Tampa Bay Food 2013: There’ll be a lot on our plates 

Kale, donuts, weird food news — and will bacon jump the shark?

Florida played host to a slew of strange food-related stories in 2012. True to weird Florida form, the Sunshine State kicked it off in May with face-eating 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, who attacked a homeless drifter Ronald Poppo, 65, eating 75 percent of his face off. Eugene had apparently dined on an appetizer of bath salts before going for the main course.

We followed that up in October with the death of 32-year-old Edward Archbold in West Palm Beach. Archbold passed away only minutes after winning a roach and worm eating contest at Broward County’s Ben Siegal Reptile Store. His reward for downing pounds of insects, if he hadn’t choked? A female Ivory Ball python valued at $850.

During the first week of December, a woman discovered four kittens in sandwich bags on the bottom shelf of Rodney J. Blanchard’s freezer at a mobile home park in St. Petersburg. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Blanchard asked the woman to get him a beer from the freezer, where she found kittens (but no beer). When Blanchard was asked why he put the kittens in his freezer, he responded with something about “putting cats in timeout.” Three kittens survived and were put up for adoption at the SPCA; one died.

Weirder still: Blanchard’s son Damian William Blanchard, 24, was involved in a nearby double shooting only 24 hours after the kitten discovery.

So to start off my litany of wishes, hopes and fears for the culinary new year, here’s my first wish: Florida in 2013 will be free of strange food-related national news entanglements.

But here’s my fear: The strange Florida food-related stories in 2013 are just going to get worse.

And here’s some more things that have me wishing, hoping and worrying:

• The battle to label genetically modified foods got hot and bothered in 2012, with both sides feeling strongly about their right to know (or not know). The United States is one of the only developed nations in the world without label laws on genetically modified produce (China, Europe, Japan and India already do). But food is big business, and the industry doesn’t take too kindly to the notion of letting people know that their dinner was created in a petri dish. California attempted to make a change with Prop 37, a piece of state legislation requiring labels on GMOs or items containing GMOs. But opponents (including major food corporations Monsanto and Hershey) raised $44 million to defeat the measure, while its proponents raised only $7.3 million, not enough to sway voters. Food and Water Watch has Florida as one of the five states in which they hope to pass GMO labeling laws with the Let Me Decide campaign.

My wish: Put a sticker on produce saying where it came from, and whether Mother Nature had anything to do with it.

Fear: Florida isn’t the place where progressive food legislation will (ever) pass.

• “Everything should taste like bacon.” That’s the motto of two-man start-up company J&D Foods, pioneers of bacon salt, Baconnaise, bacon shaving cream and bacon lube. The continued rise of bacon-flavored everything goes on. For bacon-lovers, it’s a difficult dilemma. We pretty much want bacon all the time, but now there are shows like Epic Meal Time that exploit our love of sweet crispy pork fat strips in perverse experiments. Burger King even did a pilot bacon sundae program in Nashville, Tenn. There are bacon cocktails, bacon perfumes and bacon bras. I’ve had enough.

My wish: The bacon craze ends, not with a bang but a sizzle. Really, bacon lovers are simple people: We just want to wake up to the sound of bacon in a skillet.

• Mark my words: kale is going to be king of 2013. Every organic-guru-earth-momma already knows about the health benefits, but now masses want a bite too. Expect kale chips on your burger, salad, and perhaps as a garnish in your cocktail.

• Donuts are ready for a takeover. Open a late-night donut shop in a busy downtown area like St. Petersburg and fry up some funky-flavored rings. If it’s good, a line will permanently form around 1 a.m. on Saturday night and you’ll be crowned the king of drunken eats.

• You know food trucks have run their course when every television host has one. Just because you made it on wheels doesn’t mean it tastes good. The good ones will and should continue to operate, but the novelty is wearing off even in Florida. Unless you’re starting a late-night gourmet donut food truck — that’s totally okay.

• Four years ago you could count the number of local craft breweries in Tampa Bay on one hand. Since then, there’s been an explosion in the local craft beer scene, with almost 20 breweries opening in the last four years. That’s not a bad trend for your taste buds, your wallets, and your local economy. I say, bring on the beer.

• Food-scented perfumes are on the rise. Fargginay’s bacon perfume started it all in 2011. Pizza Hut followed suit in 2012, with a perfume that claims to smell like “freshly baked hand-tossed dough.” Or as Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me’s Peter Sagal said last week, “Before you go buying this for your girlfriend, ask yourself this: Do I really want my girlfriend to smell the way I do when she is out of town?”

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