Food and Drink

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.

Parties that might have finished their dinner in a little over an hour instead linger for closer to two when they opt for dessert. And they stay the extra thirty minutes while consuming only a fraction of what they did during the first part of the meal. It would be different if people ordered drinks more often alongside cake, but they often don’t. It would change things if dessert wines were more popular, finer, and more expensive, but they aren’t, Cowen said.

From Roberto A. Ferdman at WaPo, there is more here.  File under “Oklahoma is different.”

I would add two points.  First, the rise of wait-in-line higher quality casual fast food penalizes dessert, because at say a Chipotle people don’t want to wait in line again for dessert.  Second, a lot of what is consumed at Starbucks and similar outlets is “dessert in everything but name” and that is proving a more popular and durable model for injecting sweets and cream into the body, perhaps because it does not need to be paired with an expensive meal and furthermore it is ever-present in most parts of the United States.

Are desserts in decline?

by on February 6, 2015 at 7:28 am in Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

I hope so.  Todd Kliman writes:

The problem is that restaurateurs are unwilling to charge more than $30 an entrée. That number has held steady for years, the Maginot Line of the industry. Forced to look elsewhere, they’ve sought to recoup their escalating expenses by aggressively targeting the start of the meal, upping the prices of appetizers and “snacks,” cocktails, and glasses of wine. At some places, you’ll pay nearly as much for a six-ounce pour of Chardonnay as you would for a plate of chicken.

The question is why so many restaurateurs have opted not to jack up the prices of dessert, too.

“It’s just not worth it,” a successful owner told me, noting that the prices of dairy have gone up by as much as 150 percent in little more than a year. High-fat butter, a necessity for gourmet baking, sells for more than $4 a pound, double what it was in the summer of 2013. “A cocktail brings in twice as much money as a dessert, and it doesn’t hold up a table at the end of the meal. You have to turn the tables.”

And the higher urban rents rise, the more tightly space is squeezed and restaurants need open tables, and thus the more restaurant desserts will decline and indeed should decline. (“the rent is too damn high and where is my dessert!?” could be the new motto).  I would be happy enough if all desserts were simply dark chocolate ice cream or gelato, consumed rapidly and perhaps at a different venue altogether.

Birmingham bleg

by on February 4, 2015 at 1:17 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Alabama, that is.  C’mon people, spill the beans, I await your wisdom as always.  Food, but not just.  I’ve never been there, I am sorry to say, and so have much to learn.

Table 1 shows that adding estimates from the literature suggests that economists have already explained 177% of the rise in average BMI.

That is from this new NBER paper, by Courtemanche, Pinkston, Ruhm, and Wehby, which seems to be one of the most careful studies to date.  They do it right and then offer some more commonsensical conclusions:

A growing literature examines the effects of economic variables on obesity, typically focusing on only one or a few factors at a time. We build a more comprehensive economic model of body weight, combining the 1990-2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System with 27 state-level variables related to general economic conditions, labor supply, and the monetary or time costs of calorie intake, physical activity, and cigarette smoking. Controlling for demographic characteristics and state and year fixed effects, changes in these economic variables collectively explain 37% of the rise in BMI, 43% of the rise in obesity, and 59% of the rise in class II/III obesity. Quantile regressions also point to large effects among the heaviest individuals, with half the rise in the 90th percentile of BMI explained by economic factors. Variables related to calorie intake – particularly restaurant and supercenter/warehouse club densities – are the primary drivers of the results.

Here is a much earlier ungated version of the paper, with differing numerical estimates, use with caution.  A few related studies you will find here.

When I visited Santa Monica in January it struck me how much it reminded me of…Arlington.  Arlington is now essentially a part of Northwest, at least Arlington above Route 50 or so.  Arlington and Santa Monica have never been more alike, or less distinctive.

Parts of east Falls Church will meld into Arlington, and south Arlington will become more like north Arlington.  Real estate prices east/north of a particular line are rising and west of that line are falling.  Fairfax is definitely west of that line.

The Tysons Corner remake will fail, Vienna is not the new Clarendon, and the Silver Line and the monstrously wide Rt.7 will form a new dividing line between parts of Virginia which resemble Santa Monica and parts which do not.

Incumbents aside, no one lives in Fairfax any more to commute into D.C.  Why would you?  The alternatives are getting better and Metro parking became too difficult some time ago.  Fairfax is not being transformed, although some parts are morphing into “the new Shirlington.”  Most of it will stay dumpy on the retail side.  Annandale will stay with Fairfax, whether it likes it or not.

For ten years now I have been predicting various Fairfax restaurants will close — casualties of too-high rents — and mostly I have been wrong.  The good Annandale restaurants are running strong too.  Annandale won’t look much better anytime soon, thank goodness for that.

“Northern Virginia” is becoming two different places, albeit slowly.

“Let’s Play Two”

by on January 24, 2015 at 11:07 am in Film, Food and Drink, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

Very sadly Ernie Banks — the baseball player for you foreigners out there — has passed away.

Oddly, I have taken to quoting him lately.  If you are going out to eat with a small group, I recommend two stops.  No, don’t eat any more food than usual, but distribute your meal across two restaurants.  Have a few appetizers in one, and then leave and move on to another.  (This is easiest to do in Eden Center, with its wide selection of small-dish Vietnamese eateries, but other methods will work.)  Of course you must sequence your meals properly, the Greek eggplant must become before the Sichuan noodles, not vice versa.

This approach will improve the conversation at your table, if only by breaking up the original seating plan.  It also makes you more aware and more appreciative of what you are eating.

If you are going out to a movie, see two.  There is a fixed cost of attending, whether in terms of the traffic, the babysitter, or simply the will to spend time away from Facebook.  “Let’s Play Two.”

I have the impression that consumers “do fewer doubleheaders” than when I was growing up, I am not sure why.  Perhaps we have grown too impatient.

Banks’s obituary described him as “an unconquerable optimist whose sunny disposition never dimmed in 19 seasons with the perennially stumbling Chicago Cubs…”

Here are other quotations from Ernie Banks.  He said “The only way to prove you are a good sport is to lose.”

1. Toilet paper is shrinking, the size of the individual sheets that is.  (That is probably the closest we will get to hyperinflation.)  Does the average American really use 46 sheets a day?  That sounds like an overstatement.

In contrast to this commodity, I usually want for food portion sizes — especially ice cream — to be downsized.

2. I say both men and women are understating their number of sexual partners.  Contrary to what is portrayed in this chart, I postulate an American male average of about four.  I do not agree with the common claim that American men will overstate their number of partners.

The pointer is via Rayman.

Here is the latest:

It was not what Derek Nash expected to find in his 5-year-old’s school bag: A bill demanding a “no-show fee” for another child’s birthday party.

Nash said the bill from another parent sought 15.95 pounds ($24.00) because his son Alex had not attended the party at a ski center in Plymouth, southwest England.

Nash told the BBC on Monday he had initially accepted the party invitation, but later realized Alex was supposed to visit his grandparents that day. He said he did not have contact details to let the other family know.

The birthday boy’s mother, Julie Lawrence, told the BBC that her contact details were on the party invitation.

Nash says Lawrence has threatened him with small claims court but he has no plans so far to pay.

The link is here.  And here is yet another account.  I thank Drew for the pointer.

From a 2007 piece by Matheny and Leahy:

Campaigns directed toward pigs and cattle, however, could have a negative welfare effect by shifting consumption to poultry and fish products, which provide significantly less food per animal life-year. In fact, removing only poultry, eggs, and farmed fish from the diets of one hundred people would affect more animals than turning ninety-nine people vegan. If it is easier for consumers to shift consumption among animal products than to eschew all animal products, then this arithmetic has implications for both welfarist and abolitionist strategies.

That is from Natalie Cargill.  And the article is informative throughout.  You will note however that when it comes to environmental impact, red meat from the larger animals is typically the much larger problem.  So which do you care about more, animal welfare or the environment?  Or are you only willing to talk about margins where both improve?  By the way:

In the United States, there are only 220 veterinarians responsible for the care of more than nine billion farm animals.

Poker markets in everything

by on January 13, 2015 at 2:23 am in Economics, Food and Drink, Games | Permalink

All-In Kitchen, which will be opening in Haggerston, London, will see diners’ success at the poker table determine how much they pay for their meal.

There is more here, via Mark Thorson.  And here are some Chinese cars with guppy tanks.