When I was a child growing up in Ft. Lauderdale, we learned a lot of nonsense about what, and what not, to eat. In my memory of that time, the two most demonized culprits were eggs and butter. The nutritionists of the time, for a number of reasons, were set on convincing us of the evils of cholesterol. Both eggs and butter had plenty of it, and along with the news media, the USDA made it clear to everyone that cholesterol–specifically saturated fat–was the enemy. It was the cause of heart disease, the scourge that was killing millions of Americans every year.

Of course, the fortunes of the nutritionists were inextricably tied to the then-exploding food industry in America. And though eggs were a bit trickier, that food industry just happened to have invented an easy replacement for butter: margarine. Margarine was a healthy alternative, they assured us, and less expensive for the consumer. With margarine, the food scientists had found a way to short-circuit deadly cholesterol, and the result was touted as a modern miracle. Madison Avenue promoted the bejesus out of it, and margarine sales skyrocketed.

butter and eggs, joe content

Butter and eggs, so delicious–and not deadly!

The problem was, they were wrong. Dead wrong, as it happened. Though it was far less expensive to produce, the only thing healthy about margarine was its profit margins. It’s impossible to exactly know how many, but millions of Americans who switched from butter to margarine ended up dying of the same illness used to sell it: heart disease. With their trusted but deeply flawed advice, food scientists, nutritionists and the USDA had helped lead these Americans to early deaths.

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Shortly after being convinced to abandon butter and eggs, I began building my music collection. (I promise, this is going somewhere.) Vinyl records were still the main delivery system for music back then, and like most people, I absolutely loved them: the liner notes, the cover art, the handy work surfaces, all of it.

Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy Joecontent.net

Tough to do with an MP3:  the insane gatefold of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy

Right about the time I started buying records, the grumbling began about the drawbacks of vinyl. They scratched so easily. They took up so much space. And just try playing one in your car! Clearly, these darned things were antiquated as sundials. After enduring the sustained, senseless carnage of cassette tapes, consumers were finally sold compact discs (and digital music) as the preferred replacement for our beloved vinyl.

Once again, there was a problem. Granted, this problem didn’t help kill millions of Americans. But it did almost murder audio fidelity. You see, digital music isn’t better than analog. It’s far from a settled matter, but there are legions of audiophiles who argue that the warmth of analog sound can’t be duplicated digitally. For some, it’s apparently not even close. So, a lot of people lost out when they sold their vinyl collections (after the whole butter thing, I held on to mine). Today, vinyl records are coming back as the preferred format for a new wave of music lovers. And vinyl record production has been ramping back up for years: in 2016, sales of vinyl records topped those for digital music for the first time.

Now, since we’re sort of on the subject already, let’s talk about plastic–more specifically, plastic packaging. Perhaps more than any other nation, Americans are fanatical about the way we package things up. And when plastics began proliferating here after the end of World War II, they quickly took over the field. For most food products, glass containers were replaced with the cheaper, less-fragile alternatives of canning and, increasingly over the years, plastic.

The cutting edge of food-safe packaging.

If you saw a problem coming here, you’ve been paying attention. Of course, this won’t be the first time you’ve heard this: plastics and food storage are not a good combination. The BPA and phthalates that are released from many plastics used in food storage are known endocrine disruptors. These are chemicals that mimic our hormones when they enter our bodies. This is very dangerous, particularly for infants and the elderly, and a chorus of warning has risen in recent years about these chemicals and their presence in our food systems. So what is the wisest choice for storing our food in 2017? Good old glass, it turns out.

If technology can sometimes be a bear, marketing is often the nice man who invites that bear into our homes. To be sure, whenever the two work in concert, they should be regarded with extreme caution. Sometimes, in the rush to make better products (and sweeter profits), technology and the marketplace make a mistake. And sometimes, bad products–bad ideas–can gain a frightful amount of momentum.

That doesn’t make them good ideas. Here in San Francisco, we live in the very bosom of American business innovation. The endless need for novelty influences the investment community here enormously. But that comes at the cost of ignoring other, more fundamental priorities that need attention. And that drive to find the next big thing is not always in our collective best interest. New isn’t always better.

In the 1950s, Tony Bennett was one of the most famous singers in the world. When rock music stormed onto the scene in the late 60’s, his career predictably floundered. But the singer never changed his style. He persisted, staging a comeback in the 80’s and 90’s that cemented his iconic status in music.

Tony Bennett in front of his statue at SF’s Fairmont Hotel, 2016. | Photo: AP/Eric Risberg

Bennett just celebrated his 91st birthday last week, and the beloved singer is still performing. Last year, he was honored with the unveiling of an 8-foot tall statue in front of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, where he first performed his signature hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” way back in 1961. Mr. Bennett may have said it best:

“If something is good, it’s always good. You don’t have to change it.”


Joe Content writes regularly about life in the fragrant, seasonal stew of San Francisco, among many other things. Come back to visit often.