Lunch Links

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
  • In praise of processed food. This needs to be said more often. I love farmers markets. I enjoy eating local when possible. I like “slow food,” the kind of stuff you cook over low heat for hours. I also realize these are conceits of affluence. Processed food isn’t as good for us as whole food. But the industrialization of food is also why most of us no longer worry about starving to death. If we all only ate local, most of us wouldn’t be eating for much longer.
  • “Why We’re Teaching The Wire at Harvard”
  • What chefs don’t tell you.
  • The New York Times looks at false confessions.
  • If you live in the continental U.S., you’re never more than 115 miles from the nearest McDonald’s.
  • There’s an old joke that men don’t pay prostitutes for sex, they pay so they don’t have to talk after sex. But in many cases, the opposite may be true.
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41 Responses to “Lunch Links”

  1. #1 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “There’s an old joke that men don’t pay prostitutes for sex, they pay so they don’t have to talk after sex.”

    A man pays a prostitute to leave after sex.

  2. #2 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    God I loathe The Wire. I prefer the scenario where the good guys
    have the uniforms and the bad guys wear street attire, shows like COPS
    where you know the cameraman is following the good guy (because
    we all know it’s illegal to film cops without consent), and anyone
    who has the misfortune of running into the good guy gets body-slammed
    and eats gravel.
    Makes life easier than trying to figure out who’s who. Hate that.

  3. #3 |  Stephen Smith | 

    Nothing bothers me more than when libertarians defend the current food ecosystem. Processed foods, industrial farming, fast food, monocropping, and meat all benefit tremendously from farm subsidies. Just because most lefty foodie types don’t recognize it and want to blame it all on the free market doesn’t mean you have to give into their little game.

  4. #4 |  Robert | 

    “If we all only ate local, most of us wouldn’t be eating for much longer”

    Well said Radley. Well said.

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    If you live in the continental U.S., you’re never more than 115 miles from the nearest McDonald’s.

    And probably only forty feet from a Starbucks (even if you’re actually already inside a Starbucks).

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    By the way, there is no link on the one about McDonalds.

  7. #7 |  qwints | 

    I think we can separate the distorting impact of farm subsidies from the claim that industralized agriculture is somehow morally wrong. Mass production of food would still exist in a world without the farm bill, and it would still be necessary for human survival.

  8. #8 |  mark r | 

    http://rjwaldmann.blogspot.com/2010/09/in-praise-of-mcdonalds-noted-foody-ezra.html

    Preservatives aren’t bad for you. I obviously respect the right of anyone to eat however they choose, but the industrialization of food has also made it much safer and healthier on the whole than it would otherwise be.

    @Stephen

    I don’t think the point is very controversial that local farming is more expensive than industrialized farming. Local farms get subsidies too.

  9. #9 |  Joe | 

    What chefs don’t tell you was done with a lot more style and humor by Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential.

  10. #10 |  Joe | 

    As for processed food, if you are into fresh, grow or raise it yourself. With a little bit of land you can do veggies, fruit, chickens, heck, even beef and pigs. But how many of us are grow our own wheat, rice, etc.?

    To be self sustaining you have to be a farmer (which is an eighty hour a week job). And to be efficient and cost effective (at least on the stuff you can’t readly sell in a farmer’s market) have to be a specialized farmer.

  11. #11 |  Stephen Smith | 

    “I think we can separate the distorting impact of farm subsidies from the claim that industralized agriculture is somehow morally wrong.”

    I’m not saying it’s morally wrong – I’m saying it’s economically inefficient.

    Take the case of factory farmed pork, for example. Traditionally, farmers kept small amounts of pigs on the farm which they fed their scraps – corn husks, rotten crops, etc. It was cheaper than buying feed on the open market, didn’t need to be shipped, etc. Nowadays, with corn and soybean subsidies, it’s actually cheaper to just throw away your scraps and buy corn and soybeans on the open market, since the subsidies have driven their price down so low. And since small farmers raising pigs now have no cost advantage over large factory farms, they don’t bother. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this paper (it’s a PDF) which spells it all out. I’ve also seen a similar analysis done on factory-farmed chickens (also PDF).

    Like I said, just because some people use moral arguments against factory farming doesn’t mean you should discount the economic arguments against it.

    I don’t think the point is very controversial that local farming is more expensive than industrialized farming.

    Well, it should be controversial, because it’s not always true. Like I said, there were inherent diseconomies of scale in the traditional way of farming pigs, which would make small/local farms cheaper producers of pork than faraway factory farms.

  12. #12 |  Jozef | 

    So prostitutes are basically slightly more expensive friends with benefits. Yeah, I can live with that. And maybe spend the money when I can afford it.

  13. #13 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    As a nervous young sailor in a Panamanian brothel, I ended up spending most of my hour talking. Of course, my Venezuelan lady didn’t speak much English, but we were able to piece together a decent conversation. It just felt right. I guess there is more to sex than just, well, sex.

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Stephen Smith is correct about the subsidies and the cascading eco effect.

    I’d love to see what the food industry would look like without subsidies. For sure it wouldn’t look the same as today.

    So, we do not have proof that local farming is more expensive than industrialized farming. Especially when you take into effect subsidies.

  15. #15 |  Swampy | 

    “If we all only ate local, most of us wouldn’t be eating for much longer”

    would most likely read “If we all only ate local, most of us would have gardens, chickens, and cellars stocked with pickled goods”

  16. #16 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #13 | Mike Leatherwood — “As a nervous young sailor in a Panamanian brothel, I ended up spending most of my hour talking.”

    About 58 minutes talking, I’m guessing.

    Sorry Mike, couldn’t resist. :)

  17. #17 |  qwints | 

    Stephen, you seem to be quite right when it comes to pig farming. I found this claim from the paper you cited particularly interesting:

    “[W]e estimate that mid-sized diversified farms – those with 500-2,000
    hogs fed largely by on-farm crops – would have comparable production costs to those of industrial producers if the later had to pay full cost for their feed.”

    Taking what you say as true (I don’t see a reason to dispute it), that means that livestock are currently being raised inefficiently. It is trivially obvious that agriculture would be different without farm subsidies. That said, the article’s claim is that the typical foodie belief(as espoused by Michael Pollan) in a past golden age of food is a myth. As is the idea that humanity can live on the yield of organic agriculture. Industrial food, as the article argues, represents a step away from famine and drudgery.

  18. #18 |  Highway | 

    Whether it fits into your worldview or not, the amount of productivity lost if everyone had to have home gardening to have that sort of variety in their diets would be devastating to everyone’s quality of life. And the only thing the subsidies end up doing for the people who pay taxes which go toward paying the subsidies is make their food cost more in aggregate (direct food cost plus subsidization plus inefficiency in distributing said subsidies).

    I would think that the net result of stopping subsidization of farming practices would result in a net decrease in food costs, if you don’t try to externalize the subsidies, for the people who pay those taxes. Attendant would be a total increase on the people who don’t pay those taxes now. And if you then tried to move those tax dollars to some other use, rather than give them back to the people who paid them, everyone would have higher food costs, and no complementary reduction in taxes.

    As someone who pays the taxes, I’d like to see the subsidies removed. Of course, I don’t really care about poor people.

  19. #19 |  John Jenkins | 

    Just as soon as any one person can make a valid argument why the principle of comparative advantage doesn’t apply to food production, then arguments against “factory farming” might be able to be taken seriously (unless, of course, you think increasing the amount of land and labor devoted to agriculture is a good idea, in which case you will implicitly accepting that comparative advantage does apply and you wish to reject the gains in efficiency from respecting it, in which case, I am not sure we share enough premises to have a worthwhile discussion).

    “So, we do not have proof that local farming is more expensive than industrialized farming. Especially when you take into effect subsidies.”

    Yes, we do, because we produce more food from less land with fewer people being dedicated to that production now than in the past, all cost reductions. Cost doesn’t mean just fungible currency. There is also all of the opportunity cost regarding the dedication of land and people to food production that would be imposed by going to a local farming model.

    Also, what someone estimates in a non-peer-reviewed bit of advocacy is probably not good evidence of anything except that the publisher really believes it.

    Farm subsidies of all kinds distort the market and should be abolished, that way those who wish to consume foods that are more expensive to produce have to internalize the costs of that food (think also about the restrictions on food benefits for the poor, as to what they can and cannot purchase: more subsidies and distortions).

    Get rid of all the subsidies and we will find out in a hurry the most efficient way of doing things.

  20. #20 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    Cyn-
    59 and 1/2…..I did say I was young, then, right? ;)

  21. #21 |  InMD | 

    Honestly I’m surprised at how high the never more than 115 miles from McDonald’s number is. Maybe it’s just living all my life in a large metropolitan area but I feel like in my day to day life I’m rarely more than a mile or two from one and that might be stretching it.

  22. #22 |  hattio | 

    As far as the “never more than 115 miles from McDonald’s when in the continental US,” that claim is only true if you use the popular definition of continental (48 states excluding Alaska and Hawaii) not the literal definition of continental (everything except Hawaii).

  23. #23 |  Andrew | 

    It’s over 100 miles round trip when I want something from McDonald’s or any fast type drive-thru food for that matter. Makes that Big Mac attack at 2 AM a pretty pricey proposition. Makes that 6 buck value meal turn into 30 buck value meal.

  24. #24 |  PW | 

    So $800K in stimulus money was spent on a program to teach Africans how to wash their junk after sex.

    http://cnsnews.com/news/article/75198

    This country is fucked up beyond repair.

  25. #25 |  David | 

    Andrew: Okay, then use “contiguous.” That’s what it would be anyway if more people knew what “contiguous” means.

  26. #26 |  David | 

    Er, sorry, Hattio, not Andrew. Sleep deprivation strikes again!

  27. #27 |  Elliot | 

    The dependability and scalability of processed food means that many billions of people can survive without starving or dying of tainted food. And, freedom of choice means that you can choose to gorge on ice cream and cookies, if you see fit.

    But our ancestors evolved before processed food and even agriculture. So, our genes don’t handle overly processed food as well as fresh whole foods (meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts). We’re not having to escape from the bear or worry about finding a herd to hunt so we don’t starve, and we’ve got modern medicine to save us if our appendix bursts. But all this processed junk comes at a price. Diseases of civilization (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer) have increased as our food becomes less like what our ancestors ate, loaded with carbs, Frankenoils, and industrial chemicals.

    Then there’s the matter of sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, then spending several hours in front of a computer or TV for fun.

    Modern humans can live healthier, but they have to pick and choose how they take advantage of technology. And, for goodness sake, don’t believe any of the crap the government tells you about a healthy diet. Modern hunter gatherers, like our ancestors, can live long, healthy lives without any “heart healthy” grains, eating lots of animal fat.

  28. #28 |  croaker | 

    @10 And get sued by the county for growing too much food.

    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/24979774/detail.html

    Tree.
    Rope.
    Politician.
    Some assembly required.

    @21 Back during Y2K there was a guy that was saying “If you live within 5 miles of a 7-11, you’re toast.”

    Re Craigslist/Prostitution:

    With so many web sites outright selling sex for pay, going after Craigslist makes no sense whatsoever.

  29. #29 |  Cynical in CA | 

    So today we find out it’s “subsidies” or “subsistence.”

    Your choice.

  30. #30 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Between the tiny [South] Dakotan hamlets of Meadow and Glad Valley lies the McFarthest Spot: 107 miles distant from the nearest McDonald’s, as the crow flies, and 145 miles by car!”

    http://www.thebigmoney.com/blogs/daily-bread/2009/10/29/farthest-distance-mcdonalds-107-miles

  31. #31 |  Stephen Smith | 

    “Also, what someone estimates in a non-peer-reviewed bit of advocacy is probably not good evidence of anything except that the publisher really believes it.”

    Uh huh…so what does that make Radley’s work for Cato? Facts are facts, no matter who publishes them. Peer reviewed journals publish a lot of crap, and at the end of the day you have to read the article, consider its arguments, consider who wrote it and what their affiliations are, and evaluate it for yourself.

    If you don’t want to take the time to wade through the paper, that’s fine – I don’t expect everyone to be as interested in farm subsidies as me. But don’t then turn around and tell me I’m wrong when you refuse to read and evaluate the evidence that I’m presenting.

  32. #32 |  PW | 

    The guy that burned a koran in front of ground zero last weekend got fired for it. Approve or disapprove the silly stunt aspect of it all, is it really that different from someone who burns a flag? It would be a legitimate cause of outrage if a flag burner got fired for doing that on his own time. Are we to treat koran burners differently?

    http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/09/14/2010-09-14_koran_burner_derek_fenton_fired_from_his_job_at_nj_transit.html

  33. #33 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    re: Prostitutes:

    Really now, don’t we all know by this time that if it floats, flies or fucks you are better off renting it?

  34. #34 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #31 Stephen Smith

    Uh huh…so what does that make Radley’s work for Cato? Facts are facts, no matter who publishes them. Peer reviewed journals publish a lot of crap, and at the end of the day you have to read the article, consider its arguments, consider who wrote it and what their affiliations are, and evaluate it for yourself.

    We peer review the livin’ shit outa Radley’s work.

    But, you’re right. Peer review isn’t always a sign that something has passed an unbiased critical examination.

  35. #35 |  albatross | 

    Peer-review is a specific process that works pretty well in some situations, and not in others, for weeding out error and fraud and stupidity. The advantage to a peer-reviewed paper is that it probably had to make it past a couple real experts in the field to get published. (Though it’s often hard for an outsider to know what journals and conferences are trustworthy, and there are examples of journals being made up by big-name scientific publishers as advertising vehicles.) There are many other processes that work pretty well for filtering out various kinds of bullshit, nonsense, spin, shoddy work, error, and fraud, all imperfectly. For example, the New Yorker has a famously thorough fact-checking department. That won’t catch the same kind of problems as peer review–I’ll catch the misuse of a statistical test in a paper I’m reviewing, but I won’t be calling all the “personal communication” references to verify that they really said what you claim they said in your paper. They solve different problems.

    Still another process of this kind is open commenting. An active commenter community often will call attention to errors. A good example of this is Megan McArdle’s commenters, who often point out stuff she’s missed or gotten lazy on. So long as the writer plays straight with the comments, and there’s a critical and involved enough community of commenters, this can catch and correct a lot of shoddy reasoning and error, but different kinds than the other two processes. The reviewer pool is wide, but the review isn’t likely to be very deep.

  36. #36 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    #18 Highway

    Whether it fits into your worldview or not, the amount of productivity lost if everyone had to have home gardening to have that sort of variety in their diets would be devastating to everyone’s quality of life.

    Successful defeat of a premise for which no one argued.

    #19 John

    Just as soon as any one person can make a valid argument why the principle of comparative advantage doesn’t apply to food production, then arguments against “factory farming” might be able to be taken seriously

    I do not accept your premise that one must invalidate comparative advantage in order to argue against factory farming (or more precisely…for local farming). But, nice try. Besides, it would depend upon which arguments against factory farming you are talking about since there are several.

    Yes, we do

    No, we don’t. The equations you’re using (based on what you’ve written) are based on a farming industry saturated with subsidies and politically-motivated regulations. If you want to say “Industrial farming is more efficient than smaller/local farms in the current market saturated with subsidies and regulations that defines American farming”, then I’d agree. But, that would have nothing to do with the very origin of Stephen’s post at #3.

    And, yes, if your peers are all statists, they will agree with your statist report. Similar to Radley’s review of the Marvin-Harrison-shoots-people report.

    I look forward to a free market that determines the most efficient allocation of resources.

  37. #37 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    I dread the day we have government-provided hookers as part of some socialized sex or jobs program.

  38. #38 |  Elliot | 

    PW (#32): “The guy that burned a koran in front of ground zero last weekend got fired for it. Approve or disapprove the silly stunt aspect of it all, is it really that different from someone who burns a flag? It would be a legitimate cause of outrage if a flag burner got fired for doing that on his own time. Are we to treat koran burners differently?”

    It’s not different from burning a flag, or an effigy of Cap’n Crunch for that matter. But the employer owns that job and has a moral right to fire an employee for acting in a way they don’t like. You can get outraged all you like, but until you own a piece of the company, it’s not your business.

    Tell me, if you would get outraged at an employer firing an employee for burning the American flag on their own time, would it matter to you if that employee were chanting “death to America” while doing the torching? Context is important and the intentions of flag burners varies widely.

    MHS: Garrison then produced a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and put a match to it. Amid cries of “Amen” the hated document burned to a cinder. Then he produced copies of Judge Edward G. Loring’s decision to send Anthony Burns back to slavery and Judge Benjamin R. Curtis’s comments to the U.S. grand jury considering charges of constructive treason against those who had participated in the failed attempt to free Burns. As Martin Luther had burned copies of canon law and the papal bull excommunicating him from the Catholic Church for heresy, Garrison consigned each to the flames. Holding up a copy of the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as “the source and parent of all the other atrocities–‘a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.'” As the nation’s founding document burned to ashes, he cried out: “So perish all compromises with tyranny!”

  39. #39 |  Howlin' Hobbit | 

    “Eight of the defendants in Garrett’s study had actually been cleared by DNA evidence before trial, but the courts convicted them anyway.”

    Jesus Fucking Christ!

    Yet another reason for me, an erstwhile defendant of the death penalty, to call for an extended moratorium on same.

  40. #40 |  PW | 

    #38 – The Koran burner guy worked for a government transit agency, thus ownership of the company does not apply to anyone beyond the public. While I fully support “at will” hiring practices for the private sector, it crosses ethical lines when a government entity uses this guy’s political beliefs as a reason to fire him. I believe the anti-discrimination case law is also much stronger for people fired by public agencies for political reasons, so he probably has grounds for a good lawsuit.

  41. #41 |  Elliot | 

    PW, point acknowledged. You can dunk a crucifix in urine and get $15,000 from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts, but burn a Quran and it’s a “hate crime” and you lose your job. Sorry, but that’s just bullshit. You either foolishly kowtow to everyone’s mystical notions or give none of them special preference.

    I usually disagree with Bill Maher, but I liked his take on the GZ Mosque on Leno the other night.

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