In the last couple of years I have developed an interest in food as a metaphor for economic and social progress. I don’t have much to add to what Tyler Cowen and others have already written on the subject, but I can offer some personal case studies. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be experimenting with leftovers and some of the provisions I bought during a Sam’s Club buying spree a few months ago. I claim no expertise, particularly since I don’t have any culinary training, but if these ideas can be improved on by abler hands I would be happy to hear about it. Experiment #1, which involves leftover noodle soup from Pho Saigon and barbecue from Germantown Commissary, is discussed below the fold (cross-posted at www.divisionoflabour.com).Pho Saigon is a Vietnamese restaurant near our house that offers one of the best quality-per-dollar ratios we’ve come across. A large bowl of noodle soup is $6.49. The first time we ate there, we each got two meals each just from the leftovers. Some friends visited from Saint Louis yesterday, so a couple of us went to Pho Saigon to get take-out. Yesterday afternoon, some friends from our Sunday School class dropped off barbecue from Germantown Commissary for our dinner.*
This afternoon I decided to see how the barbecue would go with the leftover soup. Pork is, after all, one of the soup options at Pho Saigon, so I thought that perhaps the flavor of the soup and the flavor of the smoked pork would complement one another. I mixed together broth, noodles, and pulled pork and microwaved the concoction on high for a few minutes. I found that they went extremely well together, and I will probably try similar experiments with Ramen noodles after our leftovers run out. As I expected, adding barbecue sauce to part of the mixture decreased rather than increased the quality. Given that hoisin sauce, peanut sauce, and chili sauce improve a noodle bowl in my humble opinion, I’m not sure exactly what it is about spicy barbecue sauce that makes it unsuitable for inclusion in a noodle bowl.
Contrast the experimental nature of the market process to the centralized nature of economic (or cultural) planning, licensing, and regulation. Planners could argue for eons about whether pho noodles and pulled pork are really two great tastes that taste great together, but we can’t know for certain unless someone has the freedom to try it. In her book “The Future and Its Enemies,” Virginia Postrel writes about how Vidal Sassoon defied hairstyling conventions and was hounded by regulators and bureaucrats because of certification problems. This raises a question: if we had a government boards of culinary standards the way we have boards of cosmetology, would we get innovations like barbecue nachos with the speed that we do? I’m inclined to think not.
*People from our Sunday School class have brought us a few meals to help smooth out our baby-induced lifestyle inversion. It’s been great: the food has been very good and very plentiful. I’ll have more to say on social capital and risk-sharing later.