An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies

Overview

One of the most influential economists of the decade-and the New York Times bestselling author of The Great Stagnation-boldly argues that just about everything you've heard about food is wrong.

Food snobbery is killing entrepreneurship and innovation, says economist, preeminent social commentator, and maverick dining guide blogger Tyler Cowen. Americans are becoming angry that our agricultural practices have led to global warming-but while food snobs are right that local food ...

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An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies

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Overview

One of the most influential economists of the decade-and the New York Times bestselling author of The Great Stagnation-boldly argues that just about everything you've heard about food is wrong.

Food snobbery is killing entrepreneurship and innovation, says economist, preeminent social commentator, and maverick dining guide blogger Tyler Cowen. Americans are becoming angry that our agricultural practices have led to global warming-but while food snobs are right that local food tastes better, they're wrong that it is better for the environment, and they are wrong that cheap food is bad food. The food world needs to know that you don't have to spend more to eat healthy, green, exciting meals. At last, some good news from an economist!

Tyler Cowen discusses everything from slow food to fast food, from agriculture to gourmet culture, from modernist cuisine to how to pick the best street vendor. He shows why airplane food is bad but airport food is good; why restaurants full of happy, attractive people serve mediocre meals; and why American food has improved as Americans drink more wine. And most important of all, he shows how to get good, cheap eats just about anywhere.

Just as The Great Stagnation was Cowen's response to all the fashionable thinking about the economic crisis, An Economist Gets Lunch is his response to all the fashionable thinking about food. Provocative, incisive, and as enjoyable as a juicy, grass-fed burger, it will influence what you'll choose to eat today and how we're going to feed the world tomorrow.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Enlightened consumerism, not ideology, is the surest path to tasty and responsible dining, argues this yummy gastronomic treatise. Economist and restaurant critic Cowen (The Great Stagnation) takes readers along as he eats, shops, and cooks in a diversity of spicy settings, including a Nicaraguan tamale stand, the greens aisle at the Great Wall supermarket chain, backwoods barbeque pits, and his own kitchen, where he wrestles with Mexican cuisine. He focuses on how the interplay between creative suppliers and demanding customers produces good, cheap food, an approach that yields offbeat insights into, for example, why the menu item that sounds the least appetizing usually tastes great and why you should never eat in a place filled with beautiful people having a great time (that restaurant’s specialty, he reasons, is the scene, not the food). Cowen also offers a telling contrarian critique of high-minded food orthodoxies that extols agribusiness, debunks the environmental benefits of locavorism, and toasts genetically modified organisms. Cowen writes like your favorite wised-up food maven, folding encyclopedic knowledge and piquant food porn—“the pork was a little chewy but flavorful, and the achiote sauce gave it a tanginess”—into a breezy, conversational style; the result is mouth-watering food for thought. (Apr. 12)
Library Journal
Part In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and part Roadfood, this is a culinary coming-out party for Cowen (economics, George Mason Univ.), who up to now has been known for more standard economic works like The Great Stagnation. This latest book combines economic and environmental messages, all written in a highly entertaining and informative style—often with a counterintuitive twist. The real story, though, is the author and his techniques for finding and eating delicious, inexpensive food from all over the world. Thus, we get tips on how to obtain good Chinese food from local, not-so-authentic places; which strip malls are likely to have the best restaurants (who knew they were in strip malls to begin with?); using Google to turn up unexpected restaurant gems; and why places filled with fun, laughing, drinking people often don't have good food. An entire chapter is devoted to barbecue, and another provides specific suggestions for eating well in numerous countries. VERDICT A fun and informative book that environmentalists, economists, and (most of all) foodies will enjoy. Recommended for all. [See Prepub Alert, 10/7/11.]—Susan Hurst, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
Kirkus Reviews
Food and economics meet in this entertainment by celebrity economist Cowen (The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, 2010, etc.). A celebrity economist? Yes, for Cowen is widely hailed for his smarter-than-freakonomics, libertarian-inclined economics blog Marginal Revolution on one hand and his D.C.-centric blog Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide on the other. Here he blends the best of both those worlds. If you've heard of the free-rider problem in economics, where leeches benefit from the productivity of others, then here's a twist: "the wealthy and the myopic are the friend and supporter of the non-drinking gourmand." In other words, the knowing customer may well choose to avoid drinking anything other than water, knowing both that the markup on alcohol and soda is astronomical and that those who buy such things effectively lower the tariff on the price of a meal, where the margins are slimmer. In economic terms, this "price discrimination" favors the teetotaler, and with nary a hint of moralizing. Cowen stops short of formulas and equations, but there's plenty of hard, old-fashioned economic thinking in these pages--e.g., the power of immigration to improve cuisine and the bewildering array of food choices we have today as one of the blessings of free-market capitalism. Cowen is also prepared to go into the fray as a mild-mannered version of Anthony Bourdain. He writes that one shouldn't Google "Best restaurants Washington" but instead "Washington best cauliflower dish" if one wants to escape the awfully ordinary, and he counsels that the best barbecue is to be found in small towns in joints that open and close early. The narrative gets a touch repetitive at points, but if you're a foodie with a calculator, this is your book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452298842
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/26/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 406,743
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He is a prominent blogger at marginalrevolution.com, the world’s leading economics blog. He also writes regularly for The New York Times, and has written for Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wilson Quarterly.

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Table of Contents

1 On the Eve of the Revolution 1

2 How American Food Got Bad 17

3 Revolutionizing the Supermarket Experience 39

4 The Rules for Finding a Good Place to Eat 57

5 Barbecue: The Greatest Slow Food of All 85

6 The Asian Elephant in the Room 113

7 Another Agricultural Revolution, Now 141

8 Eating Your Way to a Greener Planet 167

9 Why Does Mexican Food Taste Different in Mexico? 187

10 The Finding Great Food Anywhere Encyclopedia 211

11 The Stuff and Values of Cooking at Home 243

Notes 261

Acknowledgments 277

Index 279

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