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An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies Hardcover – April 12, 2012

3.5 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

An Economist Gets Lunch suffers from a good deal of sloppy diction and a casual, haphazard, all-over-the-map structural strategy. Meanwhile, Cowen's pedigree as an economist can make for an unfortunate tendency to present either obvious or loony ideas as new insights. . . . As an eater, I often found myself agreeing with Cowen's commonsensical (if fairly obvious) recommendations for eating out and shopping at grocery stores. As a would-be reformer, he is much less convincing. —Kate Christensen


"A perfect marriage of economics and food. Tyler Cowen is my newest guilty pleasure."
-Rocco DiSpirito, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Now Eat This!

"Tyler Cowen's latest book is a real treat, probably my favorite thing he's ever written. It does a fantastic job exploring the economics, culture, esthetics, and realities of food, and delivers a mountain of compelling facts. Most of all it's encouraging--not a screed, despite its occasionally serious arguments--and brings the fun back to eating. Delicious!"
-Stephen J. Dubner, author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics

"A gastronomic , economic and philosophical feast from one of the world's most creative economists. Tyler Cowen offers the thinking person's guide to American food culture, and your relationship with food will be hugely enriched by the result."
-Tim Hartford, author of The Undercover Economist and Adapt.

“A fun and informative book that environmentalists, economists, and (most of all) foodies will enjoy."
-Library Journal

"Cowen writes like your favorite wised-up food maven...a breezy, conversational style; the result is mouth-watering food for thought."
-Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Economist reveals how to find great food."
-Seattle Weekly

"Tips on eating food that's better for you, your wallet, and the environment."
-Fast Company

“Tyler Cowen explains with great authority why good food doesn't have to be expensive and why expensive food isn't inevitably good. Cowen makes an argument for affordable food that results in both economic and sensory benefits. He espouses a fascinating new discipline I couldn’t help but think of as ‘Foodienomics.’”
—Barb Stuckey, author of Taste What You’re Missing

"An Economist Gets Lunch is a mind-bending book for non-economists."
-USA Today

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (April 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525952667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525952664
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I've read 4 of Tyler Cowen's books, and this one is definitely my favorite. Much of Cowen's popular writing involves applying economic reasoning to the decisions we make in our everyday lives, and this book is no exception. Food is an especially suitable topic for this kind of approach. After all, we make decisions about what (and how) to eat multiple times every day, and Cowen encourages us to weigh these decisions so as to make every meal count. We might think of this kind of writing as having two complementary goals: (1) the stated goal of using economics to offer guidance on a particular question of interest, in this case how to eat well; and more subtly, (2) to use the problem at hand (how to eat well) to teach something about economic principles to a broader, perhaps unsuspecting audience. My verdict is that this book delivers strongly on both.

Whether you approach it as a food enthusiast looking for a new perspective on finding quality meals or as an fan of popular economics writing interested in a new application for these ideas, you'll find plenty to enjoy and learn from in this book. It's more methodical, more to the point, and less pretentious than most food writing and more fun and practical than virtually all economics writing.

Most of Cowen's advice flows directly out of the book's central mantra: "Food is a product of economic supply and demand, so try to figure out where the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative, and the demanders are informed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Two of my great interests, food writing and economics, brought together in one book seemed like a sure bet. It almost was for the first two or three chapters. George Mason economist Tyler Cowen makes it immediately clear that he isn't interested in food snobbery or pretentiousness. He just wants a good meal at a fair price. These are the two points every dining location, every food preparation method, and every discussion revolve around. Unfortunately, this rhythm neither strays far from these two points nor is clarified. Strange as it seems, Cowen works from principles to conclusions and spares or skips the data. For example in a section on raw ingredients he announces, "The American restaurants with excellent fresh ingredients -- the ones good enough to serve naked on the plate -- commonly cost fifty dollars and up for dinner." He cites a Sushi restaurant as evidence, but muddles his point as he takes you through an odyssey of caveats.

More disappointing is how Cowen fails to bring insight into the two issues he focuses on, food prices and food quality. His chapter on finding a good place to eat only meanders around old territory and common knowledge: restaurants have huge margins on booze and soda, casinos subsidize food because they make up for it by gambling, and hospitals don't have an incentive to make good food so most don't. We don't even learn much about what he means by "good" or "bad" food.

Save your money and buy something else.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'd especially recommend this book to anyone with an interest in expanding their food horizons downwards and sideways, rather than only up-up-up (in price, Michelin star ratings, social status rankings). That's not to say downwards on tastiness or interest, though, which is the point: Cowen emphasizes that he is an "everyday foodie," and while he's got strong opinions about *food,* he's not in it for the atmosphere, or at least not for nice tablecloths and obsequious waiters. More the opposite: he advises finding places where the diners look a little serious rather than glibly happy, the cooks have incentive to cook their best for you, the customers aren't glamorous, and the rent is cheap. He concentrates on "ethnic" food, with the important proviso that *all* food is ethnic food.

For the U.S., he gives a lot of attention to the creative possibilities of BBQ, one food that may be less available in authentic form in some parts of the country, but in wide-ranging profusion across a wide belt.

This book has less to offer for vegetarians, never mind vegans, than it does for people willing -- as is the author -- to eat the weird bits of meat and seafood, though he has great things to say about the greens, and the prices, at Chinese groceries. Cowen lives in Northern Virginia, and a lot of his examples reflect that. He does travel world-wide, and some of the most inspiring stories are from his low-budget eating adventures in Asia and South America, but readers in the Maryland / NoVa / D.C. area get some extra luck here.

Not everyone will like all of Cowen's rules of thumb (I think happy diners *can* be just as good a guide as angry-looking, family-fighting ones, as long as it's the food they're happy about), but they make a good starting point.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be interesting in parts, particularly in his discussion about Thai food and how to identify good restaurants. For the most part, this read like a blog, with little depth and all based on his personal observations about restaurants and food around Washington DC. Not what I was expecting.
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