A Field Trip to Yonkers

Yesterday, I crossed the Hudson River in a Consumer Reports (CR) test car and spent the day in Yonkers, N.Y. (go here for some cool historical tidbits) for a blogging conference on the campus of Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of the monthly magazine.

At the front entrance of the CU entrance in Yonkers, N.Y. (Kim O'Donnel)

I was one of 20-some bloggers from various parts of the country, media organizations and content disciplines. But the one connecting thread among this diverse group of writers is a focus on the consumer. Whether it was Viet Do, who writes personal finance blog Stopbuyingcrap.com, MSNBC.com correspondent Bob Sullivan who pens The Red Tape Chronicles or Leslie Hatfield, who updates Green Fork, Eat Well Guide's blog on sustainable eating, we gathered in one room to talk about our collective passion for "speaking truth to power," as keynote speaker Craig "Craig's List" Newmark so pointedly described.
(P.S. Craig, a self-described nerd, introduces himself as "customer service rep and founder" of Craigslist.org)

In addition to a lively day-long discussion on how to better inform, entertain and empower the consumer through digital media (the three objectives of The Consumerist, says editor Ben Popken), we toured the famous Consumer Reports labs, where more than 3,000 products are tested annually.

As to be expected, I was drawn to the kitchen, where we met Tara Casaregola, who oversees testing of cooking appliances. On average, CU tests approximately 120 ranges, cooktops and wall ovens every year, all of which CU purchases using secret shoppers. (If you're curious as to what happens to all that stuff after it's been tested, CU auctions it off to employees -- nice perk, no?)

On display were several dozen cookies, as part of baking tests Casaregola was conducting on a group of oven ranges. Specifically, she was testing for even heating that would be reflected in grades of color among the baked cookies.

Here's something to chew on: Which cooktop heats food faster -- gas or electric?

Rows of cookies as part of CU testing on kitchen ranges. (Kim O'Donnel)

Much to everyone's surprise, electric cooktops have a better heat transfer than with gas, says Casaregola, but electric is slower to cool down. The induction cooktop (magnetic force) is the hot new thing in cooktops because it heats only the cooking vessel, not the range, making it more kid-friendly and generally safer than gas or electric. Presently, induction cooktops are too pricey for most consumers, but as with all electronics, we may see prices go down as the technology continues to improve.

I'm packing up later this afternoon to head back to Washington, but I'll be back tomorrow with something tasty. In the meantime, I'd like to hear what's on your minds as it relates to food and being a consumer. Where do you go for your information? What would you like to see more/less of as food prices, particularly that of grocery staples, continue to jump? What can I do in this space to help you become more informed, entertained and empowered?

By Kim ODonnel |  June 26, 2008; 11:15 AM ET Food Media , Food Shopping , Travel
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I'm not surprised by the electric vs. gas results. We have a gas stove (not a fancy one) in the city and a smooth-topped electric in the country. The electric stove boils water much faster than the gas and the oven heat is more even too. A cake that turns out perfectly in the electric oven mounds up and splits in the gas - same recipe, same type of pan.

Induction stove tops are still very expensive, but there are less expensive (under $200) induction hot plates made by Sunpentown. We have one that we use when canning. The jar water gets boiled on the electric stove which has one 9"/12" burner, but we cook the food on the induction plate which does help in very hot weather. It is somewhat noisy since it has a fan. In past years, one problem we had was using the Thermapen with it. The magnets drove the electronic thermometer crazy, so I'd have to shut the hot plate off to take the food's temperature. This year I bought a new Thermapen which must have better shielding since the induction magnets don't bother it.

Posted by: Fran | June 26, 2008 12:58 PM

Kim, glad you had a great trip to NY and learned alot. You said you caught the train from DC to NY. You wont be able to do that, when you move to the West Coast. Aren't you a little depressed to leave your friends, family and the area you have grown so attached to? Hope you enjoyed your blogging seminar. TELL us about the $5 plastic cup. I know you didnt pay $5 for a plastic cup. lol

Posted by: East Coast | June 26, 2008 7:23 PM

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