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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 ;)
An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies is more of the same but with a more food focused approach. Cowen teaches that understanding the principles of supply and demand will help a consumer understand the foods he buys, makes and eat better, not only through an understanding of their history, economics and science, but also just in the simple matter of pleasure and enjoyment. After all, one of the joys of being an adventuresome eater is to live your life as well as possible. And, you have at least three times a day to practice that skill set; it pays to do it as well as possible.
The book is filled with controversial subjects, often positions that put my teeth on edge, but always positions that challenge my thinking and prejudices, even if I end up in the same place. For example, he argues that bad laws and regulations have helped to make food more mediocre over time. Certainly Prohibition had an enormous impact, not only on wine, but on foods that were grown or served with wine -- and to an extent I can see that impact still resides.
But, at the same time, there is little doubt that our food sources are safer than they might have been without Federal regulation, and one cannot ignore the horrors of industrial produced eggs, not only to the hens that live in miserable conditions, but also in the quality and healthiness of the eggs themselves. There are more than enough villians among bad laws, capitalism and excessive choice, especially choices driven by children who get their learnings from television at a very impressionable age -- and when they can most influence their parents.
Locavores, Slow Food, environmentalists, genetically modified foods, others, all fit in his gun sights for better or for worse. I am sure that the bloggers and foodies will have a wonderful time either defending or attacking many of Cowen's positions, online, in the kitchen, over the dining room table.
"Eat Locally": not so smart in a desert or perhaps where it is necessary to pay high storage costs; better and sounder to import foods to many areas -- essential in the large cities.
Insist on humane treatment for food and meat producing animals? -- More expensive and more regulation, but perhaps defensible.
Cowen's book is filled with these issues, always well presented, sometimes well argued, sometimes not so much. But well worth considering. I certainly will.
Robert C. Ross
It also really makes you want to eat good, traditional barbecue.
Really worth a read.