Edible Economics: A Hungry Economist Explains the World by Ha-Joon Chang - review by Clarissa Hyman

Clarissa Hyman

A Wallet Full of Rye

Edible Economics: A Hungry Economist Explains the World

By

Allen Lane 224pp £20
 

According to the leading economist and serious food lover Ha-Joon Chang, many young Korean boys like him grew up warned by their ever-loving mothers that their willies would fall off should they enter the kitchen, traditionally the exclusive domain of women. It’s not the sort of factoid one usually finds in a work on economic theory, but Chang is not your conventional academic. He teaches at SOAS and has written a number of works that aim to make the murky thickets of economic thought accessible to the non-economically literate, such as myself, who have never got much further than Mr Micawber’s dictum.

In Edible Economics, Chang takes an idiosyncratic approach to his two favourite subjects, food and economics. His starting point is a comparison of the evolution of economic thought and British cuisine in recent times. He describes the latter as going through a culinary revolution. A bland and unhealthy ‘monoculture’ was invigorated by the arrival of diverse new foods (pizza!), peak-time television programmes devoted to cuisine, fusion cooking and the growth of interest in culinary history. Although one could argue with this view of British food (he overlooks the roles of domestic and farmhouse kitchens in keeping it subversively vibrant, for example), the point is a fair, if familiar, one.

His parallel argument is that economics has moved in the contrary direction, from having many opposing and overlapping ‘schools’ to being a field in which (rightly or wrongly, according to your view) free-market neoclassicism dominates. Chang contends that just as a range of foods makes for a balanced diet, so we should take in a variety of economic perspectives in order to achieve a fairer, more equitable and just society.

Chang takes a spoonful-of-sugar approach, frankly admitting that his aim is ‘to make economics more palatable by serving it with stories about food’. But, he stresses, this is not a book about the economics of food (though some readers might have preferred this). Instead, the food stories and charming

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