Iris and I have been working on this cockamamie theory based on the work of a dead philosopher.
Our theory is inspired by Rawls’s veil of ignorance. The Veil of Ignorance is a classic philosophical thought experiment discussed in every Philosophy 101 class and then on into the night by stoned undergrads. It goes like this: say you could choose to be born into any society on Earth, but you can’t decide what social class (or race, or ethnicity, or level of intelligence) you’ll end up in. Which society would you choose? Which would you avoid? The answers to these questions can, per Rawls, tell us which societies and policies are more just.
Well, that was heavy. The restaurant version of the veil of ignorance goes like this: a teleporter has been invented. You only get to use it once. It has a dial that lets you select a country (or maybe a city; we haven’t worked out the details yet), and a big red button. Push the button and you’re zapped into a restaurant in the selected country, with enough local currency to cover your meal. The catch, of course, is that you don’t get to decide which restaurant.
Which country would you choose? The correct answer is Japan. I can’t promise you won’t be sent to a Japanese McDonald’s, but the probability is low.
What if we made it cities instead of countries? You could do a lot worse than Hong Kong. Before coming here, I made a list of restaurants I wanted to try, and I’ve been to several of them, but I’ve also just been wandering into places that look promising, and I haven’t been burned yet. I walked past a little Shanghainese chain a few times and finally had dinner there tonight, and the soup dumplings were terrific.
Where would you set the dial? I think it’s a fun experiment, because it leads you to come up with a list that looks quite different from where you’d most like to go and eat, guidebook in hand. The USA certainly has the widest variety of great food in any country–but would you take your chance on it? Not me. I suspect Spain would outrank France and Italy, and some South American countries rarely on any foodie’s radar would do quite well.
Whole swaths of the globe remain foreign to me, so I have little sense of how, say, Mexico or India or Israel or Lebanon would rank. And I realize there is no objective measure of what constitutes a good or bad restaurant, but come on: I think everyone can agree that Sweden will rank high on the scale of social justice but not as high on the scale of restaurant awesomeness. (There, if that doesn’t get me in trouble…)
Am I on to something here or just wrapping my food prejudices in a pseudo-philosophical dreamcoat?