Tag Archives: food

Technology, Hubris and Lunch

As you may know, here in Silicon Valley the latest thing is for companies to provide all their employees with free lunches (and often breakfast and dinner too). I think Google was the first to do this, and Facebook followed them, and now even small startups bring in a catered lunch every day, or even hire their own chef. This week the WSJ reported that the IRS is looking into whether this perk should be taxed like most employee perks are. After all, the IRS thinking goes, this is effectively compensation.

I’m no expert on tax law, so I can’t really say whether these lunches should be taxed or not. The way the WSJ laid out the issue, it certainly seems like taxation is the legal path, but the article may have not framed the issue properly.

But one of the arguments that tech companies are making is that the lunches aren’t compensation, but an essential part of the collaborative culture of Silicon Valley. As one tax attorney put it, “there are real benefits for knowledge workers in having unplanned, face to face interaction.” This is complete crap.

Can anyone say with a straight face that it’s essential for an engineer to run into a marketer at Facebook, but that doesn’t matter at Procter & Gamble, or at Caterpillar? That somehow cooperation is more impactful at technology companies than other companies? Sheer idiocy. Having interaction between various constituents of a company is valuable no matter what the company does. To claim that somehow it’s different in Silicon Valley is just the height of hubris.


Wisps of Spanish Memory

I recently returned from a week’s vacation in Spain, and here are some thoughts:

1. iPhone mania is international. I would estimate that iPhones (mostly 4’s) represented 60-70% of the phones I saw in use in Madrid and Valencia.

2. Spain is really pretty. See below.

Spanish alley

3. It turned out to be Gay Pride weekend in Madrid. This looked exactly like Gay Pride weekend in San Francisco, but with a Spanish soundtrack.

4. Picasso’s Guernica is amazing. The photo below doesn’t do it justice.

In the Prado

5. Spanish hotel chains have a weak grasp on grammar, as indicated below:

All about whom? You? Me?

6. They eat a lot of ham in Spain. Jamon. Serrano, Iberico, and many other types. It’s all delicious. I want some right now.

7. High speed trains. 200 mph from Madrid to Valencia. Awesome.

Cupcakes Anyone? Yes, Please!

As long as we are talking about bubbles (which I did here and here and here), I should note that some people also think we are in a cupcake bubble (like this person and this person and even this person). I can’t disagree; here in SF there are three cupcakeries in just a 10 block area, each selling pretty much identical over-priced cupcakes with too much frosting.

And yet, there is something special about a cupcake. Look at this photo (taken by me, in case you thought I was just a pretty writer):

The cupcake trailer, in Austin TX

Seriously, how fun does that cupcake look? Really fun. And that, I think, is the key to the cupcake’s success. They are so little and whimsical and colorful that you can’t help but smile when you see them. Most important, they have that dollop of frosting on top. Of course it’s too much, and too sweet, but it looks like a swirly party hat, a pastel pillow of creamy goodness that you could jump right into. No wonder you can’t resist a cupcake on your plate.

When you see a full cake, it looks delicious, but also kind of serious, maybe even intimidating. You have to slice it, and share it, and then probably store what you didn’t finish, and then you have the pressure to keep eating the leftovers so that you can finish them before they start to get hard and crusty in the refrigerator. A cupcake, on the other hand, has none of those difficulties. No slicing, no leftovers, no pressure. Just pop it in your mouth (one, two or three bites…it’s up to you) and be transported back to your childhood.

So yes, there is definitely a bubble in cupcake bakeries, but the cupcakes themselves will continue to crowd out cakes, as long as we prefer fun to dour in our desserts made out of flour.


U.S. Army Ranger Is #3 Pastry Chef…In The World

Active duty Army Ranger Master Sgt. Mark Morgan recently placed 3rd in the pastry competition in the Culinary World Cup competition in Luxembourg.  This despite being out of practice because he has deployed twice to Iraq and 4 times to Afghanistan in the past decade. That is pretty studly, as far as I’m concerned. He was part of the Army’s Culinary Arts Team (who knew?), which also won a gold medal for its cold food table. Go Army indeed.

Food and Politics

I was listening to Micahel Pollan on the radio last night (yes, on NPR; I was drinking chardonnay and eating sushi too) do his usual spiel on food, although this time it involved him promoting his new film “Food, Inc.” And although I know his viewpoint already — the American diet is unhealthy and politicians don’t care because they accept money from food corporations — this time I got  angry.

Maybe it was because this time Pollan told a story I hadn’t heard before: about how in 1977 Senator George McGovern led a committee that called for Americans to eat less red meat, until the meat industry threw a hissy fit and forced the committee to water its position down to “eat less saturated fat.” I just hate the fact that a single industry gets to throw money at politicians and thereby screw the American public.

Or possibly it’s because Pollan was speaking in the middle of the debate over health care reform. Politicians are feuding over the cost of health care and insurance, but they continue to throw subsidy money at the corn farmers and beef ranchers whose products are what make our diet so unhealthy. Hell, even the Wall Street Journal ran a column yesterday in which a doctor said that preventing obesity would save enough money to cover everything and everyone else.

So politicians, I ask you, again, please try to do what is right for the American people, and stop doing what some lobbyist pays you $2,000 to do.