More than a mouthful

From syrup to slurpees, food and drink made their mark in 2012
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

A mite shy

New Zealanders went into deep withdrawal after the nation’s Marmite producer, Sanitarium, suspended production at their Christchurch plant in the wake of an earthquake that damaged the factory in 2011. Repairs were supposed to be finished by summer, then October, but the shelves are still empty of the popular yeast-based spread. Sanitarium officials warned New Zealanders to use it sparingly, but 500-g jars were being hoarded and sold for more than $50 online. While some Kiwis have withstood the shortage bravely, loyalties were sorely tested. In the spring, supermarkets reported that sales of Australian rival Vegemite rose significantly.


It was a heist made for headlines. In late August, thieves broke into a Quebec warehouse and stole barrels full of Canada’s original sweetener, part of a 23,500-barrel reserve of maple syrup. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers keeps the stockpile against shortages. Representing more than one-tenth of Quebec’s 2012 harvest, the syrup was said to be worth more than $30 million. In October, the RCMP tracked down the stolen syrup in New Brunswick, extricating maple-syrup producers from a sticky mess.

Joke’s on him

While filming an episode of The Mind of a Chef in Montreal, U.S. comedian Aziz Ansari was mistaken for local comic Sugar Sammy at Wilensky’s sandwich shop. Ansari, who accompanied New York chef David Chang and two local chefs to the shop for one of its famous fried bologna and salami sandwiches, impersonated the Canadian comedian for as long as he could. When someone revealed his name, the Parks and Recreation star said, “Different Indian comedian.” Sugar Sammy is a broad-shouldered, athletic and fashionable comic best known for his bilingual stage shows and reputation as a hard partier. Aziz Ansari is a short, slight comedian with a beard and moustache. After leaving, Ansari asked the chefs if they ever get mistaken for other chefs, then pointed to Chang, who is Chinese-American, and said with a grin, “Morimoto?”

Betel juice

This year, 10 Indian states banned the sale of gutka, a popular chewing tobacco made of crushed betel nut, nicotine, spices and chemical additives, in an effort to curb oral cancers, which make up almost a third of all cancer diagnoses in India. There are an estimated 65 million gutka users in the country, and the tobacco is popular as a cheap pick-me-up for everyone from rickshaw drivers to university students. With 80,000 new cases of oral cancer a year, the health ministry says the treatment of tobacco-related diseases costs more than $5 billion annually, almost five times more than the government earns from taxing gutka. The ban came as a shock to the manufacturers, who have banded together to challenge the legislation in court.

Classy with a C

At home, the diet-busting cinnamon buns sold at Cinnabon are found at subway stations and busy malls, where the irresistible smell of the pastry baking tempts passersby. This year it became the first U.S. franchise to open in Libya after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi. The Tripoli location, which made its debut in August to a flurry of excitement on Libyan social media, is the largest Cinnabon in the world. While the original recipe remains untouched, the restaurant is modelled after a European-style café, offering a cosmopolitan array of Italian coffees and pastries. A three-storey affair in a fashionable neighbourhood, it offers private dining rooms for meetings, dates and special occasions, as well as a playroom for children. A trip to Cinnabon here is a status symbol for the city’s wealthiest residents.

XL not sold here

The Big Apple is no friend to the Big Gulp. In September, the New York City health department banned the sale of sugared beverages larger than 16 oz. at restaurants, food carts, sports arenas and movie theatres to curb obesity. The ban is another bold step from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to improve the health of New Yorkers, but the rest of the United States is unlikely to follow his lead; in November citizens of two California cities rejected a fat tax on pop. New Yorkers thirsting for supersized pop can still get their fix. Fruit juices that are more than 70 per cent juice, diet pop and alcoholic beverages are exempt, as is 7-Eleven’s infamous Slurpees, because they are sold in a convenience store.

XL not sold here either

This September, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended operations at an XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., after E. coli was detected in meat products. Then CFIA documents showed the bacteria was discovered two weeks before the suspension, during which time uninformed retailers continued to sell XL meat to Canadian and American customers; 18 people got sick, but there have been no known fatalities. The Alberta beef industry took a licking, but the processing plant was running again in October with more inspectors and stricter testing in place.