the hell happens after you click submit? Radiolab makes a masterful edit of Mac McClelland's amazing Mother Jones story of being a picker in a giant fulfillment warehouse. Hat tip Betsy Bruner.

A leathermaker gives a lesson on how to knock off his own product. A sly way to advertise., hat tip Tom Root.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recent Reading

"Why do many of us perceive Whole Foods and the Creation Museum so differently? By the total lack of outrage over Whole Foods’ existence, and by the total saturation of outrage over the Creation Museum, it’s clear that strict scientific accuracy in the public sphere isn’t quite as important to many of us as we might believe. "

"Crabs get shipped from far and wide to the Chesapeake area precisely because the Chesapeake has crabs in it." A great explanation of how local markets do strange things in the global marketplace.

This I share for no reason other than it's staggeringly good writing and it's about food and babies and one of those just arrived on my stoop. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recent reading

Japan gets my honorary Office Space award for this, a gigantic, totally weird national competition for best office phone answerer. Hat tip to Val.

A restaurant that sells food past its expiration date? This might just have a chance. An ex president of Trader Joe's is starting a very different kind of food experiment. 

Annie's Mac and Cheese is everywhere. It sells itself as the slightly-better-for-you version of boxed mac and cheese. Is it? Who knows. What's crazy is the "sauce" is based on cheese popcorn—her ex-husband invented Smartfood.  Annie essentially turned Smartfood's topping into Mac and Cheese, convinced everyone it was healthy, sold stock to their customers, then got very, very rich. Welcome to the new "food" business.