Book Review: An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies
Tyler Cowen is an economist with an eating habit. The book jacket copy for An Economist Gets Lunch tells us that he writes the “world’s leading economic blog” as well as TylerCowensEthnicDiningGuide.com. One has to admire a man who attempts to combine his vocation and avocation with such gusto.
Unfortunately, that’s the crux of my main problem with this book: it reads like a series of blog articles about aspects of eating interspersed with chapters explaining economic factors in greater depth. This unevenness wears on the reader. To his credit, Cowen seldom descends into econo-speak, but his constant reiteration of the phrase “everyday foodie” referring to himself, and one assumes, to his readers, distracts one into wondering what the opposite might be: a special-occasion, holiday foodie? Someone who doesn’t eat every day? What?
The chapters discussing the economics of food (“How American Food Got Bad,” “Another Agricultural Revolution, Now”) are clear and blessedly jargon-free. The best example of these is the chapter explaining “Why Does Mexican Food Taste Different in Mexico?”
His subjective experience of eating around the world and at home in suburban Virginia provides amusing chapters, such as the one on the many varieties of Asian food and how to maximize the dining experience for each of them.
I found myself nodding in agreement of his description of the Great Wall, a Chinese supermarket in Fairfax County – Asian supermarkets in general have superior produce and fish to mainstream ones. And his adventures tracking down a specific restaurant in Tokyo eerily echoed the experience I had trying to find a conveyor-belt sushi joint located “behind the Akihabara station.”
It’s an enjoyable read. I learned some new things about the economics of food distribution, if not about where to get good ethnic food – but I like to think that that’s because I’m already so knowledgeable about food; it justifies my writing this blog!
Cowan, Tyler, An Economist Gets Lunch, Dutton, New York, 2012.