Category: Food and Drink

*Edible Economics*

The author is Ha-Joon Chang, and the subtitle is A Hungry Economist Explains the World.  This is an economics of food book with a Korean emphasis, and arguing in favor of protectionism and industrial policy, in line with the author’s earlier works.  Here is one excerpt:

South Koreans went through a staggering 7.5kg of garlic per person per year between 2010 and 2017.  We hit a high in 2013 of 8.9kg.  That’s over ten times what the Italians consume (720g in 2013).  When it comes to garlic consumption, we Koreans make the Italians look like ‘dabblers’.  The French, ‘the’ garlic eaters to the British and the Americans, only manage a paltry 200g per year (in 2017) — not even 3% of that of the Koreans.

Chang does note that the Korean figure also includes a lot of garlic used to make stocks and then (in part) not consumed.

Lu Wei Peter Zhang

If you want to open a new Peter Chang restaurant in Fairfax, but not quite tell people it is Peter Chang…call it Peter Zhang!  (Isn’t that a bit like hiding the kid from Anakin Skywalker and calling him Luke Skywalker?)

This is the most casual outpost in the Chang empire, by far.  You order from a screen and there are only a few tables.  Many of the dishes are marinated meats from central China, with some hot pot, noodles, and semi-Sichuan options.  It is the “most Chinese” of the current Chang portfolio.  Here is some basic information.  I’ve only been once, and haven’t yet figured out the best dishes, but you should all know about this right away.  It is near the intersection of Rt.50 and 123, centrally located for Fairfax.


One reason why the Seoul dining scene still has so many nooks and crannies

There are so many places with dishes you’ve never tried before.  And they are deep into alleyways, or on the second or third floors of retail establishments.  In these places I never see people take out their cameras and photograph the food.  The establishments are not “very on-line,” as they say.

More likely than not, a large troupe(s) of middle-aged and older men suddenly come out of nowhere, and descend upon these eateries for dining and intense bouts of conversation.  The men don’t seem to want too many other people to know about their special hangouts.  English-language menus are hard to come by, so use the outdoor food photographs if you can, or otherwise just point.  “I would like your specialty,” translated into Korean on the iPad, works too.

Korea is an especially sexually segregated society, all the more relative to its high per capita income.  And so these restaurants are boys’ clubs of a sort, as much private as public.  Might that be one reason why the small restaurant food scene here has stayed so undercover?

How much is it the presence of women that drives the “Instagram this” trend in dining?

Plastic Might Be Making You Fat

WashPost: An emerging view among scientists is that one major overlooked component in obesity is almost certainly our environment — in particular, the pervasive presence within it of chemicals which, even at very low doses, act to disturb the normal functioning of human metabolism, upsetting the body’s ability to regulate its intake and expenditure of energy.

Some of these chemicals, known as “obesogens,” directly boost the production of specific cell types and fatty tissues associated with obesity. Unfortunately, these chemicals are used in many of the most basic products of modern life including plastic packaging, clothes and furniture, cosmetics, food additives, herbicides and pesticides.

Ten years ago the idea of chemically induced obesity was something of a fringe hypothesis, but not anymore.

“Obesogens are certainly a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic,” is what Bruce Blumberg, an expert on obesity and endocrine-disrupting chemicals from the University of California, Irvine, told me by email. “The difficulty is determining what fraction of obesity is related to chemical exposure.”

An important piece of evidence is something I pointed to in my post The Animals are Also Getting Fat namely, cats and dogs are getting fatter and so are rats and so (very importantly) are control mice fed a very standard diet. I hadn’t realized there is also some experimental evidence.

 In particular, consequences of chemical exposure may not appear during the lifetime of an exposed organism but can be passed down through so-called epigenetic mechanisms to offspring even several generations away. A typical example is tributyltin or TBT, a chemical used in wood preservatives, among other things. In experiments exposing mice to low and supposedly safe levels of TBT, Blumberg and his colleagues found significantly increased fat accumulation in the next three generations.

Overall, I find the chemical story plausible–people in the past, even rich people, just didn’t get fat so easily–but my skepticism rises whenever I hear the word epigenetics.

Newfoundland notes, St. John’s and environs

“Canada’s youngest province and Britain’s oldest colony” is what some of them say.

About 60 percent of St. John’s is Irish in background, and most people in the city above age 45 have a noticeable Irish accent, albeit with some Canadianisms thrown in.  Those accents are close to those of Waterford, Ireland, and many Irish from the southeast of the country came over in the 1790-1820 period.  The younger residents of St. John’s sound like other Canadians.

If you walk into the various pubs and houses of music, of which there are quite a few, you are most likely to hear offshoot forms of acoustic Celtic folk music.

The scenery of St. John’s reminds me of the suburbs of Wellington, New Zealand.  On top of that, many of the homes are Victorian, as in the Wellington area.  In St. John’s the row homes are called “jellybeans” because of their bright colors.  They are in a uniform style because of a major fire in the city in 1892.  A jellybean house near center city now runs between 300k-400k Canadian, the result of a big price hike once some offshore oil was discovered.  The city is hilly and the major churches are Anglican, even though the Irish migrants were almost entirely Catholics.

Indians and Filipinos are playing some role in revitalizing the city.  Not long ago about one thousand Ukrainians arrived.

In the Sheraton hotel the old mailbox is still “Royal Mail Newfoundland” and not “Royal Mail Canada.”  Newfoundland of course was a dominion country of its own from 1907-1934, and a legally odd part of Britain 1934-1949, when it joined Canada through a 52% referendum result.  In 1890 a NAFTA-like trade agreement was negotiated with the United States, but Canada worked Great Britain to nix the whole thing.  A later agreement in 1902 was in essence vetoed by New England.  Newfoundland had earlier rejected confederation with Canada in 1860.

Newfoundland ran up major debts in WWI, and tried to relieve them by selling Labrador to Canada.  Canada refused.

Apart from the major museum (“The Rooms”), there are few signs of the indigenous.

Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message on Signal Hill on December 12, 1901.  In the 1950s, Gander was the world’s busiest international airport, because of all the planes that could not cross the Atlantic directly.

As you might expect to find in a small country, but not in a small province, you regularly meet people who seem too smart or too attractive for their current jobs.  Many head to Calgary, but a lot of them don’t want to leave.

It has the warmest winter of any Canadian province.

Terre is the place to eat.  The scallops are excellent everywhere.  Fish and chips are a specialty too.

I would not say it is radically exciting here, but overall I would be long St. John’s.  If nothing else, it makes for an excellent three-day weekend or nature-oriented week-long trip, and I hardly know any Americans who have tried that.

Shruti Rajagopalan talks talent with Daniel Gross and Tyler

A Conversation, a special bonus episode, taped in San Francisco in front of a live audience, here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is one bit:

RAJAGOPALAN: …Daniel, if you’re looking for talent in investing or finance, how does that look different from the talent in the start-up world?

GROSS: In the start-up world? What makes a good investor is very different from what makes a good founder. If you were to make a scatterplot of it, some of the attributes are completely diametrically opposed. For example, I think very good investors are the right degree of optimistic but also realistic, whereas founders are too optimistic, which they should be.

At the end of the day, start-ups are a very funny activity when you think about it from a probability standpoint. Most companies fail. Almost all companies fail, and yet, people seem to be seemingly doing this activity over and over. They’re jumping off the cliff over and over again. You look over the cliff, and everyone who jumped off of the cliff is just on the ground dead, but people keep on jumping off the cliff. Founders are almost too optimistic.

When you’re evaluating a business, especially at later and later stages, I think optimism can be your enemy. Often, you see when a lot of founders later on in life — and I’m such a person — who started a business, sold it, and became an investor, you actually have to be able to wear very different kinds of psychometric hats. One of them is this continuum of realism and optimism. I’d probably say that’s the starkest difference between what makes a good start-up investor and a good founder. There are probably many others, but that’s the main thing that you look for.

I later have a monologue on chocolate ice cream, but overall Shruti steals the show.  Recommended.

Amritsar is underrated

The Sikh Golden Temple is for me India’s best sight, far more appealing than the Taj Mahal.  Would you rather see a mausoleum or a living, breathing site full of human joy?  The buildings are remarkably well done and most beautiful at dusk.  The site is clean and largely maintained by volunteers, a triumph of Sikh civil society.  More people should come here!

The surrounding shops in the pedestrian zone are appealing, and the primary touristy element is directed at Sikh and Hindu pilgrims, not to Westerners.

The food is first-rate, even by Indian standards.  Lentils, spinach, mustard leaves, and kulcha soaked with ghee are some of the local specialties.  You can eat butter chicken as it was intended, or fish fry.  The lassis and raitas are almost as good as those in neighboring Pakistan.  Kesar da Dhaba would be my top pick for a restaurant.

And you can stay in a five-star hotel for about $100 a night, excellent swimming pool and restaurant to boot.

Cat food markets in everything

Fancy Feast is expanding into feline-inspired human cuisine, with a New York City Italian restaurant designed to celebrate the company’s new line.

Gatto Bianco, which means “white cat,” is described by Fancy Feast as an “Italian-style trattoria,” and will be open for dinner reservations on August 11-12 only, according to a news release from Purina, which produces Fancy Feast.

The human-friendly dishes were inspired by Fancy Feast’s new “Medleys” cat food line, which feature options like “Beef Ragú Recipe With Tomatoes & Pasta in a Savory Sauce” for the cat with discerning taste.

Here is the full story, via Balding.

Get the Lead Out of Turmeric!

Exposure to lead especially in childhood can have a lifetime of negative consequences:

According to the WHO, there is no known safe level of lead exposure. Relatively low levels of lead exposure that were previously considered ‘safe’ have been shown to damage children’s health and impair their cognitive development. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that, with even low-level exposure, is associated with a reduction in IQ scores, shortened attention spans and potentially violent and even criminal behaviour later in life. Children under the age of 5 years are at the greatest risk of suffering lifelong neurological, cognitive and physical damage and even death from lead poisoning.

In recent decades, some countries have begun to address the problem by removing lead from gasoline, paint, and pipes. Lead poisoning, however, remains a serious problem in South Asian countries such as Bangladesh. But where is the lead coming from?

Looks nice but what gives turmeric that pleasing yellow-orange look? Maybe, lead.

Incredibly, one small study that examined the blood of pregnant women in Bangladesh for lead isotopes concluded that a major source of lead exposure is from turmeric consumption. Turmeric is a spice used in India and Bangladesh and other South East Asian both in cooking and for health. Lead from the soil could enter turmeric but the major cause seems to be lead pigments that are illegally added to turmeric to give it a pleasing looking yellow color. Lead in spices can exceed national limits by hundreds of times.

Our results indicate that turmeric Pb concentrations were as high as 1151 μg/g (Table 2). Eight of 28 market turmeric samples contained Pb above the 2.5 μg/g Government of Bangladesh limit for Pb in turmeric (Table S6). Using the simplified bioaccessibility extraction test, prior studies reported that the bioaccessible fraction of Pb in turmeric varied from 42.9 to 70% of total Pb. (12,39) Given that turmeric is used in dishes containing tamarind and other acidic ingredients, cooking could further increase the bioaccessibility of the Pb. (40) Other researchers hypothesized that PbCrO4 is added to turmeric to enhance its color or weight, but they did not test any turmeric processing powders to assess molar Pb/Cr ratios or Pb speciation. (12) We found that the yellow pigment powders used in turmeric processing contained 6–10% Pb by weight (61 870–101 300 μg/g Pb). Both pigment and turmeric samples also contained elevated chromium (Cr) concentrations, with average Pb/Cr molar ratios of 1.3 ± 0.06 (2 SD) and 1.1 ± 0.8 (2 SD), respectively. X-ray diffraction analyses indicated that all three pigment samples contained lead chromate (PbCrO4, 10–15%), that two of the pigments also contained lead carbonate (PbCO3, 2–3%), and that one also contained lead sulfate (PbSO4, 3%). Because PbCO3 and PbSO4 have a greater bioaccessibility than PbCrO4, our results support the parallel findings of high turmeric bioaccessibility reported in other studies. (12,39,41)

Respondents described turmeric, primarily purchased as a loose powder, as one of three essential spices consumed daily, alongside chili powder and cumin. Women reported adding turmeric in heaping spoonfuls to curries and other dishes for at least one meal per day.

I’d also worry about lead adulteration of safron, another yellow spice. The problem is not limited to Bangladesh, significant amounts of lead have been found in spices sold in in New York.

Addendum: Givewell has a good rundown on Pure Earth a charity working to address this problem.

Hat tip: Alexander Berger.

Photo Credit: MaxPixel.

How good is the food in Cali?

The guidebooks say that Cali has worse food than Bogotá or Medellin.  Two people I know, both from Cali, wrote to tell me that Cali has worse food.  It is true that Cali does not have the fine dining culture of the two larger cities.  And yet…  When I visited the food market in Bogotá, about half of the stalls were serving Mexican food.  The rest seemed decent but uninspired.  The two meals I had in the food stalls in the Alameda market in Cali were perhaps the two best (and cheapest) meals of the whole trip, and original too, at least to me.

n = 2 does not suffice for inference.  And yet…

Food in Bogota

The best approach is to hunt down particular foodstuffs and consume them, rather than thinking in terms of restaurants.  That includes fruits (start with blueberries and blackberries and then move on to the stuff you have never heard of), cheeses, arepas, empanadas, other baked goods, all forms of corn (“choclo”), and whatever they happen to throw your way.

“Have I had this yet?” should be your starting question, and try to get to a full slate of yes’s!

Don’t obsess over finding the best restaurants.  You will end up with some excellent meals, but it is not the same as learning the local cuisine.  That said, the dining scene is much improved since my last visit eight years ago.  I didn’t have complete control over my time and meals, but can recommend Casa del Rey and Sauvage as both very good, without being convinced that they were the very best.