Food and Drink

I may not follow any of your suggestions, but just thought I should ask for advice, for my dialogue with Peter next week.  I am the interviewer, he is the interviewee, more or less.  #CowenThiel

One of the most remarkable discoveries of economics is that under the right conditions competitive markets allocate production across firms in just that way that minimizes the total costs of production. (You can find a discussion of this remarkable property in Modern Principles. See also this MRU video.)

One of the necessary conditions for this result is that firms must face the same input and output prices. If one firm is subsidized and another taxed, for example, then resources will be misallocated and total costs will increase. In a pioneering paper, Klenow and Hsieh measure misallocation across firms in China, India and the United States and they find that micro misallocations can have large, macroeconomic effects. In particular, if capital and labor were allocated as well in China and India as they are in the United States then output in those countries would double.

We can get some intuition for the costs of resource misallocation by looking at water in California. As you may have noticed at the grocery store, almonds are in demand right now whether raw or in almond milk. Asian demand for almonds is also up. As a result, in the last 10 years almond production in California has doubled. That’s great, except for the fact that almond production uses a huge amount of water and water in CA is severely mispriced and thus misallocated.

In my previous post, I pointed out that agriculture uses 80% of the water in California but accounts for less than 2% of the economy. So how much water does almond production alone use? More water is used in almond production than is used by all the residents and businesses of San Francisco and Los Angeles combined. Here’s a chart from Mother Jones:

(Aside: Some of this water is naturally recycled so net use is likely somewhat lower but a lot of water in California is now being pumped from the aquifer and that water isn’t being replenished.)

At the same time as farmers are watering their almonds, San Diego is investing in an energy-intensive billion-dollar desalination plant which will produce water at a much higher cost than the price the farmer are paying.  That is a massive and costly misallocation of water.

In short, we are spending thousands of dollars worth of water to grow hundreds of dollars worth of almonds and that is truly nuts.

Hat tip: Walter Olson.

When Medolac Laboratories, a competitor of Prolacta, said last year that it wanted to buy milk from women in Detroit, it was accused of profiting at the expense of black women.

“We are deeply concerned that women will be coerced into diverting milk that they would otherwise feed their own babies,” the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association wrote in an open letter in January. Medolac, which said it was working with the Clinton Foundation and wanted to encourage breast-feeding by making it financially attractive, abandoned its plan.

The article, by Andrew Pollack, is interesting throughout. And here is Wikipedia on the history of wet nurses.

For the pointer I thank Pam R.

The article is here, by Lauren Pelley, here is one excerpt:

“It’s great news to hear,” echoed Ganesan Sugumar, CEO and director of Saravanaa Bhavan Canada, an Indian vegetarian restaurant chain. (Cowen’s tour group visited the location near McCowan Rd. and Finch Ave. East.)

“This is honestly the best cuisine, I could say, in Canada,” Sugumar added. “We have so many ethnic restaurants.”

The article also has a useful map of all the places we visited.  My original blog post was here.

It’s been a longstanding fear of travelers (or travelers like myself, at least) that global conglomerates like McDonald’s or TGI Friday’s might use the bludgeon of the Big Mac or the bluster of Flair to wipe out everything unique, provincial and good. But what struck me on this trip, not having seen BA for a decade and thus being more sensitive to what had changed, was how a different kind of sameness was permeating Porteño restaurant and bar culture—much more indie and elevated, but just as insidious.

The main argument is that when asking for food tips, you need to consider the age of the responder very carefully, and in many cases you should favor the older recommenders, up to some limit of course.  The full article is here, hat tip goes to Yana.

Wednesday night I was taken on a restaurant tour of Scarborough — four different places — plus rolls from a Sri Lankan locale, consumed in the office of the Dean of UT Scarborough and with the assistance of Peter Loewen.

After that eating, and lots of driving around and looking, I concluded Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude.  I hope you all have the chance to visit Scarborough, Ontario.

If you are wondering where I went, that is beside the point.

You will find it here on my home page, scroll way down.  You should note it is more or less a copy of the blog version of the dining guide and does not contain new information if you have been following the blog.  Among the new and exciting places are Saudi food, Nanjing-style Chinese food, and I hear Peter Chang is opening his new Arlington place this coming Saturday.

Lars P. Feld, Sarah Necker, and Bruno S. Frey have done some new research on this question, I would say this is good news for us, and bad news for many of you, though apparently you are clawing back some of what you gave to us:

We study the importance of economists’ professional situation toward their life satisfaction based on a unique survey of mostly academic economists. On average, economists report to be highly happy with life. Satisfaction is positively related to spending more time on doing research. The lack of a tenured position decreases satisfaction. However, the extent to which the uncertainty created by the tenure system affects satisfaction varies with the contract terms. The effect is stronger if the contract expires in the near future or cannot be extended. Publication success has no effect if it is controlled for academic rank and the contract duration. The finding suggests that publications are rather a means to an end, e.g., to acquire a tenured position. While the perceived level of external pressure also has no impact, the perceived change of pressure in recent years is positively related to economists’ life satisfaction. An explanation is that economists have accepted a high level of pressure when entering academia but are not willing to cope with the recent increase.

The SSRN link is here, via

That is a new paper (pdf) by Xianchi Dai and Ayelet Fishbach,the abstract is here:

The proposed model suggests that desire depends on the length of nonconsumption of a good and the presence of salient alternatives, and that desire is at least partially constructed. In the absence of salient alternatives, a longer nonconsumption period results in stronger desire for the unconsumed good. However, in the presence of salient alternatives, individuals infer that they have developed new tastes, and thus a longer nonconsumption period results in a weaker desire for the unconsumed good. Five studies support this model across nonconsumption of various  goods: food from home when attending college (study 1); chametz food during the Passover holiday (study 2); social media (i.e., abstaining from Facebook; study 3); and cultural foods (i.e., forgoing Japanese food, study 4; and Thai food, study 5). We discuss implications of our findings for when and how the experience of desire is constructed and situationally determined.

Ms Schneider reckons that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs.

That is from The Economist, via Scott Sumner, whose post is of interest more generally on numerous matters.  Scott also cites The Economist for telling us that in China smaller cities are more densely populated than larger cities.

Stone Age Britons imported wheat about 8,000 years ago in a surprising sign of sophistication for primitive hunter-gatherers long viewed as isolated from European agriculture, a study showed on Thursday.

British scientists found traces of wheat DNA in a Stone Age site off the south coast of England near the Isle of Wight, giving an unexpected sign of contact between ancient hunter-gatherers and farmers who eventually replaced them.

The wheat DNA was dated to 8,000 years ago, 2,000 years before Stone Age people in mainland Britain started growing cereals and 400 years before farming reached what is now northern Germany or France, they wrote in the journal Science.

“We were surprised to find wheat,” co-author Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick told Reuters of finds at Bouldnor Cliff.

“This is a smoking gun of cultural interaction,” between primitive hunter-gatherers in Britain and farmers in Europe, he said of the findings in the journal Science.

The find of wheat “will make us re-evaluate the relationships between farmers and hunter-gatherers,” he told Reuters.

There is more here, and the original research is here.  As I’ve said in the past, believing that early trade and globalization were more extensive than is usually believed is one of my “crank views.”

As families around China prepare for Lunar New Year celebrations next week, shoppers in one southeastern city can add another delicacy to their shopping list: “patriotic fish.”

Photos of shoppers in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province, thronging around cases of frozen fish and sea urchins circulated in China on Wednesday. This was no ordinary seafood, however. It was from Mischief Reef, which has been controlled by China since 1994 but is part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“You can steam it, make soup, braise, slice or fry it — it’s all possible!” Lin Zailiang, 82, a former government official who heads the fish-farming program, told the gathered shoppers. Behind him, a blue billboard advertised the products as “South China Sea ‘Patriotic Fish’ — the Third Season.” The entire 8,300 pounds of seafood sold out in two hours, according to the state-run China News Service.

But Mr. Lin, white-haired and wearing a garland of orchids around his neck, also made it clear that the program was about more than just providing delicacies for the table.

Cultivating fish at Mischief Reef, called Meiji Reef by the Chinese, is equivalent to “safeguarding national sovereignty,” Mr. Lin was quoted as saying. “Because once there are residents there — us — it becomes our territory, according to international ocean law.”

There is more here.

I have seen this future in the eighth-floor apartment of Lee Chang-hyun in Seoul (pictured at work, above). At around midnight, he goes online with a couple of friends and performs his meal, spicy raw squid one day, crab the next. “Perform” is the right word. He is extravagant in his gestures, flaunting the food to his computer camera to tantalise the viewers. He eats noisily and that’s part of the show. He’s invested in a good microphone to capture the full crunch and slurp.

This is not a private affair. Some 10,000 people watch him eating per day, he says. They send a constant stream of messages to his computer and he responds verbally (by talking) and orally (by eating, very visibly and noisily).

If the audience like the performance, they allocate him what are called “star balloons” and each of these means a payment to him and to the internet television channel on which he performs. He is coy about how much he earns but the BBC has estimated, by noting the number of star balloons on his screen, that it would run into several hundred dollars for a two-hour stint.

The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank Claire Hill.

Montgomery, Alabama bleg

by on February 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm in Education, Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Natasha and I will be there too, not just Birmingham, your suggestions would be most appreciated, thanks!

Dave asked me if there was some way to bypass a bum sensor while waiting for the repairman to show up. But fixing Dave’s sensor problem required fiddling around in the tractor’s highly proprietary computer system—the tractor’s engine control unit (tECU): the brains behind the agricultural beast.

One hour later, I hopped back out of the cab of the tractor. Defeated. I was unable to breach the wall of proprietary defenses that protected the tECU like a fortress. I couldn’t even connect to the computer. Because John Deere says I can’t.

There is more here, interesting throughout, mostly about how farmers are no longer able to fix their own tractors, which by the way may cost $100,000 or more. This part is interesting too (“model this“):

There’s a thriving grey-market for diagnostic equipment and proprietary connectors. Some farmers have even managed to get their hands on the software they need to re-calibrate and repair equipment on their own—a laptop purchased from some nameless friend-of-a-friend with the software already loaded on it. There are even ways to get around the factory passwords that block access to the tECU to effect repairs.

But under modern copyright laws, that kind of “repairing” is legally questionable.

Manufacturers have every legal right to put a password or an encryption over the tECU. Owners, on the other hand, don’t have the legal right to break the digital lock over their own equipment. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act—a 1998 copyright law designed to prevent digital piracy—classifies breaking a technological protection measure over a device’s programming as a breach of copyright. So, it’s entirely possible that changing the engine timing on his own tractor makes a farmer a criminal.

In response, there is now a community of farmers looking to encourage “open source tractors.”

If this doesn’t concern you, I can assure you that in South Korea things are even worse.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Mark Thorson.