Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hit & Miss: My love/hate relationship with the Kenwood Kroger Fresh Fare.

Aside from discussing food issues, I'll also be reviewing local chain restaurants. I don't mess with the independently owned or the trendy, because there are already a litany of people reviewing them. It's nice to know what the new Cuban place is like or where local Cincy celebs are hanging out, but most of us just want to know where the fastest, nicest, cleanest Wendy's is located.

I was thinking my first establishment would be the Newport Hooter's or the Montgomery Rd. Red Lobster, but I've had a number of experiences at the Kenwood Towne Center's Kroger Fresh Fare that warrant a review.

Kroger is one of the nation's largest grocer's with stores under the Kroger, King Sooper's, Ralph's, and Fred Meyer brands. In recent years, Kroger has updated the look of it's stores and added concepts like Kroger Marketplace, that adds homegoods and usually contains a jewelery store, and a Starbuck's. Fresh Fare gives Kroger a Whole Foods treatment, complete with Boar's Head meats, Murray's Cheeses, fresh seafood, fresh meat, sushi, a Starbucks, a large wine/beer section, sandwich/burrito making stations, pizza by the slice, and a hot food bar to package your own take home meal.

First, the good.

The wine selection is extensive, ranging from dry - sweet, cheap - expensive, humble - pretentious. The wine section even has regular tastings and is staffed by a sommelier. The beer section starts where the wine stops and is just as good. Tons of local and microbrews as well as the mainstream domestic and foreign beers. I like this section because I personally suggested that they carry Strongbow Cider, and a week later, it was stocked. That really makes a difference to know that an establishment listens and acts on customer suggestions.

Also, the customer service is pretty good there. I was at the checkout with pop that I thought was on sale. It turns out they had forgotten to change the prices on this particular brand. Did they let me have it at the cheaper price? No. They let me have it for free. They were also very good at correcting an error in ringing up peppers I bought without weighing them. The cashier made it seem like I had a pound each of Thai Chili, habanero, and jalapeno, when I didn't even have a half pound combined. I got reimbursed and they seemed to be genuinely sorry.

...and now the bad.
The food bar. This is the area where customers may get a plastic container and fill it with hot or cold food to take home or even to eat at the store in a cafe area. Great idea, Kroger, keep the customer in the store as long as possible. On one side is the cold bar, which has lettuce wedges, carrots, shredded cheese, alfalfa sprouts, edemame, and other crap I never eat. On the other side is the hot bar. Don't get me wrong, this is a great idea, but it's the execution where they fall flat. They have great food on here like Cincinnati style chili, chicken breasts covered in a balsamic reduction , macaroni & cheese, fries, some italian dishes, beans, corn, mashed potatoes, etc.

The main problem with this hot mess is that it's poorly kept. Not once have I gone in and seen glistening, steaming food in clean pans with clean stainless steel surfaces.
Instead, I see this:

...and this:
Dry chicken, spilled corn, clumpy macaroni, dried chili crust caked onto the side of the pan. Come on, Kroger, you're better than this. Also, they served spaghetti noodles with the chili so one could make there own 3 way. They problem with this is that you either dry out the noodles in the pan or you soak them till they're so soft that they can't hold their shape. Wet noodles make for horrific 3 ways. Wait a minute, did I just say that?

Anyway, nobody seemed too concerned with the state of things, and whats worse is the fact that nobody was embarrassed by it. I used to be a buffet attendant back when I started working for KFC..way back when they had buffets. Here is the proof:

Not only did I have the responsibility to keep the food full, but it had to look presentable. That means changing pans every 15-20 minutes, carefully stirring the corn or macaroni to keep it looking great. One of my bosses, franchise exec Keith Chambers, called it massaging the food. People walked in and that was their first impression of the restaurant. If I showed a lack of pride, they might assume we didn't care or were too busy and just turned around and left.

Hopefully, this isn't just about me trashing Kroger. Hopefully, something positive comes out of this review as well as the reviews I do in the future. I love grocery stores. I love walking around and seeing what they think is important and how the colors and sections are arranged. I hope Executives in the division that oversees this will see this and implement some changes. And Kroger execs...I'm happy to help.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You say calories, I say hypocrisy.

Food hysterics like to point out how high fructose corn syrup, enriched flour, and fried meats make us so obese as a nation. Nobody debates them on this. We don't blame people that overeat on these products or the simple fact that they overeat on anything. Instead, we nod and accept as fact that something else controls our lives. Then many of us go home and pray for an all powerful wizard in the sky to control our lives and 'give us the strength' to lose the weight.

A small rant to follow this large admission.

I'm pretty fat. That is accurate and yet it isn't what people really mean when they say fat. When people say fat, they really mean heavy. We don't gain fat and lose weight, we gain weight and lose weight. Fat is independent of weight. I'm lazy, stubborn, and lack willpower. I know what the fix is, but I never put the plan in motion. I regret that because I know a lot about food and nutrition so I look like a hypocrite when I distill advice. Just know that my heaviness is noted and it doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about. Now on to the rant...

Companies absolutely want you to buy their products. These products can spend years in R&D and companies try hard to come up with things that people will like. I think we can all agree on that, but what we can't agree on is this notion that the companies want to hurt you or make you fat. McDonald's wants you to try their Angus Third Pounder, they may even want you to eat them regularly, but they don't want you to eat them every day or eat every meal at McDonald's. They'd much rather have more patrons that came in at different times than have the same people come in at the same time every day. Their goal is to be busy from open to close. By having regulars that eat every day, they get into a rhythm. That means they get really busy a few times a day and they're slow the rest of the day. They'd much rather be steady to busy the entire day. Pepsico want me to drink Mountain Dew, but they don't want me getting half me calories from it.

What I'm talking about is personal responsibility and moderation. Food hysterics need a villain, and since they're trying to convert you into food hysterics, they won't risk insulting you by telling you to ease up. You don't have to become a vegan or go on some crazy diet to lose weight, it's all a matter of calories.

One of my professors at OSU lost a lot of weight from one year to the next. He taught a nutrition class and used himself as an example. Did he spend hours in the gym? No. Did he only eat raw organic foods? No. He simply took in less calories than his body needed and he got more active by walking more.


No crazy diets, no crazy workouts, just less calories and more activity. It's like this: 3,500 calories = 1 pound. Therefore, losing 1 pound/week would require someone to reduce calorie intake by 500 calories a day. If you aren't that big, then 500 calories is too many to shave. In that case, you can work out to tone and build lean muscle and raise your metabolism/ burn calories.

Enter Tyler...

Tyler is a guy that lost 100 pounds in a year. He went from a size 48 pant to a size 38. He went from 4xlt shirts to just xl. He worked out, he limited his caloric intake, and he even did it without denying himself. He ate bacon cheeseburgers every week. While he didn't eat that every day, he treated calories like cash. He had so many calories to spend in a day/week. Some days he would be frugal with his calories, other day he would splurge, you know, live a little.

Tyler had sleep apnea, back pain, and high blood pressure that all disappeared when the excess weight came of and it didn't have anything to do with the amount of HFCS or enriched flour he was the calories.

First things first.

Hello to all you internuts. See what I did there? I took the word internet and combined it with nuts. That's good stuff.

I'm going to be venting about what I call 'Food Hysteria' in the first several posts of this new blog. Food hysteria is defined by myself to be an over-reaction to concerns over food safety or nutrition due to myths, misinformation, and hyperbole.

Food hysterics give canned responses to any comment or debate about the food industry. They readily use terms like Frankenfoods and consider food companies to be evil entities that plot against the public while trying to maximize profits.

I have a simple test I administer to people in order to judge their viewpoints on food as well as their Edible Intelligence. I simply state that I know what hot dogs are made of and offer to tell them. The reaction is never an inquisitive, 'oh?', but rather a disgusted, 'No no no, don't tell me'.

This is a major problem and a reason why food hysteria exists. People assume that the ingredients for hot dogs are revolting, because they grew up being told that hot dogs were the lips and assholes of cows...and nobody corrected them. That is what I hope to accomplish here. Behind the hysteria lies hype and behind that hype lies a motive. It will be my task to take the hype, counter it with fact, and ultimately, expose the motive behind the hysteria.

And by the way... Really? Lips and assholes? We eat billions of hot dogs as a country and there wouldn't be enough lips and assholes to make even a small fraction of what would be needed to match our consumption. The truth: Hot Dogs were cheap sausages that were originally made from a hodgepodge of ingredients. Things like heart, liver, trim, and fat were common in the wieners of a century ago. Through mass production and gains in food safety regulation, these ingredients are impractical. The meat trim used is actual beef/pork/chicken/turkey and not the organs/variety meats once used.

Anyway, I think this is a good start. Hopefully, this will give you readers an idea of what's to come.