Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Jerry Hirsch

Eat fish, get into Long Beach aquarium free


Eat the environmentally correct fish, get a free ticket to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

A group of local seafood restaurants has teamed with the aquarium on a program that encourages people to pick fish and seafood entrees that don't threaten the world's already depleted fisheries.

Click here for more information.

Photo: A 4-foot zebra shark -- called that despite its spots -- cruises the Shark Lagoon exhibit at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Credit: Allen J. Schaben  / Los Angeles Times

Some grocery stores taking check use off shoppers' lists

Fresh & Easy

Long before banks started locating branches inside supermarkets, grocery stores acted as informal financial establishments, cashing payroll checks and personal checks to provide ready cash for their customers.

That's starting to change.

Whole Foods Market Inc. is considering banning the use of personal checks at its stores and this month stopped accepting checks at two stores in Los Angeles County and one in Arizona as a test. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, the California division of British retailing giant Tesco, won't take personal checks at any of the 70 stores it operates in California. "Supermarkets used to be a repository of checking, cashing payroll and personal checks, but in an age of direct deposit and debit cards, that's not something that is relevant to their customers anymore," said Mac Brand, a Chicago food industry consultant. Read more here.

--Jerry Hirsch

Caption: Fresh & Easy stores in California, including this one in Azusa, don't accept checks or manufacturers' coupons. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times


Lawsuits target chicken and a veggie substitute

Chicken, fake and real, looks to be a target of several consumer and nutrition groups.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is acting as co-counsel on a lawsuit filed today by an Arizona woman accusing Quorn Foods Inc. of not disclosing on labels the fact that some people have serious allergic reactions to the main ingredient in its Quorn line of meat substitutes.

The lawsuit seeks to have Quorn disclose that information on its package labels.

Quorn is derived from a protein-rich fungus, which the company grows in large vats. The fungus, Fusarium venenatum, was discovered growing in a field in Buckinghamshire, England, in the late 1960s and developed as a food product.

Meanwhile, the vegan-oriented Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says it is readying a lawsuit against the giant KFC fast-food chain under California law for failing to warn consumers that the chain’s new grilled chicken product contains a dangerous carcinogen.

Click here to read more.

-- Jerry Hirsch

Groceries to cost even less as supermarket price war intensifies

Price wars

A price war between Southern California's big supermarket chains is heating up.

The region's major grocers, already having trimmed prices for much of the year, are gearing up for a new round as they seek to win back budget-minded customers who have migrated to discounters such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Vons will announce today that it is lowering the prices of about 5,000 items -- about 15% of inventory -- at its 274 stores in the region.

Ralphs is also launching what it calls a significant reduction in produce prices and other often-purchased goods. Both chains said the simultaneous moves were a coincidence. And both are starting to use yellow signs and price tags to highlight the changes in their stores.

"It is almost like the old gas wars," said shopper Richard Rorex of Apple Valley. "People are lowering prices to get my business." Read more here

Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Psyllids found in Orange County; insect could devastate California citrus industry

A tiny insect that often carries a tree-killing disease and threatens to destroy California's $1.6-billion citrus industry has moved into Orange County.

Agricultural officials said today that they recently trapped five adult Asian citrus psyllids on a lemon tree at a home in Santa Ana, the farthest north they have found the aphid-like insect.

"Having it as far north as Santa Ana means that the pest could be anywhere in the entire Los Angeles basin. This is not good. We are not containing the pest," said Ted Batkin, president of the Citrus Research Board.

The trade group is working with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to control the bug and prevent the disease from gaining a hold in the state.

Full story by Times staff writer Jerry Hirsch: Psyllids found in Orange County; insect could devastate California citrus industry

If you thought wine in a box was bad, you might not want to read this

Plastic How about a bottle of the '02 Chateau Plastique?

The ubiquitous 750-milliliter glass wine bottle is starting to get competition from a plastic upstart, both on retail shelves and at a few restaurants.

The bottles carry a "use by" date -- plastic doesn't provide quite the same seal as glass -- and as such aren't likely to find their way into the cellars of serious wine enthusiasts.

For those who aren't as picky, however, the wine is likely to cost less. And oenophiles say that for wine that hasn't, err, expired, the taste will be the same.

"The wine doesn't know what package it is in," said W. R. Tish, a wine educator who writes a blog called Wineskewer. "It tastes the same whether it is in a plastic bottle, a plastic bladder inside a box, or a glass."

Read the rest of the story by L.A .Times Business writer Jerry Hirsch.


Wine picks by Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila

It's not an insult to call a wine "easy drinking"

Recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen

Photo: Joyce Dance performs quality control on an assembly line of plastic wine bottles in Burlingame, Calif. Photo credit: Dave Getzschman / For the Times

Student obesity linked to proximity to fast-food outlets

Fast-food restaurants and students -- do they go together?

Barely 300 feet separate Fullerton Union High School from a McDonald's restaurant on Chapman Avenue. Researchers say that's boosting the odds that its students will be super-sized.

Teens who attend classes within one-tenth of a mile of a fast-food outlet are more likely to be obese than peers whose campuses are located farther from the lure of quarter-pound burgers, fries and shakes.

Those are the findings of a recent study by researchers from UC Berkeley and Columbia University seeking a link between obesity and the easy availability of fast food. The academics studied body-fat data from more than 1 million California ninth-graders over an eight-year period, focusing on the proximity of the school to well-known chains including McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.

Their conclusion: Fast food and young waistlines make lousy neighbors. Read more here and check out the map showing how close fast food restaurants are to schools. Coincidence?

Photo: Anyea Wilson. Credit: Christine Cotter

Grocers, name-brand food producers at odds over prices

Dreyers There's a tug-of-war underway over food prices between the nation's supermarkets and giant food manufacturers including Nestle, Unilever and Kellogg.

The nation's big grocery chains contend that food manufacturers have raised prices too fast and too far, considering large drops in prices for fuel, corn, wheat and other important commodities in recent months.

The food companies disagree and say they are still coping with many rising prices themselves. Read more here.

Deal-hungry customers hurting restaurants nationwide


Today's business section has a front-page feature on the new breed of penny-pinching diners (most of us, that is) who are hurting certain segments of the restaurant sector simply by looking for the best values.  We know, you just thought you were a savvy diner by skipping dessert and/or appetizers, but it turns out, millions of thrifty consumers are putting the squeeze on mid-sized chains all over the country -- big time.

The Times' Jerry Hirsh explores fourth-quarter sales numbers at chains that once catered to spend-happy families in the exurbs, such as California Pizza Kitchen, Cheesecake Factory, Black Angus and Macaroni Grill.  Suffice it to say, things are not looking good.

-- Charlie Amter
Photo: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg News

Quality, health image pushes kosher food market

The kosher food market is soaring, but it's not because everyone has decided to become Jewish.

Mintel, the Chicago market research firm, found in a survey that people purchase kosher food because they believe it's a higher-quality product. Kosher

In the survey of Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists, 62% cited quality as a reason for purchasing kosher food. The second-most-common factor cited was "general healthfulness" (51%), and the third was food safety (34%).

Only 14% of respondents said they purchase kosher food because they follow kosher religious rules. About 10% buy kosher because they follow some other religious rules with eating restrictions similar to kosher rules.

Of the 2,500 adults surveyed, 13% said they intentionally purchase kosher foods.

"Kosher food has gained the reputation of being more carefully produced and thoroughly inspected than non-kosher food," said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst at Mintel. "With recent food safety scares causing people to rethink even the most familiar food products, we can expect more adults to turn to kosher food as a way to ensure food safety and quality."

The market for kosher food is strong and growing. Mintel said that sales of certified kosher foods totaled $12.5 billion in 2008, a 64% increase since 2003. 

Mintel, which tracks new product launches, said that 28% of new food and drink products launched in the U.S. last year bore a kosher symbol. Kosher has been the top individual claim on new food and drink offerings in the U.S. since 2005.

Many foods have a symbol certifying that they are kosher. The most common is a circle with the letter U on the inside, which certifies that the food has been inspected by the Orthodox Union. Other common certification organizations include OK (a circle with a K inside) and Star-K Kosher Certification (a five-pointed star with a K inside.)

-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: A kosher cut of meat carries the certification mark of Orthodox Union rabbis. Credit: Associated Press.


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.