Is eating more fruits and vegetables the key to reducing obesity? A recent RAND study of more than 2,700 adults found that calorie intake from cookies, candy, salty snacks, and soda was approximately twice as high as the recommended daily amount. Consumption of fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, is only 20% shy of recommended guidelines.
In a recent column in the New York Times, Jane Brody quotes a nutrition professor lamenting the fact that “restaurants have resisted her suggestion to serve half the amount of food for about a third the price.” The professor might have thought more about economic behavior. (Even if she had suggested cutting the price to half for one-third the food, it still would not have been good economic analysis. The labor costs of preparing and serving half the food are probably nearly identical to those of serving the full amount.)
Went to a one-star Michelin restaurant in Bonn last night. One of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Three of the four of us ordered the five-course prix fixe all-vegetarian menu. As we left, I thanked the chef-owner — who responded “Despite it being vegetarian!”
He seemed slightly upset about serving this menu. Was it because his revenue from it was only €63 compared to €91 for a five-course regular menu (which had one meat and one fish course)? Maybe. But I don’t believe the vegetarian menu used less labor, nor was there a €28 difference in materials cost.
I have long been interested in the effects — psychological, economic, and otherwise — of jealousy (and, relatedly, disgust and repugnance). Even using the word “jealousy” is probably loaded. (Maybe “resentment” is better? Doubtful.) In any case: somewhere between the 99% movement and the Mitt Romney-as-private-equity-bloodsucker meme lies a discussion that includes a lot of legitimate questions about fairness and a lot of less-legitimate emotional reaction that gets turned into political and intellectual fodder.
Adriano Dutra Teixeira, a Brazilian economist, sent us this photo from a restaurant. As he translates:
“Social Responsibility: 50% discount on meal for clients over 70 or bariatric surgery (stomach reduction).”
I thought it was hilarious! So I wrote a blog post with a microeconomic approach to the promotion, using price discrimination.
I had to chuckle, in part because we’re finishing up a podcast about commitment devices, in which Levitt offers some bizarre alternatives to bariatric surgery (which we wrote about here), since it is such a drastic commitment.
One big historical factor: Prohibition. Restaurants that relied on alcohol sales closed their doors, often replaced by diners, soda fountains, and candy shops. This new breed of restaurant served hot dogs, hamburgers, chop suey, and what we now know as classic American fast food. We traded quality for speed and convenience. Here are some photos of that transformation, when cheap food outlets popped up to meet the demands of our growing consumer society.
Well, if we’re going to think like economists, then lets talk about how we got here. The food distribution network cannot thrive as it does now without the massive public works program called the Interstate Highway system, which subsidizes distant food movement. Large, “efficient” agribusiness is as much a result of farm subsidies leading to consolidation, and the percentage of crop land dedicated to corn is a function of ethanol policy. Furthermore, FDA policies prohibit or discourage the farming and production of items people want, such as hemp and unpasteurized milk.
On top of that, misinformation of the USDA has driven the public to choose grains over protein and fat, driving the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates higher, which shifts resources to those with government-granted monopoly rights to market pharmaceuticals to treat those diseases.
So, in the absence of all these price distortions, would local food be at such a disadvantage? I contend not. So those liberals who want more local food should dismantle the nanny state and public works programs that made pseudo food so much more profitable.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, “Unnatural Turkeys,” reveals the surprising origins of the 40 million turkeys that Americans are going to eat this Thanksgiving. You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here.
So, 100 percent of commercially raised turkeys in the U.S. (save for heritage turkeys) are born from artificial insemination. But what about other animals? We talked to reproductive experts Dale Coleman at Auburn University, Wayne Singleton from Purdue, and Keith Bramwell at University of Arkansas. The graphic below shows what percentage of each animal is born from artificial insemination:
Two members of Congress earlier this month introduced legislationadvancing a food reform movement promising to help resolve the great environmental and nutritional problems of the early 21st century. The intent is to remake the agricultural landscape to look more like it did decades ago. But unless the most basic laws of economics cease to hold, the smallholder farming future envisioned by the local farming movement could jeopardize natural habitat and climate change mitigation efforts, while also endangering a tenuous and temporary victory in the battle against human hunger.
The “Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act” sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, throws about $200 million to local farm programs. That’s a rounding error in the $3.7 trillion federal budget. But the bill follows on a federal rule that gives preference to local farms in contract bidding for school lunches. It also builds on high-profile advocacy by Michelle Obama, who has become a leader of the food reform movement, joining the likes of Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and famed-chef Alice Waters. The bill’s introduction came as the world population hit 7 billion, a milestone that provides a stark reminder of the challenge agriculture faces to feed a world population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050.
As the death toll from listeria in cantaloupe reached 25 this week, marking the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in a quarter-century, some industry insiders are placing blame on the local foods movement. On economic grounds, they may have a point.
The contaminated melons were traced to a self-described small farm in Colorado that the FDA said had “poor sanitary” conditions. The FDA reported Wednesday that it found listeria in numerous areas of the farm’s packing facility, including a floor drain, a produce dryer, and a conveyor belt. Standing water and poorly designed equipment created “the perfect environment for listeria growth and spread,” according to one FDA expert. The farm claimed to have passed an outside audit just days before the outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people and devastated the cantaloupe industry. Farmers in California are plowing their crops under because of the collapse in demand.
There’s a relatively new category of conscientious consumer on the rise known as the “compassionate carnivore.” These are meat eaters who have chosen, with good reason, to remove themselves from the horrific practices of factory farming. In her thoughtful book, The Compassionate Carnivore, Catherine Friend puts it this way:
I believe it’s possible to show compassion for animals and still eat them. For me, this means paying attention. It means learning more about the animals I eat and taking some responsibility for their quality of life.
A significant number of meat consumers have taken this message seriously enough to become meat producers. Indeed, the urban homestead movement in particular has inspired untold numbers of urbanites to take compassion to the extreme and become part-time animal farmers themselves.
The rationale for this transition is multifaceted, and often quite convincing. “Those of us that raise our own animals,” one of my critics concisely points out, “are doing so because we don’t want to be part of the industrialized agricultural machine that routinely abuses animals for the sake of the almighty dollar.” An urban homesteader from Oakland went one further: “the level of appreciation for nature and life when you slaughter your own meat creates a kind of ethic that I think is what we need to save the world.”
The infamous egg recall of 2010–which identified over 500,000 eggs infected with salmonella–inspired not only widespread condemnation of industrial egg production, but a reactionary upsurge in the trend of keeping backyard hens. For reasons that seem intuitively straightforward (but lack concrete substantiation), a critical mass of do-it-yourselfers determined that it was, among other benefits, safer and more humane to raise their “own” birds and eat their “own” eggs. As this movement continues to take shape, it’s worth asking if these evaluations are all they’re cracked up to be.
As for safety, we’ve really no way of knowing at this point. To the best of my knowledge (and please, if I am wrong, show me), nobody has calculated comparative rates of infection between backyard and industrialized birds. What we do know is that backyard chickens aren’t immune to disease outbreaks. Just last month Food Safety News reported that the CDC had identified 71 cases of salmonella (more than half under the age of 5) linked to backyard chickens. Eighteen people were hospitalized.
This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.
In a whopper of counterintuitive research, and another reason to look askance at that supposed wonder of modern food science olestra (Olean), a study published by the American Psychological Association shows that synthetic fat substitutes used in low-calorie potato chips can backfire and contribute to weight gain more so than their fatty counterparts. How do we know? Researchers at Purdue fed Pringles to lab rats. Yes, the mathematically perfect, Einstein-inspired Pringles. Here’s how it worked:
P&G recently sold Pringles for $1.5 billion to Diamond Foods. But do you know why the chip is so easy to eat? University of Chicago mathematics professor Benson Farb explains why the Pringle is a relativistic chip.
Some people really are addicted to foods in a similar way others might be dependent on certain substances, like addictive illegal or prescriptions drugs, or alcohol, researchers from Yale University revealed in Archives of General Psychiatry. Those with an addictive-like behavior seem to have more neural activity in specific parts of the brain in the same way substance-dependent people appear to have, the authors explained.
I stopped by a local fried chicken joint, Harold’s Chicken Shack, the other day. Just to give you a sense of what sort of restaurant this is, there is a layer of bulletproof glass separating the workers and the customers. They don’t cook the chicken until you order, so I had five or ten minutes to kill waiting for my food.
In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, Stephen Dubner and Kai Ryssdal talk about the unexpected reasons why American food gotsobad. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
It is always fun when, in the midst of reporting, multiple sources lead you down the same interesting path.
I recently spent the better part of a day interviewing food scientists for an upcoming Freakonomics Radio podcast that we have dubbed “Waiter, There’s a Physicist in My Soup.” (Yes, it’s a corny title and yes, it may change, but maybe it won’t.)
Coming into the day, I never would have guessed that Napoleon would figure so prominently in these interviews. Not one, not two, but three different interview subjects brought him up, twice in the same exact context.
Freakonomics reader Jerrod Savage sends in a couple images that seem to show a rather unwholesome advertising strategy. (Don Draper certainly wouldn’t ever pull something like this.) What happens when you reduce the size of a container of Nesquik chocolate syrup by 33 percent? You also reduce the sugar content by 33 percent, magically creating a healthy, low-sugar alternative!
A lot of meat and poultry gets eaten during the holiday season. Did you ever find yourself wondering: Hmm, what’s the trend line over the past 100 years for U.S. per-capita consumption of beef vs. chicken vs. pork vs. turkey?
When it comes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), one criticism stands above the others: it’s unnatural. The idea that (unlike conventional genetic exchange within a species) genes from one species can be transferred to another fuels this perception of unnaturalness.
Pesticides freak us out – and understandably so. The idea of otherwise healthy fruits and vegetables marred by residual poison unnerves us because, generally speaking, we’re clueless. We’re totally removed from the process of production. We don’t know what was sprayed, we can’t see the trace pesticides, we can’t measure them on our own, and, let’s face it, the vast majority of us don’t remotely understand how these agents work. The upshot is that we’re left to trust outside interpreters to assess the risk for us.
If there’s a winner in the recent recall of 550 million eggs potentially infected with salmonella enteritidis, it’s your local egg farmer. Under the assumption that eggs sourced from small, organic, free-range farms are less likely to be contaminated with salmonella, consumers are flocking to farmers’ markets and backyard coops in a panicked quest to avoid industrially produced eggs. According to one newspaper account, shoppers are increasingly willing to pay up to $3.50 for a dozen eggs in order to have “a direct link to their food.” But I wonder: does this make any sense?