Fun with Food

Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution deserves all the praise his blog receives.  Somehow in the space of a paragraph or two he manages to convey something of substance about a whole range of issues. His links are always interesting.  Those familiar with his blog know that he loves food, and his recent book, An Economist Gets Lunch has generated a lot praise, again deservedly so.

The book is enormous, anecdotal fun, filled with good stories, good advice, and counter-intuitive thinking.  Without spoiling everything, some of my favorites were:

  • The best barbecue is always in rural areas, but the best of all is in central Mexico, because of their tradition of pottery making.
  • The best French dining experience is to be found in Japan, where the service will be much better, and the food cheaper, then in France.  If nothing else, Japanese do brilliant copy work, so the recipes will be exactly what they would be in France.
  • When dining expensively, order what seems least appetizing to you.  It must be good, while the roast chicken probably is nothing special.
  • If you are a real foodie yourself, don’t look for a restaurant where people are smiling, talking, etc.   Look for a place where people are silent, serious about what they are eating.  It’s a real bonus if you find people arguing with each other or the wait staff.  It shows that they are regulars, comfortable with the place.  By all means enter, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Many more such tidbits exist, all of them intriguing in their own way, such as why you should look for Thai food inside of hotels, or why you should avoid dining establishments in strip malls that have a Target or Wall-Mart.

Cowen also has some “serious” chapters on more substantive policy matters like agribusinesses and genetically modified foods.  I found myself agreeing with him about these areas, but did not like them in this book.  He shoots for too much, the styles don’t mix.  To really convince us that agribusiness is actually better overall for the environment than “locally grown” (a proposition I’m certainly willing to entertain) he needs to cite more statistics, studies, and so on.  But if he did this, it would alter the tone of the rest of the book.  His section on why genetically modified foods not only pose no threat, but can benefit us greatly, persuades, but to really hit a home run he would need to do more.

Though the text bogs down in these “heavier” parts, at least they serve as a good introduction to the issues.  Cowen stays full of surprises throughout.  For example, he advocates lower tax rates on corporations, which you would expect from a libertarian leaning economist.  But, surprise, surprise, he also  urges a “carbon-tax” on corporations as well.   It’s twists and turns like this that will keep you reading An Economist Gets Lunch.