Food and Drink

We are running a contest for MRU, and the goal is to figure out how economists ought to be put on cereal boxes.  Imagine that a famous economist would in fact be represented by a cereal and a cereal box.  For example there would be:

Thomas Piketty, Special K

Another possibility would be tweaking the cereal name slightly, so you would get:

Hyman Minsky, Captain Liquidity Crunch


John Bates Clark, Marginal Product 19

You could try:

Eugene Fama, Lucky Charms, though perhaps that is too subtle for some.

The winner of the contest gets…his or her suggestion actually realized.  Please enter your suggestions, and vote on the suggestions of others, here.  Or if you don’t want to enter the contest per se, there is always the MR comments section…

Sewage Infrastructure

by on November 23, 2014 at 9:08 am in Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

This Vice documentary on sewage in New York is actually quite interesting. I would enjoy the Richard Scarry book.

Hat tip: Connor.

Solo dining markets in everything

by on November 15, 2014 at 1:44 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

A new pop-up restaurant in Amsterdam, which bills itself as the world’s first for solo eaters, aims to remove the social stigma of forking dinner without a companion. In fact, there isn’t a two-top in the joint.

…“The taste of persons eating alone seems different, and even more intense, according to our guests,” says Marina van Goor, owner of the temporary eatery, which is called Eenmaal. As such, the chef takes care to serve four-course meals (at a moderate €35, or roughly $48, including drink) prepared from quality local and organic ingredients. Even the interior is left intentionally raw and no-frills, to emphasize the simple pleasure of unapologetically eating alone.

Nor do they offer Wi-Fi, there is more here., via Sendhil Mullainathan.

Paralelní Polis, which in Czech means “Parallel World,” is known mostly for being perhaps the world’s first bitcoin-only cafe. (Here’s my photo essay of what it’s like to buy coffee in the shop.) All transactions — from wages to point of sale — are processed virtually, using one of the most well-recognized cryptocurrencies. More broadly though, the recently-renovated space, which includes a co-working room and hacker space, was conceived as way to demonstrate on a micro level how an entirely decentralized society might function.

There is more here, and supposedly there is no hierarchy among the employees either.  The original pointer was from Ángel Cabrera.

In the modern sense that is, of course potatoes have been genetically modified for a long time:

The Agriculture Department on Friday approved the first genetically modified potato for commercial planting in the United States, a move likely to draw the ire of groups opposed to artificial manipulation of foods.

The Innate potato, developed by the J.R. Simplot Co., is engineered to contain less of a suspected human carcinogen that occurs when a conventional potato is fried, and is also less prone to bruising during transport.

Boise, Idaho-based Simplot is a major supplier of frozen french fries to fast-food giant McDonald’s.

The story is here, and you will note that on Tuesday the mandatory GMO-labeling initiatives failed in Oregon and Colorado, the second failure in Oregon and that means failures in four states overall.  Less positively, voters in Maui County, Hawaii chose to restrict GMO cultivation altogether.  And now McDonald’s is under pressure not to use these new potatoes for its french fries.  But of course you can understand the marketing dilemma of McDonald’s here — they can’t just come out and say “these french fries won’t give you cancer.”

Andrea Matranga has a job market paper (pdf) which is speculative but interesting:

During the Neolithic Revolution, seven populations independently invented agriculture. In this paper, I argue that this innovation was a response to a large increase in climactic seasonality. Hunter-gathers in the most affected regions became sedentary in order to store food and smooth their consumption. I present a model capturing the key incentives for adopting agriculture, and I test the resulting predictions against a global panel dataset of climate conditions and Neolithic adoption dates. I find that invention and adoption were both systematically more likely in places with higher seasonality. The findings of this paper imply that seasonality patterns 10,000 years ago were amongst the major determinants of the present day global distribution of crop productivities, ethnic groups, cultural traditions, and political institutions.

Here is his home page.

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.