Category: Food and Drink
For me one of the most fun episodes, here is the audio, video, and transcript. And here is the longer than ever before summary, befitting the chat itself:
Audrey Tang began reading classical works like the Shūjīng and Tao Te Ching at the age of 5 and learned the programming language Perl at the age of 12. Now, the autodidact and self-described “conservative anarchist” is a software engineer and the first non-binary digital minister of Taiwan. Their work focuses on how social and digital technologies can foster empathy, democracy, and human progress.
Audrey joined Tyler to discuss how Taiwan approached regulating Chinese tech companies, the inherent extraterritoriality of data norms, how Finnegans Wake has influenced their approach to technology, the benefits of radical transparency in communication, why they appreciate the laziness of Perl, using “humor over rumor” to combat online disinformation, why Taiwan views democracy as a set of social technologies, how their politics have been influenced by Taiwan’s indigenous communities and their oral culture, what Chinese literature teaches about change, how they view Confucianism as a Daoist, how they would improve Taiwanese education, why they view mistakes in the American experiment as inevitable — but not insurmountable, the role of civic tech in Taiwan’s pandemic response, the most important remnants of Japanese influence remaining in Taiwan, why they love Magic: The Gathering, the transculturalism that makes Taiwan particularly open and accepting of LGBT lifestyles, growing up with parents who were journalists, how being transgender makes them more empathetic, the ways American values still underpin the internet, what he learned from previous Occupy movements, why translation, rotation, and scaling are important skills for becoming a better thinker, and more.
This bit could have come from GPT-3:
COWEN: How useful a way is it of conceptualizing your politics to think of it as a mix of some Taiwanese Aboriginal traditions mixed in with Daoism, experience in programming, and then your own theory of humor and fun? And if you put all of that together, the result is Audrey Tang’s politics. Correct or not?
TANG: Well as of now, of course. But of course, I’m also growing, like a distributed ledger.
COWEN: You’re working, of course, in Taiwanese government. What’s the biggest thing wrong with economists?
TANG: You mean the magazine?
COWEN: No, no, the people, economists as thinkers. What’s their biggest defect or flaw?
TANG: I don’t know. I haven’t met an economist that I didn’t like, so I don’t think there’s any particular personality flaws there.
COWEN: Now, my country, the United States, has made many, many mistakes at an almost metaphysical level. What is it in the United States that those mistakes have come from? What’s our deeper failing behind all those mistakes?
TANG: I don’t know. Isn’t America this grand experiment to keep making mistakes and correcting them in the open and share it with the world? That’s the American experiment.
COWEN: Have we started correcting them yet?
TANG: I’m sure that you have.
And yes, you can find a parking spot in most parts of Manhattan these days, another novelty. Did I mention that my hotel room cost less than a third of what I’ve normally paid?
I visited the Museum of Modern Art, operating under stringent visitor restrictions and with its tourist clientele mostly gone. I had just about every gallery to myself, and thus an unparalleled look at the museum’s masterpieces. If a room had even a few other visitors in it, I moved on and came back later.
The center of the city has moved downtown, to Greenwich Village and surrounding areas. Many streets are closed to cars, and restaurants have put their tables on the sidewalk or the street. Instead of choosing a place on the basis of the food, the menu now just has to be “good enough,” with the key variables being the quality of the seating and the degree of the spacing. I have never seen that part of town feel so alive. The most vibrant single street for both food and socializing was slightly further north in Koreatown, starting at 32nd and Broadway and spreading two blocks to the east.
Here is the rest of my Bloomberg column on that topic. By no means is my entire assessment so positive, but that is the excerpt you are getting today.
You’ve heard of Bubble Tea? Well, this is Bubble Coffee:
In a recent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Butler said coffee was hard to find on the NBA’s Orlando campus. He and his French press are keeping his teammates caffeinated, one extremely overpriced cup at a time.
“You can’t get coffee nowhere here,” [Jimmy] Butler said in the interview. “So I might bump it up to 30 bucks a cup. People here can afford it.”
…According to the menu outside his Walt Disney World hotel room, Butler’s offerings include a latte, a cappuccino, a macchiato and more. A small cup goes for the hefty price tag of $20. (A medium and large go for the same price, so you might as well spring for the venti.)
Here is the full ESPN story, via Christina.
Americans are spending more, yet increasingly they are being offered fewer choices, both online and in person, slowing a years-long trend toward innovations that put “good for you” and “environmentally friendly” spins on established and much-loved products.
The winnowing — what one expert calls a “Sovietish” reduction of choice — is also solidifying eating patterns, for good or for ill. With customers’ selections reinforced by online advertising, repeat ordering and other algorithms, the food system is becoming bifurcated as consumers who have expressed enthusiasm for healthful or artisanal foods are offered more of the same, while those with a penchant for highly processed comfort foods are inundated with opportunities to restock.
There is a gender effect as well:
He says more men are claiming to be the primary shopper during the pandemic, and “they do buy different things and buy differently.” Men, Baum says, tend to favor efficiency: shopping club stores for bulk purchases, convenience stores and online. They report making fewer, larger, quicker trips for a narrower range of items.
This part surprised me, though I wonder if they have done a full data check:
This “narrower range” is not just a brick-and-mortar constriction. As the pandemic accelerates the shift to online shopping, the number of packaged food products available to purchase on the Internet fell 21 percent globally from January to May, according to Euromonitor International, a London-based market research company. It found that nine out of the 10 biggest countries by retail sales saw a drop in the number of unique SKUs available online.
Here is more from Laura Reiley, note this also is another reason why actual rates of price inflation are somewhat higher than what we are measuring.
“An Ohio man built a backyard squirrel bar with seven varieties of nuts on tap.” And yes this will be monetized:
Dutko’s favorite part of the bar is its quirky bathroom sign: “Nuts” and “No Nuts.”
The project, which measures about 25 inches wide and 16 inches tall, took him eight hours to design and build.
After posting a video on YouTube showing the build process, Dutko said he was “overwhelmed” with comments and requests to purchase the bar. He immediately applied for a design patent and is now planning to launch a business to sell The Nutty Bar for about $175 – $200.
If you were hoping to cure your cabin fever with a quick jaunt to San Francisco to eat a $200 dinner in a geodesic dome next to a homeless encampment, it looks like you’ve missed your chance. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that after a surprise inspection, the city’s health department has ordered Japanese fine dining spot Hashiri to take down the fine dining domes that have made it internationally famous…
Hashiri opted to erect three plastic garden igloos on the sidewalk and reopened for dinner on August 5. The structures, which cost $1,400 apiece, immediately generated controversy, as the restaurant, which caters to the ultra-rich, happens to be located in an area where people experiencing homelessness congregate.
“Mint Plaza is a phenomenal space, it’s just sometimes the crowd is not too favorable,” Matsuura said to the Chronicle. “There are people who come by and spit, yell, stick their hands in people’s food, discharging fecal matter right by where people are trying to eat. It’s really sad, and it’s really hard for us to operate around that.”
The restaurant began receiving hate mail prior to last Thursday’s surprise inspection, which Matsuura suspects was the result of anonymous complaints to the Department of Public Health. The domes were ordered removed “due to the enclosed nature of the structure, which may not allow for adequate air flow,” per the inspection report.
Mr. Gold, who is short and stocky, with the good-natured ease of a standup comedian, does his chores while carrying a digital camera in one hand and murmuring into a microphone.
Then, twice a week, like clockwork, he posts a short video on YouTube about his exploits as a neophyte farmer, often highlighting failures or pratfalls. Keeping a close eye on analytics, he has boosted his YouTube audiences high enough to provide a steady advertising revenue of around $2,500 to $4,000 a month, about eight times what he earns from selling farm products.
It’s a lot of work: Mr. Lumnah wakes up at 3:30 a.m. so he can edit the previous day’s footage in time to post new video at 6 a.m., which his 210,000 regular viewers, who are scattered as far as Cambodia and India, have come to expect. “People will say, it’s lunchtime here in Ukraine,” Mr. Lumnah said.
Others, like Justin Rhodes, a farmer in North Carolina, have parlayed a giant YouTube audience into a dues-paying membership enterprise — he has 2,000 fans who pay annual fees of up to $249 for private instruction and direct communication, via text message. “We don’t sell a single farm product,” Mr. Rhodes said. “Our farm product is education and entertainment.”
Some of them earn money through product endorsement deals, like Al Lumnah, who posts videos five days a week from his farm in Littleton, N.H.
Here is more from the NYT, via Steve Rossi.
And the results ain’t always pretty:
The number of high-risk drinkers nearly doubled in lockdown and was worst in groups of higher social class, a government report shows.
Here is the (gated) Telegraph article. Part of the mechanism of course may be that the “groups of higher social class” have not experienced the most severe income hits. But I wonder if there is not more at work here. These same “groups of higher social class” are also those who went around to parties to be feted, traveled the world, gave talks at conferences, “did deals,” dominated meetings and grabbed the good seat, and through various other means received big in-person ego boosts in pre-Covid times. Now those ego boosts are gone, and…what do they do? Some of them do very fine things indeed.
I don’t view this as a formal answer, but it is interesting nonetheless:
Mycelium is how fungi feed. Some organisms — such as plants that photosynthesize — make their own food. Some organisms — like most animals — find food in the world and put it inside their bodies, where it is digested and absorbed. Fungi have a different strategy. They digest the world where it is and then absorb it into their bodies…
The difference between animals and fungi is simple: Animals put food in their bodies, whereas fungi put their bodies in the food.
…to embed oneself is an irregular and unpredictable food supply as mycelium does, one must be able to shape-shift. Mycelium is an living, growing, opportunistic investigation — speculation in bodily form.
That is from the new and excellent book by Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures.
It is the best biryani I have had outside of South Asia, plus the arrangement for outside dining is both spacious and nicely done and offers protection against rain. Here is their web site. Just get the biryani, but yes everything there is good it seems. It is very close to where the Turnpike and Parkway intersect, and thus close to both — what more could you ask for in New Jersey?
The period from the 1870s to the start of the First World War saw a steep rise in working-class living standards in Britain, much of it underpinned by a vast array of cheap imported foods. Thanks to new refrigerated steamships and a growing railway network, such items as butter, eggs and meat could be transported from as far afield as New Zealand and Argentina. The British started to eat butter from Denmark; oranges and grapes from Spain; mutton from Argentina; bacon and cheese from the United States; wheat from Canada. The percentage of meat consumed in Britain that was imported rose from 13.6 per cent in 1872 to 42.3 per cent in 1912. The influx of these new cheap food imports gave many in the working classes a much more varied and tasty diet than before. Eggs were no longer a luxury and as the price of imported fruit fell, many in the cities started eating oranges and bananas for the first time. They could only afford to buy these foods because the costers who sold them kept the prices too low to allow themselves a decent life. By the same token, big shopkeepers kept food prices down by forcing employees to work long hours for low pay. A ninety-hour week was not uncommon for a clerk in a Victorian grocer shop, but these hours still might not deliver a wage large enough to live on, despite the cheapness of food.
It is “crystal clear” drunk people can’t – or won’t – socially distance, a police chief has warned after scenes showed huge crowds packed into Soho in central London.
John Apter, chair of the Police Federation, said he witnessed “naked men, happy drunks, angry drunks, fights and more angry drunks” while on shift in Southampton – and there were similar scenes across the rest of England.
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, had warned reopening pubs was a “high risk” for spreading coronavirus ahead of the easing of lockdown restrictions which also saw restaurants, cinemas, hairdressers and museums open their doors on what was dubbed “Super Saturday”.
Of course current arrangements are terrible for restaurants, and pretty soon they will be bad for your dining too, as more restaurants close up for good. But right now we live in a window of opportunity.
The owner and/or best chef is in the restaurant at a higher rate than usual — where else can he or she go?
Menus have been slimmed down, so there are fewer dishes, which means fresher ingredients and less delegation of cooking tasks.
Most menus have new dishes, not otherwise available, often in the direction of comfort food, which is a comfort because it tastes good!
They are cooking just for you, yum.
Show up for lunch at 11 a.m. or for dinner at 4:30 p.m. Please only eat outside. Bring a mask as well. And please don’t linger at the table, so that others may follow in your footsteps.
Note which places have good outdoor dining arrangements, and which have nice park benches right nearby. (Don’t drive the food back home as it becomes soggy and non-optimal for human consumption.) You won’t end up with that many options to choose from.
Nonetheless I’ve had some very good and special meals as of late.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the premise:
With my summer trips abroad canceled, I decided to be resourceful about travel. Having lived in Northern Virginia for 30 years, I asked myself a simple question: Which local trip have I still not done?
Earlier in the summer I thought I might spend time in scenic Maine, but too many of my friends from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic seemed to be planning the same. I decided a more adventurous course of action would be to get in the car with my daughter Yana and spend a three-day weekend on the road.
The column is not easily excerpted, but here is one bit:
Lunch was in Morgantown, West Virginia, but rather than visit the university, we stopped for excellent Jamaican food with jerk chicken, oxtail and plantains — better than the equivalent in the D.C. area. A tip: If you’re ever looking for great food in obscure locales, don’t just google “best restaurants Morgantown WV,” as that will yield too many mainstream options. Pick a cuisine you don’t expect them to have, and Google something like “best Haitian restaurant Morgantown WV.” Whether a Haitian restaurant comes up (it didn’t), you’ll get a more interesting selection of “best” picks. In this case we learned that a town of 30,000 people has several Caribbean restaurants, highly rated ones at that.
Five states in one day (VA, WV, MD, PA, OH) was great fun. In my view, every excellent trip has one stop or locale at its emotional and narrative heart, and for this trip is was the Native American Earthworks in Marietta, southern Ohio.
Ben emails me:
Could you please consider and comment on some of the unseen consequences of local price caps on restaurant delivery services? (Politico article describing the phenomenon in SF, NYC, etc.) A highly competitive market for such services exists between GrubHub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, etc. Moreover, patrons can always pickup and restaurants can always hire their own drivers. That dynamic market will keep prices down and improve service quality and value. As reported 2 days ago, 5/13/2020, in the Wall Street Journal, “America is stuck at Home, but Food Delivery Companies Still Struggle to Profit.” Yet many locals are considering regulating and limiting the prices that such delivery services can charge.
Here is a NYT article on the same phenomenon, claiming that some apps charge up to 40% of the restaurant’s take.
My first question is why the restaurants do not charge higher prices for customers using the app. That might be illegal in some localities, but surely that is not the general answer to the question. Rather the restaurants are afraid of losing customer good will — “what!? I have to pay 30% more just because I bought it with my phone?” [Plus the apps do not allow it, see the comments, though I do no think the apps could prevent restaurants from giving “extras” and thus lower prices to those who show up for service in the restaurant.]
In this setting, restaurants are losing potential revenue to avoid a reputational hit, and staying in business (rather than closing up) because they believe the value of their future reputational franchise is high. In other words, in both channels the restaurants perceive the value of their future reputational franchise to be pretty high.
That is the good news, although you might wonder how it squares with the generally low returns to running a restaurant. I suspect some restaurants simply know they are good and profitable because they are skilled, and the losers are overconfident and less well-informed.
One efficiency advantage of the apps is that they will put the unprofitable restaurants out of business more quickly.
The next question is whether some surplus from the profitable restaurants should, in the short run (and maybe in the longer run too?) be redistributed to the app company.
The apps should increase the demand for the food from the good restaurants (easier to order and arrange delivery), but lower the profit margin on selling more of that food. If those ingredients and kitchen capacity otherwise would go to complete waste, overall that seems like an acceptable bargain. Kitchens are kept active, which is an efficiency gain, even if some profit is redistributed to the app company.
In this scenario, you can think of the app as doing some of the selling, rather than the restaurant doing that selling, and reaping surplus from that effort. In essence, the business of the restaurant has become more specialized, toward pure food production and away from selling, that latter service now being performed by the app company.
Restaurants that were great at selling in the first place might be worse off. But it is far from obvious that these apps and their prices should be decreasing efficiency. Some other restaurants might be worse off because it is harder for them to carve up or segment the market, but that change likely is efficiency-enhancing.
And if the apps do indeed speed the bankruptcy of the lesser restaurants (presumably what the critics have to believe), over the longer haul prices will indeed go up and the good restaurants will earn back some of what they lost up front.
On net, consumers will have better services, better marketing, pay higher prices, and have a better selection of restaurants. That just doesn’t sound so terrible, or so necessitating government intervention to cap app prices.
Note that informed customers probably need the app least, so they are least likely to see its value, just as “critics” as a class, including restaurant critics, are also least likely to see the value of the app in marketing the restaurants. Of course this class of “critics” are exactly those who are most likely to be writing about the apps.