Saturday, October 28, 2017

What's Love Got To Do With It?

I love Triscuit crackers. They are salty and crunchy, break easily in half and have enough tensile strength to handle peanut butter. Like many products, they've been gussied up over time, adding line extensions like smoked gouda, and balsamic vinegar and basil. But I'm talking the original here. In that varietal, the list of ingredients runs to just three: wheat, salt and oil.

It's not that I'm a purist. Quite the contrary: I like Italian heroes and chocolate peanut butter ice cream and hot dogs. In none of those goodies is there any pretext of "back to nature." To be clear, it's not that I seek out foods with ammonium sulfate (stabilizing the yeast to make a better sandwich) or xanthan gum (an emulsifier that keeps my sundae creamy). Given the option, perhaps I might pass on those and other additives. It's just that I've made it this far, so the chances of getting hit by a bus are at last as high as succumbing to an overdose of potassium nitrate. Still, to be safe, I'll just keep driving myself to Nathan's.

That said, I do appreciate that the FDA is ever vigilant on my behalf. In that mission, they are constantly checking on the makers of foodstuffs, assuring that the ingredients they are using will do me no harm, or at least only one in 10 million parts of harm. Which is why they went after the Nashoba Brook Bakery.

NBB is an artisanal bakery in West Concord MA that started in 1998. They call themselves a "slow rise" bakery, eschewing artificial ingredients and creating their goods by hand. They produce 6000 loaves a day including your standard sourdough, rye and whole wheat, as well as specialty products such as Pugliese and Pepper Jack Bread. They distribute to restaurants and caterers in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, as well as serving and selling sandwiches, soups and whole loaves in their own on-site café.

The bakery recently received a notice about their facilities from the FDA which warned about products that had been "prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to heath". The note detailed a variety of conditions wherein the FDA inspector listed conditions which were not up to standards for the handling and preparation of food for human consumption. Good. That's what we want: government watchdogs watching and then dogging when appropriate.

Included in that warning letter was also a section on "Misbranded Foods." In that list of transgressions was a flag that their whole wheat bread also had some corn meal in it, as well as other items which didn't have the proper nutrition labeling. Again, all well and good. There are regulations for all this, and there's no reason not to follow them: every other manufacture has to as well.

But then there's this: "Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient 'Love.' Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name. 'Love' is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient." To be clear: if they wanted to, they could include sodium stearoyl lactylate or azodicarbonamide or calcium propionate in their bread, all of which are approved by the FDA, as long as they are listed on the label. But making their product with "love" is illegal, whether listed or not. By law they could make it with "heart," though regulations require manufacturers to state the origin of a product, so adding "human" might cause its own set of problems.

It's good that NBB got called on the carpet for unsanitary conditions. It's not so good that they can't make their product anymore with love. CEO John Gates told the Associated Press that "The idea that we have to take the word 'love' off of the ingredient list for our granola feels a little silly." Still, a law is a law. Just be happy the FDA doesn't regulate kids. With little girls, sugar might be fine, but what spice are we talking about? And as for little boys? I shudder to think about what's in puppy dog tails.


Marc Wollin of Bedford eats most things without looking at the labels. 
His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Don't E Me

As was typical these days, I was putting together an entire project across the country without ever  speaking to a single person. Everything was being done online using the full range of electronic options. The initial approaches to suppliers was via email, with links to web sites to see and show relevant examples of workmanship, followed by texts to follow-up on little details and outstanding questions. I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised if the company in LA turned out to be a robot or a Russian hacker. After all, as Peter Steiner's prophetic New Yorker cartoon pointed out in 1993, on the internet no one knows you're a dog.

That's how we do things these days. It's not that we can't talk to people, but rather that we choose not to. Sure, sometimes a conversation is more expeditious and cuts out a bunch of back and forth. But that also leads many times to comments such as "You know, let me think about it and get back to you." As a practical matter, often it's easier to conduct communications in an asynchronous style. It lets you read and respond when you're ready, able to write and edit as you see fit and not be put on the spot with a response. Shooting from the lip is a thing of the past, unless you live in the White House.

So if this is how we roll, why make any distinction between methods? The interaction is the same, agnostic as to channel. If it's the first time I call you on the phone, or meet you at a party, or connect with you via an email, the logical thing to say is some variation of "Nice to meet you." The method doesn't change the sentiment, nor does it require any explanation. I don't say "Nice to hear that you can talk" or "A pleasure to see you in the flesh." And yet one individual who was referred to me started off with "Nice to e-meet you." 

E-meet: is that to differentiate it from "p-meet" as in by phone or "r-meet" as in real life? I mean, we've been using email for how long? Depending on when you first plunked that AOL disc in your computer, you've heard some variation of "You've Got Mail!" for over 30 years. It's woven into our everyday life, hardly something worth calling attention to. It's not like when you first got a mobile phone and started off every call with "You're not gonna believe this, but I'm calling you from the grocery store!" If it comes by email, is really necessary to say we're e-meeting? That's roughly analogous to saying "I'm car-driving over to meet you." 

That's not to say that we don't make distinctions as to the form and format. In Facebook, the operative verb is that you "friend" someone, even if you are not really friendly. And when texting a person, it's likely to be reduced beyond words to a scrunchy face emoticon, wherein you have to decipher the message as if you're in a Dan Brown novel and you're scanning a Pharaoh's tomb. But I've never F-met someone on Facebook, nor T-met them on text. 

The point is that even an extra letter detracts from the story line of what you are trying to say. Lincoln famously said that he thought no one would remember his remarks at Gettysburg. Yet his 272 word address has been enshrined as one of the most amazing pieces of rhetoric in history. He trimmed the extra words and qualifiers to be just the essence, a technique described in the TV show Dragnet years later as "just the facts, ma'am." Kurt Vonnegut's fifth rule of writing was to "start as close to the end as possible." And it was Shakespeare who wrote in Hamlet that "since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief." The point is to cut the extra stuff you don't need, and leave the stuff you do. My own personal goal is in the form of an admonition I clipped from a long ago ad for USA today, one which sums up what I try and do whenever I put fingers to keys: "Not the most words, just the right ones."


Marc Wollin of Bedford believes editing is at least as important as writing. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What to Wear?

Packing for any trip is as much art as science. There's the obvious stuff: toiletries, enough underwear and socks for the time away, exercise gear if the schedule allows. But beyond that, it's a matter seeing of into the future, coordinating colors and outfits so they play together nicely, and trying to carry the least amount of stuff. My personal best was two weeks on the road with only one carryon suitcase and my backpack. True, it was only possible because I had back-to-back projects that required the same outfit, which made me the Henry Ford of traveling: any outfit as long as it was black. 

Usually it's not that hard: you take a look at what your schedule is and figure out what you'll need. If it's a holiday or vacation, you have a little more flexibility. But if it's business, you have to consider with whom you will be interacting. If there are client meetings or presentations, you might need a suit or a dress. Other than that, unless you're in the world of finance, business casual is pretty much the norm almost everywhere. If you are lucky enough to have some down time, you might add a pair of jeans or tee shirt, maybe some shorts or even a bathing suit if the hotel has a pool. But to paraphrase Wimpy, regardless of the type of trip, as long as you can plan that you will wear on Tuesday a striped shirt today, it's not a problem. 

The trouble comes when you don't know what the dress code is. I work with many clients in many environments. Some are more formal, others more casual. Whatever it is, I want to blend in and be as much a part of the gang as possible. But when you're wearing a suit and the crowd is in golf shirts, you look like an undertaker. Conversely, if they're all in ties and you have a tee shirt, they don't take you too seriously. Or as Jean Shepherd wrote so memorably in "The Endless Streetcar Ride into the Night and the Tinfoil Noose," there is that sudden realization that not only don't you fit in, but you are in fact the blind date. 

Working a recent gig brought me just that level of insecurity. Not about my skills: in that area I'm pretty comfortable. Rather, I didn't know what to wear. I have been burned before, bringing what I thought was the right stuff, only to be asked if I had a jacket or tie so I blended in with the others. It's not like I didn't ask; it's that either the person hiring me didn't explain themselves completely or correctly, or I misunderstood their request. I, of course, prefer the former interpretation. 

And so in this case I asked very specifically what was preferred. The word came back "Business Smart." Well, I guess I'm not very, because I didn't have a clear fix on it. So I googled it, and found what I'll call the "Hierarchy of the Collars." At the bottom is the tee shirt of tech, or maybe a polo shirt or Henley. Next up is Business Casual, a structured collar on a buttoned shirt. Keep climbing to Smart Casual, which adds a jacket and its associated collar to the above. Business tops it off, which pairs the former with a suit and tie. And yes, those are basically male choices. My heads hurts even trying to convert that to female. 

But note the request was for "Business Smart." Seemed like a hybrid of the above. I took it to mean a suit and business shirt, but with no tie. I wrote back to confirm, but two words came back: "tie, please." Giving up, I choose not to try to understand, but to conform as requested. And in fact, once I got to the site, I blended in if because of the non-conformity. Some had no jackets, some had no ties, some wore golf shirts, and some had on sweaters. It was attire bedlam. 

The fact is, as one recent study pointed out, usually no one cares. Unless it is egregious, most time people don't react negatively or even notice as much as you think they might. With one exception. In the immortal words of Mark Twain, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves wearing show blacks because it's easy. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Top and Center

I'd been fighting something for a week. The doctor agreed, and put me on some antibiotics which seemed to do the trick. But while the underlying germ was vanquished, some of the attendant symptoms were slower to depart. I was left with a cough that was unpleasant not only to me, but to those nearby. It caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to hold it in, looking like I'm trying to impersonate jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. And I seem to have an ongoing snootful, making me wish I had purchased stock options in tissues.

There's a box by the bed, a box by my desk and one in the family room. They are within reach in the kitchen, in each bathroom and in my car. Before I walk out of the house I grab a "pocket pack" for my pocket and toss another into my backpack. In the beginning of the week I was a chain sneezer, with mere minutes going by between uses. Mercifully the tide has turned, and the intervals are lengthening. Still, spend that much time with a particular product, and it leads one to contemplate it in ways that I can only describe as mildly obsessive, or alternatively, with a Seinfeld-esque focus on nothing.

First, in the heat of the moment, brand doesn't matter. To be sure, Kimberly Clark's "Kleenex" brand owns the market with a nearly 50% share, and so statistically I used a lot of their products. But when you feel that itch in the back of your nose, and you start reaching around like a rat on crack for something to absorb the oncoming convulsion, a Puffs or a Scottie is just fine. In that same vein, color or pattern doesn't matter. White is traditional, but designer shades or styling are fine as well. If possession is nine tenths of the law, when a sneeze is imminent proximity to said tissue is ten tenths.

Only one thing makes a difference and it's not the tissue itself. Yes, some cheaper products are a bit rougher, but any port in a storm. Some try to distinguish themselves with a fresher scent, others with aloe to sooth your nose, still others with antibacterial chemicals to help prevent the spread of germs. You may like one variation or another; for me it matters not. What I have come to appreciate is the genius that is realized in a feature that was enshrined in one of the original patents, and rolled out to the public in 1928. It has been copied endlessly and improved upon, but never bettered: the center-slot pop-up box.

A Kleenex innovation, it was a system for folding subsequent sheets one upon one another in a manner so they when you take one, another pops up cleanly in its place. It has been adapted, and become the defacto-standard for not only tissues but napkins, paper towels and rolling papers. In terms of standards in their respective spaces, it ranks up there with shoelaces, forks or number 2 pencils.

I speak from experience. As noted we have numerous tissue boxes in various places around the house. Randomly it seems that some are the direct descendants of that center pop-up box, while others have a side cutaway revealing a stack of tissues. Reach for one from the pop-up box, and another takes its place immediately. Reach for one from the side saddle vehicle, and you're apt to leave a trail of paper behind. Or get three when one will do. Or not be able to get one quickly and individually. And so you grab a handful, slap them to your face and explode, and wind up throwing out a stack. You can almost feel a tree leprechaun die every time it happens.

Because patents expire after 20 years, Kleenex no longer has the exclusive hold on this innovation. And so you find the same delivery system in other brands, be they major label or discounted store. Which makes it even more puzzling why some choose not to take this approach. I suppose if your goal is to grab a stack to use for later, the side opening makes sense. But otherwise, for the use that they were intended, as a disposable alternative to handkerchiefs, the top center dispenser is the standard. Put another way, it is the iPhone of tissue world.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is feeling better, thank you. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.