7 Food Jobs: The Rare and the Strange

Garbage Anthropologist

William Rathje is professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, where a study called the Garbage Project has existed for many years. Says Rathje, “The food that we throw away can be very revealing.” Among the study’s findings:

Halloween garbage contains candy wrappers but no candy, while Valentine’s Day garbage contains both wrappers and candy. “On Halloween what’s important is the candy; on Valentine’s Day what’s important is the gesture,” Rathje concludes. (One could also conjecture that children do not throw away candy, but some adults do.)

The more repetitious a family’s diet is, the less food they throw away. (They keep buying the same limited number of foods and eating them without wasting any surplus.) Paradoxically, more food that is considered in short supply is discarded than foods considered abundant. This is because consumers tend to overbuy the “scarcer” foods, which then go bad before they are eaten.

Buying processed foods such as individual frozen pot pies, does not mean that other foods won’t be thrown out. Single-portion dinners are eaten in preference to fresh food that requires work to prepare. More fresh food is thrown out — eventually.

Chewing Gum Chewer

Cadbury’s employs a professional chewer to report on the taste of its gum. It is not known if this is a full-time position nor whether it is required for the chewing to take place on the premises only.

Egg Peeler

Barbara Dale-Avant, an employee of Atlantic Food Inc.‘s cooked-egg division, in Hemingway, South Carolina, holds the record for number of hard-boiled eggs peeled per minute. Her best total was 48, which means that she dawdled away exactly 1-1/4 seconds on each egg. And her boss, Wilbur Ivey, is not a man to tolerate bits of shell among the eggs, which are shipped to East Coast restaurants. To get these perfect results, he is willing to allow 3 seconds per egg, but that’s only when peelers are first starting to peel on the job.

Cupcake Creator

Hostess makes 400 million cupcakes a year. They are not anything like those at the Menino Bakery where John and Nancy Menino bake “art” cupcakes in every guise from dairy-free vegan to dark, delicious chocolate. “They have to taste fabulous, or why bother,” says John.

Cupcakes are turning up now at cocktail parties (served with champagne, of course) and for breakfast, baked in a coffee mug. A small part of the appeal is the “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” good/bad element that allows us to subscribe to the appealing ability to sin and repent, simultaneously.

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Fortune Cookie Message Writer

The fortune cookie is an American invention. It is unknown in China though it is true that in ancient times, Chinese warlords sent messages hidden in cakes. Donald Lau, vice president of Wonton Food, Inc., writes the messages found in millions of fortune cookies. He says, “I was chosen because my English was the best of the group; not because I’m a poet.”

Food Artist

You need only to step into a gallery, craft shop or museum to discover that artists have been working for centuries to turn food into art in the form of still-life paintings, jewelry, china, decorative eggs, and serving dishes. Jewelers, potters, glass blowers and craftspeople use every media from clay to precious metals and gemstones to render food into images to admire and to use. Food is a subject for everything from greeting cards to shopping bags, handbags and Christmas tree ornaments. Food professionals may use their knowledge to design and manufacture kitchen equipment, teapots and elegant, useful tools for cooks.

Rare Book Collector

It is the old and rare cookbooks that are most often treasured by collectors and those in the know treasure such people as Jan Longone whose Wine and Food Library has become the foundation for the Longone Center for American Culinary Research at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library.

Longone, a dealer in rare books, and her wine-savant husband Dan assembled the staggering collection over a period of 40 odd years. When it is fully catalogued it will offer an unprecedented roster of categories for interdisciplinary study, among them the history of food advertising; chefs; restaurants, hotels and menus; food and the media; the cooking school movement; food and the arts; appliances and equipment; industrialization of food production among many others.

Longone’s personal collection of rare books dates from as far back as the 1500s, and includes America’s earliest cookbooks such as, Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, published in 1588. The book contains a description of attempts to grow wine grapes on Roanoke Island (the “lost colony”). The library also owns one of five known first editions of that book, as well as the papers (including his restaurant bills) of General Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in North America during much of the Revolution. The collection contains originals, facsimiles, and reprints of classic books on wine, food and cooking equipment.

Not interested in these? Read about the full 150 food jobs you can get.

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