Excerpt from An Economist Gets Lunch by Tyler Cowen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

An Economist Gets Lunch

New Rules for Everyday Foodies

by Tyler Cowen

An Economist Gets Lunch
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2012, 304 pages
    Feb 2013, 304 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Earlier food worlds were no paradise. If we go back to the middle of the nineteenth century, American consumers were suspicious of the concepts of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and milk, unless it came from their farm or a neighbor's. In practice "extremely fresh" and "spoiled" were close concepts, as even today any amateur cheese or sausage maker will attest. Back then, people did not know where "fresh" food came from or how long it had been sitting exposed to the heat and elements. There was no expiration date on the package and perhaps no package. Foods alternated between periods of extreme glut and extreme scarcity, depending on the seasons and the locale. High transport costs kept most fresh foodstuffs from most parts of the world. Most foods were local but no one was especially proud of that fact. Costs of refining and processing were almost nonexistent - sugar being one notable exception - if only because there were so few ways of usefully transforming food for broader marketing and sale, given the technologies and the economic constraints of that time.

Many foods were preserved, often using centuries-old techniques. Vegetables were pickled in salt brine and vinegar, not always the most flavorful combination. Fruits were dried, using the sun if possible. Meats and fishes were salted and smoked or stuffed into tightly sealed jars. Food poisoning was common. Making and taking care of the food involved a lot of hard work. There were some fine meals, and a lot of people felt "close to the land" - too close - but overall this was not a culinary world to envy.

By the 1920s all this had changed, at least in the United States. Canals, railroads, and later trucks lowered transportation costs - including food transportation costs - to a fraction of their former level. In this new world, riches were made from foodstuffs that lasted long enough to bear transport. Entrepreneurs therefore invested in technologies of shipping, storage, and preservation - and so began the modern world of rich and plentiful food ingredients. Americans received far more access to food than was ever the case before in the history of the world. No longer was supply limited to the pickled, the preserved, and what was grown on the family farm. Relative to wages, food was suddenly much cheaper and supply was more reliable.

Some mediocre frozen and canned foods became possible too, but don't damn commercialization for that reason. The printing press brought us both good and bad novels, but was a cultural boon nonetheless.

Appreciating agribusiness doesn't mean you have to deny the problem of fertilizer runoff, endorse government subsidies to corn syrup, or dine at McDonald's. Modern, cheap agriculture can be thought of as a platform upon which subsequent food innovation will occur. The platform needs reform, but for the most part it has fed humankind very well. If we do not understand the useful components of this platform, we will fail in finding the best and cheapest meals, and furthermore we will endanger the platform itself. Were it to collapse, famines would become ordinary.

In the meantime, we need to learn how people - right now - are using the platform for better and more humane ends. The food in Nicaragua really was wonderful and it is a testament to the creative powers of the individual, even the very poor individual. The United States however does not and cannot organize its food network in the same ways. France and Japan are different yet. So to eat well, to be environmentally friendly, or to make the right food decisions about our laws or our diets, we need a comprehensive understanding of how food markets work. We need a better understanding of how to take all the information before us and turn it into something useful.

Why Every Meal Counts

Nicaragua is an unusual environment, but my experiences there illustrate the compelling messages I hope this book will make clear.

Excerpted from An Economist Gets Lunch by Tyler Cowen. Copyright © 2012 by Tyler Cowen. Excerpted by permission of Dutton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Food Writers

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Holding Up the Universe
    Holding Up the Universe
    by Jennifer Niven
    Jennifer Niven's spectacular Holding Up the Universe has everything that I love about Young ...
  • Book Jacket: Coffin Road
    Coffin Road
    by Peter May
    From its richly atmospheric opening to its dramatic conclusion, Peter May's Coffin Road is a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Guineveres
    The Guineveres
    by Sarah Domet
    It's a human need to know one's own identity, to belong to someone, to yearn for a place ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win All the Gallant Men

All The Gallant Men

The first memoir by a USS Arizona survivor, 75 years after Pearl Harbor.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Y Eyes P

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.