Everytime I stand in a line to get my favorite wrap or sandwich I wonder how these food items became my favorite. A couple of years back when I was fresh of the boat, I was taken aback by what I then thought as a sheer lack of developed food culture. I thought all that they do is harvest and stuff it in a bread or wrap it in a tortilla (courtsey the Mexcians!) and put on a great smile while selling it you as food!
Coming from a land which boasts of thousands of years of evolved and complex food culture, it was almost impossible to resist passing a value judgement on the food in US. But it turns out that I was saved by economics again from turing into a ‘desi snob’ when it came to food.
In my class the other day, I was teaching the importance of technology and relative factor abundance in determining how people in different parts of the world do the same things differently. While doing so I realized that I somehow completely missed this point when it came to thinking about food. Now that I get that it seems obvious that producing food is just another economic activity and hence follows the rules of economics.
India being labor abundant than US has a much more labor intensive food culture. Hence food in India is almost always freshly prepared and involves relatively elaborate and complex recipies even when it comes to everyday food. Stocking up the freezers with frozen dinners is completely alien to Indians, even for them who can afford to do so. Reason is simple- labor is cheap, so why eat stale!
In US labor is costly. So no elaborate recipies- just plain simple toss and stuff or just microwave for 10 min. Sure, there must be some complex food recipes that probably see light of the day only on occassions. Otherwise everything is convinient and clean. It is not that Americans cannot develop a complex food culture and Indians can, but the way food is percieved and processed is just an optimal response to relative factor costs.
In an earlier piece on this blog we already saw why most of the western food is bland . Now we also know why it is so simple. So lets top it off by a new law of food economics- Cheaper the labor relative to capital (closer it is to the spice lands), more elaborate and complex (spicier) is the food culture. Ceteris paribus of course!