Food and Drink

The drunk utilitarian

by on October 28, 2014 at 2:36 am in Data Source, Food and Drink, Philosophy | Permalink

Here is a new paper by Aaron A. Duke and Laurent Bègue:

The hypothetical moral dilemma known as the trolley problem has become a methodological cornerstone in the psychological study of moral reasoning and yet, there remains considerable debate as to the meaning of utilitarian responding in these scenarios. It is unclear whether utilitarian responding results primarily from increased deliberative reasoning capacity or from decreased aversion to harming others. In order to clarify this question, we conducted two field studies to examine the effects of alcohol intoxication on utilitarian responding. Alcohol holds promise in clarifying the above debate because it impairs both social cognition (i.e., empathy) and higher-order executive functioning. Hence, the direction of the association between alcohol and utilitarian vs. non-utilitarian responding should inform the relative importance of both deliberative and social processing systems in influencing utilitarian preference. In two field studies with a combined sample of 103 men and women recruited at two bars in Grenoble, France, participants were presented with a moral dilemma assessing their willingness to sacrifice one life to save five others. Participants’ blood alcohol concentrations were found to positively correlate with utilitarian preferences [emphasis added] (r = .31, p < .001) suggesting a stronger role for impaired social cognition than intact deliberative reasoning in predicting utilitarian responses in the trolley dilemma. Implications for Greene’s dual-process model of moral reasoning are discussed.

The gated version is here.  The original pointer is from SteveStuartWilliams.

So says one new paper on PubMed, by de Ridder D, Kroese F, Adriaanse M, Evers C.:

Three experimental studies examined the counterintuitive hypothesis that hunger improves strategic decision making, arguing that people in a hot state are better able to make favorable decisions involving uncertain outcomes. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that participants with more hunger or greater appetite made more advantageous choices in the Iowa Gambling Task compared to sated participants or participants with a smaller appetite. Study 3 revealed that hungry participants were better able to appreciate future big rewards in a delay discounting task; and that, in spite of their perception of increased rewarding value of both food and monetary objects, hungry participants were not more inclined to take risks to get the object of their desire. Together, these studies for the first time provide evidence that hot states improve decision making under uncertain conditions, challenging the conventional conception of the detrimental role of impulsivity in decision making.

The link is here, via Neuroskeptic.  Also from his Twitter feed we learn that rats may be Bayesians.

Via Samir Varma, here is a piece on whether Tylenol can ease the pain of decision-making, I say probably not.

Where to eat in Hong Kong

by on October 12, 2014 at 2:06 am in Food and Drink, Travels | Permalink

Anywhere near downtown virtually all of the good places are quite expensive.  The good news is that there are many of them and they are quite fine indeed.  Two I can recommend are Mott 32 and Ye Shanghai, near Central and Admiralty respectively.

My favorite meal of the trip was out at Sha Tin 18, in the New Territories Hyatt.

Tung Po Seafood, above one of the wet markets, is one of the remaining good and relatively cheap places on Hong Kong Island.

On the even cheaper side, I can recommend the general row of eateries on Hau Fook Street, Kowloon, especially the larger Sichuan place on the corner, no English sign but they advertise being a WiFi HotSpot, I believe you will find it if you try.

Cheaper yet, the protestors served some pretty good fried rice, which I believe was donated by a local restaurant.

In general, the way to go these days is to either ante up on Hong Kong Island or make your way out to New Territories, or maybe try Kowloon City.

What I’ve been reading

by on October 11, 2014 at 1:40 am in Books, Food and Drink | Permalink

1. David Sterling, Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition.  This cookbook is “too good” to actually cook from, but as account of food from Yucatán, along with history, photos, and recipes, it has to count as one of the year’s most notable publications.

2. Sebastian Edwards, Toxic Aid: Economic Collapse and Recovery in Tanzania.  He gives foreign aid to Tanzania an “F” for the 1961-1981 period, a “B minus” for 1981-1994, and a B+ for the latter part of that period.  Edwards is a top international economist and this is one of the best thought out books on foreign aid.

3. Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, The Upside of Your Dark Side.  Only some people should read this book.

4. Virginia Woolf, Flush: A Biography.  This one doesn’t get huge amounts of play, but it’s actually an awesome book about…a dawg.  Recommended, beautifully written and easy to read, Straussian too though you can read it straight up for fun as well.

5. Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman.  A charming tale for bibliophiles, centering around a Lebanese woman who translates one classic novel a year, but for herself only.

Christopher Snow reports:

What would you give to make all your veggies taste like chocolate? Would you give $60 to a Canadian molecular gastronomy company called Molecule-R? Because that’s how much it’s asking for the new “Aromafork.”

Molecular gastronomy is a subset of modern cuisine that borrows many of its innovations from the scientific community, but you don’t need to be a scientist to know the tongue is only responsible for a portion of overall taste. It’s your nose that fills in most of the subtleties of a given flavor, and that’s how the Aromafork works.

Each Aromafork—you get four of them—has a notch near the prongs to hold a small, circular diffusing paper. Onto the diffuser you’ll drop one of the 21 included aromas, like coffee, basil, peanut, ginger, smoke, and—yes—chocolate.

Of course the Aromafork isn’t intended solely to mask the flavor of yucky vegetables, but rather to extend the possibilities for creative food pairings. Molecule-R’s website suggests seared tuna with the aroma of truffle, or strawberries with a hint of mint, or eggs with a whiff of cilantro. The only limit is your creativity.

The company’s website is here, and for the pointer I thank Ray Llpez.

Shenzhen notes

by on October 7, 2014 at 2:23 am in Food and Drink, Travels, Uncategorized | Permalink

Many parts of the city are indistinguishable from Hong Kong, and even China pessimists should find it easy to imagine Shenzhen gliding into fully developed status.  At times Shenzhen looks better than Hong Kong, but that is due to what I call the myth of infrastructure.  Shenzhen being poorer than Hong Kong, and having developed later, are coincident reasons with the peak parts of the city having newer-looking infrastructure.

The OCT Design Center was impressive.  China probably will never dominate world music, but my bet is China will be the most important country for the visual arts within the next ten to fifteen years.

It didn’t strike me as a great city for food, if only because the place barely existed thirty years ago.  I passed by a bunch of places, but none were especially tempting and some parts of the city don’t seem to have many non-corporate restaurants at all.  Finally, I had a tasty meal at the Muslim Hotel Restaurant, food (and servers and diners) from the western part of China.  I believe that Cantonese food is due for a steep relative decline, given how much it relies on low labor costs and super-fresh ingredients.  It’s already the case that people thinking of taking you out to eat in downtown Hong Kong fixate on other options.  It is the New Territories part of town which will carry Cantonese traditions forward.

By the way, visiting Shenzhen will make you think that wages in Hong Kong and Taiwan are due for decline.

Alcohol inequality

by on October 5, 2014 at 3:08 am in Data Source, Food and Drink | Permalink

I double-checked these figures with [Philip] Cook, just to make sure I wasn’t reading them wrong. “I agree that it’s hard to imagine consuming 10 drinks a day,” he told me. But, “there are a remarkable number of people who drink a couple of six packs a day, or a pint of whiskey.”

As Cook notes in his book, the top 10 percent of drinkers account for well over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year. On the other hand, people in the bottom three deciles don’t drink at all, and even the median consumption among those who do drink is just three beverages per week.

The piece, by Christopher Ingraham, is interesting throughout.  Here is my earlier post on “The culture of guns, the culture of alcohol”, one of my favorites.

Addendum: Via Robert Wiblin, Trevor Butterworth offers a good critique of the data.

Wild marmosets in the Brazilian forest can learn quite successfully from video demonstrations featuring other marmosets, Austrian scientists have reported, showing not only that marmosets are even better learners than previously known, but that video can be used successfully in experiments in the wild.

Tina Gunhold, a cognitive biologist at the University of Vienna, had worked with a population of marmoset monkeys in a bit of Brazilian forest before this particular experiment.

The forest is not wilderness. It lies near some apartment complexes, and the marmosets are somewhat used to human beings. But the monkeys are wild, and each extended family group has its own foraging territory.

Dr. Gunhold and her colleagues reported in the journal Biology Letters this month that they had tested 12 family groups, setting up a series of video monitors, each with a kind of complicated box that they called an “artificial fruit.”

All the boxes contained food. Six of the monitors showed just an unchanging image of a marmoset near a similar box. Three of them showed a marmoset opening the box by pulling a drawer, and three others a marmoset lifting a lid to get at the food.

Marmosets are very territorial and would not tolerate a strange individual on their turf, but the image of a strange marmoset on video didn’t seem to bother them.

Individual marmosets “differed in their reactions to the video,” Dr. Gunhold said. “Some were more shy, some more bold. The younger ones were more attracted to the video, perhaps because of greater curiosity.”

But, she said, the ones that watched the demonstrations were much better at getting the box open than the ones that had the placebo monitor, and they also tended to use the specific skill demonstrated, pulling the drawer open or lifting the lid.

There is more here (including video!), and for the pointer I thank Philip Wallach.

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports:

The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world.

But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks.

“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”

This purveyor of skinny lattes and double cappuccinos is deep inside the agency’s forested Langley, Va., compound.

…The baristas go through rigorous interviews and background checks and need to be escorted by agency “minders” to leave their work area. There are no frequent-customer award cards, because officials fear the data stored on the cards could be mined by marketers and fall into the wrong hands, outing secret agents.

And this:

The chief of the team that helped find Osama Bin Laden, for instance, recruited a key deputy for the effort at the Starbucks, said another officer who could not be named.

Employees at the branch also are not allowed to bring smart phones inside.  The piece is interesting throughout.

Bras, girdles and leggings infused with caffeine and sold as weight loss aids were more decaf than espresso, and the companies that sold them have agreed to refund money to customers and pull their ads, U.S. regulators said on Monday.

The Federal Trade Commission said Wacoal America and Norm Thompson Outfitters, which owns Sahalie and others, were accused of deceptive advertising that claimed their caffeine-impregnated clothing would cause the wearer to lose weight and have less cellulite.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Glenn Mercer.

Hopscotching the globe as Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra repeatedly encountered a distressing problem: bad Thai food.

Too often, she found, the meals she sampled at Thai restaurants abroad were unworthy of the name, too bland to be called genuine Thai cooking. The problem bothered her enough to raise it at a cabinet meeting.

Her political party has since been thrown out of office, in a May military coup, but her initiative in culinary diplomacy lives on.

At a gala dinner at a ritzy Bangkok hotel on Tuesday the government will unveil its project to standardize the art of Thai food — with a robot.

Diplomats and dignitaries have been invited to witness the debut of a machine that its promoters say can scientifically evaluate Thai cuisine, telling the difference, for instance, between a properly prepared green curry with just the right mix of Thai basil, curry paste and fresh coconut cream, and a lame imitation.

Has there ever been a better committee name than this?:

The government-financed Thai Delicious Committee, which oversaw the development of the machine, describes it as “an intelligent robot that measures smell and taste in food ingredients through sensor technology in order to measure taste like a food critic.”

In a country of 67 million people, there are somewhere near the same number of strongly held opinions about Thai cooking. A heated debate here on the merits of a particular nam prik kapi, a spicy chili dip of fermented shrimp paste, lime juice and palm sugar, could easily go on for an hour without coming close to resolution.

The full story is here, excellent throughout, and for the pointer I thank Otis Reid.

Hong Kong bleg

by on September 27, 2014 at 6:38 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

You know the drill, I have been there before but not in a long time.  Your assistance is much appreciated and I thank you all in advance…

How to make beer a natural monopoly?

by on September 27, 2014 at 1:00 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

Bruges is trying something different:

The Belgian city of Bruges has approved plans to build a pipeline which will funnel beer underneath its famous cobbled streets.

Locals and politicians were fed up with huge lorries clattering through the cobbled streets and tiny canal paths of the picturesque city and decided to connect the De Halve Maan brewery to a bottling factory 3.2km (two miles) away.

It is estimated that some 500 trucks currently motor through Bruges each year on their way to the brewery, which is a famous tourist attraction.

Now they will be kept out of the city limits, as the pipe pumps 1,500 gallons of beer per hour. Construction is set to begin next year.

“The beer will take 10 to 15 minutes to reach the bottling plant,” said brewery CEO Xavier Vanneste. “By using the pipeline we will keep hundreds of lorries out of the city centre. This is unique in the brewing industry with exception of one German brewery that has installed a similar system.”

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

Eliminating heterogeneity bias causes 97 percent of the variance in the price level of food products across cities to disappear relative to a conventional index. Eliminating both biases reverses the common finding that prices tend to be higher in larger cities. Instead, we find that price level for food products falls with city size.

That is part of an abstract and new paper from Jessie Handbury and David E. Weinstein, via Kevin Lewis.  They have two additional interesting papers on the cost of living here.

In case you don’t like Wiener Schnitzel and doner kebab:

Now Germany’s Air Food One is a subscription service that lets anyone get airline meals delivered to their home once a week.

Offered by online grocery Allyouneed.com, members can choose between two options — classic or vegetarian — just like on a real flight. The service has teamed up with LSG Sky Chefs, which provides airline food for Lufthansa, to prepare a different meal each week that matches the business class menu on airplanes. For example, this week it’s serving Arabic seafood or panserotti with porcini mushrooms. The meals are delivered every Wednesday evening and are suitable for freezing. When it comes time to cook, members can simply place the meal in the oven. The idea is that the healthy subscription meals can be ordered by busy professionals who would otherwise be ordering a takeaway. Additionally, the service lets LSG Sky Chefs get rid of the excess meals not needed by its flying customers, avoiding waste and acting as an advertisement for its food quality.

The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.