Gresham's Law, Leftsover, and the Mobility of Starving Children

When we were children, other children were starving.  We were ourselves not starving, but quite the opposite.  "Children are starving in..." was a parental admonition calculated to induce us to consume whatever bizarre vegetablic substance was on the plate of plenty in front of us.  Between that putative guilt and the threat "if you're not hungry you won't be needing dessert, then" we could generally be persuaded to have a bit of the green and yellow nastiness right next to the hamburger.  An ongoing event has recently caused me to realize that one can trace the peregrinations of famine by these parental admonitions:  When I was very young it was Europe, then China and/or India, and now it's Africa.  Not that children weren't starving in the latter three when I was a kid, it's just that they didn't count as much while Europe had no food.

I dredge this out of memory because I've been repeating the "children are starving" mantra to myself for the past few days.  I have a dilemma, one which much of the world would love to share.  It is that of too much food.  My housemate hosted a party this past weekend, and it was sumptuous indeed.  Due to the vicissitudes of holiday obligations, fewer people than expected attended, and her food calculations were, shall we say, "conservative."  In particular, not only are there extra shrimp, but there is a surfeit of tiny hot dogs in minibuns, some extraordinarily yummy dessert mousses, and an assortment of other food items as well.  Sadly, all, and especially the shrimp, are subject to the usual exponential law of bacterial growth, and will be unfit for consumption if we don't manage to dispose of them in the manner intended.  Hence my dilemma.

Gresham's Law is a famous economic theorem which states, succinctly:  "When there is a legal tender currency, bad money drives good money out of circulation."  If you're old enough to remember when the cupro-nickel quarters and dimes were introduced as U.S. currency, you have a pretty good intuitive understanding of Gresham's Law already.  If you're not, feel free to reach into your pocket for those old tarnished silver dimes and I'll give you nice shiny new ones to replace them.

The food problem arises because I'm not the child I used to be.  I like vegetables, and they have many benefits, as I, Frank Zappa, and others, have pointed out.  Gresham's law enters the fray when one observes that vegetables are cheap.  Bad money, as it were, while shrimp are dear.  Pre-party, I had a big broccoli bowl, not to mention a somewhat smaller one containing mushrooms.  I was contentedly filling my daily PLUCO with the yield from these reservoirs.  I would consume my veggies feeling virtuous during and content after.  But now, with the wealth of shrimp, mousse, and pigs-in-blankets, I eschew the veg in favor of the yum.  In distinction to my hoped-for money bin, my biological receptacle has a strictly limited capacity, and I am faced with two deadlines:  Either the shrimp or the broccoli will go bad, and I can't consume them both.  (Unlike yogurt, neither is in danger of going good.)

Have I invented a Richard's Law of Leftovric Comestibles?  As much as I would like to have done so, I feel that Gresham's law is sufficiently versatile.  I should eat the broccoli and mushrooms.  Instead, I am eating the shrimp as fast as I can.  It is unlikely that I can export a large PLUCO of broccoli and mushrooms to someone sufficiently famished fast enough to make the effort worthwhile.


NP:  "When It Rains" - The Bangles (Although the Continental Drifters have a nice version, too.)


21 Dec. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Richard Factor

Yesterday  |  Tomorrow