As an almost Economist (will be official after this semester), I have a keen interest in seeing what professional economists have to say about things. When I found one who encompasses both my passion for food and economics, I was ecstatic! Introducing Tyler Cowen, an American Economist and author of my most recent read ‘An Economist Gets Lunch’.
Cowen’s book serves as a guide for everyday foodies and emphasises the importance of minimising costs but still maximising utility. In English, how to get good food cheap.
I was completely engaged throughout the entire duration of reading this book. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Cowen’s one month shopping experience at an Asian supermarket (absolute goldmines in my eyes). Cowen also has the travel bug (like me) and so he ventures off to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. One of the main comments made by Cowen which has received a fair bit of criticism from external sources:
Unless you are spending a lot of money, Paris is the worst place to eat in all of France
As someone who has ventured to Paris, I agreed that the food was very expensive. However, I stayed in the Latin quarter of Paris and found unique, almost boutique style restaurants which served up traditional French at a very reasonable price. Cowen emphasises that if you are to find good food in cities overpopulated with tourists, you are best to venture to the outskirts. His economic justification for this is that the rents on the more suburban restaurants are cheaper therefore more money can be spent on investing in quality produce. I am in complete agreement with this.
I also especially enjoyed his discussion about methods of eating to help out the environment. One special mention is that he proposes that individuals give up refined sugar! For obvious reasons including that it isn’t exactly healthy but also due to the extensive costs involved in producing it. Markets shift in order to cater for supply and demand. The changing attitudes of individuals have a huge impact on the market as a whole and also contributing to this is the surge in food promotion via social media (particularly the preaching of natural, wholesome foods).In summary, processed foods = costly so try avoid it as much as possible to reap all the benefits. Yay!
So this was just a snippet from the book as I don’t want to give it all away. Cowen has successfully encompassed my two passions and has inspired me for my future travels later this year to delve into the unknown and discover the hidden gems that Europe has to offer. Even though before I choose a restaurant, I will have to perform a full economic analysis in terms of location, menu selection and the ambience before I make a decision, the long run investment will be worth it as I continue my food mission of finding cheap, good quality food.
Just one more memorable quote from Cowen in relation to restaurant dining:
If it sounds bad, it probably tastes especially good
Let’s be honest, majority of us are turned off by weird and wacky sounding dishes. I am becoming more accustomed to the philosophy of ‘not knowing until I try it’ both in the food world and life in general. If anything, Cowen has now inspired me to further explore the unknown and continue on my inspiring food journey.