The Best of Casual Kitchen 2014

Every year at this time I share Casual Kitchen's best posts for the prior twelve months.

And as always, I would like to thank you, readers, for all your support. Thank you for clicking through to the site, for doing your shopping at Amazon via the affiliate links here *, and most of all, thank you for reading and participating in the conversation. You are why Casual Kitchen exists.

With that, let's get to the very best of CK 2014!

* A quick public service reminder: the easiest way to support my work here is to use the links to Amazon on this site to do your shopping (you can find them on the right margin, or in the postscript at the bottom of every post). Amazon pays me a modest affiliate commission on any and every item you buy--at zero incremental cost to you. This is the ideal way to support bloggers you follow!

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Top 10 Best Posts of 2014

10) The Tragic Tale of Peat Village
My personal favorite post of the year. An allegory about how certain elites seem to know so much better how we should live--and worse, how they seem to think their own rules don't apply to them.

9) Consumerism and Modern Pseudovalues: Some Thoughts
Intellectually, we all know that buying things cannot bring lasting meaning to our lives. So why do so many of us keep acting otherwise? PS: If you think life is about dying next to a large pile of branded consumer goods, do yourself a favor and don't read this post.

8) A Cup of Morning Death? How "Big Coffee" Puts Profits Before People
I'm not gonna lie: I was proud of this parody of the entire litany of unethical rhetorical techniques the Food Babe and others use to impose paranoia on consumers (see also my post on the Subway yoga mat controversy for an all-too typical example). At the rate we're going, we'll soon instinctively fear any ingredient with more than four syllables.

7) What Happens Once You've Cooked a Recipe 100 Times?
In short, five amazing things happen. And each makes cooking easier and more enjoyable than ever.

6) Consumers: Pay For Your Own Brainwashing! (Or Don't)
Companies love it when we pay extra for their familiar branded products. But how did that "feeling" of familiarity get there? This post shares a rather ugly, hidden truth about branded consumer products.

5) The Six Core Principles of Healthy Inexpensive Cooking
This popular series is an articulation of CK's central philosophies on consumer empowerment, frugality, and how you can feed yourself healthy food on very little time and money. Honestly, I should have written this years ago.

4) MORE! Top 25 Laughably Cheap Recipes at Casual Kitchen
The original Top 25 Laughably Cheap Recipes received a ton of linkbacks and has probably brought more readers to Casual Kitchen than any other post. This all-new list offers yet another collection of easy-to-prepare recipes, most of which cost less than a dollar a serving. Enjoy!

3) Expediency and Treadmill Effects
Clearly, I should have thought up a more eye-grabbing title, but this was an important consumer empowerment post discussing how we're subtly lured into more expensive "solutions" than we actually need.

2) Tips vs Strategy
How to choose an information-gathering approach that actually helps you, rather than protects your ego. Bonus: A life with a lot less snark and condescending remarks.

1) The Broken Food Pyramid
This post should make you very humble, not just about government dietary guidelines, but about most of the things we think we know.


Bonus! Top book-related posts at CK in 2014:

Jayson Lusk: The Food Police
Dr. Lusk was exceptionally generous with his time to both answer provocative questions and offer readers here a bonus book list of recommended reading.

Art De Vany: The New Evolution Diet
I pay this book the highest compliment when I say it significantly changed how I think about diet and health. This post, intriguingly, was my second highest trafficked post of 2014, behind The High Cost of a "Feeling" of Safety.

The Heart of the Plate
In short, the best cookbook of the past few years. Mollie Katzen takes vegetarian fare and makes it simple, honest, delicious--and available to anyone. An excellent resource.


Finally: Honorable Mention!
Here are a few posts I'm really proud of, but they just didn't quite make the cut:

How to Keep a Fitness Training Journal
Things are Important Before They're Important
Create Your Own Food Myths for Fun and Profit!
Meat-Eaters Ordering Vegetarian: Polite? Or Phony?
The Illusion of Control and How It's Used Against You


Once again, readers, I thank you for reading. See you in 2015!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Money Sundays: On Making Overconfident Predictions

In some domains, there's a clear and direct relationship between a prediction's accuracy and the evidence supporting it. Example: You want to know if Hillary's going to win the 2016 election. You look at polls, and if they show a high likelihood that she'll win, you can thus have high confidence that she will indeed win.

Or: You want to see if the latest iThing is a good product or not. You read many reviews, and all of them are positive. This leads you to believe--again, with high confidence--that the product is a good one.

In those kinds of domains, a prediction, as long as it's backed by a lot of evidence, can actually be "confident." And it's likely to be right.

However, in other domains, there is much less of a relationship between a prediction, the evidence and your confidence. As an example, take investment markets. You think XYZ stock is a great stock. You look at all the evidence: it has amazing profitability metrics, a growing market share, a juicy dividend, rapid growth, whatever. You therefore predict that this stock is a good stock to own, that it will offer you very good returns. And because of all of this compelling evidence, you are highly confident in your prediction.

Except that here you are likely to be wrong with your prediction, and your wrongness will likely be proportional to your confidence.

Why is this? Because you are not acting alone in this domain. Others are looking at the same information you are and have likely acted accordingly, perhaps by buying the stock and driving it up to a price where all of this compelling evidence is already fully discounted in the stock price. In other words, information about the domain directly impacts the domain itself, because others are taking action alongside you based on that information.

The environment therefore becomes recursive and it leads to, at times, painfully counterintuitive outcomes. Information that makes a stock look attractive actually causes that stock to become unattractive, because too many other people already agree with you.

So, what are other examples of domains where we see this? We see it in bond markets, currency markets, commodity markets and in interest rates, which are essentially a market for the price of money. We also see it in many forms of economic forecasting.

In each of these domains you must be mindful of the second-order (and third-order, and n-order) effects at play. What do I mean by this? Simply that you have to think about not just the information available, but also what other people think about that information. And what people think about people's thoughts about it. And so on.

This is not to say that evidence doesn't play a role in decision-making and prediction-making in domains like the stock market. It does. But you must also consider to what extent the opinions, information, evidence and predictions you hold are shared by or already acted upon by others. Admittedly, it can be difficult to know this part of the equation, but one general heuristic you can use in these domains is this: the widely-held obvious conclusion usually isn't the right one.

This is an important distinction between two different types of decision-making domains, and it's why it is dangerous to claim rock solid confidence with any prediction about interest rates, stock prices, inflation rates, bond prices/yields, etc.--particularly over the near- to medium-term. The perfect example here would be the widely- and confidently-held view from say, two years ago, that we were in a soon-to-pop stock market bubble and that terrible inflation and significantly increasing interest rates were right around the corner. So far, that "obvious conclusion" has been quite painfully wrong. The irony, of course, is that this conclusion will probably become more likely only when people start to seriously doubt its obviousness.

To put it bluntly: No one is ever on rock solid ground making predictions in these domains. And your confidence in your prediction is much more likely to be a reverse indicator!


Read Next: Money Sundays: How To Get Balanced, Consistently Useful Expert Advice


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Links--Friday December 12, 2014

A quick housekeeping update for readers. I'll run a bonus post on Sunday, and then on Tuesday I'll have my annual "Best of Casual Kitchen 2014" post. And then I'm going to take a bit of a blogging break until I run my first article of 2015 on the first Tuesday of January. Happy Holidays to all!

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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There are way more "former vegetarians" than actual vegetarians. (Esquire via Addicted to Canning)

You actually can't debunk a flu shot myth. (Incidental Economist)

Related: Create Your Own Food Myths for Fun and Profit!

So many ironies--intended and unintended--in this article about a lawyer who sued a Chinese takeout place for overcharging him... wait for it... four dollars. (Boston.com)

Interesting to see the various narratives applied to General Mills' decision to bring back French Toast Crunch Cereal. A few examples: The Atlantic sees it, weirdly, as some kind of diplomatic statement on Americans hating the French less. Time sees it as part of a string of food revival tours. Fooducate is predictably saddened by the ingredient label, and considers the whole thing "questionable."

Michele Simon embraces the use of technology to replace animal based foods. (Al Jazeera)

Pushing back against Nick Taleb's anti-GMO "precautionary principle." (Jayson Lusk)

See also: The key question is whether GMOs, whatever their advantages, really have the potential to cause truly ruinous harm. (Bloomberg)

The self-storage business is a dark reflection of the retail economy: We're accumulating stuff faster than we can find space to store it! (Business Week)

Have you noticed how gas is a lot cheaper at the pump lately? Here's a good summary of why oil prices have been falling. (Wonkblog)

"I don't know." The three most important words in investing. (Institutional Investor)

The difference between losing and being beaten. (Farnam Street)


Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Thorstein Veblen and Conspicuous Consumption

Readers, if you've ever wondered why so many people presume that branded merchandise and high-priced consumer goods are somehow "better"--even when they're not--Thorstein Veblen gave us the answer back in 1899 in his seminal book The Theory of the Leisure Class:

"But the human proclivity to emulation has seized upon the consumption of goods as a means to an invidious comparison, and has thereby invested consumable goods with a secondary utility as evidence of relative ability to pay.

This indirect or secondary use of consumable goods lends an honorific character to consumption, and presently also to the goods which best serve this emulative end of consumption... The consumption of expensive goods is meritorious, and the goods which contain an appreciable element of cost in excess of what goes to give them serviceability for their ostensible mechanical purpose are honorific.

The marks of superfluous costliness in the goods are therefore marks of worth... This indirect utility gives much of their value to the 'better' grades of goods."
--Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class

Veblen's writing is, uh, difficult (he was an academic and it showed), but his logic goes something like this: An item's price is a signal of your ability to pay, which is a signal of your wealth, which therefore signals your place in the dominance hierarchy of our society. The more needlessly expensive an item (its "superfluous costliness" as Veblen phrases it), the greater the wealth signal.

This is where Veblen came up with the now infamous phrase conspicuous consumption: consumption literally meant to be seen as overt demonstrations of social status and wealth.

In the modern era, we see this at every level of society. It exists at every branding tier and market segment of nearly every consumer product category. Every consumer goods retailer we shop at, every brand we choose, and practically every product we buy, collectively play some role in our identity construction and our place in society's status hierarchy.

Veblen then goes on to make an even more striking converse argument: Inexpensive consumable goods aren't just less expensive, they're also "cheap" in a deeply pejorative sense:

"While men may have set out with disapproving an inexpensive manner of living because it indicated inability to spend much, and so indicated a lack of pecuniary success, they end by falling into the habit of disapproving cheap things as being intrinsically dishonourable or unworthy because they are cheap."

The circularity here (as well as the financial waste) would be downright laughable if there weren't so many obvious examples of it in everyone's daily life. If you catch yourself presuming an expensive wine is better, that expensive branded products are better, or even that organic food is worth a large price premium, please recognize you're being played... by your own subconscious need for status.

Veblen takes the concept still further:

"So thoroughly has the habit of approving the expensive and disapproving the inexpensive been ingrained into our thinking that we instinctively insist upon at least some measure of wasteful expensiveness in all our consumption, even in the case of goods which are consumed in strict privacy and without the slightest thought of display. ...Any retrogression from the standard of living which we are accustomed to regard as worthy in this respect is felt to be a grievous violation of our human dignity."

Written a hundred years ahead of its time, this passage helps explain why so many middle- and upper-middle class Americans feel vaguely icky shopping at Wal-Mart, why they feel too culturally superior to go to chain restaurants, and why they pay significant price premiums for branded merchandise without even a second thought. Veblen saw it all more than a century ago: these things reflect our status.

We all like to think we don't buy things with our status in mind--that we're somehow above being so transparently status-conscious. But we do it without thinking, and worse, we rationalize it after the fact with plausible-sounding reasons justifying our actions. Of course the rationalizing is the most important step of all, because it protects us from truly seeing our own ugly status-consciousness for what it really is.

This neatly completes the circle of consumerism, to the intense delight of all the companies profiting from our freshly stroked egos.

One final thought. It's not a stretch to say that the average consumer hasn't read The Theory of the Leisure Class. It ain't exactly a page-turner, so I can see why. But how much would you bet that the people selling and marketing to us do know, intimately, all the concepts at work here?


Read Next: Anticipated Reproach, And Why Vegetarians Are Such Jerks




How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Links--Friday December 5, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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Books, Recipes:
My man Mike from Dad Cooks Dinner has a new cookbook out, just in time for the holidays! Here's the link: Rotisserie Chicken Grilling: 50+ Recipes for Chicken on Your Grill's Rotisserie

An excellent blogroll of unusual Meatloaf recipes. PS: Note #10! (Chow)

I hate to break it to you, but the holidays are upon us. May I suggest Caprese Kabobs as a hilariously easy appetizer? (Hungry Housewife)

Just one pan: Skillet Pasta Carbonara. (Recipe Girl)

Gooey always feels like the right thing to do: Gooey Honey Blondies. (Eats Well With Others)

Articles:
Is vinegar an acceptably safe alternative to bleach for cleaning and disinfecting? (Home Ec 101)

I can confidently state that All Wheel Drive cars are pure marketing BS. (Mr. Money Mustache)

Bonus! Becoming so convinced that you are right, that you block yourself from ever learning anything. (Mr. Money Mustache)

"I'm writing this blog post because I've seen a lot of really ignorant comments from a lot of otherwise intelligent folks about some recent shootings." (Monster Hunter Nation)

Only 25% of people really like you no matter what. 25% won't ever like you. 25% like you conditionally, and 25% don't like you unless you work at it. If you expect better odds, you're unrealistic. (A Country Doctor Writes)

Why would an aerospace engineer want to drive for Uber? (Financial Samurai)

What is a bubble? (A Wealth of Common Sense)

The pain we experience from insults is a symptom of a far more serious ailment: our participation in the social hierarchy game. (Time)

Lonely Planet Guides have become sanitized and cliche-ridden. (Matador Network)





Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.