Category: Food and Drink

What are good long-term investments in your health?

Stuart asks:

1) what do you think are good long-term investments in your health? I know you’re a teetotaler and non-smoker, what about exercise? where do returns start not making sense?

I do not think I am the expert you should consult, but I can tell you where my knowledge base comes from.  I have endured a lifetime of people with very exact ideas about health maximization, but with a paucity of data or carefully controlled studies.  I thus tend to be skeptical of very specific advice.  At the same time, common sense appears to yield some broad dividends, or will involve no real cost.  I think the answers that follow are pretty stupid and uninteresting, but this was the highest rated reader request, so here goes:

1. Don’t drink.  It is fine or even beneficial for most people, but terrible for 10-15%  That might be you.  And even for those who are not “problem drinkers,” I’ve had plenty of people write me and tell me their lives are much better since they stopped drinking.  Stop treating “drinking” as a default.

2. Exercise every day.  For me the main options are basketball, tennis, walking, weights, and Peloton.  I am not suggesting those are best, they are simply what I bring myself to do.  And indeed that is probably the most important factor for you.  I am skeptical of very high stress exercises, such as risky rock climbing, and so on.  I don’t see the case for making your exercise into a health risk.

3. Get good sleep.  I am blessed in this regard.  For me what works is going to bed and waking up at regular hours, and not treating weekends any differently.  I don’t pretend that advice has universal validity, but perhaps for some of you it is worth trying.  Other people have theories about sleeping in the cold, sleeping with masks, etc.  I am not opposed!  Try those if you need them.  I don’t.

4. Don’t eat junk food.  Try to eat mostly unprocessed foods.  That said, I don’t think we understand diet very well or have good data on what works.  I just don’t seem the harm in eating mostly natural foods.  They taste better anyway, and there is possible upside.

5. Be happy.  Have goals and projects.  Have sex.  Have good social networks.  There is some evidence on these, I am not sure how strongly causal it is.  “Go to church” might work as well, but I don’t do that one.  It would frustrate me more than anything.

6. Unless you have strong evidence to the contrary, take a minimum of medications.  Don’t just pop random stuff because it might have some modest short-run benefit.  But yes I do believe in vaccines and most of all those kinds of medicine that have direct parallels with what we do to try to fix animals.

That is my advice.  I consider it mostly trivial, but still it is better than violating the advice.

Hunting smaller animals: is this also a theory of early economic growth?

We found that weighted mean body mass declined log-linearly through time. Mean hunted animal masses 10,500 years ago, were only 1.7% of those 1.5 million years ago. Neither body size at any period, nor size change from one layer to the next, were related to global temperature or to temperature changes. Throughout the Pleistocene, new human lineages hunted significantly smaller prey than the preceding ones. This suggests that humans extirpated megafauna throughout the Pleistocene, and when the largest species were depleted the next-largest were targeted. Technological advancements likely enabled subsequent human lineages to effectively hunt smaller prey replacing larger species that were hunted to extinction or until they became exceedingly rare.

Here is the full paper by Jacob Dembitzer, et.al., via Kobi Haron.

The supply chain that is Japanese

McDonald’s Japan has joined the unfortunate ranks of Toyota, Sony and other industrial titans that have fallen victim to a chip supply crisis.

The fast-food group said on Tuesday that because of delivery delays from Canada, it would only be able to offer the smallest serving of french fries at its 2,900 outlets. An emergency plan to ensure “continuous supply of french fries to customers” has been introduced, said a company spokesman.

And this I had not known:

For nearly half a century, Japanese consumers have ordered KFC chicken on Christmas thanks to an advertising campaign that successfully linked the fast-food chain with the holiday. KFC operates a family bucket pre-booking system to ensure that it meets the December 25 rush for deep-fried poultry.

Here is the full FT piece, via David Wessel.

Where to dine in Austin

The city is right now one of America’s better food scenes, and perhaps America’s most dynamic city overall?  It is radically different from even my recent visit a few short years ago.  Here are a few recommendations:

Loro: Asian fusion and smoked meats, don’t forget to get the sweet corn and also the cabbage.

LeRoy and Lewis: Outside dining from a food truck, first-rate beef cheeks.  Get there early.

Sammie’s: Doesn’t seem like it should be good, but excellent Italian with a Texas emphasis.

Comedor: Nouvelle Mexican, the quesadillas were the surprise with the biggest upside.

What is the income-happiness gradient for dogs?

Gunther the German shepherd spent a recent morning playing with his tennis ball, rolling in the grass, slobbering a little and napping a lot. Later, he had a “meeting” with the real estate agents selling his Miami mansion that his handlers bought from Madonna.

And of course Gunther was wearing his very best faux diamond dog collar for the meeting — his real gold collar is back at his main home in Tuscany. As crazy as it sounds even by Florida’s standards, Gunther VI inherited his vast fortune, including the eight-bedroom waterfront home once owned by the “Material Girl” singer, from his grandfather Gunther IV. At least that’s what the handlers who manage the estate say.

The Tuscan-style villa with views of Biscayne Bay went on sale Wednesday for $31.75 million — a whopping markup from the purchase two decades ago from the pop star for $7.5 million. The home also boasts a gilded framed portrait of Gunther IV over the living room fireplace.

The dog’s lineage dates back decades to when Gunther III inherited a multimillion-dollar trust from late owner German countess Karlotta Liebenstein when she died in 1992. Since then, a group of handlers have helped maintain a jet-setting lifestyle for a succession of dogs. There are trips to the Milan and the Bahamas, where the latest Gunther recently dined out at restaurants every evening — his handlers like to make sure he’s well socialized.

A chef cooks his breakfast each morning made of the finest meat, fresh vegetables and rice. Sometimes he enjoys caviar, but there’s never any kibble in sight. He travels by private jet, works on obedience skills daily with his trainer and sleeps in a lavish round, red velvet bed overlooking the bay.

“He lives in Madonna’s former master bedroom,” said real estate agent Ruthie Assouline who nabbed the listing with her husband Ethan for the 1.2-acre (0.5 hectare) property in a row of a half-dozen waterfront homes next to a public county park and on the same street where Sylvester Stallone once lived.

“He literally sleeps overlooking the most magnificent view in an Italian custom bed in the former bedroom of the greatest pop star in the world.”

Here is the full story, via Fred Smalkin.

My Conversation with Stanley McChrystal

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

He joined Tyler to discuss whether we’ve gotten better or worse at analyzing risk, the dangerous urge among policymakers to oversimplify the past, why being a good military commander is about more than winning battlefield victories, why we’re underestimating the risk that China will invade Taiwan, how to maintain a long view of history, what set Henry Kissinger apart, the usefulness of war games, how well we understand China and Russia, why there haven’t been any major attacks on US soil since 9/11, the danger of a “soldier class” in America, his take on wokeness and the military, what’s needed to have women as truly senior commanders in the armed forces, why officers with bad experiences should still be considered for promotion, how to address extremists in the military, why he supports a draft, the most interesting class he took at West Point, how to care for disabled veterans, his advice to enlisted soldiers on writing a will, the most emotionally difficult part and greatest joys of his military career, the prospect of drone assassinations, what he eats for his only meal of the day, why he’s done writing books, and more.

And:

COWEN: If we had to shrink one capacity of the military, say, by 50 percent, and double the capacity of another, what would you pick to shrink and what to expand?

MCCHRYSTAL: This is always the tough one. I tend to think that the maneuver warfare part that we have created for ground warfare in Europe or in the Mideast is probably somewhere where we have to accept some risk. We have to have fewer capabilities there. You could even argue maybe the number of aircraft carriers — big capital things.

I think where we can’t afford — and therefore, I would invest — is in really good people. Now, that seems like a simplistic answer, but we are going to need very crafty people at things like cyber warfare. We’re going to need very innovative people. We’re going to need people with cultural acuity, which means language skills, and that’s going to be more important. So if I was advocating, I’d be leaning toward resourcing harder in those areas.

COWEN: Now, of course, your father was a general. You come from a military family. Why is it that military recruitment, right now, is so well predicted by having had a parent in the armed forces? What’s driving that? And how can we take advantage of that to recruit additional people?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, we’ve taken advantage of it to the point where it may be counterproductive now. When I would travel the battlefields and go to small bases, invariably, the sergeant or lieutenant in charge was the son or daughter of a friend of mine. In one way, it’s comforting because you know people have entered the service with open eyes and clear expectations, and they make good soldiers, but you don’t want a soldier class in America.

Definitely recommended, there is also a segment about disabled veterans and their rights.  And again here is Stan’s new book Risk: A User’s Guide, co-authored with Anna Butrico.

The New Top Chef

During the pandemic a pasta restaurant launched on UberEats in Paris. Cala quickly attracted a top 1% rating for it’s high quality to price ratio. Only now has it been revealed that the chef is a robot.

“We wanted to make sure that the quality of the product was what was really driving customers to come to a restaurant,” says Ylan Richard, who founded Cala in 2019, when he was 19 . “No one knew there was a robot behind the restaurant on the platforms.”

The economics are interesting.

Most restaurants spend roughly 30% of their costs on food; 30% on labour and 30% on real estate (rent, maintenance, electricity, heating and cleaning.)

In Cala’s restaurant, the kitchen is entirely removed and replaced by the robot, which measures 3m2 — significantly reducing the space needed. The restaurant also doesn’t have any seating.

The robot also allows Cala to produce many more meals per hour per square metre than other restaurants.

“With three metres squared, we can serve 1.2k meals an hour,” says Richard. “A traditional McDonald’s restaurant is 125m2, and usually they can serve 550 meals an hour.”

The robot means Cala saves 60% on real estate costs, which it says it puts into spending more on the cost of food ingredients, allowing it, Richard says, to deliver higher quality meals at a better price.

More generally, one can see top chefs producing recipes that are then scaled not just to restaurants but also to home robot preparation services. Meals would be produced by a subscription service (“We have 10,000 recipes from the greatest chefs on every continent.”). Restaurants would compete even more on ambience.

Organic Disaster

Sri Lanka’s President abruptly banned chemical fertilizers earlier this year in a bid to become 100% organic. The ban has resulted in reduced production and soaring prices that, together with declining tourism and the pandemic, have created an economic crisis.

According to major Sri Lankan tea conglomerate Herman Gunaratne, one of 46 experts picked by President Rajapaksa to spearhead the organic shift, the move’s consequences for the country are unimaginable.

“The ban has drawn the tea industry into complete disarray… If we go completely organic, we will lose 50 per cent of the crop, (but) we are not going to get 50 per cent higher prices,” he reportedly said.

…Former central bank deputy governor W.A. Wijewardena reportedly termed the organic plan as a “dream with unimaginable social, political and economic costs”. He said Sri Lanka’s food security had been “compromised” and without foreign currency, it’s “worsening day by day”.

An island-wide survey of farmers found out that 90 per cent use chemicals for farming and 85 per cent expected sizable reductions in their harvest if disallowed to use fertilisers. Moreover, the survey said that only 20 per cent farmers had the knowledge to transition to completely organic production.

It also found that 44 per cent farmers are experiencing a decline in harvests, and 85 per cent are expecting a fall in the future.

The survey also revealed that many key crops in Sri Lanka depend on heavy use of chemical input for cultivation, with the highest dependency in paddy at 94 per cent, followed by tea and rubber at 89 per cent each.

With the shift from chemical to organic cultivation, Sri Lanka needs a large domestic production of organic fertilisers and biofertilisers. However, the situation is very bleak.

The government has responded to the soaring prices not by reversing its decree but in the usual way by imposing price controls, attacking “hoarders” and seizing stocks of agricultural commodities like sugar.

Organic farming has its place but it takes a lot of human capital to make it work and overall it results in lower yield and thus more land used. Nor is organic farming less polluting per unit of output. See this piece from the Annual Review of Resource Economics.

Organic agriculture is often perceived as more sustainable than conventional farming. We review the literature on this topic from a global perspective. In terms of environmental and climate change effects, organic farming is less polluting than conventional farming when measured per unit of land but not when measured per unit of output. Organic farming, which currently accounts for only 1% of global agricultural land, is lower yielding on average. Due to higher knowledge requirements, observed yield gaps might further increase if a larger number of farmers would switch to organic practices. Widespread upscaling of organic agriculture would cause additional loss of natural habitats and also entail output price increases, making food less affordable for poor consumers in developing countries. Organic farming is not the paradigm for sustainable agriculture and food security, but smart combinations of organic and conventional methods could contribute toward sustainable productivity increases in global agriculture.

*Smashing the Liquor Machine*

The subtitle is A Global History of Prohibition, and the author is Mark Lawrence Schrad.  I blurbed the book with this:

The best book on Prohibition, period. It is a revelation on the causes and nature of the Prohibition movement, and takes a properly international perspective, considering colonies and indigenous peoples as well. You will never look at Prohibition the same way again.

Highly recommended, you can buy it here.

My Afghan hamburger recipe

It is simple, virtually foolproof, and relies on easy to store ingredients.

1. Cook up some Jasmine rice with lots of turmeric on top while the water is boiling.  That will improve both the flavor and the visuals.

2. Cook some ground hamburger.  Toss in a fair amount of cumin.  For this recipe I find the ground, non-fresh version of cumin better, so its taste does not overwhelm the dish.

3. When the hamburger is two or three minutes away from being done, toss in a whole bunch of raisins.  The end of the cooking will soften and moisten them, but without pulverizing them.  Make sure you are tossing the beef (and raisins) regularly at that point.

4. Put the finished beef on top of the yellow rice, and lather plain, whole fat yogurt on top.  It will be better if you buy your yogurt from an Indian grocery.

5. And put it on a blue plate.  Serve with mineral water.

Voila!

*Cabbage and Caviar: A History of Food in Russia*

That is the title of a new and excellent book by Alison K. Smith.  I have watched other people eat this food for eighteen years, and now I am beginning to understand:

The real shift in the world of Soviet salads, however, came in the Brezhnev era of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Then, named prepared salads started to appear, some initially associated with particular places but which soon spread out into the wider culinary world.  The salads often features mayonnaise — not a new ingredient, but one increasingly produced not at home but industrially for sale in shops.  Two of the most famous are layered salads that also featured another not new but newly prominent product: canned fish. ..In salad ‘Mimosa’, canned fish is layered with chopped boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs separated into whites and yolks, cooked carrots and mayonnaise.  Finely chopped hard-boiled yolks make up the top layer, giving the salad its name: the yolks mimic mimosa flowers.  Another salad, seld pod shuboi — literally herring under a fur coat — is similar, but uses herring instead of other canned fish and adds a layer of grated cooked beetroot under the topping of mayonnaise and chopped egg yolk.  The beetroot bleeds into the mayonnaise, making the salad one of the most vibrantly colored parts of the Russian table.

And:

In the Soviet era, the kotlet came to take precedent over whole roast pieces of meat.  It was economical and could be made so as to stretch out a small portion of meat with breadcrumbs or other starch, and it made tougher cuts more palatable.  It was also a challenge.

And:

The preference for mushrooms was extensive, and in a way that struck some as particularly Slavic.

And:

One thing that Russians did not have until relatively recently was cheese — at least, not cheese in the sense of aged or ripened cheese.

I can’t quite utter “recommended,” but the book is really good!

Monterrey notes

Most of all, I was surprised at how beautiful the city setting is — gleaming skyscrapers surrounded by green mountains.

The red Faro del Comercio is the city’s landmark, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

You can visit an excellent old iron works factory.

For “randomly scattered bizarre but interesting sculptures” I give Monterrey an A+.  It is also the best location in Mexico for modernist architecture, as the landmark items in Mexico City are too scattered.  Excellent for brutalist buildings as well.  If you are interested in architecture, Monterrey is a must.

The city’s PPP_adjusted gdp per capita is over 35k, which alone makes it one of the most interesting parts of Mexico.  It also seemed well within acceptable safety margins, just don’t drive the road up to Nuevo Laredo.

My two best meals were at Koli Cucina de Origin (fixed price menu only) and Cara de Vaca (get the green chile tacos).  Overall the city is not top notch for “comida popular,” so go to the mainstream good restaurants.

It is one of the least walkable cities.  Everything is spread out, and the most interesting parts are not typically compact neighborhoods.  There are often highways to cross.

A mere hour away is Saltillo, home of serrapes and capital city of the state of Coahuila.  The outskirts serve up a lot of American fast food, the city center is sleepy and feels like the 1950s.  More generally, there is lots of “horse country” surrounding Monterrey and Saltillo.  It is not uncommon to see cowboy hat and boots.

Not many people visit Monterrey for tourism, but I was very happy to have spent six days there and was never bored.  It should be considered an essential part of one’s “Mexico education.”