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
    Paperback:
    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

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Here I Am
    Here I Am
    by Jonathan Safran Foer
    With almost all the accoutrements of upper middle-class suburban life, Julia and Jacob Bloch fit the...
  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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.

 
X

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.