Business Book Review – for the Busy Business Owner
AN ECONOMIST GETS LUNCH: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, By Tyler Cowen, 293 pages. Dutton. $26.95 (Paperback) *
Details: After hearing an interview with economist and foodie, Tyler Cowen on NPR, I was excited for an opportunity to review what I was sure would be an instructive read on how to get the best value from my very limited entertainment budget. Even though I have no problem picking good restaurants in my area of Atlanta, while avoiding tourist spots and chains, I don’t know where to eat in Chicago or Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Having chewed through An Economist Gets Lunch, I’m now armed with a common sense rationale (emphasis on common) for what I’ve always known.
To be fair, An Economist Gets Lunch is not a guide to restaurants per se, nor is it a history of modern food production. At best, it’s a common sense account of how ingredients make their way around the world, why some foods are a better buy than others and how to use that information to make an informed choice wherever you are. Cowen does let the reader know that midtown Manhattan’s best buys can be found on the streets rather than the avenues. That’s because there are more streets than avenues, avenues have higher rents and more people (tourists) are on them. The rule here is: go low rent where the focus is on the food rather than the turnover. This makes good sense.
Unfortunately, by the end of Chapter 1, I was not pleased with his odd prose style and confusingly contradictory opinions. For example, in an early chapter, Cowen instructs readers to avoid dishes in the US that are “ingredients-intensive” because raw ingredients here—vegetables, butter, bread, meats, etc.— are below world standards. Instead, when ordering in the U.S., we should go for dishes with sauces and complex mixes of ingredients, i.e., “composition-intensive.” But he offers no proof that U.S. raw ingredients are below standard; instead he relies on such notions that our sardines aren’t fresh. What’s more to the point is that bread is better than it’s ever been, ditto tomatoes and other farm products, especially when locally grown and bought.
I was particularly “confused” if not offended by his random comparisons, especially when generalizing about “locovores” (people who like to eat locally sourced foods) by assuming these foodies are looking to save the environment. After setting up this false argument, he contends that local farmers damage the environment by making two-hour truck drives, comparing this to shipping bananas by boat, which is cheaper.
Of course, I was hoping to unearth some information or insight to share with our restaurant owners. These folks probably know already that restaurants rely on either high turnover or good food but rarely both. They might also know that hip people aren’t necessarily good judges of food; that small towns yield the best barbeque; and to avoid Thai restaurants with big bars and sushi because these are distractions. Restaurants that distract diners from food are not good restaurants.
I can’t recommend this book, thanks to Cowen’s naughty habit of interjecting his political opinions into every chapter. All this does is make me suspect him of self-indulgence. From what could have been, indeed, has been marketed as a guide to foodie common sense from someone who understands both taste and economics, I found too little of either expertise on the page.
What I’d still like to know is how restaurant owners work with resources and ingredients immediately to hand and with those imported items customers enjoy. How do you make economics work with a passion for the food? If nothing else, Cowen has made me think about these two, often conflicting, essentials. I may not have enjoyed this book, however it has made me think and want to discuss the issues presented.
*An Economist Gets Lunch is currently available in paperback and Kindle formats.
Amazon link for paperback print version reviewed here: http://www.amazon.com/An-Economist-Gets-Lunch-Everyday/dp/0525952667
For more information on the author’s work, visit: http://tylercowensethnicdiningguide.com/
Based on this review, would you read this book?
The author of this review was provided the book by Capital Access Network, Inc. The views expressed represent those of the author and do not reflect those of Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries. Any opinions and/or advice expressed by the author do not imply endorsement by Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries.