Mostafa Sabet, a reader, writes:
I agree with your point [TC: my link] about raw ingredients and wonder why the richest nation in the world has such crappy raw ingredients? We can afford it and obviously people can tell the difference. Sure it won’t affect the McDonalds’ and freezer section food, but why does it go all the way downstream unless you pay exorbitant amounts of money for it? When I was in Egypt, not exactly first world, the raw ingredients were far superior to the ones here. Any ideas?
A tough question, I see a few major hypotheses:
1. Things are changing rapidly, just visit Wegmans. OK, but why has it taken so long? And of course the revolution remains far from complete.
2. It is an exogenous demand-side question. Americans have bad taste in food, just as the Chinese have bad taste in lounge music. Why, for that matter, do the Japanese like karaoke so much? Why do the Scots serve deep-fried Mars candy bars? Note that more detailed versions of this hypothesis blame the British connection, Protestantism, and possibly the rule of law as well.
3. Food transportation in the U.S. exhibits economies of scale to an unprecedented degree. The relative price of canned and frozen and mass-branded goods is thus especially low here. This discriminates against both quality and freshness.
4. U.S. agricultural is so efficient that large farms replace small farms. At the margin this raises the marginal cost of "artisanal production" of gourmet items. The more heavily subsidized European agriculture has preserved many more small farms, which favors quality artisanal production.
5. It can take hours to make a really good mole sauce. America has high wages, nighttime shopping, plus the best TV shows in the world. The opportunity cost of good cooking and fine, slow dining is very high here.