Category: Food and Drink

What did 17th century food taste like?

I didn’t realize until recently that broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and collard greens are all technically the same species, Brassica oleracea. The substantial differences between these sub-species are all due to patient intervention by human farmers over millennia. Many of these changes are surprisingly recent. Early versions of cauliflower may have been mentioned by Pliny and medieval Muslim botanists, but as late as 1600, a French author was writing that cauli-fiori “as the Italians call it” was “still rather rare in France.” Likewise, Brussels sprouts don’t appear to have become widely cultivated until the Renaissance.

That is from a longer post by Benjamn Breen at Res Obscura.  And here is his post on when California was the Bear Republic.

My Conversation with Juan Pablo Villarino

Juan is sometimes considered the world’s greatest hitchhiker, and this was one of my favorite installments in the series.  We talked about “the joys of connecting with people, why it’s so hard to avoid stereotypes (including of hitchhikers), how stamp collecting guides his trips, the darkest secrets of people he’s gotten rides from, traveling and writing books with his wife, the cause of violence in the Americas, finding the emotional heart of a journey, where he’s going next…” and which country has the most beautiful women (and men).  And why Colombia and Transnistria are two of his favorite places to visit.

Here is the transcript and audio.

Here is one excerpt:

VILLARINO: As a rule of thumb, I always like to say that you stop cars with your smile and not with your thumb. There are actually a lot of things you could do to improve your chances of getting a lift.

It’s not like go there, stick out your thumb, and get a ride. Definitely, smiling as a car is passing — it’s a really important thing. Then there are very subtle things that people wouldn’t guess that have an impact, and they do…

For example, a driver has on average three seconds to decide whether he’s going to stop or not. He sees you, he’s driving maybe 80 miles an hour, and you suddenly pop out. There are a lot of things going on unconsciously through his mind to decide whether he’s going to stop or not. You have only these seconds to convey any message of trust, and so you have to do things.

For example, one is smiling. The other one is, when you manage to get eye contact, then I reinforce. Let’s say, I’m showing my thumb, but I also switch my hand signal and point it to the direction in which I’m going as I’m smiling. This makes a more personalized link over the general link you are already doing, which is thumbing.

Then the way you are dressed, the way your backpack is positioned . . .

And:

COWEN: In your six slowest, you have in that worst six Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark with slow times [for being picked up hitchhiking].

VILLARINO: Oh, yeah. Scandinavia.

COWEN: Those countries have plenty of cars. Why are they so slow?

VILLARINO: That’s amazing. To be hitchhiking in Scandinavia, you see all this row of Volvo cars passing you by [laughs] and they will never ever stop.

I had talked to a Swedish friend of mine, and she just said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t stop either,” she said, “because it’s so cheap and affordable to have a car. Then if someone is hitchhiking and doesn’t have a car, you would think he has second intentions or something wrong is going on here.”

And:

COWEN: Would you describe yourself as a workaholic hitchhiker?

VILLARINO: Yes. [laughs] I am. People would be so surprised to see how much time there is involved on the backstage behind the screen because you hitchhike, you have books, and you have a blog. The blog is so time consuming.

Juan had the very best answer I thought as to why the New World is more violent than the Old World, overall.  It starts with this:

VILLARINO: Probably because in our evolution as territories, we have had violence as a part of it much more recently in the timeline. We were conquered by means of powder. I think that’s probably in the genetic of our culture. I hope not.

Strongly recommended, and I hope to read and see more of Juan in the future.

What should I ask Michael Pollan?

I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with him, no associated public event.  Here is his home page, and the About section.  Here is Wikipedia on Pollan.  Here is a Sean Iling Vox interview with Pollan, on his recent work on LSD and other psychedelics, and his most recent book is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.  Pollan is perhaps best known for his books on food, cooking, and food supply chains. 

So what should I ask him?

Which cities have people-watching street cafes?

D. asks me that question, citing Morocco, BA, and Paris.  Here are a few factors militating in favor of such cafes:

1. The weather should be reasonable.  This militates in favor of Mediterranean climates, with Paris eking through nonetheless.  It hurts much of Asia.

2. The broad highways and thoroughfares should be removed from where the cafes might go.  This factor harms Los Angeles, which otherwise has excellent weather, and helps La Jolla.  Note that BA and some of the larger Moroccan cities were designed and built up around the same time, based on broadly European models, and to fit early 20th century technologies.

3. Street crime must be acceptably low.  Bye bye Brazil.

4. Pollution should be fairly low, otherwise sitting outside is unpleasant.  This harm many Indian and Chinese cities.

5. Streets must not be too steep.  Sorry La Paz, and yes here at MR we adjust steepness coefficients by altitude.

6. Skyscrapers must not be too plentiful.  This harms Manhattan, because the sunlight is mostly blocked.

7. Explicit or implicit marginal tax rates on labor should be relatively high.  Another boost for the Mediterranean.  And is cafe culture therefore correlated with smoking culture?

7b. Explicit or implicit land rents should be “low enough.”  After all, they have to be willing to let you sit there all day.  Just try that in midtown Manhattan.

8. The cities should have mixed-use neighborhoods, well-connected to each other by foot, conducive to many diverse groups of people walking through.  This hurts many parts of the United States and also some parts of Latin America.  It is a big gain for Paris.

9. The city dwellers need some tradition of “being alone,” so that these individuals use the cafe to connect to the outside.  You will note that in many parts of Italy, the people-watching street cafe is outcompeted by the “stationary street conference, five guys who know each other really well yelling at each other about who knows what?”  They never get around to that cafe chair.  So the city needs some degree of anonymity, but not too much.  This harms some of the more traditional societies found around the Mediterranean.  On the other side of the distribution, too strong a tradition of television-watching hurts cafe life too.

10. Another competitor to the people-watching street cafe is the zócalo town square tradition of Mexico.  I myself prefer the centralization of the zócalo (though admittedly it does not scale well fractally).  So the city also has to fail in providing just the right kind of parks and park benches and focality in its very center.  Surprise, surprise, but dysfunctional local public goods are by no means unheard of around the Mediterranean, Paris too, BA, and cities such as Casablanca.

What else?

San Francisco substitution the rent is too damn high

Restaurateurs who say they can no longer find or afford servers are figuring out how to do without them. And so in this city of staggering wealth, you can eat like a gourmand, with real stemware and ceramic plates. But first you’ll have to go get your own silverware.

…Restaurateurs here have taken a model familiar to taquerias and fast-casual, cafeteria-style places like Sweetgreen and Chipotle Mexican Grill, and pushed it further up the fine-dining food chain. Call it fast-fine, they suggest, or fine-casual. Or counter service “in a full service environment” that includes $11 cocktails and $22 pan-roasted salmon.

By the way, rent is not the only problem:

On July 1, the minimum wage in San Francisco will hit $15 an hour, following incremental raises from $10.74 in 2014. The city also requires employers with at least 20 workers to pay health care costs beyond the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, in addition to paid sick leave and parental leave.

Even the dosa is troubled:

In December, he opened a counter-service version of Dosa in Oakland. The new restaurant serves cardamom- and fenugreek-spiced cocktails. But there’s also a self-service water station, and a busing station for diners inclined to clear their own tables. (If they aren’t, an employee will do the job.)

Here is more from Emily Badger (NYT).  Addendum: Hadur in the comments writes: “Who could have predicted that this would happen in America’s most high-tech city?”

The slippery slope

Members of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ family were followed by the owner of the restaurant they were kicked out of over the weekend after they settled an alternative place to dine.

During an interview Monday on Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s radio show, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the father of the press secretary, said Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., tailed Sanders’ in-laws across the street and along with a number of other people protested their presence at the restaurant to which they had migrated.

Sanders and her husband were said to not be present at the second restaurant.

Here is more.  I still believe in freedom of association in matters such as this, but I also think you should, as a personal decision, serve Republicans at the lunch counter.  This is what starts to happen when you don’t..  Civility remains underrated, and is this a good time to apply just a little behavioral economics to how the interactions might escalate.

Via Megan.

We will never disapprove of current levels of animal cruelty

Not fundamentally, no.  However terrible our current treatment of animals may be, most of us don’t seem to mind very much, and I suppose that is consistent with what a Darwinian theory would predict.  Here are a few facts about the sociologically specific nature of vegetarianism:

  1. The majority of vegans are female in gender: e.g., 74% in USA [27], 66% in Germany [39] and 63% in UK [29];

  2. They tend to be liberal-leftist politically: in USA, we have a 52% of liberals versus a 14% of conservatives and a 34% of self-styled “neutral” [27];

  3. They are generally more educated than carnists (e.g., Ipsos Mori [29] for UK and Mensik et al. for Germany [39]);

  4. They are more likely to be found in urban than country areas, with prevalence in big cities (e.g., Ipsos Mori [29] for UK, Roy Morgan Research for Australia [49] and Mensik et al. for Germany [39]);

  5. They display an inclination to secular/atheist views on religion matters (e.g., Humane Research Council [27], where it is shown that about half of the American community of vegans/vegetarians is not religious—a percentage that is considerably higher than that of the general population).

Less predictable may be the fact that a rather high percentage of vegans/vegetarians revert to carnism after a certain amount of time (in US, according to Humane Research Council [27], 2% of the respondents were vegans/vegetarians, while no less than 10% were former vegans/vegetarians)…

Not by chance, of the mentioned 10%, one third dropped the lifestyle after 3 months or less, one half within a year, and therefore only less than 20% “resisted” for more than a year.

That is from a recent article by Dario Martinelli and Aušra Berkmanienė.  It seems, by the way, that Israel is the country with the highest measured percentage of vegans.  Is that because it is a way of keeping semi-kosher without quite admitting one is doing so?

Artificial meat?  Yes, yes I know.  But we already have cauliflower, and drenched in yogurt sauce and green cardamom pods and garam masala that is quite delicious, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter.  Vegetarian food in India already tastes better than most meat dishes consumed in the United States.

Hat tip goes to Rolf Degen.

How much is deep sea fishing subsidized?

While the ecological impacts of fishing the waters beyond national jurisdiction (the “high seas”) have been widely studied, the economic rationale is more difficult to ascertain because of scarce data on the costs and revenues of the fleets that fish there. Newly compiled satellite data and machine learning now allow us to track individual fishing vessels on the high seas in near real time. These technological advances help us quantify high-seas fishing effort, costs, and benefits, and assess whether, where, and when high-seas fishing makes economic sense. We characterize the global high-seas fishing fleet and report the economic benefits of fishing the high seas globally, nationally, and at the scale of individual fleets. Our results suggest that fishing at the current scale is enabled by large government subsidies, without which as much as 54% of the present high-seas fishing grounds would be unprofitable at current fishing rates. The patterns of fishing profitability vary widely between countries, types of fishing, and distance to port. Deep-sea bottom trawling often produces net economic benefits only thanks to subsidies, and much fishing by the world’s largest fishing fleets would largely be unprofitable without subsidies and low labor costs. These results support recent calls for subsidy and fishery management reforms on the high seas.

Emphasis added, that is by Enric Sala, et.al., via Anecdotal.

Alesund notes

Alesund, Norway is one of the most beautiful small cities in Europe.  The setting is picture-perfect, and much of the architecture was redone in 1904-1905 in Art Nouveau style, due to a fire that burned down the previous wooden structures.  The Art Nouveau murals in the town church deserve to be better known.

Image result for alesund norway

This time around, Norway seems vaguely affordable.  The food is “good enough,” especially if you like cod.  Dark chocolate ice cream is hard to come by.  Driving to the puffins takes 3-4 hours, though they are not always to be seen.

Vanilla is worth more than silver

The price of vanilla has hit a record high of $600 (£445) per kilogram for the second time since 2017 when a cyclone damaged many of the plantations in Madagascar, where three quarters of the world’s vanilla is grown. Silver by comparison currently costs $538/kg.

Demand for vanilla has kept the prices high, leading some ice cream manufacturers to cut back and even halt production of the flavour, sparking fears of shortages over the summer.

Here is the full story, and note this:

Replacement printer ink cartridges can cost between $8 and $27, depending on the type of printer you have. A single black ink jet cartridge from one major manufacturer can cost $23 for just 4ml of ink – enough to print around 200 pages.

Manufacturers argue they need to charge this to cover the loss they are selling the printer hardware at, together with the research and development they do on ink technology. But cut open an ink cartridge and you will see that most of the space inside is taken up with sponge, designed to help preserve and deliver the ink.

And when you are paying what works out to be around $1,733/kg of ink, you might be better off printing with pure silver instead.

Is there a Chinese salamander bubble?

Bizarrely, only 3 percent of the animals raised by the farms are eventually sold to restaurants. The rest are sold to more start-up farms. This absurd amphibian Ponzi scheme so inflated the worth of the salamanders that a small, 2-kilogram individual could sell for around $1,500. As a result, people began supplementing the farmed stock by illegally collecting the animals from the wild. “The high prices created a sort of salamander rush,” says Jing Che from the Kunming Institute of Zoology, who was involved in the recent study.

That is from Ed Yong, via Brian Slesinsky.

A microeconomic guide to travel, including Ethiopia

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is the opener:

I sometimes wish the market supplied “travel guides as if microeconomics really mattered.” Most guides outline the major sights and the best hotels, but what about the little things that make up so much of the value of a trip? Here’s my handy introduction to the micro side of travel, based on my recent 10-day stay in Ethiopia. You should consider investigating these same factors before choosing a destination:

How are the sidewalks?

I enjoy walking around cities, but it’s not just the quality of the architecture or the vitality of the street life that matter. The quality of the sidewalks is a central consideration, especially in emerging economies. What good are the sights if you are looking down all the time to avoid a slip or a broken ankle because of gaping holes? Sometimes major thoroughfares have no sidewalks at all.

I am happy to report that in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, the quality of the sidewalks and street paths is high enough to sustain productive walking with your head held high. Most of the time. B, and B+ outside the capital.

There is much more at the link, definitely recommended.

The Chinese tourist hot water revolution

Bearing backpacks loaded with thermoses, sipping their steaming-hot refreshments with satisfaction, Chinese tourists’ unquenchable thirst for hot water, though odd for many Westerners, is having a huge impact on destinations worldwide, causing a “hot water revolution” in the global tourism industry.

In snow-crested Scandinavia, where chugging ice water is a long-standing habit, several hot water dispensers are being installed in Helsinki Airport to cater to Chinese travelers’ thirst for the throat-scalding beverage.

“We have long traditions in providing services for Chinese, but we want to develop them even further in order to welcome new passengers and make the current ones even happier,” Katja Siberg, SVP Marketing and Communications at Finavia, told People’s Daily Online, who added that the idea of serving hot water was proposed by her Finnish colleagues after they visited airports in China.

Helsinki Airport is not the only transportation hub that attempts to capture the hearts of Chinese tourists by providing them with hot water, and some of its counterparts have pushed the “hot water revolution” even further. In March, an intelligent hot water installation was set up in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, where USB heating vacuum cups designed by KLM were distributed to Chinese tourists as Spring Festival gifts.

Here is the full story.

Ethiopian food in Ethiopia

I will compare to Ethiopian food in the United States, so I won’t be starting from scratch here.

The good news is that the product is tastier in Ethiopia.  But the other good news is that the U.S. version of the cuisine is fairly similar, and it really does give you a pretty good idea of at least mainstream restaurant cuisine in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopians really do eat a lot of injera, made out of teff.  Firfir dishes, which use injera soaked in spices, are far more common in Ethiopian cuisine in Ethiopia than in the U.S. equivalent.  Overall, the quality, subtlety, and diversity of injera is higher in Ethiopia, as you might expect.

Bozena Shiro is another staple, present in both countries but again far more common in Ethiopia.

Doro Wat — chicken in the red sauce — is the dish that improves the most in Ethiopia.  The sauce is richer and more subtle, more in the direction of a Mexican mole than just a mere curry.

I had two meals in private homes, one in a well-to-do apartment in Addis, the other in a rural village.  Neither overturned the basic impressions I have been receiving from the restaurant food.

I ate kitfo [raw beef] once and did not get sick or even feel queasy.

The fresh honey is much better in Ethiopia than what you might get in a restaurant in America.  And they pop fresh popcorn rather frequently.

Especially outside of Addis Ababa, prices are very cheap.  I stayed in the nicest hotel at the number one tourist site, namely Lalibela, with its underground, rock-hewn churches.  A single course at breakfast cost about a dollar and was enough for a meal.  Presumably some other prices are cheaper yet.

This is a wonderful country for vegetarians and vegans.  I am told that for the Christian religiously observant, about one-third of all days specify an abstention from meat.  So virtually all restaurants have a wide selection of vegetarian food and it is no worse than the meat dishes, perhaps better on average.

As for foreign cuisines, I had the best outcome with Indian food, perhaps because many of the spices and cooking techniques are similar.  There are Sudanese and Yemeni restaurants in Addis, Italian food is plentiful (it’s not always exactly Italian, but Castelli’s is amazing), and the Chinese meal I had was decent but not sufficiently Chinese.

My Conversation with Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Interesting throughout, so interesting I don’t feel the need to give you an excerpt, here is the audio and transcript.  There is no other conversation with Taleb which places his ideas in the proper context, as far as I am aware.  At the end of the conversation, just keep on scrolling, Taleb starts up with Bryan Caplan for an hour, mostly on education.  Here is the link for the Caplan segment only.