Adam Ozimek writes:
Cowen’s history of how American food came to be so mediocre is a strong counterargument to those who look to blame the phenomenon on commercialization, capitalism, and excess of choice. In contrast to the usual narrative, Cowen tells us how bad laws have played an important role in shaping our food ecosystem for the worse over time. This includes prohibition’s negative and long lasting impact on restaurants, and the government aggressively limiting one of our greatest sources of culinary innovation: immigration. This is not to lay the blame entirely on the government. Television and a culture that panders to the desires of children have also incentivized poor culinary trends.
The book contains many other other important arguments against popular food ideas, including defenses of technology and agriculture commercialization against critiques of locavores, slow foodies, and environmentalists. For example, if you live in an area where it takes a lot of energy and resources to grow food — like the desert — the most environmentally friendly way may be to grow it somewhere else and ship it. An apple grown locally may be refrigerated for months, which consumes a lot of energy, whereas it may be both fresher and better for the environment to grow it elsewhere and ship it in from afar by boat. He also defends genetically modified crops as the likely cures to the biggest food problem we have today, which is not obesity but malnutrition.
But Cowen is not an apologist, and he doesn’t argue that we can just deregulate our way to a better food system. In fact he has many words of support for policies and values often supported by progressives.
…If there is one overarching lesson it is that looking at food through the framework of supply and demand can help you both understand our food system better, and also help you be a smarter consumer and get more out of every meal.