An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies Hardcover – Apr 12 2012
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"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."
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.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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 ;)
I stopped, though, after this one. I found it pretentious and self-indulgent. Basically a "holier than thou" quest for food "authenticity." How Cowen needs to read Heath and Potter's "Nation of Rebels"!
However, there was one good chapter. In fact, it was so good, I read it twice: "Eating Your Way to a Greener World." Would that the entire book had been just an expansion of the thinking in that chapter!