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Customer Review

14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mmm, mmm, good!, April 12, 2012
This review is from: An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies (Hardcover)
I would describe myself as a person very interested in food, and very disinterested in economics. Or perhaps uninformed would be the better word, but honestly, I thing I'm disinterested AND uninformed. Therefore, what a refreshing surprise that I LOVED Tyler Cowen's economist take on all things foodie!

Early on, Cowan makes several statements to let readers know what to expect from his book, things like:

"This is a book about food and eating, but it's not just a book about food and eating. Broader issues are at stake. Our attitudes about food have a lot to do with our attitudes toward life and also toward ourselves. In the eighteenth century, James Boswell defined man as `a cooking animal'--so a foodie is a person interested in playing up one of the essential features of his or her humanity."

Or:

"As a professional economist, I see food as the result of capitalist supply and demand. Whether it's the restaurant or the supermarket or the kitchen supply shop, it's hard to think of a sector that is more commercialized and more replete with entrepreneurship and innovation. It is all monetized. If we care about food, we have to care about economic reasoning. The novel idea of this book is that knowing some dry scientific economics helps make every meal count in a deeply human way and it helps you realize--counterintuitively--that a lot of the best food is cheap rather than expensive."

First, I'll take exception to the phrase "dry scientific economics." There's nothing dry or boring in the way that Cowan presents his lessons and theories. He'll state a premise, often something completely counterintuitive or just off the wall, and then explain in easy to understand terms why this is so, or why he believes it to be so. A counterintuitive example: you won't find the best food in restaurants where people appear to be laughing and having a good time. An off the wall example: you won't find the best food in restaurants populated by beautiful women. And rest assured, there is as much time dedicated to good, affordable food at home as there is to finding it in restaurants.

Mr. Cowan looks at the world through the prism of his education and the, perhaps, unique way that his mind works. He is very smart, very analytical, and makes broad connections that I can't or won't. But what makes all of his insights and observations so fascinating to me is where the two of us overlap. Namely, we both love food. We love to eat. We have adventurous palates and a love of ethnic cuisines. Also, as noted above, he gives a lot of great advice for how to get the most bang for your buck, food-wise. In his case, it's just good food and good economics, but for most of us, it's downright necessity. I already engage in some of his ways to find the best cheap eats, but I look forward to putting more of his theories to the test.

For me, another pleasure of the book is that he writes frequently about establishments near his home in the DC area. DC is my hometown, and while I haven't lived there in decades, I enjoyed the local references. Worry not if you're not a Washingtonian. Mr. Cowan is a broadly and exotically traveled man, and he also references locales from Japan to Texas to Nicaragua. (Where he described "one of the most charming Latin American towns I've seen; a kind of magical dream that you think cannot exist outside a magical realism novel, except it does." This man does not have the soul of a dry economist.) He literally covers the entire culinary world.

Cowan's ideas are fascinating. I read this book from cover to cover in no time, and I was engrossed from first page to last. Furthermore, the writing is consistently strong, though I would expect no less from a writer with Mr. Cowen's journalism background and track record in publication. I read very little non-fiction, however, and I was delighted by how this book kept me as engaged as any page-turner. This book made me think, it made me hungry, and it made me consider lifestyle changes. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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