Olde Scandinavian Cooking

by The Metric Maven

Happy Metric Day

My friend Pierre has introduced me to many interesting aspects of cooking. I’ve been interested in his recipe for bacon explosion, but apparently do not have the nerve to pursue it. Pierre began to watch a program called New Scandinavian Cooking. He could not but achieve some metric schadenfreude, and surprise, when he reported the presenting chef, Andreas Viestad, was using deciliters in his recipes!

I like Scandinavians as I grew-up around their descendants in Minnesota. They are always portrayed as sanguine, happy, and calm. I heard many Sven jokes (sorry Sven) as I grew up, and they all involved Sven as clueless and happy. I would relate one, but all those I know are probably not appropriate for this blog.

I investigated the program, and to my horror, not only did he use deciliters, but their milk was in deciliter packaging! Below you will find a 3 deciliter carton of milk. Not 300 mL, but 3 dl !

Three decilitres of milk

I have watched a considerable number of the programs. The Scandinavian cooks seem to fearlessly use grams, so where are the milliliters? I randomly looked through a number of NSC recipes and found that Scones with Red and Yellow Beets had a number of volume measures. Here is the recipe:

Why on Earth would NSC use teaspoons and tablespoons instead of milliliters? I have no idea what the measures would be for a non-English version of the program, but would it be teaspoons and tablespoons? This seems unlikely, but my non-extensive, non-exhaustive internet search offered no clue. I emailed NSC and Anders Viestad. I asked what they use in Scandinavian countries for teaspoons and tablespoons.

Anders actually replied:

Hi Randy

Since the show is airing in the US and in countries using metric, I have to use both. However, when possible I use teaspoons/tablespoons, which works in both areas.

Andreas

Apparently, teaspoons and tablespoons are used in Scandinavian countries? Sweden had a ten year plan to become metric. They procrastinated for 9 years and rushed the change. Teaspoons and tablespoons might not have been addressed. Anders apparently did not feel the need to address milliliters versus deciliters.

The logical volume measure for teaspoons (5 mL) and tablespoons (15 mL) is milliliters. Confusing teaspoons and tablespoons is always a danger, esp., when it’s abbreviated tsp and tbl. New Scandinavian Cooking is not exactly Mormons Making Coffee, but they are too close for comfort using runic metric units like deciliters. Indeed, when making Danish Meatballs, Andreas indicated that one should use 1.2 deciliters of milk rather than one-half cup. Why not 120 mL?

In one recipe I noticed Andreas used a measuring vessel which is marked in deciliters. It goes from 1 through 9 dl and then becomes 1 lit and returns to 11 deciliters at the next graduation. Apparently in Scandinavian cooking one does not need to be closer than a deciliter in volume, but grams are just fine as he uses 100 grams of butter.

Andreas makes an apple dish called “Veiled Farm Girls”, and after he puts apple halves in a baking dish, he indicates that is requires a “generous amount of sugar.” How much?: “A good fist-full” That’s even less precise than deciliters.

Andreas’ favorite bread recipe uses grams, deciliters, and teaspoons–and later tablespoons—never say milliliters apparently.

What does become obvious how Andreas often cooks. The majority of time he just guesstimates the amount of ingredients. He has a captivating smile as he vanquishes measurement in his cooking. He is far too close to the happy Sven I grew up with, but I wish I could pull him aside and try to implore him to read Naughtin’s Laws. I have a feeling he would politely read the rules and carry on like the Swedish Chef might. Well, I guess it could be worse, it could be fractional cups and fluid ounces—but it could be so much better.

Zombie Metric Reform

by The Metric Maven

In recent months, numerous media stories have discussed a market phenomenon called shrinkflation. National Public Radio (NPR) had a segment called Shrinkflation: Inflation’s Sneaky Cousin. Edgar Dworsky, a long-time consumer advocate, who had been an Assistant Attorney General in Massachusetts, has been tracking shrinkflation on his website. (And, of course, there’s a subreddit for shrinkflation). Edgar noted that a grocery store had replaced all the old General Mills cereal boxes with newer ones. He found some of the earlier boxes on an end display, and selected an old box of Cocoa Puffs. He returned to the main aisle, and put the old box next to the new one. General Mills had downsized the contents of their “Family Sized” box from 547 grams to 513 grams. Edgar took both boxes to the price scanner, and they both scanned the same price. This is very similar to real fraud.

Shrinkflation is where a company reduces the amount of contents in a box, and charges the same price—or even more. NPR’s Planet Money seems to be reporting this problem in a farcical tone (after NPR had injected two commercials). The “reporters” said that inflation is “old news” and skrinkflation is “brand new.” Edgar Dworsky has catalogued dozens of examples of shrinkflation over the years, including Maxwell House Coffee, Tropicana Orange Juice, Tuna Cans, Peanut Butter Jars….etc.

Dworsky diagnoses why this tactic works:

Because consumers are not net weight conscious, they’re price conscious but not net weight conscious. It is a sneaky way to pass on a price increase.

The presenters point out that if human beings followed the classical economic assumption, that they are rational consumers, then this should not be a successful tactic.

Planet Money reached out to General Mills for an explanation. Here is GM’s reply:

The change is all about creating consistency and standardization across the cereal products. [This allows] much more efficient truck loading, leading to fewer trucks on the road, and fewer gallons of fuel used, which is important in both reducing global emissions as well as offsetting increased cost associated with inflation.

As Dr Sunshine used to say, “I have two words to describe this: bull and shit.” Well, its not much of a standard if the amount can be changed in a capricious manner. The consistency is only in making uniform stealth changes. Oh yes, and if you buy this line of BS, then you will also believe General Mills is saving the planet one reduced sized quantity at a time.

Edgar Dworksky does not. He points out that you will run out of cereal sooner, and go to the supermarket sooner than expected, to replenish your Cocoa Puffs, and use more cardboard. Planet Money’s view is that hey,

…to be fair to General Mills, like a lot of companies these days they are dealing with increased business costs, you know higher gas, higher cost of grain, and shrinkflation is their way of dealing with it.

Spoken like a truly fair man, who accepts corporate humbug, as long as its in the open, like a magical illusion that fools everyone—so no one is hurt. Thank you for setting us straight propagandist Greg Rosalsky, who continues to chuckle as he moves along in jovial dialog with Stacey Vanek Smith. This not an intellectual fraud, it’s just business. The consumers don’t realize they’re being taken—and that’s ok today—and fun to talk about.

So what does all this have to do with metric reform? Well here is a quotation from Metrication in Australia:

In hindsight, the early conversion of quantity statements on packaged goods and changes in package sizes had an insignificant impact on public education due largely to the universal existence of the supermarket method of marketing, in which packages were selected by the customer by visual size rather than by quantity name in either imperial or metric.

The US Metric Association, and Elizabeth Benham at NIST, are apparently convinced that if we finally allowed all 50 states to present metric labeling on products, suddenly consumers would embrace an understanding of metric values. This idea has been discussed over and over. Clearly, business understands that people are often not only innumerate, but worse, substitute perception for quantification. It is a belief in the existence of a rational “classical economics” consumer, who will then “punish the market” into relenting, that is at the heart of this flawed notion. During their metric switch-over, Australians learned that metric labeling in supermarkets, as an educational tool, was a fiction. Even with overwhelming practical evidence, as shown by the implementation of shrinkflation across essentially all consumer goods, will these metric advocates rethink and redirect their efforts? This view is a zombie idea that entrances and then eats the brains of some metric advocates. No matter how many times I point this out, the zombie idea arises again, as a parasitic red herring that wastes people’s time and intellectual effort. Please, put salt in this zombie idea’s mouth, and sew it shut.