Surviving the student kitchen (with the help of Adam Smith)Tweet
Joined: Dec 2009Occupation: Studying Economics at SussexEduard's Full Profile
Eduard Mead of Pointless Economic Musings saves us all from the hazards and horrors of sharing a student kitchen, using the awesome power of basic economics…
It sounds like the kind of story that gets fed to you during an emergency aid commercial: 12 youths at risk of malnutrition all cooking and eating in the same room, pooling resources to keep themselves alive. Welcome to the often disgusting world of student kitchens. Maybe the above description is a slight exaggeration but after just two weeks at university its become apparent to me that almost all the problems that occur in a student kitchen could be solved with some basic economic theory.
Lets start with the issue of space – our kitchen - I say our, but obviously unless you’re from my corridor you don’t have any stake in this kitchen – please keep it that way, space is scarce as it is - our kitchen, even for a student kitchen, is pretty small – a few square meters as most. This causes a number of problems. Firstly, there isn’t the space for us all to prepare food at the same time. Secondly, twelve people cannot use one cooker simultaneously.
The solution? It comes courtesy of Adam Smith and in the form of the principle of division of labour. Instead of everyone cooking individual meals, it’s far more logical to agree to cook one meal and have each person specialize in one part of the production process – for example one person could peel the vegetables (you’re right, I’m lying, students don’t eat vegetables), another could prepare the sauce whilst two others make the dough etc.
This is something we have since tried, but it’s not without its flaws – the law of diminishing returns states that at some point you’ll exceed the optimal amount of workers for a particular task and instead of seeing an increase in output for every additional factor of production you’ll see a decrease. This happens pretty quickly in a small kitchen.
As a general rule: you don’t need twelve people to cook a Spaghetti Bolognese. You really don’t.
The other problems that have arisen are not dissimilar to the diseconomies of scale suffered by companies who have grown too large. Break down in communication is particularly relevant. A good example is an event that occurred a few days ago – a greasy tray still coated in fat was left on the bottom row of the oven; this meant when the next person to use the oven put in garlic bread, the tray below caught fire. Cue fire alarm etc.
So the solution has to be more flexible than simple division of labour. Primarily it would need to revolve around the idea that not everyone can use the kitchen at the same time, so maybe every lunch/dinner time 6 people could agree to eat cold food/get a take away and the other 6 would cook together. On top of this there needs to be strong leadership in the meal-making process – roles need to be clearly explained and health and safety needs to be taken into consideration – at least taken seriously enough to avoid another fire drill.
Realistically though – most people will eventually grow tired of real food/run out of money and instead resort to pot noodles. This will lead to what is known as a ‘brain drain’. Sigh.