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An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies Hardcover – Apr 17 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (April 17 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525952667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525952664
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 3.4 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #266,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"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

About the Author

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He is a prominent blogger at marginalrevolution.com, the world’s leading economics blog. He also writes regularly for The New York Times, and has written for Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wilson Quarterly.

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Format: Hardcover
An Economist Gets Lunch

An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, by Tyler Cowen, is really two books in one. The first is about where and how to find food that is tasty and reasonably priced. The second is about solving the world’s food problems. The overall effect would be better if this book were actually broken into two slightly longer books.

In the book Whitebread Protestants, Professor Daniel Sack deals with the effects of moralism on the eating habits of Americans. In the early going of An Economist Gets Lunch, Cowen an economics professor at George Mason University, shows the same thing. In particular, how prohibition hurt American dining habits.

Cowen then goes on to apply economic principals to our dining habits. For example, ethnic restaurants in strip malls will likely produce better, cheaper food. One reason for this is lower fixed costs. In general Cowen prefers ethnic over American food, because there is likely to be more attention to the food. He suggests looking for family run ethnic restaurants, because they often employ family at lower labour costs.

Examples like these good be multiplied throughout the book. Beyond this though, Cowen does give some insight into various types of food. He devotes a whole chapter to B-B-Q. He suggests ordering the least familiar items of the menu, to give yourself a better taste experience. I will say that I’ve found most of what he says about maximizing the value of your dining experience to be true in my own life of dining out.

Of course Cowen’s ideas only work if you are a completely rational diner.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 50 reviews
37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Sort of like "Moneyball" for the food enthusiast April 12 2012
By Eric - Published on Amazon.com
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." Although this may sound like a rather professorial maxim, the spirit of the book is lighthearted and entertaining and Cowen doesn't hesitate to venture beyond economic certitudes to offer some more speculative tips ("Eat at a Thai restaurant that is attached to a motel," for example, or "The more aggressively religious the decor [in a Pakistani restaurant], the better it will be for the food"). When the book ventures into more serious territory, such as discussions of eating to reduce your environmental impact or the issues surrounding GMOs, I read Cowen as being more playfully contrarian than political or ideological. Some of his views may not accord with those of many of his readers (Cowen leans libertarian. I don't, for what it's worth), but if he intends to provoke us a bit he doesn't do so angrily or peremptorily.

Skeptical readers might look at the book's approach and find something cute or amusing in the economic reasoning, but remain dubious that Cowen's suggestions will lead to improved dining experiences. To conclude with a bit of empirical support for the Cowen method, I'll mention that I'm a resident of the Washington, DC area and have used Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide regularly for several years now. The Dining Guide has led me to a number of gems I would never have otherwise found, and I can't think of an occasion where it's led me astray either. I already owe more quality meals to Cowen than to virtually any other writer, and I suspect the rules from this latest book will leave me even deeper in his debt.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
So much potential, but ... Aug. 8 2012
By Bruce Harrington - Published on Amazon.com
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Frustratingly Disappointing April 24 2013
By Daniel Ferris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
What I tend to like about pop-culture economics books is how they look between the lines at trends, studies, statistics, etc, and unpack them in an interesting and accessible way. This book struck me as more anecdotal without any real evidence to back up any claims. For example, going to one ethnic grocery store for a month is drawn into an entire painful chapter of conclusions and commentary. Without a doubt, the author loves food and getting off the beaten path to find quality eats that may not always come from the most obvious places. But for whatever reason, he comes across as an awkward balance between Anthony Bourdain and Michael Pollan/Mark Bittman, all of whom are better writers.

The most interesting part of the book was the brief exploration of the development of food culture in the United States going back to prohibition and WWII. But it's a bit contradictory when the author claims that the best food can be found at low-scale spots around the country but at the same time the inability of fancy high-end restaurants to serve alcohol in the 1920s curbed the development of American cuisine.

Skip it.
20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A Snob Gets Lunch June 19 2012
By Evo Morales - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I admit that i was excited to read this book. It started out o.k. but I just finished the sixth chapter and I am bored out of my mind. I can't go on. Early on Mr. Cowen leaves behind his economic analysis and rambles on about how may dining experiences he has had and I start to realize - this guy is just another snobby foodie. O.K., I get it, Americans tend to favor sweetened dishes. This is, apparently, bad. Mr. Cowen, makes many assumptions about food quality and then tends to correlate these assumptions with certain, off-the-cuff economic-like theories. At one point he starts claiming that you should seek out Thai restaurants attached to motels. Yeah, I'll do that in my spare time.That's the kind of helpful stuff you will find in this book.

What annoys me about this book is that I have many questions about food that I would love to have an economist answer, but Mr. Cowen is nowhere near up to the task. For example, have you ever wondered why so many Chinese restaurants seem to use the same place mats and have the same menu and yet they appear to be independently run? And have you ever wondered why they all seem so mediocre-at-best? I mean, if any Chinese restaurant just stepped up its game a slight bit it would seem, to me at least, that it could be quite profitable. Heck, I can make better stir fry at home. O.K., I am still wondering about this because even in a chapter about Asian food Mr. Cowen does not even touch this question. Instead, he tries to impress us by discussing how you can get a mediocre Japanese meal for $100. That's right, if you care about Japanese cooking forget about it because he pretty much ignores any Japanese restaurant where you can get a meal for less than $100. Apparently, to a snob like Mr. Cowen, Japanese restaurants in middle America are not worth discussing. The problem is, I don't care about the snob appeal. I want an economic analysis of these restaurants and the choices they make.

Mr. Cowen's chapter on barbecue, while it may be interesting to a barbecue diehard, is more of a quick tour of the different regions of America. In North Carolina they like a white, vinegar sauce and in Texas they like dry rubs, and so on. And we find out that true open pit barbecues are open through lunch and not dinner because they cook all night. I suppose this is somewhat of an economic analysis but again, unless I find myself in Texas, how am I supposed to relate? Tell me something about Famous Daves. Tell me why good, authentic barbecues can't open on a mass scale? It seems that all I get out of this book is that good food, that is authentic and appealing to foodies, cannot be scaled up to a mass market because the cooks have such complex knowledge that it cannot be efficiently passed on through franchisees filled with minimum wage cooks. Oh, wait, that was my analysis. Mr. Cowen, at least through chapter 6, has not even broached the topic of wages and the economic supply and demand of hired help. If I get around to finishing the book I will update this review, but I am not sure I want to pick it up again. To be fair, some later chapters look a bit more interesting. We shall see...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Longer than necessary, not very well put together, but very good anyway Sept. 7 2012
By Diogo F - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
People are right when they say the chapters lack a backbone supporting it. I wasn't able to figure out which criteria ruled the sequence, as sometimes the subjects come out of the blue. Even though it feels better reading ideas which go on building some higher rationale, I don't see why it hurts to just read a set of random thoughts on a subject of your interest, provided they're well written and insightful, which is definitely the case.

Don't expect it to go right to the point, as the rhythm is intended to match some kind of personal report full of humor and anecdote. That is: it's at least twice the length necessary. But that can be an upside too - you may read it in a lighthearted manner and skip some unappealing sections.

Don't expect, also, it to resemble hard science in any way. It will feel like reading an hour-long set of blog posts on some pleasant and contemporaneous topics. Good read.


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