Food and Drink

A café in New York has found a way around this whole awkward dance: customers pay by the minute, rather than the cup.

The Glass Hour Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn feels more like somebody’s living room than a coffee shop. Walking around, you see a couch, some bean bag chairs. What you won’t see at Glass Hour: a kitchen or even a cappuccino machine. You serve yourself from a simple drip coffee pot. The food? A few humble granola bars and chocolates.

The owners, who opened it in August, call it an anti-café. Instead of shelling out for food and drink, customers pay for the time they spend — 10 cents a minute or $6 an hour. Which means no one will judge you for sitting here all day long.

Pay-as-you-go cafés are new to the U.S., but there are dozens in Europe, mostly in Russia. Glass Hour’s Zlata Koshlina and her cofounders are Russian immigrants and got the idea for their cafe from a Ziferblat café in Moscow.

Here is more, via Air Genius Gary Leff.  But why Russia?  Is it because there is a closer association between higher income and higher status in Russia, and thus charging an explicit price for time does not bring a negative clientele composition effect?

It seems quite a few of the poor, when they get some extra money, want to keep on buying refined sugar.  Or in other words, it takes quite a bit of income (or is it education?) to “elevate taste.”  Here is the job market paper by Olga Kozlova of Duke University:

This paper explores how the low-income households change the quality of their food basket when they experience a budget increase. I use the variation in the monthly household budget coming from the exogenous variation in the winter temperature that directly affects the heating bills. I show that in response to a higher budget available the expenditure share on healthy food does not increase. I find that households increase the share of expenditure on fruits, but they purchase fruit products with a higher amount of sugar. My findings suggest that there are important trade-offs in policies that subsidize food expenditure because these policies allow low-income households to purchase more of the healthy as well as the unhealthy food products.

Also on the job market, from Northwestern, here is Mara P. Squicciarini, whose job market paper argues that Catholic education held back economic growth in 19th century France.  She also co-edited a book The Economics of Chocolate.

Whether you admit it or not, you have much to be thankful for.  For one thing, agricultural productivity is higher today than ever before…

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Here is the link to video, podcast, and transcript.  The Q&A segment was led by guests Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Mark Miller (Coyote Cafe), and Eva Summer.  Fuchsia speaks in perfect British sentences and she always had an answer ready, with charm and extreme intelligence.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Three dishes one absolutely has to try are what?

DUNLOP: In Shanghai?

COWEN: In Shanghai. The city, not the region.

DUNLOP: I think you should have hong shao rou, red braised pork. Real home cooking. Delicious combination of soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar, and one of the favorite dishes.

I would recommend some Shanghainese wontons in soup stuffed with shepherd’s purse, which is a wild variety of the brassicas, and pork, just to show you the lighter, gentler side of Shanghainese cooking.

Then, perhaps, if we’re talking Shanghai, you might one to have one of these dishes that says something about Shanghai as being a mixing pot of different cultures.

There’s a very nice crab meat and potato and tomato soup served in some of my favorite Shanghainese restaurants. Which seems a little bit of a fusion with some European influences, the way they use potato and tomato in that soup with local seafood.

COWEN: As you know, the Michelin Guide recently has covered Shanghai, given some restaurants three, two, one star. There’s cheap places you can go. Conceptually, do they understand the food of Shanghai? To the extent they don’t, what are they missing?

DUNLOP: If you look at the restaurants they’ve selected, there’s a bit of a Cantonese bias. They do have some Shanghainese restaurants, but one thing that’s very conspicuous, there are some notable, some of the best Shanghainese local restaurants, which are missing from that list, in my opinion.

The reason is, I think, the methodology of Western food inspectors, which is they tend to go as individuals or small groups. Of course in many Chinese restaurants where you eat family style, to make the most of the restaurant, you have to eat as we’re doing now with a large group and a table full of dishes.

We cover much more, including her favorite parts of China, whether offal is an inferior good, whether one can acquire a taste for sea cucumber, what she thinks of Leonard Cohen, Dream of the Red Chamber, how newbies should approach Chinese food, what top Sichuan chefs thought of their trip to French Laundry, whether milk is overrated, whether Americans have done anything worthwhile with Chinese food, and her favorite Chinese movie.

Here is a short video excerpt from the Sichuan peppercorn tasting segment, namely what makes the very best peppercorns so good compared to the lesser peppercorns.

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Here you can order Fuchsia’s new and excellent book The Land of Fish and Rice.

The NYTimes has an excellent feature on genetically modified crops, written by Danny Hakim joined by Karl Russell on data. The usual story is about a battle between fears of contamination on one side and the potential of increased yields on the other but the Times story is about how genetically modified crops have failed to increase yields or reduce pesticide use. This has been discussed in the scientific literature for a few years (e.g. here) and Tom Philpott at Mother Jones has covered the story earlier but the Times story really brings it home in a dramatic way. The graphics are especially good.

Here’s one graph showing corn crop yields in the United States, which uses GMOs, and Western Europe which does not. See the difference?gmo-crops

Addendum: Some good further discussion here, h/t ant1900 in the comments.

The case set off morbid curiosity and made national headlines after Ms. Wongso was arrested in late January, three weeks after she and Ms. Salihin, both graphic designers, met with another friend at Olivier, the cafe, inside Indonesia’s largest upscale shopping mall.

Intrigued residents have flocked to the restaurant to sit in the booth where Ms. Salihin was poisoned, and to order the iced Vietnamese coffee that was the last thing she drank. The restaurant regularly runs out of the brew.

Here is the full NYT story.  Can you use this as a classroom example of how the demand curve shifts out?  And here is another way to firm up demand (NYT): “They have connections to more money than any of the galleries anyway…” — get the picture?  The article is interesting throughout.

They cost $11 a piece and come in boxes of 5:

In an attempt to create a special snack to go with their high quality beer, Sweetish brewery St. Erik’s has created the world’s most expensive potato chips.

Apparently, St. Erik’s didn’t think Lays or Pringles chips were good enough to pair with their ale, so they decided to create their own exclusive snack and price it accordingly. “St. Erik’s Brewery is one of Sweden’s leading microbreweries and we’re passionate about the craftsmanship that goes into our beer. At the same time, we felt that we were missing a snack of the same status to serve with it,” brand manager Marcus Friari said in a statement. “A first-­class beer deserves a first-­class snack, and this is why we made a major effort to produce the world’s most exclusive potato chips. We’re incredibly proud to be able to present such a crispy outcome.”

The luxurious black box designed by St. Erik’s contains just five individual potato chips, each made by hand by a chef, using five special Nordic ingredients – Matsutake mushroom picked from pine forests in northern Sweden, truffle seaweed from the waters around the Faroe Islands, Crown Dill hand-picked on the Bjäre Peninsula, Leksand Onion grown on the outskirt of the small Swedish town of  Leksand and India Pale Ale Wort, the same kind used to make St. Erik’s Pale Ale beer.

The potatoes themselves, are also special. They apparently come “from the potato hillside in Ammarnäs, a steep, stony slope in a south-facing location where almond potatoes are cultivated in very limited numbers. The slope is difficult for modern agricultural machines to access, which means that all potatoes are planted and harvested by hand.”

Here is further information, via Michael Rosenwald, and here is another source, via Mark Thorson.

The first batch sold out almost immediately, and it is unclear when more will be produced.

I’ll be interviewing Mark soon, at a private venue, no public event, but for eventual release in the Conversations with Tyler series.  Here is a short bio of Mark.  He is credited as being the founder of modern Southwestern cuisine, and he was the driving force behind Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe and Red Sage in Washington, D.C.  He has written numerous books on food, including the very best books on chilies.  He is a supertaster, and more generally one of the world’s great food minds and a truly curious and generous soul.  He also has a background in anthropology, cooked for Chez Panisse in its early days, and is one of the best-traveled people I know.  Do you want to know what is/was special about chiles in Syria, or how many varieties of soy sauce you can find in one part of Hokkaido?  Mark is the guy to ask.

So what should I ask him?

Kevin Grier lets loose at Cherokee Gothic:

People! Check out this quote,

“Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Plc in New York, said Fischer’s comments “reflect an ongoing divergence of opinion” at the central bank. Fischer “doesn’t see much room for running the economy hot” while Yellen’s views “seem to provide a wide-open door to do that. You have a chair and a vice chair who see policy differently right now,” he said.”

After the events of the great recession, it’s just amazing to me that people think the economy is a steak, the Fed is a precision sous-vide machine, and all we have to decide is medium-rare or well-done.

For the millionth or so time, the models implying the Fed can do this, completely and utterly failed during the great recession. There is also evidence that a large part of the good outcomes credited to the Fed during the great moderation were actually due to exogenous forces (i.e. good luck).

Neither the Fed nor the President “runs” the economy. There is no stable, exploitable Phillips Curve / sous vide machine that lets us cook at a certain temperature.

This Fed worship is more religious than scientific. The past 10 years should be enough to convince anyone with an open mind that the Fed’s power over the economy is quite limited and tenuous.

But I guess it’s comforting to think that the little old lady behind the curtain can fix things for us.

She can’t, Stan Fischer can’t, Bernanke couldn’t. Maybe the sous vide machine is unplugged?

Yup, whatever your prior was, after the events of the Great Recession, you should surely downgrade your belief that Fed has a lot of control over the economy and yet I see a resurgence of this view despite it being at all odds with the evidence.

In case you have been living under a quiche shop, she has written the very best Chinese cookbooks ever, and her memoir is excellent too.

No, the public chat with Steven Pinker has not been held yet, but I will be recording with Fuchsia soon due to schedule constraints, so I am asking now for question suggestions.  There is no public event, as it will be centered around a restaurant meal, with myself and an illustrious panel of interlocutors, including Ezra Klein and Mark Miller, founder of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe.

Here are my previous posts about Fuchsia Dunlop.  And I can strongly recommend to you her very latest book Land of Fish and Rice, on the food in and near Shanghai, both recipes and text.

Here is her FT piece on gastro-nihilists and gastro-sexual tension.  Here are her scrapbook excerpts.  Here is a recent interview.

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The plummeting pound is threatening UK households’ supplies of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Marmite spread, as Tesco, the country’s biggest supermarket, pulled dozens of products from sale online in a row over who should bear the cost of the weakening currency.

Unilever has demanded steep price increases to offset the higher cost of imported commodities, which are priced in euros and dollars, according to executives at multiple supermarket groups.

But Tesco signalled it would fight the rises, removing Unilever products from its website and warning that some of the items could disappear from shelves if the dispute dragged on. Other supermarkets have warned that they could follow suit.

Here is the full FT story.

Our industrialized food system nourishes more people, at lower cost, than any comparable system in history. It also exerts a terrifyingly massive influence on our health and our environment. Photographer George Steinmetz spent nearly a year traveling the country to capture that system, in all its scope, grandeur and dizzying scale.

That is the introduction to an excellent NYTimes photo essay on farming. I liked this photo showing a machine for dumping cranberries from a truck: simple but awesome.

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The very beginning is a little slow, but I thought Ezra was one of the very best guests.  The topics include the nature and future of media, including virtual reality, the nature of leadership (including Ezra’s own), how running a project shapes your political views, a wee bit on health care, what he thinks are the Obama and Clinton models of the world, Robert Putnam’s research on the costs of diversity, the proper role of shame in society, animal welfare, and of course Ezra’s underrated and overrated, with takes on Bob Dylan, The Matrix, William F. Buckley, Joe Biden, and more.  There is no video but here is the podcast and transcript.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: …Now Putman, let me ask you about Putnam, and how Putnam relates to Donald Trump. As you know, Robert Putnam at Harvard, he has some work showing that when ethnic diversity goes up that there’s less trust, less cooperation, less social capital.

If you think of yourself in the role of an editor, so you have an American society, diversity has gone up, and a lot of people have reacted to this I would say rather badly — and I think you would agree with me they’ve reacted rather badly — but there’s still a way in which the issue could be framed that while diversity is actually a problem, we can’t handle diversity.

Putnam almost says as such, and do you think there’s currently a language in the media where you have readers who are themselves diverse, where it’s possible not to just be blaming the bigots, but to actually present the positive view, “Look, people are imperfect. A society can only handle so much diversity, and we need to learn this.” What’s your take on that?

KLEIN: I strongly agree. We do not have a language for demographic anxiety that is not a language that is about racism. And we need one. I really believe this, and I believe it’s been a problem, particularly this year. It is clear, the evidence is clear. Donald Trump is not about “economic anxiety.”

COWEN: A bit, but not mainly, I agree.

KLEIN: That said, I think that the way it’s presented is a choice between economic anxiety and racism. And one I don’t think that’s quite right, and two I don’t think that’s a productive way of having that conversation.

COWEN: Why don’t we have that language? Where did it go, or did we ever have it?

And:

COWEN: You see this with Medicaid. A lot of people don’t sign up. They don’t have addresses. You can’t even get them, whatever.

KLEIN: They don’t like doctors. They’re afraid of doctors.

COWEN: This is me.

KLEIN: You’re afraid of doctors?

COWEN: “Afraid” isn’t the word.

KLEIN: Averse. [laughs]

COWEN: Maybe dislike. Averse. [laughs] They should be afraid of me, perhaps.

Definitely recommended.  The same dialogue, with a different introduction, is included in The Ezra Klein Show podcast.

That is my latest Bloomberg column, hardly anyone has a consistent and evidence-based view on this deal.  Here is one bit:

Critics who dislike Monsanto for its leading role in developing genetically modified organisms and agricultural chemicals shouldn’t also be citing monopoly concerns as a reason to oppose the merger — that combination of views doesn’t make sense. Let’s say for instance that the deal raised the price of GMOs due to monopoly power. Farmers would respond by using those seeds less, and presumably that should be welcome news to GMO opponents.

Yet on the other side:

What does Bayer hope to get for its $66 billion, $128-a-share offer? The company has argued that it will be able to eliminate some duplicated jobs and expenses, negotiate better deals with suppliers and invest more funds in research and development. Maybe, but the broader reality is less cheery. There is a well-known academic literature, dating to the early 1990s, showing that acquiring firms usually decline in value after tender offers, especially after the biggest deals. Mergers do not seem to make companies more valuable or efficient.

And this:

The whole Bayer-Monsanto case is a classic example of how a vociferous public debate can disguise or even reverse the true issues at stake. If Bayer fails to close the deal for Monsanto, Bayer shareholders may be the biggest winners. The biggest losers from a failed deal may be its opponents, who will spend the rest of their lives in a world where misguided judgments of corporate popularity have increasing sway over laws and regulations.

Do read the whole thing.

I hadn’t known Ed “Let’s take the con out of econometrics” Leamer was the VP on the Larry Kotlikoff ticket.

The quality, and popularity, of Sully raises anew the question of why Hollywood doesn’t make more such movies.  Which is the scarce input?  The script?  Yet virtually every Clint Eastwood movie seems to come up with a good script.  I suspect “a recognized auteur with bargaining clout” is what is scarce.

Insects are not so scarce, but the marketing is tough:

Aketta grows its crickets in the United States and fills orders on a first come, first serve basis with weekly harvests. The company sells cricket flour and whole-roasted crickets. Flour is made from 100% milled crickets and has a “deep, earthy, umami flavor with hints of raw cocoa.” Sold in small batches of 1 to 1.5 lbs. Order online.

Here are many more insect food sources, but the claim is that the most innovative insect-selling start-ups are in Europe.

This story has scary good photos:

The Bund reached the height of its prominence on February 20, 1939, when some 20,000 members held a “Pro-America Rally” in Madison Square Garden.

Inside, jackbooted Nazi supporters filled the aisles while speakers ranted against President “Frank D. Rosenfeld” and his “Jew Deal.”

Outside, some 80,000 anti-Nazi demonstrators furiously protested the event, clashing with police and attempting to gain entry to the arena and shut it down.

The Bund called George Washington “the first fascist.”

Chileans remain upset at their semi-privatized pension system (NYT), and I say that is now the country to sell short.