Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
An Illustrated Account of the Great Maple Syrup Heist (modernfarmer.com)
140 points by DrScump on Oct 11, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

No wonder I'm paying through the nose for maple syrup. Did not know the full history behind it.

Another maple syrup fact I recently learned: there's no quality difference between Grade A and Grade B syrup. It's just based on color. I prefer the darker, stronger flavored Grade B.

At least in the US, the names Grade B and Grade C have already been phased out. Some states had done so earlier, but the USDA officially renamed them earlier this year to wordy variants of Grade A. So if you are looking for Grade B, you now want "GRADE A: DARK COLOR & ROBUST", and if you were so ahead of the game that you wanted Grade C, you now want the eloquently named "GRADE A: VERY DARK & STRONG".

[1] http://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/grade-b-maple-syrup-bu...

This is an accurate description of the legal US grading system as of March 2, 2015 (under 7 U.S.C. 1621-1627). For anyone interested, here's a link to the official USDA guidelines (grading is ยง52.5962 on page no. 2, which is actually page 4 of the PDF):


It absolutely differs in quality. Not as in "degree of excellence" (second definition), but as in character or inherent features (first definition).

The early American colonists sought out grade A because it was a more suitable cooking substitute for cane sugar, which for a time was difficult to get. Grade B is more mapley in flavor and might be preferred today for its use on pancakes.

English is a funny language isn't it? From the context, it's obvious I meant "degree of excellence" though.

I also prefer the Grade B; I only wish it were cheaper too, but it's not, at least not where I live.

Grades correspond to during which period of the cycle the syrup was obtained; not to quality.

You used to be able to buy Grade C. That stuff was awesome. Super flavorful - went great with buckwheat pancakes.

Am I the only one in the world who enjoys reading on a phone? And who likes to zoom in to see pictures? Or, in this case, to read?

And am I the only one who despises sites that lock the scale so that users can't zoom in on mobile devices?

Please, content creators, setting initial-scale is fine, but for the love of pixels, don't lock the scaling to 1.0; let us mobile readers enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Most mobile browsers allow you to disregard the site's preference and enable zoom anyway. At least, Firefox and the stock browser on my device both have an option for that.

Chrome on mobile does too, it's under:

Settings > Accessibility > Force enable zoom

It's a legacy thing really from when people were first starting to experiment with mobile and some people still cut & paste old code.

That's one reason, but mobile zoom really does behave badly with a lot of website designs. Fixed headers in particular.

Content aside, what an excellent form of presentation. I normally would glance and skip. Instead, I went through each frame until the end. Wonder if there's something here. Kinda like blending the skim (http://www.theskimm.com/) with a comic layout.

Agreed! As to be constructive, I'd like to draw attention that the "rustic" and earthy subject matter seemed to be matched by the style. The parchment type background to simulate paper was a nice touch, and the color palette melded nicely with the subject matter. It might seem obvious in discussion, but I think most non-visual arts/verbal arts producers might just feel it works without drawing attention to itself.

Also, thanks for noting TheSkimm. It's exciting to see genuine passion for communication be able to carve out a niche on the web.

Yeah! Excellent points about those details. My not very artistic mind missed them altogether. But like you hint at, that could be a good thing when the art here serves more as a medium than the end product.

TheSkimm is solving a really interesting problem and taking a note from the Daily Show. Package the news into bite size segments and leverage comedy + everyday vernacular + cultural references to inform and hopefully educate people.

I don't use them (my girlfriend does). I wonder if they've explored a visual delivery mechanism like this article. Could be an interesting project either way.

Nice response and I genuinely feel like my outlook on things, as a writer and story teller, is to summarize in a way that either makes my audience think or smile or pushes a button that is uncomfortable!

The concept of TheSkimm reminds me of my buddy who does amateur political commentary on the US 2016 Presidential Election as WhoWinsIn2016 (YouTube) because he is adamant about not being on any side. He takes the "objective" outlook on the contest as just that - a game. He says the main influence was Hunter S. Thompson, who, when at his best, could be "the most truthful and least factual" guy in the room (quote: George McGovern).

There are a couple avenues using the visual plus verbal construction, and I'd give a hat-tip to the Uproxx contributor who does the NFL summaries with drawings. It's good stuff - funny, commentary, and quick to digest. A close second would be AV Club's "Block and Tackle" feature that uses video clips to great effect.

Long form journalism ain't what it used to be, but I love watching evolution happen!

You'll probably never see this, because it's a day late, but I can tell you that it's not simulated paper. The author frequently scans his comics and doesn't bother cleaning up the artifacts because he likes the way they look. See: cbcomic.com, "The Bins" - a series on the Rumpus, and "illustrated journals" - also on modern farmer.

I can't tell if it's a joke or if it's really being turned into a movie.

Regardless, I'd love to see a tv show that was a cross between this story and Breaking Bad. Just imagine Walter White, surrounded by loads and loads of barrels with his trademark blue color.

It's real and in 'development' http://www.imdb.com/news/ni56219676/

I have an uncle who used to be in the Vermont statehouse. According to him, there's a lot of maple syrup that moves back and forth across the border between Quebec and Vermont, and is bottled in different plants depending on demand for one or the other.

Completely unconfirmed, but interesting nonetheless.

Pretty much confirmed. The Quebec federation of maple syrup is hiring security guards in some regions close to the border to ensure the quota system is respected by everyone (and not exported "illegally")

Article here (in French) http://www.lapresse.ca/la-tribune/estrie-et-regions/201504/0...

Great read and awesome visual way to tell the story.

I assume the syrup that was "siphoned" off wasn't literally siphoned. Either that or Canada has some very patient thieves.

The part about the empty barrels and the ones that were filled with water would indicate that yes, a process of siphoning was involved. I'd reckon the crew came up with some pretty innovative techniques, but I'd also reckon the investigators would rather not make too much public. As in, the facility in West, Texas that exploded (and cost a lot of lives and damage) was frequently targeted by alleged methamphetamine producers for the regulated chemicals on site.


>I wish Quebec would stop talking and separate already; they barely share any common values with the rest of us and are constantly doing embarrassing and (federally) illegal things like this.

Quebecer here. It isn't 1995. There is no appetite here for separation. Yes, there are still blowhards championing the cause, but a referendum today would be overwhelmingly defeated.

I won't comment on your statement that Quebecers "barely share any common values with the rest of us", as it isn't worth it.

As for the "illegality" of the maple syrup system, I think the system is absurd, but it isn't as if this is Canada's only cartel. Yet you took it as an opportunity to slam Quebec.

I agree, lumping all of Canada into a single 51st state is absurd.


You may have more against Quebec than the average Quebecer has with the ROC. The population here isn't as homogeneous as your broad strokes have painted it to be. I'd probably agree with you on a number of your criticisms of things that happen here, particularly in the political realm, but I can't get on board with the generalizations that you make.

religion, language, political ideology a reason to separate?

Are you against immigrants too, since they dont align with the 3 of those characteristics? Diversity is good, learn to accept it, it's your inevitable future whether you like it or not (as long as you plan to live in Canada)

> religion, language, political ideology a reason to separate?

I'd think so; those differences are why we have different nations in the first place. Otherwise we'd all be living under some global government, no?

> Are you against immigrants too, since they dont align with the 3 of those characteristics?

Only if they started making up their own unconstitutional laws governing their ethnic enclaves. Eg. "Chinese signs must be bigger than English signs or you go to jail!"

Edit: btw there's nothing about supporting Quebecois sovereignty that makes me "against" Quebeckers. I'm not "against" the French or Italians but it wouldn't make any sense for them to be a part of Canada either.

The difference here is that French Quebecers didn't arrive to Canada at that point. They were already there, and then Britain took control. In these cases we have 3 historical options: genocide, cultural assimilation or a bi-cultural territory. I personally think the third option is the the one creating more richness even if has a lot of friction.

And it's only been relatively recently considered as an option. You don't have to go back far to learn that the stated objective was cultural assimilation. The situation seems to have changed for the better in the last 50-60 years. Quebec separatism didn't just sprout out of nowhere.

What, the rest of Canada has uniformly homogenous views on religion, language and political ideology? Except for the language, I think that's highly unlikely.

Not quite. Native languages are still spoken in Canada. Cantonese is a big thing in Vancouver/Richmond/Surrey.

I stand corrected.

There's actually a pretty long tradition of agricultural cartels throughout Canada.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Dairy_Commission https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Wheat_Board

And also the bizarre 1886 to 1948 margarine ban and margarine with yellow dye wasn't legal until 1995 (FYI all butter is also tinted yellow).

(FYI all butter is also tinted yellow)

This is trivially false, in that even in the US there are many brands that do not color their butter[1], but I'd be interested in knowing the truth.

Is there an FDA rule that allows coloring to be added to butter without adding it to the ingredient list? I found a rule saying that FD&C Yellow No. 5 must explicitly be listed[2], and I did not see any exceptions for carotene.

[1] http://organicvalley.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/59...

[2] http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyG...

And oranges are dyed orange.

(They're really green.)

While this may be true enough to destroy ones faith in the FDA, it's mostly false at least in the US. Here's the US FDA's official policy: http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyG...

Summarizing, if dyed oranges are sold, there must be a label declaring this at the point of sale.

In practice, only early season Florida oranges are dyed. California has stricter rules, and does not allow it at all: http://littlelocavores.blogspot.com/2011/02/when-orange-isnt...

> Factors considered when setting the price include ..., and how much money the Commission thinks farmers should make.[3] The Canadian Dairy Commission is composed mostly of dairy farmers.


Edit: doubly so when you consider dairy is an extremely basic good so they're illicitly profiting off of the poorest in society.

Actually, the State government of New South Wales in Australia used to have a Dairy Board that set prices for milk production. It was quite good, milk prices were kept quite reasonable and it stopped excessive production but allowed for it. It was stopped by the Carr giverment in the mid 1990s.

Now there are concerns that dairy farmers are being completely screwed by big dairy companies. It hasn't been a good thing! The Carr government is also the government who brought in public-private partnerships and closed the quarantine service in Paramatta.

Well when you have a behemoth dairy market next door of 325 million versus 35 million ya gotta do some weird stuff.

The TPP will add another ~500 million to that 325 million people so ~800 million versus 35 million people of which 12,000 are family farm dairies.

> Well when you have a behemoth dairy market next door of 325 million versus 35 million ya gotta do some weird stuff.

If the intent is to protect domestic producers from international competition, wouldn't a sufficiently high import tariff on dairy be a better solution?

The intent of the boards is not to protect against international compeition, but rather to create a floor price for agricultural goods.

> The intent of the boards is not to protect against international compeition

The parent to my comment implied otherwise by bringing up the U.S. dairy market.

> but rather to create a floor price for agricultural goods

Why would we want that? Poor people need cheap food (well, we all could use cheap food). We don't have a national policy of 'floor prices' on other (non-vice) goods and services, do we?

I'm actually on your side, i think it's ridiculous as well.

The logic is that a free market with lean and fat years would result in wild price fluxuations. When yields were really good, prices would drop and some farmers would end up out of business. The cartel brings stability to prices. Each farmer agrees to produce X and in return has confidence they will get Y price.

The system undoubtably results in higher prices than a completely free market.

> The cartel brings stability to prices. Each farmer agrees to produce X and in return has confidence they will get Y price.

We have futures contracts that serve this role for other commodities, not cartels.

Yes, and look at the wild swings there.

Oil price being one particularly topical. Over investment in marginal fields that are economical at an artificially inflated ~$100/boe due to speculation. This is particularly evident in the US in hiring booms and busts in the industry and the direct influence at the price at the pump (it is cushioned more in other countries by taxation for example in the UK tax is circa 80% of the pump price for fuel, whereas in the US it is circa 17%).

This wild variability in food prices would be very very bad for not only farmers but the public. Sure, in gluts, $0.50 milk per gallon would be great, but in times of say severe drought, $8/gallon would be devastating to those people for whom food is a large part of their budgets, or most people.

That's the idea behind it anyway. The same is done world wide and cannot be unwound in isolation. The US and EU both have farm subsidies or price smoothing.

I'm sure the system is gamed, like all systems are - but a completely unfettered free market, globally, for staple foods is unlikely to ever happen.

> Oil price being one particularly topical.

The price of oil is set by a cartel...

> Sure, in gluts, $0.50 milk per gallon would be great, but in times of say severe drought, $8/gallon would be devastating to those people for whom food is a large part of their budgets, or most people.

You can't stockpile milk, this argument makes no sense.

Not cheap (quality) but inexpensive a big difference I know you meant that but maybe some people don't care about the source of the dairy they get. I live in an area with a lot of farms and fishing but I am neither a farmer or a fisherman.

The problem is all those small dairy farms can't compete with giant industrial farms which use steroids, growth hormones, or antibiotics. Milk is actually dumped and farmers are fined if any trace of antibiotics are found in the milk.

Supply management is based on the cost of production at the farm itself which I think is fair since I see too many poor farmers and fisherman who work 20 hour days only to get a pittance of the final cost of the product.

It's a huge culture difference too Canadians tend to know a lot about their dairy products and don't see it as a product like an iPhone I think they do in the US.

I know people in my region will just refuse to buy imported dairy regardless of price due to the use of hormones, antibiotics (still in the milk) and steroids. Most now buy local beef, pork, chicken and seafood.

Eggs and chicken are also have similar controls.

> The problem is all those small dairy farms can't compete with giant industrial farms which use steroids, growth hormones, or antibiotics.

Then ban the steroids, growth hormones, or antibiotics. None of this is a reason to allow the dairy farmers to form a cartel.

What's next, allow the car manufacturers to form a cartel because artisanal hand-made cars can't compete against factory-built cars?

In Canada they are banned in a way by not allowing milk from the cow on such treatment to be sold. Once the cow is healthy then the milk can be used.

It seems that from the leaked TPP documents, if true, a lot of the food standards countries are using will be lowered under TPP not raised.

The theory is to ensure a consistent supply - if a bunch of dairy farmers can't afford to stay in business then it will lead to shortages and higher prices.

Dairy farmers are hardly a bunch of rich fat cats oppressing the poor.

> Dairy farmers are hardly a bunch of rich fat cats oppressing the poor.

I don't think it really makes a difference if the wrongdoers are Nestle or a 'federation of independent dairy farmers'. They're clearly earning part of their (middle class or better) income scamming poor people.

The US also had a farming cartel until just this year - raisins!


It's amazing it lasted as long as it did!

The U.S. provides large subsidisies to their farmers. I find a cartel to be the least of the concerns...

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact