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The pizza principle

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 31 March 2017

I am curious – a dirty sponge. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t always teach me to discern which bits of news are worth being curious about – so I’ve chased a few squirrels, as it were.

For instance, if you put some fake news headline out on the internet (not some sensational tabloid headline but something that seems possibly credible), there’s a good chance I’ll click on it.

So that’s my disclaimer for this next bit. I don’t know for sure if the information we’re about to discuss is real data or not. You decide.

An article by Chris Baraniuk (How fast food reveals secrets of the economy) introduced to me the pizza principle. He says in 2014, data scientist Jared Lander investigated the relationship of the cost of pizza in relation to transit fares in New York. Apparently he found a correlation – as pizza prices went up, so did transit fares. This was tracked for some time and apparently the link between food and transportation is credible.

Baraniuk then discussed the Big Mac principle used by some economists, whereby whole economies are defined using the price of the Big Mac. Not to be outdone, another market research firm used something similar, the “KFC index,” to analyze purchasing power. These principles were apparently applied to all facets of the economy.

The thinking went that if a Big Mac costs X, then a TV in the same country would cost XX, which means the average family income is XXX.

What’s interesting to me is the vehicle for comparison – food. Baraniuk says economists have used the price of Mars bars ingredients to correlate that to the buying power of a pound sterling in Britain. By knowing just that, apparently they can tell you what a train fare would cost or a roast beef dinner.

I have heard several presentations at beef conferences talking about exports potentially rising, as apparently when economies become stronger, citizens buy more protein. So the food comparison premise seems valid.

But we’re not done – not by a long shot. Popcorn and baked beans were next. One cinema company claimed popcorn sales indicated a recovering economy in Britain following the financial crisis of 2008. Conversely, when baked bean sales fell in 2013, some felt the UK economy was in trouble. I’m not making this up. Of course, if it’s fake news then someone is making it up – I just want to be clear it’s not me.

But this was the biggest surprise of all – the article quotes the Wall Street Journal’s article (which was creditably linked to the article on WSJ’s website) and says, “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the U.S. keeps a check on the length of the menu at Waffle House outlets in the aftermath of natural disasters.

If customers are being offered a limited menu, food supplies at the restaurant may be low and it might only have generator power.”

And there you have it, folks. Our economy and lives are somehow measured into data bytes based on Waffle House menus, chocolate bar ingredients and the price of pizza.

I really thought there were brainiacs wearing thick glasses housed in little cubicles in some secret underground hermetically sealed area requiring security clearances, concealed weapons permits and two recommendation letters (one from a mother-in-law and one from a priest) who were actually using algorithms, Pythagorean identities, sine, cosine, Ptolemy’s theorem, derivatives and cotangents to analyze economies.

But no, I was horribly misinformed. My life has been reduced to a waffle.There are no big ideas shaping the world, only baked bean indexes.

The question is, do you believe it? Are there credible information outlets today? Pew Research Center says based on their research, 82 percent of Americans trust the information they get from their local news, 77 percent trust friends and family, 76 percent trust national news and 34 percent trust social media.

So now I have to know: Who do you trust? Do you agree with Pew’s research? How many squirrel holes have you seen?

And, just so you know, you can trust all the content we provide. Our contributors are reputable. No baked bean indexes or squirrel holes here. Thanks for reading our magazine.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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