Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is Tyler Cowen really a "foodie"

I am completely entranced by Tyler Cowen's new book "An Economist Gets Lunch: New rules for everyday foodies." There is an audio interview, a video clip and a free chapter. I have digested all of them so far, but I'm waiting for the price to dip down before I read the whole thing.

Cowen shares his bag of tricks in finding a good, cheap meal using economic detective work. If there are five carts selling fried chicken in a small foreign village, go out and try it, as competition produces better results. Avoid restaurants that can skate by on their atmosphere and focus on the ones with lousy decor, because they must have a great product to stay in business.

He also challenges some of the major assumptions of the "foodie" movement. In an interview about the book, for example, Cowen said:

I think as individuals, people overrate the virtues of local food. Most of the energy consumption in our food system is not caused by transportation. Sometimes local food is more energy efficient. But often it’s not. The strongest case for locavorism is to eat less that’s flown on planes, and not to worry about boats.
In the first chapter under the words "Food Snobbery" he says modern foodies (and food writers and commentators) make three major hoity-toity assumptions: The best food is more expensive, modern agricultural is inherently bad and consumers can't be trusted to make good decisions when it comes to food.

This raises a good question. Cowen calls himself a foodie, but wants to distance himself from the gullible, pretentious hacks that claim a monopoly on food appreciation, why would he bother wrestling for that soiled mantle? The term "foodie" sounds childish and brain-dead, like it was coined by a slack-jawed kid who's favorite meal is paste. Let the snobs have their label.

In the same vein, I strongly support progress, but I don't try to grapple with lefties for the term "progressive." The American left stole the term "liberal" from its classic and international usage, so people like me had to take the term libertarian.

As a former food columnist with a degree in baking and pastry arts, I am part of Cowen's same brand of food enthusiasts. Truth be told, I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy food and seek to enjoy their meals on their own terms.

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