Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review of An Economist Gets Lunch by Tyler Cowen

Just read An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies by Marginal Revolution author Tyler Cowen also known as "Cheap Chalupas".

  • He says that prohibition ruined fine dining for decades in the U.S.; especially French cuisine with wine parings and wine-based sauces that were illegal, and that per capita alcohol consumption did not regain pre-prohibition levels until 1973! (According to that chart, people drank quite a bit of beer during prohibition.)
  • WWII rationing of ingredients also hurt U.S. cuisine and restaurants. This made me think about who was doing well during WWII. Probably a farmer who was able to eat his own off-the-books steaks from his herd, maybe selling expensive wheat for export and investing the proceeds in the S&P at a multiple of less than ten times trailing ten year average earnings.
  • Another thing that hurt U.S. cuisine was the trend of eating in front of the television. Don't get me started on television.
  • He says that Las Vegas casinos marketed to Japanese dumb money with very good Japanese restaurants in the 1980s the way they market to Chinese today. Country bubble indicator. 
  • Hilarious comment that Starbucks specializes in "sweet, milk based beverages," not coffee.
  • He has a theory that good BBQ ribs have spread across America, but you can only find other good cuts of BBQ (brisket) in rural places with a tradition of BBQ. You can make good BBQ ribs relatively quickly but good BBQ brisket requires hours and hours of smoking, which urban neighbors find intolerable. 
  • The editor should have trimmed the chapter about envirobabble: climate change and the carbon tax. Has nothing to do with food. 
  • Observes that crop land per capita peaked in 1930! And that many people today owe their existence to Norwegian American Norman Borlaug who invented semi-dwarf, disease-resistant varieties of wheat. Dwarf wheat has shorter, stronger stalks that could better support larger seed heads. 
  • He - correctly I think - observes that rising food and health care costs are not a sign of monetary inflation but caused by demographics.
  • Ultimately, I did like his heuristics about picking good restaurants. A place with lots of competition (Korean restaurant in Koreatown) that is marketed towards a savvy, repeat customer and not anyone interested in status displays. As an example, he says that Pakistani restaurants serve the same food as Indian, better, because "car bombs going off in Karachi" turn off unsophisticated customers who would create pressure for mediocre food. They go to Indian "world's largest democracy" restaurants instead.
Tyler Cowen probably craves ethnic food more than anyone else who has ever lived. I would have liked an explanation of how an economics professor can afford to have eaten extensively in every country in the world. 



Steve Sailer said...

"I would have liked an explanation of how an economics professor can afford to have eaten extensively in every country in the world."

I don't know. Perhaps some family money?

CP said...

Armen Alchian:Golf
Tyler Cowen:Street Food

Anonymous said...

I'd wager that in 1990, 90 percent of the Valley couldn't have identified pad Thai, sashimi, chimichurri, pupusa, biryani, aioli, risotto, pierogi, chow fun, coq au vin, paella or ceviche. A decade later, these words were part of our vocabulary.

The other boost sprang from the rising status of chefs. As recently as the 1980s, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics had classified "chef" in the same household-helper category as laundress and window washer. Outside the industry, the job had virtually no cachet.

That all changed in the 1990s. There was income to be disposed of, and people seemed determined to dispose of it at restaurants. Eating out became the new normal.

So once-anonymous, low-paid chefs turned into respected professionals, even celebrities: State-of-the-art culinary schools trained them, the James Beard Foundation awarded them and Food Network made stars out of them. And when Hollywood chef Wolfgang Puck expanded into Las Vegas in 1992, he launched a chef-as-empire-builder movement that a generation later still shows no sign of slowing down.