Coffee heat rising

Consumer Reports: Renew, or not?

I run hot and cold on Consumer Reports, the organ of Consumers Union, the nonprofit that has appointed itself the guardian of your interests and mine. In general, I do feel supportive of CU, because it has done some remarkable and excellent things for the common good. And since I can’t donate to every worthy cause that comes my way (or even to more than a couple of them), subscribing to CU’s magazine feels like a way of supporting the organization.

But. Though I do enjoy reading Consumer Reportsmost of the time, a number of issues about it bother me. Videlicet:
A paid subscription to the hard-copy version will not get you into their website. Annoying.
Once again, I started receiving hysterical “YOUR SUBSCRIPTION IS ABOUT TO EXPIRE” notices four months before the annual bill was due. That particular high-pressure sales tactic is not only annoying, it’s dishonest. It disturbs me to see an alleged guardian of the consumer’s interest engaging in a scheme to get people to pony up more money than they have to, sooner than they have to.
Sometimes their recommendations are strictly a matter of taste, and that opinion often doesn’t jibe with mine. Because Consumer Reports is so hugely influential, manufacturers will occasionally change products to accommodate something said in one of these opinion pieces. In at least one instance, this led to a change in a favorite shampoo’s formerly mild perfume, so that I quit buying it and had to to find another, more expensive product that met my desiderata (i.e., “doesn’t stink of some industrial chemist’s idea of what the sheep think smells good”).
Occasionally, their product reviews and advice are just flat wrong.

This month’s issue is unusually heavy on articles that fall into the last two categories.

Take, for example, “Vets Weigh In on Fido’s Food.” Parenthetically, the authors admit that seven of the eight experts in veterinary nutrition interviewed for this article were funded by the pet-food industry. That disclaimer out of the way (way out of the way), they then go on to report these worthies’ statements as gospel. One such statement was that pets are being made ill from homemade pet food, something that has gained popularity since the last episode in which hundreds (possibly thousands) of American household pets were poisoned by adulterants in animal feed.

It certainly is true that if you feed your dog table scraps, you’ll likely make Fido sick. Three reasons for that:
1. Onions (and other plants in the onion family, such as garlic, scallions, and chives) are toxic to dogs. They cause a type of anemia that can, over time, do the animal in. A large dose of onion can make any dog—especially a smaller breed—very sick, indeed. Most human food contains onions and garlic. Read the labels on the processed foods you buy, and you’ll be surprised at how many of your favorites contain onion. And sodium in various permutations. And sugar in many forms.
2.Few humans eat well consistently. We favor junk food that is high in salt, unnecessary fat, and sugar, and even if we cook at home, we’re likely to fry our food and sprinkle on plenty of salt and sugar. These ingredients are no better for other mammals than they are for humans. Of course, if you feed your dog junk food, you will damage its health just as you will damage your own health.
3. Chocolate and alcohol are toxic to dogs. People who feed their animals off the table are likely to let Fido clean up dessert as well as the entrée. A slice of leftover chocolate cake is akin to a meal of rat poison for your dog. And there are fools who think it’s funny to watch Fang quaff a beer. Did you know that “Boozer” is one of the commonest names for cats?

However, there’s a difference between throwing table scraps into the dog’s dish and actually preparing food that is appropriate for dogs to eat. It’s not difficult to prepare healthy dog food in your kitchen. The principle is simple, the same principle that underlies healthy human food: varied sources of starch (such a rice, potatoes, yams, oatmeal), varied sources of vegetables (green and yellow, not to include corn), and varied sources of protein (beef, lamb, venison, pork, fish, chicken, egg, cottage cheese, yoghurt). Meat items should be cooked and, IMHO, free of bones (I know, I know! But unless you enjoy paying for veterinary surgery, spare your dog the bones, especially cooked bones).

Condescendingly, CR tells us that “if you insist on making your own pet food,” you should go to websites certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. Go there, click on “homemade foods,” and you’re directed to two sites where you have to pay to get pet food recipes. Understand: these are pay-per-recipe enterprises! The proposition is that you will pay someone to tell you to mix various combinations of three sources of starch, vegetables, and protein about 1/3:1/3:1/3!

Consumer-friendly, that ain’t.

This month’s matter-of-taste piece is a squib on coffee, in which the researchers tell us you don’t have to pay for Gloria Jean’s or Peet’s to get a decent cup of java, especially if (surprise surprise!) you dilute the stuff with milk and sugar. Peet’s is described as tasting “burnt and bitter” (might they accidentally have brewed up some Starbuck’s?). They do report that Dunkin’ Donuts, which IMHO offers up the best coffee of any fast-food joint, has a good decaf (though they fail to note the oxymoron). But they fail to discover that Costco’s dark roast coffee is the best buy on the brick-and-mortar market, with beans that are almost as good as the expensive “gourmet” variety at very reasonable prices.

And speaking of matters of opinion, we’re invited to peruse the latest and greatest in televisions, since after all we’re about to lose our analog signal and so this might be an opportunity to replace the old 90-pound clunker parked on a table in the living room. Under “Budget Buyer,” we’re told that “low-priced sets from major labels can be good buys.” Of these bargains, the cheapest “smart choice” is a Vizio 32-inch LCD set for $450. A sharp 42-inch LCD qualifies as “low priced,” too, at $1,100.

Four hundred and fifty bucks is low-priced? Get freaking real! If this is low-priced, then I am effectively priced out of the television market. I already know I can’t replace the handy little TV that sits atop the fridge, and so when digital finally arrives with a vengeance, the PBS News Hour will be history at my house. But evidently once the second-hand set I have in the TV room wears out (that would be the one that periodically tells me PBS, NBC, CBS, Fox, or ABC has “no signal”), I won’t be watching any television that can’t be downloaded for free from the Internet.

Then, by coincidence, we find one of my perennial sources of CR irritation, this year’s rehash of their vacuum cleaner ratings. As usual, Hoover and Kenmore are way up there.

Hoover used to make a great vacuum cleaner. Some years ago, however, the company was purchased by Whirlpool, which promptly junked up the product. So, of late the things are unreliable and inefficient. The changeover came about the time SDXB found a Hoover that was THE top-rated model, on sale at a smokin’ price at the Luke AFB Base Exchange. In fact, staff there had accidentally put the wrong price on it. But because SDXB found the thing with that price, they sold it to him…and sold him two more units at the same absurd discount, one for me and one for his daughter.

Minutes after the limited warranty expired, all three vacuums crapped out. They all died of the same flaw, and they all died within a week of each other.

Hoover, we understood, had taken planned obsolescence to the level of high art.

Interestingly, in this month’s issue, Hoover vacuum cleaners appear as second only to Simplicity as most unreliable among upright models, and third in the race to unreliability among canisters, after Electrolux and Miele. If these things are unreliable junk, then why are two Hoover uprights flagged as “recommended” and two canisters as “best buys”?

After the Hoover hat trick, SDXB and I each bought the highest-rated (expensive!) Kenmores. I hated my Kenmore. It was clumsy, difficult to use, given to falling over and whacking me on the foot, and generally a nuisance. Because my house had all hard floors, before long I took the thing back to Sears and then trotted over to Fry’s Electronics, where I bought the cheapest Panasonic on the shelf. The thing did all I needed it to and then some, and, years later, it still runs. SDXB, whose house was mostly carpeted, kept the Kenmore but was no happier with his than I was with the one I returned.

All these ruminations over the current issue lead me to ask myself: Why am I paying to have this magazine delivered to my house?

I think the answer is about to be I’m not.