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An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies Hardcover – April 12, 2012
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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."
"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."
"Tips on eating food that's better for you, your wallet, and the environment."
“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."
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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.
Bonus, for some people, and the main attraction for others: this is a book about food by an unconventional economist, and a book about economics by a broad-thinking foodie. Not many books about food make economic history a central component; with Cowen, you're going to learn some thought-provoking bits about incentives and supply chains. Why is America good at sauces, but bad at Cantonese food? He's got stories.
My 4-star rating loses the 5th only to account for some repetition and phrasing that I just found off; also (totally unfair) because I wish this book was a bit longer. Would like to hear more about coffee (he's got an upbeat assessment of Starbucks, which I share but for different reasons), about foods of the midwest and northwest, about central and eastern Europe ...
Highly recommended. It's already inspired me to get some local Texas barbecue, which turned out to include one of the greasiest and tastiest sausages I've ever had ;)
It also really makes you want to eat good, traditional barbecue.
Really worth a read.
1. A good editor would have done a lot to make this a better book. It was filled with redundancies - the same ideas over and over, often in the same words, often within few paragraphs.
2. Not enough content to fill a book. Cowen does start to make a case for using economics as a basis for understanding why food can be good or bad in different places, but does not really develop the idea.
I would have liked to see Cowen develop his thesis more fully. Barring that, he could have produced a shorter, snappier book with much tighter prose.
But thinking and writing about food and economics he is specially insightful and brilliant.
I strongly recommend the book.