Cockamamie theory of the day

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?

5 thoughts on “Cockamamie theory of the day

  1. Wendy

    I splutter a little bit–Spain over Italy must be rumor and hearsay. I would take a chance on Italy. But I think most likely I would pick somewhere where I’d be less likely to run into a “fake” restaurant–which is maybe what’s behind your mention of South American countries. I don’t want The Cheesecake Factory, Applebee’s, or their international equivalents, and I think you’re less likely to run into these in Latin America. (I know that’s low-hanging fruit–throw in The Olive Garden to round out the trifecta–but it’s the truth.) And if we’re going cities, I would choose Oaxaca, a smallish town in Guatemala, or somewhere in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Or, after asking advice from my Indian friends, somewhere in India.

  2. mamster Post author

    Wendy, as you know, I’ve never been to Italy or Spain, so you’re right: it’s all rumor and innuendo. I’ve heard many people come back from Italy (especially Northern) saying they had some fabulous meals and some real clunkers. I’ve never heard anyone complain about a bad meal in Spain. You may point to small sample size.

  3. Emily

    Corsica, hands down. It’s the perfect blend of French, Italian, Spanish, and Egyptian food with local cheeses that you just can’t find anywhere else. And there’s an herb that just grows along the roads that I kick myself for not getting the name and seeds of. YUM.

  4. Camille

    This is going to sound off-the-wall, but I might pick Budapest. No matter where you go, there’s certain to be foie gras on the menu. Also, goulash.

    For a country, I’m going with Portugal.

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