Thinking of going to a nice restaurant? Before you decide, you probably go online and read reviews of the place from other customers (or you listen to these actors read them to you). Online reviews of restaurants, travel deals, apps and just about anything you want to buy have become a powerful driver of consumer behavior. Unsurprisingly, they have also created a powerful incentive to cheat.

Standing outside the Central Minnesota Ethanol Co-Op in Little Falls, Minn., there's not a lot going on. The pungent smell of fermentation that typically hangs in the air here is absent. And trucks piled high with corn are nowhere to be seen.

They're idled in part because of high corn prices. And it's unclear when that will change.

"Most of the industry is just breaking even in terms of profitability or actually running at slightly negative margins," says Geoff Cooper, vice president of research and analysis at the Renewable Fuels Association.

Millions of college students are heading back to campus soon, and as any parent footing the bill knows, they're hungry for more than just knowledge — they want food, and lots of it, at all hours.

A fierce drought has been scorching crops this summer, but it's still too soon to know exactly how much of a hole it will burn in your wallet.

UPDATE 4:23 p.m.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has denied a call to ban the plastic additive BPA from food packaging. The action comes after government scientists found little reason to think people are being harmed by the chemical.

The FDA was responding to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which called for the ban on BPA, also known as bisphenol A, from any use where it comes in contact with food.

(via Flickr/clementine gallot)

Supporters say a bill that would allow convicted drug felons to be eligible for foods stamps is gaining momentum among Missouri lawmakers. The bill would repeal the state's lifetime ban on food stamps for drug felons.

Three Republicans and one Democrat in the House are sponsoring the bill, according to The Kansas City Star. The sponsors say it isn't fair that child molesters and murderers are eligible for food stamps, but people with felony drug convictions aren't.

(via Flickr/neil conway)

Four St. Louis chefs and one restaurant have been named as James Beard Award semifinalists.

In case you're not familiar with the awards, they are described as "the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America" on their website - or, as Time magazine put it, "the Oscars of the food world."

So, who are the noted locals? Here's the list, in alphabetical order:

(Libby Franklin/St. Louis Public Radio)

Root, a new restaurant from executive chef Brian Hardesty, opened in Richmond Heights a week ago today.  In the sixth installment of our series Sound Bites, created in partnership with Sauce Magazine, producer Libby Franklin checks in with Hardesty about his latest project, which seeks to shine a new light on old cuisine.

(Ken Light)

Michael Pollan thinks of himself as a writer, professor…and eater.  But many people would call him a food activist. The author of controversial books like The Ominvore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, Pollan is known for his vivid critiques of industrial agriculture and the modern American diet.

Pollan is in St. Louis today for the St. Louis Speakers Series presented by Maryville University. He recently spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra about his views on food and agriculture – starting with what he sees as a healthy diet.

(via Flickr/The Consumerist)

If you've noticed your grocery bill has gotten higher lately, you're not imagining things.

Food prices in Missouri rose in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to the Missouri Farm Bureau's year-end Marketbasket Survey.

(Tower Grove Farmers' Market on Facebook)

As 2011 comes to a close, St. Louis Public Radio is taking a look back at the things and people that have had a good year. In the St. Louis region, local food--both the production and demand--makes that list.

(Screen Capture via Sauce Magazine Video directed by Work/Play)

2011 was a good year for St. Louis food trucks.

The mobile eats trend exploded on the St. Louis scene after one of the first trucks, Pi On The Spot, hit the pavement in 2010. Now, an ever-growing number of trucks and wagons take to the streets each day, tweeting out their locations so hungry diners can line up for a meal on the run.

As the holiday season begins, and tables fill with beloved people and food, it can sometimes be difficult for hosts and hostesses to keep the emphasis on fun and away from stress.  But with a little strategy and a few thoughtful tips, we hope your festivities can include extra deliciousness and minimal mad dashing.  This month on Sound Bites, our collaboration with Sauce Magazine, the Sauce ladies share some of their ideas for a fuss free holiday.

(Tim Lloyd for St. Louis Public Radio)

With one of the biggest meals of the year fast approaching, those who rely on St. Louis area food pantries for Thanksgiving may be in trouble. The USDA’s food assistance program is sending far less to agencies like the St. Louis Area Food Bank than in past years. And as Tim Lloyd reports, the shortfall is making it hard for the food banks to keep up with a rising need for help.

This month on Sound Bites, Sauce Magazine publisher Allyson Mace, managing editor Stacy Schultz, and senior staff writer Ligaya Figueras take us on a walk down memory lane as they celebrate ten years in print. From craft beer and locally sourced ingredients to foam and sous-vide, the Sauce team helps us remember the tastes that have defined the past decade of St. Louis food.

(Courtesy Sauce Magazine/ by Greg Rannells)

Urban agriculture has taken root in cities everywhere, including right here in the River City.  It comes in many forms: the community garden, the backyard vegetable patch, the rooftop bee colony.  But cultivating food in town can be complicated and wrought with challenges---so what is it that’s driving some city dwellers to skip the grocery store and get their hands dirty?   Libby Franklin reports in the next of our new series Sound Bites, created in partnership with Sauce Magazine.

(via Flickr/lsgcp)

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Luke Runyon used in this report.

Asian carp - the invasive fish that's plagued Illinois rivers and is threatening the Great Lakes could soon become a staple at food banks.

Todd Main, with the state Department of Natural Resources, says there's more than two hundred million pounds of Asian carp swimming in the state's rivers.

(via Flickr/clementine gallot)

Missouri could soon learn whether it will have to repay the federal government for accidentally inflating the state's food stamp rolls.

State officials acknowledged in December 2009 that a computer programming error led Missouri to over-report the number of food stamp participants to the federal government for six straight years. During that time, Missouri received more than $14 million in federal bonuses because of its high participation rates.

(Ettie Berneking/St. Louis Public Radio)

Urban gardening has found a stronghold in backyard and community plots and now, with some help from one organization, urban gardening is making its move into St. Louis schools.


Missouri Census Figures Show Increase in Retirement Age Population

The U.S. Census Bureau released the latest round of population figures last night. They show Missourian's median age is now 37.9. That's up nearly two years from the 36.1 median in 2000. Missouri's retirement-age population of people at least 65 years old grew by more than 10 percent since 2000. And residents 85 years and older grew by 15 percent - though they still account for less than 2 percent of the nearly 6 million people living in Missouri. At the same time, the number of school-aged children between 5 and 14 years old declined over the decade.