Edible Economics is an inquiry into the huge power of economic theory. The scale of this power is well described when the author writes that “different economic theories make societies different”.
Ha-Joon Chang is eminently qualified to offer such conclusions, as his previous works are lucid explanations of economic thinking. In particular, his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism is a thoughtful and enjoyable examination of the functioning of economies.
Chang appreciates that the power of economic theory is projected through the growth of deep thickets of impenetrable language. Allure is enhanced by creating a sense of complexity that then requires deciphering and translation by experts.
This writer is important, as he seeks to thin the thickets for the general reader. His collection of essays uses stories about food to offer insights into economics. The essays are organised around important themes.
A discussion of different varieties of pasta and noodles helps to demonstrate how states support the development of industries. The prominence of beef in our food systems is used to explain the structures of global trade. Bismarck’s forging of a political alliance between rye producers and industrialists created the conditions for the birth of the modern welfare state.
These essays are full of wonderful nuggets of culinary learning.
This reader was not aware of the importance of desiccated bird droppings to the pre-modern economy of Peru. The value of this ingredient to fertilisers led to an economic boom. The love of Coca-Cola by Marshal Georgi Zhukov, the Soviet commander at the battles of Stalingrad and Leningrad, led to the brewing of a clear version of this iconic drink. This was to avoid any association of a Russian hero with American capitalism.
The concluding essay to this collection is disappointing. An appeal to sample different economic traditions is a little underwhelming. Urging greater use of imagination in policy development hardly depends on a better appreciation of culinary history.
If the works of this author were a menu, this book would be a food course that encourages the sampling of the rest of the menu. Lucidity and elegance is to be found on every page but the culinary and economic wisdom of this author also merits a fuller and lengthier book.
Paschal Donohoe is the Minister for Finance and President of the Eurogroup