Thinly sliced: Eat your bowl, your cup, and your silverware too

This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.

Thanksgiving aftermath: sump pumps and no power. Always refrigerate cooking grease, wait until it congeals, then throw it away in the garbage. Around 80 neighbors in Queens learned this the hard way after dumping cooking grease down their drains this weekend. That’s the likely cause of a sewer line failure, which backed up into people’s basements, reports The New York Times. “It smells horrendous. It was up to maybe my thighs,” said Cardell Hall, an affected local. Many were left without power and were afraid to seek shelter because of potential looting. If you learn one thing from this newsletter today, don’t pour grease down the drain!

A spoiling solution. Tired of mushy avocados sitting on your counter? The Chicago-based company Hazel Technologies may have a solution. The company creates small pouches, about the size of a to-go salt or pepper packet, that can be added to boxes—Hazel intends to start selling these soon—to extend the shelf life of produce and slow the process that causes decay,  The Chicago Tribune reports. The sachets stop the food’s reaction to ethylene, a chemical found in many fruits and vegetables that is responsible for the loss of firmness, texture, and color. “You keep it on your counter, put a (Hazel) sachet in there once a month, and you have bananas that last forever,” says Aidan Mouat, the company’s CEO.

Just eat it. In our recent coverage linking “compostable” food bowls to PFAS, aka “forever chemicals,” we found that the bowls are a) not really compostable and b) likely toxic. Now, CNN Business reports that a South African startup called Munch Bowls has created a possible alternative: a biodegradable, edible bowl made from wheat. They offer both savory and sweet bowls, depending on your meal. The company is planning to expand to spoons, coffee cups, and meal containers on flights.

Mistaken identity. Mitch McConnell, Republican Senator from Kentucky, is WholeFoods Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, mostly because he has led the effort to legalize hemp farming. When Mitch tweeted that news last week, the Twittersphere went nuts. How could a beloved purveyor of high-quality, organic produce possibly support the, uh, divisive politician? Turns out, Whole Foods Market has nothing to do with WholeFoods Magazine, a trade publication that covers the natural products industry, an area where hemp is an increasingly big business. Eater reports there’s a lot of ‘splaining going on—both companies are making sure the public knows they have nothing to do with each other.

That’s a lot of milk money. Tom Vilsack, former Secretary of Agriculture, joined dairy promotion nonprofit Dairy Management, Inc. shortly after President Obama’s term ended in February 2017. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the job switch netted Vilsack a nearly fivefold salary increase: Newly released records reveal that Vilsack was paid roughly $1 million in his first full year on the job. It’s not uncommon for government officials to land high-paying jobs when they leave office, but Vilsack’s paycheck is coming directly from dairy farmers’ pockets, many of whom are operating in the red. Executives at Dairy Management are “grossly overpaid,” considering the struggles of farmers in the marketplace, one critic said.