Food and Drink

That is a new paper by W. Kip Viscusi, Joel C. Huber, and Jason Bell, the abstract is here:

This article examines evidence for the private rationality of decisions to choose bottled water using a large, nationally representative sample. Consumers are more likely to believe that bottled water is safer or tastes better if they have had adverse experiences with tap water or live in states with more prevalent violations of EPA water quality standards. Perceptions of superior safety, taste, and convenience of bottled water boost consumption of bottled water. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to drink bottled water due to their relatively greater exposure to unsafe water and greater risk beliefs. The coherent network of experiences, beliefs, and actions is consistent with rational consumer choice.

That is rationality at the margin, of course, as the entire practice of bottled water in developed countries strikes me as not rational for most people.  Tap water is fine and to me even tastes better.

Hat tip goes to

From Madurai, Robyn Eckhardt reports:

Onion, cauliflower, fenugreek, garlic, egg white, potato, mushroom and masala are just some of the variations on dosa offered by the 49-year-old Mr. Karthikeyan, who took over the business from his father after earning a master’s degree in economics. “What could I do? There was no one else,” he explained as he unhurriedly worked five griddles simultaneously — four for dosai and one for fried dishes like masala powder-seasoned hard-boiled eggs with onion, cilantro and curry leaves. “Back then, a dosai cost a quarter of a rupee,” he said. Today Ayyappan charges 10 rupees and up.

There is more here, via these sources.

I wrote this email, which in the interests of varying the “voice” on this blog I have not in the meantime edited:

Best food in the US, no real comparison especially adjusting for price.

Best driving for classic routes and views and also availability of parking along the way (NYC is awful for the latter).

Best walking city in the US (really), and year round.

The city has its own excellent musical soundtrack, Beach Boys, Byrds, Nilsson, etc., has aged better than the SF groups I think.

Incredible architecture and neighborhoods, almost everywhere.

Everyone goes to the movies.

First-rate concert life, including classical and contemporary classical.

Very interesting art galleries.

Few book stores (though disappearing everywhere, these days) and the people have no real sense of humor, but nowhere is perfect!

The Chemicals in Our Food

by on January 19, 2014 at 10:55 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

More here.

Ever felt you’ve overstayed your welcome in a cafe, by reading, working or surfing the web while hugging the latte you bought two hours ago? Pay-per-minute cafes could be the answer. Ziferblat, the first UK branch of a Russian chain, has just opened in London (388 Old Street), where “everything is free inside except the time you spend there”. The fee: 3p a minute.

Ziferblat means clock face in Russian and German (Zifferblatt). The idea is guests take an alarm clock from the cupboard on arrival and note the time, then keep it with them, before, quite literally, clocking out at the end.

The link is here, hat tip goes to Tim Harford and also Ian Leslie.

Abigail Carroll opines:

Are there any dishes or foods that you would classify as typically, or even exclusively, “American?”

A number of iconic foods—hot dogs and hamburgers, snack food—are hand-held. They’re novelties associated with entertainment. These are the kinds of food you eat at the ballpark, buy at a fair and eventually eat in your home. I think that there is a pattern there of iconic foods being quick and hand-held that speaks to the pace of American life, and also speaks to freedom. You’re free from the injunctions of Victorian manners and having to eat with a fork and knife and hold them properly, sit at the table and sit up straight and have your napkin properly placed. These foods shirk all that. There’s a sense of independence and a celebration of childhood in some of those foods, and we value that informality, the freedom and the fun that is associated with them.

The interview is in general interesting on the history of American food.  I have just ordered her new book Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal.

Merry Christmas!

by on December 25, 2013 at 6:36 am in Food and Drink, Music, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink


Merry Christmas from New Orleans and best wishes for the New Year to all our readers.

Merry Christmas!

by on December 25, 2013 at 12:30 am in Food and Drink, History, Religion | Permalink


ohwilleke reports:

While “Christmas” is new, the notion of a consumption splurge after the fall harvest, followed by a lean late winter-early spring season (Lent/Ramadan) before the spring harvest is deeply rooted in pre-modern agricultural reality. When you have an abundance of perishable goods it makes sense to consume them before they go bad, and then to string out the more limited supply of durable foodstuffs when fresh foodstuffs are scarce. In the same way, summer vacation is rooted in the need to free up children for agricultural labor at times of peak demand. As noted above, spring weddings supply a consumption boost after the Spring Harvest and also are timed to minimize the likelihood of critical parts of a first pregnancy taking place during the lean late winter-early spring (although these days it has more to do with the end of the school year).

Only with cheap and fast trans-hemispheric shipping (together with a lack of significant piracy for most of that trade), and advances in food preservation and refrigeration in the last half century or so, have those agricultural considerations become irrelevant (although, of course, excess and lean times should fall at different parts of the year in the Southern hemisphere and in places like Southern India, the Sahel, and the tropics of Asia, African and South America that have different seasons).

Japan and China use end of year bonuses (often as 6-12% of annual compensation) as a significant part of annual compensation as a way to share rather than leveraging macroeconomic risk for firms and the economy as a whole. In good years, when there is more supply, lots of people get big bonuses; in bad years, scarcity is widespread. The main virtue of this approach is that it makes firms more robust and puts them under less pressure to engage in cyclic layoffs but making labor costs look more like equity and less like debt. This too was well suited to an agricultural tradition rooted in sharecropping or the equivalent that was once widespread in all feudal economies as well as in neo-feudal economies in places like the American South. This isn’t a strategy limited to the orient. It is also the quintessential Wall Street economy model utilized by major financial firms like investment banks and the large law firms that serve them.

The pressure from the “real economy” – both the goods and services supply side and the labor demand side – to have punctuated consumption is much weaker now than it once was, particularly in economies or sectors of economies without the strong annual bonus tradition. The largest sectors of the modern economy that are both strongly cyclic in terms of business cycles and very seasonal within each year, are construction and real estate – and these cycles also drive a fair amount of durable goods consumption. Both construction and real estate are weakest in the winter. Agriculture’s share of the economy is now much more stable from a consumer’s perspective and much smaller as a percentage of the total economy. Real estate handles cyclic shifts by being largely commission based. Construction relies on highly fragmented project specific team building through networks of general contractors and subcontractors rather than integrated firms (a pattern also common in the film industry and theater industry).

Bottom line: The finance oriented macroeconomic models obsessed with interest rates, inflation, GDP growth rates, unemployment rates and size of the public finance sector are ill suited to analyzing optimal seasonal business cycle patterns. A more fruitful analysis looks at the roots of current seasonal patterns in economic history and at the way that the “real economy” has changed with technology to see if those patterns still make sense, perhaps for new reasons.

You will find ohwilleke’s blog here.

Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott have a new paper (pdf), here is the abstract:

We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of the observance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establish causality, we exploit variation in the length of the fasting period due to the rotating Islamic calendar. We report two key, quantitatively meaningful results: 1) longer Ramadan  fasting has a negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and 2) it increases subjective well-being among Muslims. We then examine labor market outcomes, and find that these results cannot be primarily explained by a direct reduction in labor productivity due to fasting. Instead, the evidence indicates that Ramadan affects Muslims’ relative preferences regarding work and religiosity, suggesting that the mechanism operates at least partly by changing beliefs and values that influence labor supply and occupational choices beyond the month of Ramadan itself. Together, our results indicate that religious practices can affect labor supply choices in ways that have negative implications for economic performance, but that nevertheless increase subjective well-being among followers.
An earlier discussion on ultra-Orthodox Jews and happiness is here, many excellent comments were offered.

Be polite, or be prepared to pay.

That’s the message a French cafe is sending its customers. Employees of La Petite Syrah in Nice, France, posted a menu that rewards politeness and punishes rudeness. A photo was posted on Twitter with the line, roughly translated to “There are still people who know how to live!”

So, here’s the deal. Customers who can only be bothered to mumble, “un cafe” (without a greeting or a “please”) can expect to pay 7 euros ($9.63).

A lot of money for a cup of java. Fortunately, there are simple ways to cut that cost dramatically. If the customer includes a “s’il vous plait” (“please”), the price goes down to 4.25 euros ($5.85). But wait — don’t order quite yet.

If you really want to save cash, greet your barista with a “Bonjour” (“Good day” for those who never saw “Beauty and the Beast”) and the cost drops again, this time to a perfectly reasonable 1.40 euro ($1.93).

This may be a marketing vehicle for the cafe, although the manager claims it was started as a joke.  I am not sure what is the most plausible theory for how this might actually be effective price discrimination.  There is more here, and I thank Mark Thorson and Ray Lopez for the pointers.  Jason Kottke offers more detail.

I can recommend two places:

1. Siri (that is how they pronounced it, I don’t know the transliteration), a small restaurant on one of the main streets in the center of Ramallah.

They serve hummus, foul, and foul ringed with hummus, get the latter.  The accompanying vegetables were more strongly marinated than they typically would be in Israel, a plus in my view.

2. Laymoon [The Lemon restaurant], Ariha (Jericho)

The chicken musakhan, with piles of red onions and slivered nuts over bread, seasoned with generous doses of sumac and allspice, is very tasty.  The restaurant is also a nice place to sit outside and enjoy the weather, or to catch an Arabic-language film on their large outdoor screen.

I walked by many other places and in general they looked good.  The various fruits I purchased on the street were all winners, the small oranges and the dates most of all.  There is much less variety, but dish by dish my impression from a small sample was that the food in West Bank cities is slightly better than that of Tel Aviv.

Ariha was attracting a lot of Nigerian church tourism.

Overall I noticed how much economic growth and globalized advertising were to be seen in Ramallah.  My biggest surprise was how much being in Ramallah felt like…being in Israel.  Except the citizenry seemed less religious.

Markets in everything

by on November 29, 2013 at 1:35 pm in Food and Drink, Law | Permalink

Reverse shoplifting edition, the link is from Japan by the way.   As it is explained to me in an email:

Value_Added #240950
(Del Monte whole kernel corn no salt added)

Canned corn and receipts
Dimensions variable
The artist takes one canned good to multiple supermarkets and re-buys it. This single can of corn has been re-bought from 105 supermarkets for a total of $113.07. ( as of June1, 2013 )
This procedure is possible because the stores have no way to identify individual items: the barcode printed on my can’s label, #240950, refers to its contents, and not to that particular can.
I suppose in expected value terms this is more rational and more profitable than non-reverse shoplifting, also known as shoplifting.  For the pointer I thank Pamela Regis.

Here is something for you to try out tomorrow with the family, well some families. The Betrayers’ Banquet is a dinner party/event that ingeniously combines the iterated prisoner’s dilemma with good food, bad food and entertainment. Here is their description:

The event works as follows:

A banqueting table is set with 48 chairs, 24 on each side, at which players are seated at random. For a period of two hours, the food is served in small portions every fifteen minutes, and varies in quality; at the top end of the table, it is exquisite – food you could expect at a fancy restaurant. At the bottom end, the food is charitably described as unpalatable. In between, it is a spectrum between these two extremes.

At regular intervals, pairs of opposing diners are invited to play a round of the prisoner’s dilemma with each other; They are each provided with a small wooden coin with symbols on each side representing cooperation and betrayal, which they place on the table concealed under their palms, and then simultaneously reveal:

  •  If they both cooperate, then they are both moved up five seats towards the good food.
  •  If they both betray, they are both moved five seats down towards the worse food.
  •  If one betrays and one cooperates, the betrayer moves up ten seats, and other down ten seats.

The event is presented as an initiation ritual of a freemason–esque secret society; service is run by servers in hooded robes and the game is arbitrated by a dour, unsympathetic master of ceremony, who punctuate the courses with grave speeches describing the discovery of the game in the court of Charlemagne in the eighth century.

From the participant’s point of view, aside from getting to play a game and try a variety of different foods, the main attraction is that they get to move around the table and talk to a variety of people throughout dinner. The iterated prisoner’s dilemma is famous for creating very complex social dynamics, which keeps conversation lively and generates a high eagerness to continue playing.

The other hand of the FDA

by on November 26, 2013 at 11:34 am in Food and Drink, Law | Permalink

Via Chaim Katz, here is a Bloomberg headline from 2012: “Asian Seafood Raised on Pig Feces Approved for U.S. Consumers.”  Whether or not you agree with this decision (how good is disclosure?), you get the point.