Thursday, 5 September 2019

Dining out as cultural trade

Joel Waldfogel combines TripAdvisor data with gravity models of trade to figure out which cuisines reign supreme.
Perceptions of Anglo-American dominance in movie and music trade motivate restrictions on cultural trade. Yet, the market for another cultural good, food at restaurants, is roughly ten times larger than the markets for music and film. Using TripAdvisor data on restaurant cuisines, along with Euromonitor data on overall and fast-food expenditure, this paper calculates implicit trade patterns in global cuisines for 52 destination countries. We obtain four results. First, the pattern of cuisine trade resembles the “gravity” patterns in physically traded products. Second, after accounting gravity factors, the most popular cuisines are Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and American. Third, excluding fast food, the largest net exporters of their cuisines are the Italians and the Japanese, while the largest net importers are the USA—with a 2015 deficit of over $140 billion—followed by Brazil, China, and the UK. With fast food included, the US deficit shrinks to $55 billion but remains the largest net importer along with China and, to a lesser extent, the UK and Brazil. Fourth, cuisine trade patterns more closely resemble migration patterns than patterns of food trade or patterns arising from the extent of arable land in origin countries. Cuisine trade patterns run starkly counter to the audiovisual patterns that have motivated concern about Anglo-American cultural dominance.
The Economist does a prettier version of Waldfogel's tables:


The paper finds that migration matters, reinforcing my view that New Zealand needs to provide immigration preference to migrants from countries whose cuisines are underrepresented in New Zealand. 

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