Ask Cowen Anything: Why Is Cheap Food Better Than Expensive Food?

You’re often paying for status:

[Cowen] advises foodies to avoid spots filled with “beautiful, laughing women.” Why? He’s playing the odds that because the place is popular and trendy, the focus is on “the scene” rather than the food, which is all but guaranteed to be overpriced…

He also thinks America has great cheap food thanks to diverse immigrant communities:

As he sees it, American food was ruined by a series of entirely contingent historical events — Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the rise of TV — which effectively ruined the restaurant industry. Those events were especially damaging, he argues, because immigration was so severely restricted during much of the 20th century. Immigrants were the people who can do the most interesting things with the cheap food on offer in the United States; without them, American food became boring and bland. Now that immigration is on the rise again, America is a food paradise: the extended food supply chain created by American agribusiness means that food is plentiful and cheap, while our vibrant immigrant communities take that cheap food and make it awesome in a million different ways.

Follow Tyler Cowen‘s work at Marginal Revolution, and buy his new book, An Economist Gets Lunch. “Ask Anything” archive here.