A review of Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules For Everyday Foodies.

I like Tyler Cowen a lot and his blog is pretty much my main source of interesting and intelligent news and trivia. He’s definitely a smart guy who reasons things through better than most. The only criticism I’d have with the book is that it seemed a bit disorganized. It was like Professor Cowen had a secret food blog that he never posted to the internet but instead waited until he had 250 or so pages and then put it in a book. As long as a strong coherent structure isn’t critical to you enjoying the book, you should find some things of interest if you like thinking about food.

Many of the observations in the book are very accurate. I too have traveled a lot and I’m sure I had less money to work with than the author. He mentions going to buy your own picnic in France. Been there, done that (especially in Switzerland). I too noticed that Paris has some of the best and worst food (and I can’t afford the best). I was particularly interested in Cowen’s analysis of why American food is the way it is. Things like prohibition and interstate trucking are factors I had not fully appreciated. Having travelled in Argentina, I was a little surprised that Cowen really didn’t seem to know much about it. He briefly alluded to Argentine parillas but went on at length about all other barbecue traditions. I lived in Texas, Cowen’s favorite source for barbecue, for four years and never had any grilled meat anywhere close to as good as I had in Argentina (where steak was cheaper than cat food). Cowen also mentioned some kind of spicy thing that I’d never heard of as being Argentine. I’d have to be suspicious about that since my search for chili powder in Buenos Aires was quite a grand quest which took me to a very exotic spice merchant, and then nothing I made with it could be eaten by any of the locals I fed it to.

The book feels like Cowen is just reflecting on his travels and personal experiences. In his case, that’s definitely not bad and probably worth a read, but it’s not a comprehensive and systematic treatment of anything. I enjoyed the book pretty much like I enjoy the author’s economics blog.