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December, 2009:

…then they came for our SpaghettiOs. [tragedy]

Spaghettio's - 347

Now less tasty!

The so-called “nutrition experts” are winning their war against tasty American food.

Last week cereal giant General Mills bowed to pressure and agreed to slash the sugar content in many of our most-beloved cereals, like Lucky Charms. Now Campbell Soup Company announced that it is going to drastically cut the sodium levels in many of its products, including SpaghettiOs.

Like most Americans, I believe that most any dish can be improved with five or six good shakes of the saltshaker. So when I hear that a once-great American company like Campbell’s is reducing the salt content in many produces by more than 1/3, my heart aches a little. SpaghettiOs will never be the same again.

But since most Campbell’s products are canned, you can stock up SpaghettiOs and all your other favorites before the new deflavorized versions hit store shelves in April.

(Hat tip: Dan)

Free parking in NYC? There’s an app for that.

broken parking meterWhat better example of the American entrepreneurial spirit than the iPhone app store.  In the year or so that it has been open, tens of thousands of Americans have have come up clever programs to solve almost all of life’s little problems.

Many of these apps—particularly the navigation ones— have been literally life changing for their owners. For instance, I use the New York Times app every day to avoid supporting print journalism (stupid NYT, I would gladly pay for your free app).

But the best app I have seen thus far came out of a civic experiment that New York City embarked on a few months ago. Confident that apps and open data had the potential to improve city life, the Bloomberg administration opened scores of city databases to app developers.

Creative types came up with all kinds of great apps, ranging from ones that let you check the health inspection records of whatever restaurant you’re dining at to apps that allow you to report bad cab drivers from the back seat.

But the best app was one called NYC Broken Meters. It uses city data on broken parking meters in order to help urban drivers find that elusive free parking space.

What could be more American than that?

Wireless internet while driving [GM is not dead]

IMG_6325The proliferation of the smart phone has dramatically increased our behind-the-wheel productivity. Now we can not only make phone calls while driving, but also text, check stock quotes and email as well.

But despite their utility, smart phones are not computers. Things like word processing, data entry and true web surfing still require the full-size screen of a laptop to accomplish effectively.

In an age when internet connectivity is everything, using a laptop while driving is just not practical because it is hard to get and keep a wireless signal while zooming down the highway at 70 mph. That is, until now. General Motors announced that it is offering a wireless internet option in 7 new models. The $199 dollar package will provide high-speed internet access in and around the car. What’s more, GM is using some of that government bailout money to promote its new Wi-Fi with full mail-in rebates.

Turns out GM has not been emasculated after all.

Of course, to make full use of your new in-car internet, you’ll probably want to invest in a steering-wheel desk as well

God Bless America and God Bless General Motors.

Link Roundup [Meat eater edition]

013

Photo: Eating The Road

THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: New York City may be famous for its extensive regulations and labyrinthine licensing processes covering just about every aspect of business. But that doesn’t mean New York lets a little bureaucracy get in the way of Christmas. According to the Times, in the 19th century the city passed a special provision that allows for anyone to sell Christmas trees on any public sidewalk in the city—no permits or licenses required!

VEGITARIAN MECCA STARTS SERVING MEAT: Red Bamboo has long been a popular restaurant with New York’s vegetarian and vegan crowd. It was particularly known for its imitation meat dishes—like soy fried chicken—which it charged steakhouse prices for. But it turns out that people who forsake the most delicious parts of human culinary expression don’t actually make the best restaurant customers. So Red Bamboo is going to rebrand itself—and start serving meat.

SPEAKING OF MEAT: The folks over at Eating The Road have the latest installment of their “Will They Build It?” series up. In it, they convince some poor McDonald’s clerk to custom-build them a “Big-McSausage-egg-surf-turf-Mac.” It’s got beef, pork, egg, chicken and fish, all under one bun for a mere $7.71. God Bless America!

Free Refills roundup [welcome to Paris edition]

23 Free RefillsFree Refills are a cornerstone of American culture. So naturally we tend to talk about them a lot, particularly on the internet. Today I’m starting a new feature where every week or so I’ll roundup the best free refills related comments from the trusty twitter feed and post them here.

Enjoy!

I think Congress should reform the restaurant industry next. Its not fair that everyone doesn’t offer free refills. –@Rhodymike

Many White Castle locations offer free refills on sliders as long as you retain the boxes. –@whitecastlefact

if it’s not free refills. You’re not in America. “MERICA!” –@normajeanband

Just had a $1.50 hotdog and 20oz drink with FREE refills at the greatest store in the world… Costco!!! I love America –@anthonypond

Hotel had mix-up and no room for us. Starbucks charges for wi-fi and refills. McDonalds has free wi-fi but no plugs. Welcome to Paris! –@runkeeper

Let me know about any good ones I missed in the comments.

Cash or credit: The Salvation Army bell ringers now accept credit cards [progress]

Salvation Army Charity Bucket security seal, Oxford Street, London, UK.JPGFirst it was McDonald’s, then NYC taxi cabs, and now even the Salvation Army Bell Ringers are going to begin accepting credit cards.

The charity announced it will be rolling out new card processing Red Kettles in New York and 120 other cities next week. During a three-city pilot program last year, the average credit card donation was $15 compared with only $2 for cash contributors.

The program is also good news for donors, who can now earn cash-back on their contributions and even institute a charge-back if they have second thoughts about it.

The Salvation Army’s announcement means that basically everyone is on board with accepting credit cards, except for that whiny merchant coalition and the horrible pizza place across the street from me.

God Bless America and God Bless Credit Cards!

[Daily News via Gothamist]

Bad news for drycleaners: Michigan passes smoking ban

No SmokingAfter years of bickering and posturing, Michigan has finally passed a workplace smoking ban.

The mitten state will join New York City and the growing ranks of states that prohibit smoking in workplaces, bars and restaurants.

This is great news for most Michiganders, as it means that going to a bar or restaurant won’t leave you and your clothes reeking of smoke anymore. Of course, drycleaners should probably be worried. Their lucrative secondhand-stink business is sure to plummet.

Oh, and a note to smelly Europeans and dance club regulars: starting wearing more deodorant. You can’t count on cigarette smoke in the club to mask your BO anymore.

[mlive, via Michigan Liberal]

New Yorkers shun European-style pay toilets [duh]

Pay-toilet

The horrible photo quality is due to the massive Macy's flood lights shining down on the roof.

New York City has a complicated history with pay-toilets.

It was one of the first cities to ban them in the 70s following a successful campaign by the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America.  But the city lifted the ban earlier this decade. Shortly there after, public-private partnerships started installing a few fancy automated, self-cleaning pay toilets in placed like Harold Square.

Backers initially had high hopes for the French-manufactured toilets which cost about a half-million dollars each. In 2006, the first year it was in operation, the Harold Square toilet attracted more than 28,000 customers who each paid 25 cents to relieve themselves. But by 2007, usage had plummeted 50 percent, according to a report in the New York Times.

After focus groups and studies, the 34th Street Partnership concluded that people were creeped out by the automated, self-cleaning toilets.

That might be part of it, but I suspect the real reason is that Americans just don’t like paying a toll to use the toilet.

General Mills is making cereal less yummy [tragedy]

Vintage Lucky Charms

New packaging, less flavor

Cereal giant General Mills is reducing the sugar content in some of its leading breakfast cereals, according to a report by the AP.

Cereals targeted to be de-flavorized have their sugar content reduced include: Cocoa Puffs, Trix, Lucky Charms and others.

The move apparently comes after increased complaining by “health advocates” about the sweetness high sugar content of cereals marketed to children. (They are probably just bitter because they’re eating Grape Nuts).

Of course, breakfast cereal is one of the things that make America great and I am crushed that my personal favorite cereal, Lucky Charms, is going to taste a little less magically delicious.

I guess that’s just one less reason to get out of bed in the morning.

[Via TBM]

Why Happy Meals are safer than school lunches [fast food]

Happy Meal toy phase one.There is nothing the organic tofu crowd likes to complain about more than how fast food is harming our children. Fast food, they say, is making our kids sick and the “mystery meat” that goes into the burgers and sandwiches is below dog-food grade.

But it turns out that your kids eat much better meat when you take them through the drive-thru than they do in the school cafeteria.

This is according to an article in USA Today, which found that fast food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC buy higher quality meat than the stuff that ends up in our schools. What’s more, most fast food companies have much more rigorous testing and food safety regulations than what the USDA mandates for school cafeterias.

Of course this makes sense. McDonald’s has an incentive to serve your kids high-quality meat so that they come back and eat more Happy Meals. Schools, on the other hand, don’t particularly care if one or two kids disappear with E. coli poisoning—after all, it decreases class sizes.

And besides, how could something called a Happy Meal be bad for you?

[USA Today, via Consumerist]

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