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Friday, April 29, 2016

Medical Quackery and Snake Oil

    In the age of quick fixes and assembly line cosmetic surgeries, Bob McCoy urged folks to beware of the quack: the doctor who may not be a doctor and who purports to have a cure for just about anything.  Their advertisements are all over the place today, more sophisticated, but still plentiful – just swallow a pill and lose weight while you sleep; eat this stuff and flush your arteries clean, etc. 
     McCoy was the founder of the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis. The museum was the nation's largest display of quack medical devices and was founded in 1987. McCoy retired and closed the museum in 2002, donating his devices to the Science Museum of Minnesota, which still displays a number of items in their Collections Gallery. 
     This fun site features all of the items McCoy had on display, many of which are also featured in his book: Quack!: Tales of Medical Fraud from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
     A few things: Vibratory Chair, Bloodletting Devices, Electropathy, Foot Operated Breast Enlarger, McGregor Rejuvenator, Natural Eye Sight System, Prostate Cures, Phrenology, Radium Ore Revigator, the1904 Price List for electrical devices with NO electricity, Dr. Bell's Electro Appliance...especially for men, Crazy Crystals - horse salts eliminate the need for crutches, Electrovita - water to revitalize, LaMercey relieves "periodic" distress...and lots more!   Visit the site

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rat Meat

     My favorite food guru Andrew Zimmern says he's eaten a lot of rats and they are “pretty darn tasty.” Of course I've seen Mr. Zimmern eating stuff he has described as having a “poopy” taste and he thought it was delicious, too. 
     Zimmern says that the United States (and probably a lot of other countries) is obsessed with the belief that rat meat is bad, diseased and unclean. He adds that in the US (and probably a lot of other countries) that’s mostly true, but it's not the case in some parts of the world. For example, the 20-pound forest rat in the jungles of South America feed mostly on fallen date palms and other fruit and have the succulent sweet flavor that that tastes like pork. Read more...
     In the book Unmentionable Cuisine author Calvin W. Schwabe says that North Americans should be using many forms of protein which are routinely consumed in other parts of the world. He says, "Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork.” Supposedly in France rats inhabiting wine cellars were skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels. Schwabe also adds that in West Africa the cane rat, the common house mouse and other species of rats and mice are all eaten. 
     According to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report, rats now comprise of over 50 percent of the locally produced meat eaten in some parts of Ghana. Between December 1968 and June 1970, 258,206 pounds of cane-rat meat alone were sold in one market in Accra. 

Here are a couple of recipes: 

Stewed Cane Rat 
Skin and eviscerate the rat and split it lengthwise. Fry until brown in a mixture of butter and peanut oil. Cover with water, add tomatoes or tomato purée, hot red peppers, and salt. Simmer the rat until tender and serve with rice. 
Roasted Field Mice (Raton de campo asado) 
Skin and eviscerate field mice. Skewer them and roast over an open fire or coals. These are great as hors d'oeuvres with margaritas or "salty dogs."

Or, if you want to get really snooty: 
Mice in Cream (Souris à la crème) 
Skin, gut and wash some fat mice without removing their heads. Cover them in a pot with ethyl alcohol and marinate 2 hours. Cut a piece of salt pork or sowbelly into small dice and cook it slowly to extract the fat. Drain the mice, dredge them thoroughly in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, and fry slowly in the rendered fat for about 5 minutes. Add a cup of alcohol and 6 to 8 cloves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare a cream sauce, transfer the sautéed mice to it, and warm them in it for about 10 minutes before serving. 

     One Internet story claimed that in China the Ministry of Public Security announced that the police had arrested 63 traders accused of buying rat, fox, and mink meat and then selling the meat as mutton. Apparently, the crime ring had been mixing the meat with gelatin, red dye, and nitrates before selling it in Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu province. 
     According to North Carolina-based artist Laura Ginn, who once put together a rat-themed five-course dinner in New York rat tastes delicious when brushed with a glaze and barbecued. Smoked rat jerky served on brioche French toast is pretty good, too.  She adds that rats are most commonly eaten in Asia because of the rice crop. In areas where rats feed off rice paddies rather than garbage, they are considered safe to eat. Not so of the sewer-dwelling, garbage-eating rats. Rats are disease carriers, so when she organized her meal she ordered the rats from a company that supplies specially raised, grain-fed rodents to zoos. Here are some hints on how to know if what you are eating might be rat meat:

1. It smells like rat. Rats secrete an oil onto their skin that gives them an odor that makes them smell, well, like rats. Something like a warm tortilla...I will probably have to get that out of my head next time I have one of my favorites...Mexican food! Other people said rat meat smells like urine. Apparently, even after skinning and cooking, the smell never completely goes away. 
2. It tastes like rat. The oil rats secrete gives them a distinctive taste...pungent and gamey… somewhat akin to raccoon or rabbit. That's why it's sometimes blended with other meats. 
3. It looks like lamb. When it’s raw rat looks very much like lamb...kind of pinkish red. But, when ground up with other meat it just looks like generic ground meat. When cooked, a big rat looks sort of like a like rabbit. 
I am not sure where in the US you can actually purchase rats suitable for cooking, but if you do find a place this site has some recipes:  Gourmet Rat Recipes

Also, if you are interested in exotic meats, then there is a place called Exotic Meat Markets in California (where else?!) that sells everything from alligator and alpaca meat to zebra meat. Happy dining!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


     If you live under a bridge or don't own a television, you probably don't know what an informercial is. An infomercial is a form of television commercial, which generally includes a phone number or website. Most often used as a form of direct response television, long-form infomercials are typically 28:30 or 58:30 minutes in length. Like many other things, because the term “infomerical” has negative connotations in some people's minds, sponsors like to call them “paid programming”, of if you live in Europe “teleshopping.” 
     In the United States, back in the old days, they were usually shown between 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., but by 2009 most infomercials were being shown during the early morning, daytime and evening hours. If you subscribe to cable TV there are entire channels devoted to nothing else. Infomercials often resemble standard television programs or talk shows. Sometimes the products are sold in retail stores while other items are advertised as "not sold in stores." Sometimes though drug stores have a “As Seen on TV” section that sells the product, but you won't get two products or for the price of one nor do they throw in any extra “free” products. Of course you don't have yo “just pay the shipping” charge either which more that enough to pay for the extra junk. 
     Many traditional infomercial producers make use of flashy catchphrases, repeat basic ideas, or employ scientist-like characters or celebrities as hosts in their ad and frequently offers are for a limited time and the claim is that if you don't buy NOW, you'll miss out. If you do, don't worry though; they will repeat the same ad after a brief time interval. 
     During the early days of television, many television shows were specifically created by sponsors with the main goal of selling their product, the entertainment angle being a hook to hold audience attention; this is how soap operas got their name. It is claimed that the first infomercial appeared in 1949 or 1950, for a blender. Accounts vary on whether this was for a VitaMix blender as claimed by Vitamix or from Waring Blenders as claimed in various online sources. 
     Eventually, limits imposed by the Federal Communications Commission on the amount of advertising that could appear during an hour of television forced sponsors to curtail their use. Infomercials proliferated like rabbits after 1984 when the FCC eliminated regulations that were established in the 1950s and 1960s to govern the commercial content of television. They exploded in the mid-1990s with motivational and personal development products, and get-rich-quick schemes which claimed you could quickly become wealthy by either selling anything through classified ads or through real estate sales. Don Lapre, a salesman notorious for his get-rich-quick schemes, committed an apparent suicide while in federal custody awaiting a trial for several dozen counts of fraud. 
     Some religious snake oil salesmen have also jumped on the bandwagon and began hawking their “religion” by buying time from infomercial brokers. In fact, the vast majority of religious programming in the United States is distributed through paid infomercial time. The fees that televangelists pay are a major revenue stream for both the stations and the televangelists who tell folks, “Send me your money and God will make you rich.” Because infomercials often make outlandish claims, most stations run disclaimers stating that the program is a paid advertisement and they are not responsible for viewers getting fleeced. I wish they would do the same for televangelists. Political candidates are not adverse to purchasing prime-time slots for their own take on infomercials either. Like all infomercials they content is often full of outlandish claims. Children's programs also are disguised infomercials where kids are targeted in an attempt to get them to pester parents to but products. Infomercials sometimes appear as talk shows that target stay-at-home female audiences and try to entice them to buy products, services, stuff related to health issues, etc.
     So, what are the best selling infomercials ever? I remember early TV programming that promised you could get rich raising chinchillas in you garage. See my post Raising Chinchillas for Fun and Profit. And, of course, who can forget Wham-O toys and Ron Popiel's amazing products?
     The best-selling infomercial products aren't any of that stuff. It appears to be the best sellers are products that will get you fit with a great looking body in only minutes a day. So, what are they? Here's the list of the top ten: 

1. Proactiv — Annual Revenue: $1 billion. This stuff gets rid of pimples. The celebrities who endorse this stuff are reportedly paid $2 million-plus. I'd do it for half that! 
2. P90X — Annual Revenue: $400 million. This contraption is a body builder...mostly for your abs, I think. 
3. Total Gym — Total Sales: $1 billion. Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley really love theirs. The price is steep, but the company offers an easy payment plan and if it doesn't make you look like Chuck or Christie, they have a money back guarantee. 
4. George Foreman Grill — Annual Revenue: $202 million. Former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman invented this. Seriously, I doubt that...I think he let them use his name. OK, I admit it...I have one. It works pretty good, too, except with all the grease draining off as things cooked it left stuff dry as a bone.  Healthy, but not much taste. It got hidden away in a kitchen cabinet somewhere. At least I think it's still there. 
5. Bowflex — Annual Revenue: $193.9 million. This thing has been around since 1986 so 2.5 million Americans have one sitting in their basements or garages. There are no statistics on how many of those 2.5 million people actually use theirs. 
6. Showtime Rotisserie — Total Sales: $1.2 billion. This item roasts chickens and other meats for a perfect, delicious and healthy meal. They allow all the fat to drain off or something. Probably purchased by the same health nuts who bought a Bowflex or, possibly, by those who upgraded from a George Foreman.
7. Ped Egg — Total Sales: Approximately $450 million. 40 million people bought this foot grinder which is something like a cheese grater that scrapes the dead skin off of your feet. 
8. Snuggie — Total Sales: Approximately $400 million. This is a body bag that keeps you warm while watching infomercials on TV. At our house we just use a blanket that stays folded up on the back of the couch. 
9. Sweatin’ to the Oldies — Total Sales: Approximately $200 million. Richard Simmons sold 20 million copies of this aerobics program “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” 
10. ThighMaster — Total Sales: $100 million. Marketed by tobacco fortune heir Joshua Reynolds this product's infomercials featured Suzanne Somers and was a real marvel. You could tone your hips, thighs, butt, arms, and chest by squeezing this thing between your knees, elbows, etc. all while watching television.