I love Costco samples. Okay, maybe not all of them like the ones that just smell over processed, but the cheese, the juice, whatever. We stop for it. My toddler loves them best, but it turns a boring shopping trip into a bit of an adventure. And let’s be honest, it’s “free”. Who doesn’t like a deal, and best of all, free ones? This is a post about “free” food and the economy. I promise it will make sense.
Last week I attended a one day CLE (continuing education) conference that included two snack breaks and a lunch. The first snack break was at about 10 a.m., two hours after arriving and two hours before lunch. It included danishes, bagels (with toaster, jam and cream cheese available), muffins, and a fruit plate. There were also ample drinks to choose from including 3 or 4 kinds of juice, coffee, and soda. Being a water person most of the time, I gagged at the idea of super sweet fizzy sugar (or diet sugar) at 10am. Trays were emptied and refilled and emptied and refilled as attendees got their fill.
Lunch was nice, the usual salad, rolls, chicken/potatoes/green bean with a berry cheesecake and whipped cream at the end fare. I didn’t clean my plate, but I thought about it. I paid good money for this, after all, and it would just go to waste if I didn’t, right? It was that, or I thought “Free FOOD! Eat up!” In fact, I almost ate the salad from the empty seat next to me because I knew it would be thrown away if I didn’t. I stopped myself mostly because I didn’t want to look tacky. I shouldn’t have worried.
I sat next to a very petite woman who did clean her plate and had mentioned she was hoping to have another child soon (here’s to being a mom and a lawyer; there aren’t many so we band together). I asked if she was currently expecting by the way she ravenously ate her food, and her response surprised me. (I’m paraphrasing) “No, I’m just on a low-cholesterol diet normally and decided I was going to forget about it and enjoy today.” I’m not sure what surprised me most, that she was on a “low cholesterol diet” weighing in at probably just over 100 pounds, that she was willing to let it go for the day because food was “free”, or a combination of both. I could wander off on this tangent for hours, but I won’t. Continuing on.
After lunch, a big shot financial lawyer from New York that probably makes a gazillion bucks spoke on the financial crisis. His clients include companies like AIG and CitiGroup and he works closely with the Treasury and the other financial bigwigs, so his stories were interesting and the outlook depressing. Mid-presentation, we had another refreshment (read “soda”) break, after which I ended up sitting behind a very large man who proceeded to ask Mr. Economy Lawyer questions about unemployment and economic blah-blah, all while holding his Dr. Pepper filled glass at face level (I think he was resting his arm/elbow on his ample self) and sipping between phrases. I started looking around and noticed that nearly half the room had “powered” up with their “just barely after lunch” sugar and caffeine rush from the free refreshment area.
As I sat there, I stopped hearing Mr. Economy Lawyer and got to thinking about our eating habits. (Believe me, this will all connect, I promise.) The price of this conference was essentially fixed. We were not charged extra for lunch or for the refreshment break. In essence, it almost felt like the food and drink were free and we were really only paying for the CLE credit. That, or all the food and drink we could ever want during this 9 hour day was lumped into the one sum and we needed to maximize our value by consuming it ALL.
As Mr. Economy Lawyer droned on and on about how things happen and why the economy was failing, I watched a room full of overweight men (the law is still an “old boys club” in Utah) sipping their “free” Cokes, and diet Cokes, and Dr. Peppers, not once considering the long-term or future damage they were doing to their health, but wondering how in the world the economy could have failed, and couldn’t anyone have seen the signs before and stopped it before it spiraled out of control?
Who is this magic “anyone” that would have told us to have self control. Obviously I came to my own conclusion, rightly or wrongly. But even Mr. Economy Lawyer said that he didn’t complain two years ago when he got his 3.9% ARM interest rate on his big home. If we wanted answers about why things were the way they were, we should probably go home and look in the mirror.