This is a delightful book that will broaden horizons to people uninitiated to the economic way of thinking. Cowen’s fans will enjoy it too — although some of the arguments will be second nature to followers of his blog, MarginalRevolution.com.
But haven’t food snobbism and celebrity chefs played a role in improving tastes on both sides of the Atlantic? Even if one saw haute cuisine as a status competition, it could still be socially beneficial. After all, obesity rates are the lowest among wealthy professionals, who are the most likely to compete for status in this way.
The book’s key piece of practical advice is that our lives can be much improved by a stronger focus on ethnic food. America’s — and arguably also Britain’s — comparative advantage does not lie in fine produce or meat, or in their terroirs. Rather, it lies in the diverse stock of immigrant human capital.
As a rule of thumb, it is a mistake to seek cuisines that are ‘fresh-ingredients intensive’ (Japanese, Italian or French). Instead, you’ll do better to focus on food requiring a lot of labour and savoir faire, and ingredients and spices that travel well. In the States, that means Sichuan, Pakistani or Korean food.
“Going ethnic,” by Dalibor Rohac, Spectator Book Club, March 31, 2012