Meal deal economics

The law of demand is one of the most widely understood laws of economics: if you raise the price of something, fewer people will buy it; if conversely, if you reduce its price, more people will buy it.

The law generally holds true as long as the goods in question don’t have any special properties or constraints. However, there are a number of known exceptions, for example:

  • Veblen goods – expensive goods which are desirable for the status they confer on anyone rich enough to buy them. Contrary to the law of demand, demand for a Veblen good will rise as its price increases.
  • Giffen goods – a cheap but essential good which counter-intuitively increases in demand as its price rises. This is because, if a staple food (e.g. bread) rises in price, the poorest consumers have to stop buying more expensive foods (e.g. meat), and spend the savings on more of the cheapest good.

I hypothesise the existence of another type of good which behaves as an exception to the law of demand: a meal deal good.

Continue reading

In praise of Stroud Green

We’re moving to Manchester next week, but for the last two years we’ve lived in London. Trying to pin down the exact bit is tricky. It’s near Finsbury Park, which for non-Londoners means north and a medium distance out from the centre, and for practical purposes, “near Finsbury Park” is what I’ve always described it as. But Finsbury Park is quite large and there are lots of places near it which aren’t particularly near each other.

We’ve lived in the area immediately to the west of the park, not south enough to be Holloway, west enough to be Archway (which isn’t really an area anyway), nor north enough to be Crouch End. The main feature of the area is Stroud Green Road, which runs from Finsbury Park station north west until it becomes Crouch Hill and continues into Crouch End. This road also forms part of the boundary between the London Boroughs of Islington (of wealthy “new” Labour fame) and Haringey (of Baby P fame).

Stroud Green itself was a hamlet a little further north which got swallowed up by nineteenth century suburban expansion; apart from Holy Trinity Church, the site it occupied is mostly residential now and not a distinctive area. Stroud Green Road to the south, however, is the economic focal point, and something of a gem for the diversity and quality of independent shops and restaurants along and around it.

Continue reading

Shreddies: four layers of bullshit

So, Shreddies have dropped their cutesy “Knitted by Nanas” marketing campaign (which was actually a sneaky attempt to pretend they were all lovely people, not a giant baby-killing, child-slaving, famine-exacerbating industrial food-processing corporation). Instead, they’re now promoting their small squares of processed wheat with the following ziggurat of bollocks:

Continue reading

Ficks Cocktail Fortifier

An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign has raised over $40,000 for a bunch of charlatans to make what they call a ‘cocktail fortifier’: a tonic containing a handful of herbs and vitamins, which they strongly imply (although carefully avoid stating explicitly) will prevent hangovers if added to alcoholic drinks.

The product is called Ficks Cocktail Fortifier, comes in three flavours (ginger, lime and lemon) and costs $15 (about £9) for an 8 oz (240 ml) bottle. That’s almost £38 per litre, significantly more expensive than alcoholic spirits (Bombay Sapphire gin is about £25 per litre), and that’s for a non-alcoholic product, basically a mixture of ginger and vitamin B, which is probably less nutritious than a fruit smoothie and a multivitamin tablet (Tesco Red Berries smoothie, £1.20 per litre).

Continue reading

Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

I don’t understand India. I don’t think I ever will. (I’m not even sure that’s a possible thing to do.) But in the same way that you never really feel like an adult, you just get better at faking it, now that I’ve been in India for a couple of months, I’m able to talk to in-country noobz and come across like an old hand.

In Orchha, I got chatting to a German tourist who’d been in India for just a few days. I had breakfast with him, but he had to rush off to a pre-arranged meeting with a local man who’d aggressively befriended him in the way that any traveller in India will be familiar with. He was still trying to work out whether this apparent hospitality was genuine, or whether the entire forced relationship was ultimately aimed at financial gain. He asked me, “so what’s the deal? Is there always a catch? Are Indians always after money, either directly or indirectly?”

My answer was, emphatically, no. A great many people are after money, and I’ve done a lot of complaining about the grinding chore of dealing with them, but I’ve also encountered genuine, selfless hospitality and generosity in many places. The ratio at which you encounter the two depends on where you are: in more touristic places like the cities of Rajasthan, people’s motivations will tend towards the commercial, and somewhere like Khajuraho or Orchha, which are small settlements on the edge of hugely popular tourist sites, it will approach 100%. Conversely, it’s been in places that no tourist has ever heard of – Milak, Bhujiya Ghat, Dhuri – in which I’ve been overwhelmed by generosity and kindness.

Thinking about this reminded me that all of those places were in the first month of the trip, and since I’ve been backpacking, I’ve been taking trains and buses from tourist spot to tourist spot, and haven’t experienced anything like it since. So when SK, my host in Gwalior, asked if I’d like to spend a couple of days visiting his brother’s family in Sultanpur, a small city utterly devoid of any significance, I jumped at the offer.

Continue reading

Nutrition blogging nonsense

I’ve just been sent a link to an article by third-rate Australian Gillian McKeith clone, Jess Ainscough. She runs an absurd ‘health’ blog called “The Wellness Warrior”, and the article in question is 8 Foods People Think Are Healthy … But Aren’t.

I started reading the article before I had a look at the author, her blog and other posts. I didn’t take long to realise something was wrong. The third food on the list was fish. In her reasons for avoiding fish, she states that wild fish are full of mercury, “the second most toxic element on Earth next to radiation.” Now, without doing extensive further research, I don’t know whether wild fish contains significant amounts of mercury or not. However, at this point I can safely say that Jess Ainscough is a fucking idiot.

Continue reading

Delhi belly: a new hypothesis

I’ve got a new theory about “Delhi belly”. The usual explanation, other than food poisoning, unfamiliar germs in the water or picked up from surroundings, etc, is that the Western bowel isn’t used to the spicy food of India. It can cope with the occasional hot curry we’re used to at home, but when you start having spice with every meal, every day, it’s overwhelmed.

My new hypothesis provides an alternative to that argument. It’s not the amount of spicy food you’re eating that upsets the gut, it’s all the damned curd. Curd is one of the staples of the Indian diet and is served with every meal, without exception. India doesn’t have yoghurt, as we’d recognise it; they just have curd. Curd with rice, curd with bread, curd with parathas for breakfast, curd with roti for lunch. Curd with fruit for a hotel’s “continental” breakfast. Curd to drink, in the form of lassi. Sure, the Western bowel isn’t used to that much chili and spice, but it’s not used to that much soured dairy, either.

Plus, people are always assuming that you won’t be able to cope with spicy Indian food, so they a) tone down the level of spiciness for you, and b) force you to eat more curd to counter it. Surely it’s more likely that your gut’s overwhelmed by the curd, not the spice?

Plus, I’ve had at least two dreams in the past few days in which I was eating cereal and milk, and the milk was off. Maybe it’s my stomach trying to tell me something?

Bitter gourd is bitter

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I went for a wander down Wilmslow Road, aka the Curry Mile, in Rusholme, Manchester. We passed a vegetable market and decided to buy a few things for dinner. We got some onions, aubergines and okra, and then spotted something that looked like this:

It looked amazing, like the sort of vegetable you’d expect to encounter just after landing on an alien world. Continue reading

Why is healthy food expensive?

A friend of mine was complaining today about how healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food, and implied that we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic if things were the other way around. The suggestion is that people choose to eat unhealthy food because it’s the cheaper option; they would eat more healthily if that were cheaper instead.

That may be true to an extent, but it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: a major reason that unhealthy food is cheap, is that it’s so popular. It’s a huge market, so producers, suppliers and retailers compete fiercely on price to get a portion of it. Also, because the market is so large, they can achieve economies of scale in the production of bad food.

Continue reading