Why I don’t like desserts

I’ve been challenged on this point many times in the last few days.

People, let me stress there are two different propositions:

1. “I don’t like desserts.”

2. “I don’t like desserts (with economist’s hat on).”

I meant mainly the latter, although I do also find many desserts overrated.  If you grow accustomed to not too much sugar, many desserts in fact turn out to be disgusting.

In any case, the sugar and calories “shadow price” of most desserts is pretty high.  I’d rather consume my health sins in other ways, and so relative to their actual net prices I find few desserts are worth it.  My favorite desserts, by the way, are found in Kolkaata, and those I consume avidly.  If I lived in Kolkaata, however, I might have to convince myself they are not any good, because I see a lumpiness issue with their negative health effects. I don’t feel my tourist consumption will harm me much if at all, but as a native I would be tempted to have them every day.

The green pepper is a food which as a human I like a small amount but as an economist I like a great deal.


I feel the same way about peppers, but I prefer orange and yellow ones.

The price is the price, there is no shadow price. It doesn't do to start disaggregating the price into exchange price and other prices or we're going to start getting too close to the discredited one who must not be named.

Getting FAT is a higher cost than just the up front cost of desert.

Ian, what he meant by 'shadow price' totally went over your head. It had nothing to do with the cash price. It strictly refereed to the long term effects of eating too much sugar in this particular example.

Now THAT I understand, especially since I'm finding the older I get, the higher the "cost" of sugar/carbs. Plus, I agree, the less sugar you eat (and I don't eat much anymore), the more you have to watch out for the typical dessert at a restaurant, which tastes incredibly sweet, and is often enough for several people (and makes me not feel so good with a sugar buzz). But when it's something that I haven't had many times before, and doesn't sound too sweet, in my experience, at a good restaurant, the desserts are often an incredible experience, and well worth the entire cost.

@RS - you have good instincts, sugar is not good for you, and indeed the best desserts are found in good (e.g., three star, western) restaurants. TC's 'Calcutta' desserts are mostly sugary junk that taste good due to hunger from traveling on the road (anything tastes good when you're hungry). They really don't do good desserts in Asia.

Bonus trivia: average American sugar consumption: 18 pounds in 1850, 93 pounds in 1920, 150 pounds today. Chinese food uses lots of sugar, besides MSG.

Ray Lopez,

The Indian subcontinent really doesn't do multiple courses or desserts. You get a variety of dishes on your plate, and usually start eating with the sweets and end with rice (this is a general rule of thumb and there are plenty of cuisines which are exceptions to this).

Interesting - in Bangladesh we almost always start with rice and end with the sweets.

In American made Chinese food perhaps, but not in real Chinese food. China's per capita sugar consumption in 2011 was right around 17 pounds per person, miniscule next to the US consumption of 150 pounds per person in the US.

didn't the oldest women who ever lived eat a lot of chocolate?

Chocolate isn't dessert. It is a staple.

Dark chocolate isn't that sweet so you can get away with eating a fair amount without consuming too many carbs.


Think in terms of value-for-calories, as you would with value-for-money. Just as you have a cash budget in mind when you eat out, so too you need a calorie budget. Soft drinks are the worst value-for-calorie: you're spending a huge proportion of your calorie budget on something which you barely even taste. Many cocktails are similar offenders. Desserts are the next-worst: if you ever have a dessert, it should be a small one, hence the popularity of ordering one dessert and two forks (to share). The next worst is probably fatty breads, e.g. pizza base; pasta doesn't come out well either. Beef and chicken are evenly matched: the former is high-calorie but also high-taste; whereas chicken is fairly low-calorie and low-taste. Cover them in other flavours though, and chicken wins: you can barely taste the beef in a burrito so you might as well order the chicken and save some calories.

Follow this rule and you'll probably end up eating spicier foods: recipes with a bigger bark (more taste) but less bite (fewer calories).

"fatty breads, e.g. pizza base"

Have you been eating brioche pizza?

I'm talking about deep dish pizzas with a thick crust, not the thin/crispy neapolitan style. Fat from the pizza toppings (particularly pepperoni) drips into the base, making a deadly combination of carbs and fat. It's quite delicious, but the price is far too high.

@Andrew M- indeed, it's well known that poor people consume lots of sugar, as it's a cheap source of calories. Very common in southeast Asia.

Bonus trivia (repeated from upstream, but just in case you are like most people and only read your own comments): average American sugar consumption: 18 pounds in 1850, 93 pounds in 1920, 150 pounds today.

Now I think you have the economics all messed up (as well as having poor taste - meaning, different than mine). The price is indeed the price. The "cost" may be more than the price if you take into account negative health effects of deserts. Your original discussion had something to do with the time it takes to order and get desert, the need to turn over tables, and the supposed lack of ability to charge more than $30 for entrees (I only wish that were true). So, if I put on my economist hat, I think of the opportunity cost to the restaurant of serving desert. Perhaps the reason they charge so much for desert is precisely the opportunity cost of tying up the table for so long.

I do not see worrying about health effects as thinking like an economist. All people think about the benefits and costs of their consumptive behaviors in more than just monetary terms. You don't need to be an economist to do that. Only economists worry about the opportunity costs to the owner of serving deserts (not really "only" but that is more likely to occur to an economist).

I don't like to get dessert at a restaurant because it's very overpriced and usually gaudy in terms of sweeteness and size.
But I like something sweet after dinner, so a small chocolate or a scoop of ice cream will get the job done.
Now, when in Spain, eat turron at any available opportunity.

You guys make me laugh in a good way.

If you grow accustomed to not too much salt many savory dishes are disgusting too.

And if you go without eating for too long, basically all food beyond a saltine will make you throw up until you get used to calories again.

Have Tyler and you improved or atrophied?

So, what you're telling us is that economists aren't actually human.

sandesh (or as the Bengalis call it Shandesh) or rasgulla (or Roshogolla)?

What about a debate with Peter Boettke about this? That man loves dessert.

Does this mean you would have been able,

Unfairly given your tastes and preferences,

To Win

The Marshmallow Test?

What if they had offered red meat?

Thought experiment.

I have doubts that an economist would say that people do not like desserts more than the entree,

as this is a case of revealed preference AND behavior which overcomes the concept of declining marginal utility from extra food

UNLESS dessert were favored over all food that had preceded it.

I figured out a long time ago that talking like an economist in mixed company was a quick and easy way to make one a very lonely person at a party.

But I'm surprised that so many people here seem to have a similar aversion (or, perhaps, lack of comprehension).

It's the perfect solution: while your wife thinks you are with your mistress, your mistress thinks you are with your wife, which means you can get some economics done!

Moderation. I enjoy dessert at a fine restaurant, or when I visit my friend (who is a chef), but I don't eat dessert every day, or even once a week, or sometimes even once a month. Some are gluttons, and don't understand moderation. A little dessert, like a little wine, is good for the soul; but for gluttons, and alcoholics, one dessert, one drink, is too many, a thousand not enough.

A lot of these habits are formed in childhood. Right now, we've got a cultural bias towards saying to kids: "if you eat X much dinner, you will get dessert."

So, rather than let a kid go to bed and get bit hungry and then eat a big (presumably healthy) breakfast the next morning, we're saying that he should force himself to eat when he's not hungry, to get a reward of some junk food that simply adds more calories and encourages him to continue to eat even when he's REALLY full. These are not good habits in a food environment like ours, which is characterized by too many cheap/empty calories, too frequently available. (As a side note, it's interesting to see how this is very similar to the adaptations made by kids in food insecure households. They quickly learn to override satiety cues, because food isn't always available and so you should eat as much as you can when it is.)

That said, it's really hard to watch your kid pick at his dinner when you know half an hour later he's going to be whiny and hungry when you try to put him to bed. And, um, if your toddler wakes up an hour early because he's hungry, that's horrible. That' pre-dawn for most parents. Sigh. It's really hard to break this cultural norm for a lot of reasons.

"(presumably healthy)"

Aaaaaand there's where your SAT essay got a 0.

Calories in - calories out, it's not rocket science. I can lose two pounds a week when I work out hard, burning 1000+ calories a day, and maintain my weight otherwise. I still fit into my jeans from my 30s, even my 20s when I work out hard for a few months.

The guy that proved this was the food professor from some state like TN a while ago, who as part of an experiment ate nothing but Twinkies, Hostess Ho-hos, snow-cones and the like, and McDonald's junk food, and actually lost weight and had better cholesterol levels than before when he ate a more balanced diet, since he worked out. Calories in - calories out. For anti-cancer and other reasons however I would not eat Twinkies forever, even though they last forever in shelf life.

Twinkies lasting forever is actually a myth. After just a few months they start to taste funny (relative to how they are supposed to taste, anyway) and after a year the sponge cake layer becomes soft and difficult to eat. Please note that I am not a Twinkie addict; I once worked in a lab that did shelf-life testing including taste testing.

The source of the myth is simply that when they were introduced in the mid 20th century, Twinkies lasted much longer than people expected a sponge-cake-like product to last. They've held onto that reputation despite the fact that, for totally processed junk food, they have a pretty short shelf like (6-8 months if I remember properly).

There are all sorts of junk/snack foods that are much more shelf-stable - some of them aren't even pumped full of preservatives! A simple chocolate bar remains tasty long after a Twinkie has turned to mush.

Completely reasonable to say they can't have a dessert (if they ask for one) if they don't eat a healthy dinner (e.g. vegetables). After dinner they're only allowed fruits and veggies (to discourage the drawn-out all night eating game). If they're hungry, they can always eat vegetables- even after they brush their teeth. If they're not hungry enough to eat vegetables, they're not really that hungry. And if they are hungry enough to eat vegetables, let 'em eat.

In general I think the typical American diet contains WAY too much junk food, even in the course of what is considered a "normal" meal.

For instance, a sandwich is typically served with a bag of potato chips (junk food), and/or a cookie (junk food again), and/or a soda (more junk food). And that is considered a "healthy" meal.

In my market--one smaller and less sophisticated than the D.C. area--restaurant desserts seem to be especially designed to not have to be freshly prepared. Plenty of flourless chocolate cakes and the like that can be made one day and served for several more. I rarely order dessert, and if I do only order homemade ice creams or fruit desserts.

I too am not a fan of desserts. Calories should not be counted for the day but for the week or fortnight, and dessert simply wastes good meat calories that should be spent on some other meal.

But if you want something a little sweet and a little fat, I recommend a few frozen blackberries in half-and-half. It doesn't take much half-and-half because it freezes to the berries. Quite satisfying, nicely healthy, and very tasty.

Typical restaurant deserts are usually an experience below expectations. This is because the menu descriptions are usually over blown, plus you have just eaten your main course, so are not as hungry or even stuffed. So restaurant deserts should be avoided on those grounds if no other. Something that is good in absolute terms, can be experienced as bad if it does not meet expectations. For instance your new Mercedes can be a great car in absolute terms, but if you spend the first month in frustration learning the new paddle gear change, it will be a negative experience.

I eat deserts separately from dinner, either at home or in a setting where the desert is the focus, like a coffee shop or cafe. Then, since you are familiar with the desert, know what's in it and are more hungry, the desert is more likely to meet or exceed your expectations, even if the desert is less good in absolute terms.

'The green pepper is a food which as a human I like a small amount but as an economist I like a great deal'

What in God's name are you struggling to convey?

'As a human'?

Less costly food, both in terms of calories and cost. Not terribly good tasting. If you're trying to gin up a dish, a good sauce goes miles longer than green peppers. Costlier in terms of calorie count, ingredients, and time spent, though.

Bell peppers aren't that awesome, but there are other small green hot peppers that are very useful in spicing up all sorts of dishes. I use serrano and jalepeno peppers frequently.

I doin't know where you people get your green peppers, but, per pound, green peppers are ridiculously expensive at most grocery stores - the average price I've seen in $3/2 green peppers which works out to about $12/lb. Not a particularly attractive price for produce. I can get a lot of not so tasty green vegetables at prices much closer to $.90/lb (kale, spinach, napa cabbage). Some for even less.

How's this?

You're an egomanic for even writing this post.

"let them eat peppers with their beans!"

Queen Tyler Cowen

Two comments:

1. In the earlier post I mentioned that by the time dinner is over I have leftovers and am already full. I believe this counts as the economists hat. Even aside from whether you like sweet things, it just doesn't make sense to spend money on more food, of the least healthy kind, at the end of a meal, when you're just not craving it as much.

2. On peppers, I used to wonder why people in hot climates tended to eat spicy food. I used to think it was because they would drink more water and stay hydrated that way, or something like that. Then I attempted to grow hot peppers in Virginia, and I realized that people in hot climates eat hot peppers because that's where hot peppers grow. Peppers need heat to to produce. Virginia is borderline, but in northern climates, you just aren't going to get very many peppers off your pepper plants.

It is odd there is relatively little less sweet options. I suppose marketers haven't been picked up on this yet.

By shadow price you mean adding in the negative externalities. Or would in this case the things you eat be considered internalities?

I love pastries especially sfogliatelle but you generally need to go to a bakery for good pastries so I seldom get dessert at a restaurant. Most restaurants do take the low road and load on the fat and calories on desserts, no fineness.

The green pepper is a food which as a human I like a small amount but as an economist I like a great deal.

In Providence RI when I was growing up their people from Italian decent like my mom would make pepper sandwiches. They are great.

" If you grow accustomed to not too much sugar, many desserts in fact turn out to be disgusting"

Definitely true. Same thing is true of salt. I used to love pizza,but now the salt content of most pizza is just too much to stomach.

On the other hand, the Trader Joe's pizza with minced kale instead of tomato sauce was delicious (in a frozen pizza way). But my inner teenager was appalled.

People eat peppers in hot climates because they cool you down. NYT article.
If you must have dessert, split it four ways. That helps your health and offers the additional benefit of punishing the restaurant.

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