Blog: Favoring Salty and Spicy Foods Is A Sign Your Ancestors May Have Been Poor

The Big Mac Index is well known as an informal measure of countries’ economic standards and consumption capacities. But in fact, there is also the pickle index, the lipstick index and the ultimate indicator of everyday life – the regional index of food flavors. What do the saltier, bolder tasting foods of provinces like Hunan, Jiangxi, and Shandong, and the light and light flavors of Jiangsu Province say about the relative states of their regional economies?

After a recent thesis discussion, I had a meal with my students in the school cafeteria. One of the students who is not a local complained, “The food in the Hangzhou school cafeterias is just not salty enough. The dishes are mostly sweet. I once had dinner with my native friend from Hangzhou. All the meat dishes were seasoned with sugar. And none were spicy enough. His remarks are representative of many views on Jiangnan cuisine. Some students from Hunan, Jiangxi, and Shandong nodded.

As an economics teacher, I like to use examples from everyday life to sharpen the economics of my students. The way foods are flavored differently in various regions is undoubtedly a good subject of economics.

Light and lean

So, I asked, “If what you think of Jiangnan cuisine is true, then what are the economic characteristics of the regions that offer saltier and spicier foods?”

The students were silent for a moment. Then the student who commented on Hangzhou food earlier said, “I think the places with saltier and spicier cuisines are the ones that were underdeveloped in the past. Even so far, some of these areas may still be underdeveloped. “

The other students nodded in agreement, each supporting their claims with evidence. Even in Zhejiang, the eating habits of Hangjiahu Plain are different from those of the southwestern mountainous city of Quzhou.

Food from Jiangnan region is generally mild in flavor. If I put my finger on one specific preference that these people may have, it would be that they love sweet foods. But in an area so representative of Jiangnan region, like Zhejiang, there is a small town named Quzhou whose locals adore a contrasting style of spicy and strong flavors, a cuisine that has gained a solid reputation. The famous “three heads, one foot” (三 头 一掌) are a local specialty made from strongly spiced rabbit, duck and fish heads, as well as duck feet. Today, no one takes care of rabbit heads and duck heads. But because the standard of living was previously poor in the region, the poor ate duck heads and rabbit heads, and dishes featuring them gradually became local specialties.

Stronger flavors to overcome hardships

In ancient times, fresh vegetables, meat, and eggs were not widely available to the poor. So, in addition to loving spicy food, the poor also enjoyed salty foods. The savory and spicy flavors are actually formed by the trials of life.

If we measured the ratio of the consumption of spicy food in different regions to the total consumption of their respective residents, maybe we would see a map of China’s economic development. If we apply this map to a China of the past, it would be a more accurate description of the local economic situation. Indeed, after reform and opening up, while many regions experienced rapid development in a few decades, the eating habits of people formed over thousands of years could not be easily changed.

These habits are like an economic code: they reveal a person’s hometown and other historical and cultural information.

However, one of the students asked, “Today, whether we have lunch in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou or Guangzhou, there are fondue restaurants and stalls selling spicy food everywhere. Are we saying that these regions are underdeveloped?

Certainly not. Even the student who asked the question was quickly answered by saying, “Ah yes, it’s because there are a lot of people like us who have come to live in the big cities from our respective hometowns. The student who complained earlier added: “Fortunately, there are many restaurants near the school that serve spicy and fragrant food. Otherwise our meals would be too simple and dull.

Caught in a pickle

“Fuling zhacai” (榨菜, pickled mustard) is a specialty of the Fuling district in Chongqing. Featuring a mustard plant native to the neighborhood, it is a local specialty made with a particular technique. Along with pickled cucumber from France and sweet and sour red cabbage from Germany, it is among the three most famous pickled foods in the world. Because it is so unique, it is one of the most popular dishes among migrant workers as it gives them a taste of home. Therefore, changes in Fuling zhacai’s sales patterns often reflect trends in population mobility, especially the flow of rural migrant workers to cities. This in turn reflects changes in regional economies and labor migration trends.

Pickled mustard. Photo: VCG

Therefore, China has formed a unique index illustrating the trends in population mobility called the “pickle index”. This can be used to infer trends in population mobility based on changes in sales volumes of popular Fuling zhacai in various regions over a few years and later to determine the population in and out of a particular region. In this way, the competent authorities would be able to formulate the policies best suited to the region on the basis of various population structures. For example, following the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the sales volume of Fuling zhacai in southern China declined year-on-year from 49% in 2007 to 29.99% in 2011. This suggests that the population of the southern China after the financial crisis was fast.

Besides the pickle index, which is packed with Chinese flavors, there are other indexes that measure economic volatility, such as those jokingly called “lipstick index” and “hemline index”.

Other lifestyle indicators

The lipstick index was proposed by Leonard Lauder, the former CEO of The Estee Lauder Companies. Analyzing actual data on the company’s revenue, Lauder found that during the recession of the 1990s, lipstick sales in the United States had actually risen against the tide.

The lipstick index shows that when the economy is in recession, consumption is reduced due to the economic downturn. This indicates that women are becoming cautious about their spending, allowing themselves to buy only relatively cheaper cosmetics such as lipstick. So, the worse the economy goes, the better the lipstick sales.

Economists seem to think the lipstick index is not a good indicator of an economic downturn and often treat it as a joke. But many people think it is an inverse indicator of economic development. However, the economic recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic since 2020 could refute the index. Indeed, everyone wore face masks during the pandemic, so there was less need to wear lipstick. McKinsey tracked beauty sales on Amazon for a four-week period between March and April 2020. He found retail sales in the ‘lip care and color’ category fell 15% – the largest ever decline – with prices falling by 28%. .

Closely linked to economic prosperity is the direction of the stock market, which in turn is predicted by the Hem Index, also known as the “bare knees, bull market” indicator. The American stock market was quite slow in 1900, and American women’s skirts were very long, which seemed quite simple and boring. Before the Great Depression of 1929, women’s hems had increased but fell again when the economic crisis hit.

It has been said that the American who discovered this index believed that the emotions of women reflected the career plight of bankers and investors – when the stock market is sluggish, investors are dejected and less likely to notice the appeal of investors. women. But as soon as the stock market improves, women’s clothing will naturally become sexier as men’s attitudes change. Without a doubt, there is an assumption implicit in this story that bankers and investors are mostly male.

Notes of coffee with milk

Pickle Index, Lipstick Index, and Hem Index are just simple economic metrics that never really get taken seriously. However, the Big Mac Index – another informal economic indicator – has actually entered macroeconomics textbooks. The index was invented by the British financial weekly The Economist in 1986 and is published annually as a “light guide” to whether currencies are at their correct level based on the power parity theory. purchase (PPA).

Assuming a floating exchange rate is allowed, PPP, as defined in The Economist’s Big Mac Index, is the notion that “in the long run, exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalize price of an identical basket of goods and services ”in any two countries. But how do you choose what goes into this identical basket? After all, each country has different production capacities for different products, and putting different products in that basket would lead to different results.

McDonald’s has become a symbol of globalization, and the price of a Big Mac allegedly reflects the economic level and consumption capacity of the country. The reason the Big Macs were chosen is that this product is available in many countries, its product specifications are the same almost everywhere, and local McDonald’s dealers negotiate their own prices for the raw materials. These factors allow a more meaningful comparison of the currencies of various countries and provide an informal assessment of their PPP.

In 2004, The Economist developed its Tall Latte Index, similar to the Big Mac Index, except that McDonald’s Big Mac is replaced by Starbucks Big Latte. The emergence of this index is not only based on Starbucks’ successful global expansion, but also on the highly globalized coffee bean trade. The Big Mac index therefore ranks poorly compared to the Tall Latte index in terms of precision.

All aspects of economic life come together to form an organic whole. The intricacies of many great economic fluctuations actually manifest themselves in seemingly insignificant everyday experiences, which can then form an economic code. As long as we are observers, we will discover many of their secrets.

Translated by Grace Chong of ThinkChina.

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