Dual coverage from The New York Times

Damon Darlin liked my new book, An Economist Gets Lunch:

It’s a sports bar, which seems like an unlikely choice, but not to Professor Cowen’s way of thinking. He chose it precisely because it was an unlikely choice. An American sports bar might mean Buffalo wings and cheeseburgers, but an Ethiopian sports bar? “They are making no attempt to appeal to non-Ethiopians,” he said.

…As for the food at Eyo’s Sports Bar, it persuaded me on his thesis that immigrants rejuvenated the American palate and it was best to leave the finicky children, or teenagers, at home.

Dwight Garner did not like it:

Reading Mr. Cowen is like pushing a shopping cart through Whole Foods with Rush Limbaugh. The patter is nonstop and bracing. Mr. Cowen delivers observations that, should Alice Waters ever be detained in Gitmo, her captors will play over loudspeakers to break her spirit.

These observations include: “There’s nothing especially virtuous about the local farmer”; “buying green products seems to encourage individuals to be less moral”; and — a contender for Orwellian sentence of the year — “technology and business are a big part of what makes the world gentle and fun.”

I think it’s Orwellian that he thinks this is Orwellian.  On the two errors he claims to have found in the book, he is wrong in both cases.  Brad DeLong adds appropriate comment on the first.  My estimate for the Google search number claims was correct and multiply checked when I did it, and these days it comes in at around the high 400,000s, nothing near his 115,000 figure.

You can pre-order the book on Amazon here.  For Barnes & Noble here.  For Indiebound.org here.  It is due out tomorrow.


I haven't read the book (yet!) but knowing you Tyler, the observations that Mr. Garner picks on were likely more grounded in economic thinking than blind ideology.
Sadly, reviews like this second one cast an unflattering light on what has become of the Grey Lady...

Garner's doesn't attempt to make any argument whatsoever against these supposed outrageous statements. It amounts to "this is annoying to read because he disagrees with me."

I think it would be hilarious to push a shopping cart through Whole Foods with Rush Limbaugh. Actually, that strikes me as a perfect description of Garner's own review: an over-the-top, unfair, and entertaining piece of polemic.

I am seeing a trend here. Times writers (and Times readers, judging from the comments to their stories) are monolithic. He doesn't need to make an argument against these "outrageous statements", Times readers already know and understand what he means.

Sad, because they're the ones who believe that they're educated and "nuanced". How can you get through to so many people who are so smug?

Erm... did you miss the part where the same paper published two reviews on the same day, one negative and one positive?

One of page C1, one on page D3. I wonder why that is? Wouldn't it make more sense to print them side by side?

One article is a review by Dwight Garner, a book critic. It ran in the Arts section. The other article is a feature about the book, with author interview, by Damon Darlin, the technology editor. It ran in the Dining section.

I can imagine Robin Hanson arguing that the second review should raise Tyler's opinion of Rush Limbaugh, at the margin.

I can't wait to get the book, and you offended two deep tenets of the religion of the Left: buying local and being anti-corporate. Feel their wrath. ;-)

>> "These observations include: “There’s nothing especially virtuous about the local farmer”; “buying green products seems to encourage individuals to be less moral”; and — a contender for Orwellian sentence of the year — “technology and business are a big part of what makes the world gentle and fun.”"

I thought Garner's review was an ideological hatchet job, and I particularly winced at the paragraph Tyler quotes. The Orwell jab is painfully obtuse, and the automatic assumption that we should valorize local farmers sums up much of what I hate about the new food movement. That said, I'm a member of "the Left," so let's not get carried away with us vs. them.

(On the third point -- “buying green products seems to encourage individuals to be less moral” -- I'll reserve judgment until I've read the book, but if Tyler is referring to the same studies I've seen before, this stuff seems a bit thin.)

I'm also looking forward to it...

I am with Tyler on El Camino Real in Silicon Valley having the best ethnic food. For South Indian food, Komala Vilas in Sunnyvale is a real gem. No menu for lunch. You get served a three course traditional "Tamil Brahmin" meal. Delicious.

thanks for the tip! I love south indian food and work reasonably close to there . . .

Hmm, that's really close to my house. However, the reviews don't seem all that great, so maybe I'll pass.

I am a Tamil Brahmin and the food there is exactly what families like mine made at home on the weekends. Komala Vilas may not be for everyone, but it is as authentic as it gets. You will find it filled with Tamil folks talking loudly and eating with their fingers from steel plates. Tyler would love it :p

"My estimate for the Google search number claims was correct and multiply checked when I did it, and these days it comes in at around the high 400,000s, nothing near his 115,000 figure."

I get 524,000 but that's with google.com.au .... shock horror the internet is not static and google's search algorithm is complicated.

Within quotes I get 29,000 hits.

It's just that different countries produce different results. If you go to "google.com/ncr" you will be redirected to Google's American website and you can replicate Tyler's search there.

Yeah, I wonder what that says about the way commentators should reference Google hits these days.

I get 488,000 hits with the browser I usually use and 117,000 with the browser that came with the computer but I never use.

To be fair, your use of quotation marks suggests that you're quoting Trillan's joke. Also, it seems appropriate to use quotation marks in the search if you want to make a point about tofu fajitas. I get 29,600 results for that search. Nobody's perfect.

Good point. Unfortunately, without that key "million hits" statistic, Tyler's whole theory of food crumbles to the ground. This book will have to be completely rewritten, or more likely, quietly withdrawn from publication.

Let's skip the middleman and stick this sucker right on the index librorum prohibitorum

Garner also complains that your book is not original.

Here is verbatim sentence from a food book he gave a good review to: "Ms. McMillan’s chapters about Walmart and Applebee’s are the book’s best."


Someone should tell Mr. Garner that restaurants are businesses. So is the New York Times for that matter.

For many people, food isn't about eating. Its how they try to be moral. You just skewered their sacred cows and they are furious.

Sacred cows are best broiled, not skewered.

Sadly, American media has become a deeply tribalised place. Tyler is identified (rightly or wrongly) with the other tribe, therefore his book must be trashed, even though it is not (primarily) about contentious political issues.

I'm sure it's tempting to be flattered about the Limbaugh comparison, but do recall that in the braindead world of the far-left NYT crowd, anyone who strays even slightly off the Preferred Narrative is evil, and Limbaugh is just the kneejerk name that comes to mind when they think of evil.

It's all very enlightened.

Garner's review is so amusing that it almost seems that Tyler must have written it as Tyrone. Such vituperative ignorance can only sell more books.

Can't someone just not like a book anymore? Anyway, local farming is a new technology. It can improve. It's also a risk mitigation in case peak oil is real. It appears people really are dying from the folks who paid to put the damn grains at the bottom of the pyramid. Now they want to ban sugar. Can we just stop subsidizing it first? It's a first-world famine. Should it be a surprise that it might be heard to serve both logistics for maximum calories and optimum health? It would be a surprise if both could be achieved.

Can't someone just not like a book review any more?

Also, "Local farming is new technology" compared to what? Mammoth hunting? Stone tools?

"Also, “Local farming is new technology” compared to what? Mammoth hunting? Stone tools?"

That's the funniest line I've read in at least a week.


“There’s nothing especially virtuous about the local farmer”

Don Boudreaux's post from a couple of days ago comes to mind:


"Technology and business are a big part of what makes the world gentle and fun." The fact that Mr. Garner thought this was Orwellian makes me want to read the book even more. He really must not know much about you if he is comparing you to Rush Limbaugh. :)

Dwight is a decent book reviewer, but I don't think he's been accused by many beyond his immediate family of being an intellect.

The Alice Walker-Gitmo sentence illuminates Garner's target audience. The marginalization of the NYT proceeds.

Here's how aldaily introduced the piece: "Anti-foodie foodie. No organic arugula for Tyler Cowen, just genetically modified meat and strip-mall ethnic eateries. Unpretentious, huh? Maybe not"

I'm not sure Tyler is anti-arugula.

Congrats on the book, Tyler, from your food satirist, :-).


While you note that Americanized Thai food is too sweet in your book, Thai food as actually eaten by Thai people is often quite sweet. The difference is that the food isn't served sweet, but rather sugar is present at the table as a condiment to be added to taste. The end result (for some noodle soups and other decisions) can be incredibly sweet (though perhaps still spicy) food.

When I search for "pepper beer" I get 55,600 hits. Removing the quotation marks, I get 46 million hits. Pepper beer - it's all the rage!!!!!

Did any of you actually read the review?

First, much of the criticism is aimed at writing style, not the views expressed about local food, etc. For example,

The quality of Mr. Cowen’s prose varies wildly. Many of his sentences read as if he composed them before entirely waking from a nap. Here’s an example: “The more fundamental problem is that labels do not encompass the same economywide information that is communicated by the price system in its assessment of competing uses for resources.”

Word-goo of this sort creeps in everywhere. One of his favorite books is assessed this way: “I found his writing compelling and the photos full of striking colors.” Items on one’s plate are “foodstuffs.”

You may disagree with the criticism, but there's nothing ideological going on here.

Elsewhere, the ideology being criticized is what Garner calls "chowhound hipsterism," and "reverse snobbery." Having read many of Tyler's food posts I personally think these are accurate. The endless "best tamale in XXX," shtick is pretty silly, and I've said so here. Again, disagree if you like, but stop with the talk about how the NYT, which after all regularly publishes columns by Tyler on economic matters, is somehow out to get him because they don't like his politics.

That's seriously foolish.

"Did any of you actually read the review?"
Yes, I did.

"You may disagree with the criticism, but there’s nothing ideological going on here."
But this makes me doubt that you did.

I, too, read the review. Of course he is entitled to his opinion (though he is not entitled to be free from criticism when he expresses said opinion). However, he did make factual claims that were questionable at best, and an ideological viewpoint seemed pretty clearly to be driving his opinion of the book. This is what all the criticism focused on.

I don't think the Times is "out to get him," though. I agree with you there.

To call business & technology Orwellian is to suffer from the worst kind of blindness. I was once on a date and the girl mentioned how much she thought technology was ruining everything and that she preferred "natural" things. We were sitting in a nice, all-organic, all-local restaurant.

I reminded her that everything around us was unnatural: the table, the plates, the silverware, the building, the climate-control in the building, the streets we walked on to get there. Even the fact that, thanks to vaccinations, she's guaranteed not to get smallpox!

And in the meantime we have technology helping fuel the Arab Spring. Orwellian? Really?!

Did you bone her?

There is no kindle edition available from amazon.co.uk !

I think it's Orwellian that Tyler thinks it's Orwellian that the reviewer thinks it's Orwellian.

"Four legs good, two legs better." As true in realm of the culinary arts as it is in the realm of political satire.

I think Dwight G. doesn't get the deadpan irony of Tyler's prose, its buried mischief. Regular MR readers know what I mean.

Sometimes it's very difficult for me to tell when Cowen is being serious and when he's playing Socrates. Sometimes I think "well that's nonsense" then I think "ah wait the good professor is simply being deliberately abstruse to force us to reconsider our own opinions" then "but maybe it is just nonsense after all."

Would you like some mood affiliation sauce with your order, Mr. Garner?

Hey Byomtov, I don't agree that "much" of the criticism is about the writing style. You actually quoted the only two paragraphs that mention writing style. The rest of the review was an exercise in wittily calling Tyler a unoriginal poser, a conservative hack spreading false right-wing ideas, an uninformed level 2 foodie contrarian hypocrite. If I didn't read Tyler's blog, I would have chuckled a few times and moved on. But since I do read Tyler's blog and don't think he is any of those things, I am left to assume that Garner is biased, or maybe he wasn't familiar with Tyler's quirks and wasn't charitable enough to attempt to give a fair review.

Garner didn't really offer any substantive arguments against the book. He takes it for granted that Tyler's ideas are wrong, that the reader agrees with him, and spends time joking and nit-picking. He adds a few positive comments near the end, but overall it was a very close-minded review.

I literally want to vomit every time I read tyler cowen's words/attempts to sound like a human being.

A deeply humane comment.

No he's being ironic, I'm sure. Isn't vomiting after a meal a sign of appreciation in some cultures? Think of the Romans -- perhaps he's indicating a deep desire to read, i.e. ingest, more of Tyler's words than his stomach, i.e. head, can contain? Or perhaps the reference is to birds: he wishes to regurgitate the rich tamale of Tyler's prose to feed his young -- that's it!

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