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Free Bread at Restaurants Hitting Endangered Status


Olive Garden(NEW YORK) -- It’s a familiar ritual: sit down at a restaurant, get bread, order and continue with your typical dining out experience. Except lately, restaurants are removing one part of that scenario: the free bread.

It has been a slow rise, starting with the occasional restaurant only offering bread upon request, leading up to this week when one of Olive Garden’s investors tried to nix the national Italian chain’s unlimited breadsticks.

“Endless salad and breadsticks are another contributor to food waste,” Starboard said in a report on how Olive Garden can improve.

The Italian mainstay fired back that is has no intention of heeding such advice, writing, “Olive Garden’s salad and breadsticks have been an icon of brand equity since 1982. It conveys Italian generosity...”

The restaurant “will continue to serve breadsticks with each meal,” Olive Garden spokesman Justin Sikora also confirmed to ABC News.

So rest easy, your unlimited breadsticks are safe. But are your other bread baskets?

“It makes sense as more and more people are avoiding carbohydrates, because they’re on the Paleo diet or going gluten-free,” Bret Thorn, senior food editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, told ABC News. “So why should a restaurant spend money to give you something you’re not going to eat?”

Restaurants like Roberta’s in New York City, Barnyard in Los Angeles and Roost in Houston go one step further than not serving free bread; they charge for it.

“Some restaurants are really going out of their way to make really excellent bread or source really excellent bread,” Thorn said. “So you can get a really great basket of delicious bread, often not just with butter, but with lardo [pork] or some other awesome topping.”

Other restaurants, such as Fire & Oak in Montvale, New Jersey, only offer free bread to customers who request it.

“The menu that we designed has burgers and sandwiches on the dinner menu and the trend when we opened was in general a lot of people having burgers for dinner, so at the same time with wasting food and people going more green and all those things coming together, we decided to only make it available on request, and it’s stated on the menu,” owner Joshua Dorras told ABC News. “We didn’t know what the reaction would be when we first opened, but it’s always been fine.”

Dorras has owned several restaurants over the years, and estimates thousands of dollars wasted on untouched bread.

“It was always a shame even when we used to do it automatically. You just keep throwing bread away, and it always seemed sad to throw that food away,” he said. “I’m sure if you added it up over the year and counted every piece of bead that you threw away, it would be thousands of dollars. It’s kind of like garnishing a plate with something you’re going to throw away every time. What’s the point?”

The trend has gotten so large that New York Times food critic Pete Wells penned an entire opinion editorial on the topic.

“When restaurants withhold bread, they can make us feel like children who can’t be trusted or guests who have overstayed their welcome,” he wrote. “It’s one of those times when we can see the sharp teeth of profit hiding behind the smile of hospitality. Never mind that a slice or two of bread can smooth out the restless, angry edge of hunger; the restaurant industry has decided that giving us bread when we first sit down means a lower check total. We know that’s what they’re thinking, too, just as we know that when they charge for bread they’ve stopped seeing this simple civility as a way to make us happy and started seeing it as a line item.”

It’s a fine line that Thorn acknowledges can be tricky to toe.

“I think restaurants have to be careful when they’re doing it, because if customers feel they are being nickel and dimed, they’ll really resent that. They’ll take it out on the server when they decide how much to tip and they also aren’t going to come back to their restaurant,” he cautioned. “You need to do the math to see if the amount of money you make is worth alienating customers. And customers have to decide if they really want to eat the bread.”

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Scots Head to the Polls Thursday to Vote on Independence


iStock/Thinkstock(EDINBURGH, Scotland) -- The people of Scotland are heading to the polls Thursday to vote on an historic referendum on whether to secede from the United Kingdom. The polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and will remain open until 10 p.m. local.

A vote to break away would grant Scotland independence for the first time in over 300 years and separate it from the rest of Great Britain, which also includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Various opinion polls show a slight majority favoring maintaining the status quo, but after allowing for margins of error, it’s pretty much too close to call.

The voter turnout is heavy already.  As of Wednesday, 98 percent of eligible voters had registered.

It's a very different kind of election than what would take place in the United States. There is no exit polling or last minute campaigning, just people lining up at the polls and then counting the ballots. It's expected, given how close this vote seems, that people will not know the results of this referendum until Friday morning breakfast time in Scotland.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scotsman, seemed almost overcome with emotion Wednesday as he summoned the ghosts of the United Kingdom's war dead down through the centuries, "Scotsmen, Welshmen, Englishmen and Irishmen lying side by side."

"We who vote 'no' love Scotland," Brown said.

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, supports a "yes" vote for independence. "This is our opportunity of a lifetime and we must seize it with both hands," Salmond said.

At the heart of the debate for separation from London is a bitter dissatisfaction among many Scots with a trend in the United Kingdom towards a more market-based conservatism than people in Scotland want.

Scots have come to see themselves as more European, more socially democratic, and less reflexively pro-American in foreign policy than the establishment that governs them from London.

President Obama weighed in on the referendum on Twitter.  The president tweeted, “The UK is an extraordinary partner for America and a force for good in an unstable world. I hope it remains strong, robust and united. -bo"


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WATCH: Harrowing Moments When a School Bus Crashed into Georgia Home


iStock/Thinkstock(CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga.) -- Newly-released video shows the harrowing moments when a school bus crashed into a Georgia home.

The accident happened Monday in Clayton County, in the central part of the state.

The video shows a red car crossing the center lane, causing the bus to swerve. The bus plowed into a mailbox, a bush and through the home’s driveway, into the building.

The windshield shattered in the crash, and the driver can be heard, distraught.

Somehow, the driver and home’s residents escaped serious injury. No passengers were on the bus.


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Sharks Sign Braun to 5-Year Extension


Len Redkoles/ NHLI via Getty Images(SAN JOSE, Calif.) -- Defenseman Justin Braun signed a five-year, $19 million extension with the San Jose Sharks Wednesday that will keep the 27-year-old with the team through the 2019-20 season.

"Justin has emerged as one of our most well-rounded and dependable defensemen," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "He's an excellent skater who excels in matching up against the opponent's top players on a nightly basis and fits in well with our core group of younger players. We feel Justin has just scratched the surface of his talent and we are excited to have him under contract for the next six seasons."

Braun played in all 82 games for the Sharks last season and set career highs in goals (4), assists (13) and points (17).

Braun was selected with the 201st overall pick by the Sharks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He has played his entire career with the organization.

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Artificial Sweeteners May Increase Blood Sugar Risks


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(REHOVOT, Israel) -- Many people use artificial sweeteners to avoid sugar and the increased risk of type 2 diabetes that comes with too much of the natural stuff, but new research shows the fake substitutes may be equally bad.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Nature, researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharine may lead to type 2 diabetes just like eating sugar does.

The researchers say the millions of microbes, largely bacteria, in your digestive system may be the reason.

In a number of experiments in people and lab mice, researchers observed the interaction between gut microbes and the consumption of the sweeteners.

Some of the human participants and mice experienced a two- to fourfold increase in blood sugars after consuming artificial sweeteners for a brief time.

Medical experts agree that high blood sugar levels can eventually lead to diabetes.

The researchers cautioned that the study needs to be repeated before they can properly determine if artificial sweeteners can actually increase the risk of developing diabetes.

"I think this issue is far from being resolved," says Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science.


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Movie Review: “The Maze Runner” (Rated PG-13)


Fox(NEW YORK) -- Welcome to the weekly post-apocalyptic dystopian young-adult novel film adaptation review! Featured in this edition: The Maze Runner, a movie and story that finds its roots in Lord of the Flies, Peter Pan, and the more contemporary belief that we’re all screwed.
 
The Maze Runner starts out by teasing us, immediately throwing us into the action as we witness a tattered young man (Dylan O’Brien, MTV’s Teen Wolf) struggling to find a way out of a large, gated elevator ascending an industrial-type elevator shaft. It’s intense, claustrophobic and intriguing. When he gets to the top, a hatch opens and he’s greeted by a multi-ethnic group of other young men, who help him from the elevator, whereupon he immediately runs -- and falls.
 
Turns out, this young man has no idea who he is (his name is Thomas, he soon learns) or what he’s doing in this place, which is called the Glade: part forest, part jungle, surrounded by four thick concrete walls and with only one large opening that leads to a complex, ever-shifting maze -- a door that opens in the morning and closes at night.  That maze may, or may not, be the only way out of the Glade, but it’s full of Grievers -- giant, spider-like creatures that sting their prey.  Even with the danger, a few select young men explore and map the maze. They’re called runners, quite a few of whom went into the maze and never came back.
 
Other than his name, Thomas may not remember exactly who he is, but his motivation to leave the Glade and find out who put him there is strong enough to compel him to run into the maze with little thought or fear.  That courage earns him a place with the runners.  But can he find a way out?
 
The dizzying introduction to this particular world is unexpectedly fantastic. After that, however, it takes a while for The Maze Runner to build the momentum needed to get back to that emotional level.  That said, while The Maze Runner isn’t going to make anyone forget The Hunger Games, it’s a well-executed story, and fine performances from O’Brien, Will Poulter as a tough-guy Glade elder, and Ameen Aml as the Glade leader, give it considerable gravitas that, in the end, helps pack that emotional punch.
 
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

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GAO: Healthcare.gov Security, Privacy Weaknesses Still Exist


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- An audit released by the Government Accountability Office on Wednesday says that some privacy and security flaws that existed when Healthcare.gov was launched still remain months later.

The GAO noted that many systems and entities must exchange information in order for users to optimally utilize Healthcare.gov to compare, select and enroll in private health insurance plans. When the website launched, it was notably full of security holes, glitches and errors that complicated users' efforts to sign up for health insurance.

In Capitol Hill testimony about the myriad problems with the site back in November, ABC News reported that "white hat hacker" David Kennedy highlighted for Congress that the beleaguered website, which cost hundreds of millions to launch, had critical flaws and exposures, "that hackers could use to extract sensitive information." Kennedy said at the time, "Just by looking at the website, we can see that there is just fundamental security principles that are not being followed," before physically demonstrating how easy Healthcare.gov was to hack. "We can actually...monitor [a user's] webcam, listen to their microphone, steal passwords...Anything that they do on their computer we now have full access to.," Kennedy advised.

In Wednesday's audit, the GAO notes that while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have, "taken steps to protect the security and privacy of data processed and maintained by the complex set of systems and interconnections that support Healthcare.gov, weaknesses remain."

CMS, the GAO says, "did not and has not yet ensured a shared understanding of how security was implemented for the federal healthcare marketplace" among each entity involved. Until the CMS addresses the existing weaknesses, the GAO warns, "unnecessary risks remain of unauthorized access, disclosure, or modification of the information" users may input.

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