That is a new piece by me, from Foreign Policy. Here is one excerpt:
First consider global cuisines like Mexican or Chinese. You can find a handful of good cookbooks pretty much anywhere these days. It’s not just that we’re all suckers for guacamole or stir-fry. It’s development economics in practice — a foodie measure of how much these societies have moved toward greater commercialization, large-scale production, and standardization of production processes. Quite simply, it’s the recipe for economic progress.
Consider how cooking evolves: It starts in the home and then eventually spreads to restaurants and on to cookbooks, along the way transforming a recipe from oral tradition to commercialized product. In the home, recipes are often transmitted from grandmother to mother, or from father to son, or simply by watching and participating. I’ve seen this in rural Mexico, for instance, when an older daughter teaches her younger sister how to pat tortillas the right way. When societies get richer, you start to see restaurants, a form of specialization like auto mechanics or tailors…Restaurants require that strangers — other cooks — be taught the process. That means simplifying or standardizing ingredients so they’re easier to work with and, in many cases, available year-round. This, of course, means writing down the recipe. Once a dish reaches these commercial milestones, cookbooks will follow.
The piece closes with:
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to see Adam Smith in action, go out and get yourself some Sichuanese peppercorns and some fresh Thai basil — that’s the true wealth of nations.
You can buy my book An Economist Gets Lunch here.