The Year in Food 2008

The Year in Food 2008

Endings, Happy or Not

In the Kitchen with Julia the Spy

Was the grande dame of celebrity cookery also a spy? After years of speculation about Julia Child’s wartime role, her classified files were made public in August when the National Archives released personnel documents on those who served in the World War II–era intelligence agency that preceded the CIA. We’ve known for a while that Child worked for the agency—before she was cooking boeuf bourguignon on TV, she helped whip up a recipe for shark repellent for the government, the CIA noted in 2007. But the documents put an end to any remaining speculation that she had actively spied for the agency. —Roxanne Webber

RIP: The Food Miles Concept

This was the year the food miles debate died. It has been established—over and over again, and then again—that local food won’t always emit fewer greenhouse gases on its way to your plate. Sometimes local conditions (think of the warm tropical sun that grows fruit without the need for greenhouses or extensive chemical fertilizers) more than compensate for the environmental cost of shipping food to an overseas market, making an overall carbon footprint a more useful metric for measuring food’s impact than miles traveled. So here’s hoping that future arguments over eating local will include a few criteria other than mere mileage. Like, say, taste. —Nicholas Day

Paul Newman Dies at 83

Hollywood legend Paul Newman died from cancer this year, leaving behind a long and illustrious film career. If there were an Academy Award for salad dressing, Newman would be a shoo-in. On the day of his passing, social messaging service Twitter was awash with comments like “Does Newman’s death make my salad dressing worth more” and “Thanks for the popcorn Paul,” as well as fears about the fate of Newman-O’s. His company, Newman’s Own, promises that the food isn’t going anywhere. That’s good news for beneficiaries of the Newman’s Own Foundation: Since 1982, the group has given more than $250 million to thousands of charities. —Michele Foley

Foraging: Still Deadly

When you’re foraging for salad toppers in the wild, it’s hard to play it too safe. British novelist Nicholas Evans (The Horse Whisperer) was severely poisoned after eating wild mushrooms on vacation in Scotland this year. Evans, his wife, and two other family members were hospitalized and had to undergo kidney dialysis to prevent renal failure after picking and consuming the rare Cortinarius speciosissimus mushrooms on a walk around the Scottish Highlands estate owned by Evans’s brother-in-law. Mushroom experts speculated that the group had mistook the deadly and rare Cortinarius speciosissimus for the similar-looking and edible chanterelle. Worldwide numbers are hard to come by, but poisonous mushrooms have killed people by the dozens in places as disparate as Mozambique, Japan, and Russia. Here’s one scenario in which DIY might not be the best way to go. —Lessley Anderson

David Foster Wallace Was Good for the Food World. He’s Gone Now.

He wasn’t a food writer, and never wanted to be, but David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in September, was the author of one of the greatest food essays ever written. “Consider the Lobster,” a rumination on the ethics of boiling a creature alive more or less because it’s delicious, appeared in the August 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine, and caused many a lobster-lover to reconsider. —Meredith Arthur

Budweiser Embraces (and Renounces) Its American Heritage

The same year Budweiser-maker Anheuser-Busch sells out to Belgian beer titan InBev, the newly merged brewery releases its Budweiser American Ale, a fake microbrew designed to compete with the booming craft (or good-tasting) beer market. Seems even mega swill-mongers are clueing in to the increasing number of people with an interest in something other than a beer’s poundability.
—James Norton

The Passing of a Wine Giant

Pioneering vintner Robert Mondavi, known for building the first major winery in the Napa Valley in the post-Prohibition era, passed away this year at the age of 94. He founded his eponymous vineyard in 1966, and his dry oak–aged Sauvignon Blanc (which he labeled Fumé Blanc) became an early success. Mondavi’s marketing savvy and winemaking skill combined to greatly boost the world gastronomic profile of California in general, and Napa specifically. Looking to the future, Mondavi also founded the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, working in concert with UC Davis. —James Norton

Chocolate-Flavored Candy-Type Item

It’s been a bad year for Hershey’s: The company announced the closing of six North American plants, competitor Mars has gotten aggressive in its pursuit of the number-one U.S. chocolatier slot, and Hershey’s took a PR drubbing when it started blending cocoa butter substitutes into a number of its old-school mainstays to cut costs. Candies affected included Milk Duds, Mr. Goodbar, Whatchamacallit, and Kissables. American consumers may not notice the difference between the words chocolaty and chocolate, but informal feedback suggests that they’ll notice the difference in taste. The good news, according to the PR flacks: “In Mr. Goodbar, for instance, the change lets the peanut flavor shine through.” —James Norton

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