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Eating Economics

October 2003


It's Milton Friedman meets Dagwood Bumpstead when economics professor Ted Woodruff amasses his daily repast in St. Ambrose's faculty/staff dining room. And anyone who's been high witness to this process can tell you: It's a marvel of efficient meal-building.

"I try to do everything logically and economically," Woodruff says. And like economics, eating has a methodology all its own:

Depreciation increases appreciation.

"First I scoop a bowl of chocolate ice cream," Woodruff says. "I like the richness of hard ice cream but the texture of soft serve. So by getting the ice cream first and letting it soften I have the best of both worlds."

Save the GNP (gross national produce). Once the ice cream is nicely melting, Woodruff creates a salad big enough to revitalize the agricultural industry of a small Central American country. "I read that spinach is really healthy for you so I get lots of it," he explains.

Have a capital consumption.

Woodruff gets his hot food and soup last "so they'll be hotter when I eat them," he says. Finally, after nearly half an hour of gathering, he's ready to tuck into his meal. "I assemble my food all at once because when I sit down I don't like to get up again. It's more efficient, you see."

Know your absolute capacity.

Woodruff hardly ever goes for seconds, as he has a finely honed sense of how much he can eat. The result of his peckishness predictor: "I'm always able to finish everything on my plate," he says.

It's an eater's market out there.

During the school year Woodruff eats at St. Ambrose seven days a week. On those occasions when the dining room is closed he catches a ride to the Family Restaurant on Kimberly, or bikes or walks to Grinders on Locust, or Plan Bs it to Lunardi's, another favorite. "Wherever there's spaghetti, I'll go," he says.

Keep your propensity to consume.

When the choice is available, however, Woodruff prefers the all-you-can-eat model. "I'm an economist," he says simply. "I like to practice what I preach. When you pay a fixed price, the marginal cost of each item is zero. So it makes sense to eat up to where your marginal utility is zero. Or, in other words, you're full."

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