Thinly sliced: A new patent can predict your coffee needs, labor shortages are hurting crab houses, and more

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.

Oh, peas. You don’t have to peer too far into a clickhole these days to see right through big-food-company efforts to hang on to market share. We’ve written plenty about increasingly elaborate marketing campaigns aimed at attracting the most fickle group on earth: eaters. We say we want healthier, more “natural” choices, but we often act in direct contradiction to our stated preferences. That leaves food brands scrambling to understand us: ‘Do they want Cheetos or Peatos?!’ Answer: We want both. What are food brands supposed to do about that?

Well, Pepsi, for one—maker of aforementioned Cheetos—is staking its claim on our grocery carts, reports The Wall Street Journal. The company is taking Peatos, maker of an orange-colored, pea/lentil facsimile, to task for “disparaging” and “diluting” its brand with a paw-print logo and “tigers live longer than cheetahs” tagline. (Is that cheese dust or desperation we see before us?) Chester can probably chill, though: Cheetos commands around $1.5 billion in annual sales. Its wily competitor is forecasting $20 million in 2019. If that’s not a clear enough message about what we want, then what is?

Spam changes hands. Meat processor Hormel has agreed to sell its Nebraska pork plant to a group of farmers, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. The plant, which produces Spam, bacon, pork sausages, and lunch meat, will soon be owned and operated WholeStone Farms, a consortium of 220 nearby hog farmers. Though Hormel will still buy all the meat processed at the plant (confusing, we know), farmers hope the change will leave a little more money in their pockets.

Decaf please, Watson. IBM has been issued a patent for drones that deliver coffee based on your perceived caffeine needs, The Spoon reports. The drones can analyze your sleep schedule, heart rate, and blood pressure from afar, presumably to gauge your vulnerability to a third shot of espresso floating past at eye-level. The tech can even cross-reference last night’s bedtime with today’s calendar to calibrate the severity of your 3:00-p.m. stupor. No word yet on whether it also factors in coffee bar tabs.

Ground control. Speaking of coffee, at the turn of the 20th century, America’s soaring demand sent salesmen into a frenzy of competition for the burgeoning market, OZY reports, in a story that chronicles the early days of this country’s love affair with the buzz. One brand claimed, in advertising targeted to Native Americans, that its cups o’ joe would make drinkers as strong as lions. Another preyed on homemakers’ anxieties by equating their brewing skills with health and good housekeeping. Even a non-coffee coffee alternative joined the chorus of inflated claims, by comparing caffeine to cocaine in an effort to sell its own product made of burned cereal (bleh!). Eventually, industry infighting made drinkers distrust all coffee altogether. This forced coffee companies to team up instead and fund actual scientific research on their product—instead of peddling lies.

In deep crab. Crab houses along the Eastern Shore are suffering because of changes to the H-2B visa program made by the Trump administration, The Washington Post reports. This has left them without enough (or any) seasonal pickers during their most crucial time, in addition to subject to declines in production and astronomical increases in labor costs for remaining staff. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it’s “focused on ensuring the integrity of the immigration system and protecting the interests of U.S. workers.” But when no U.S. workers want to take picker jobs because they’re considered “dirty work,” crab houses are left unable to harvest.

The Counter Stories by our editors.