The Slightly Disgruntled Scientist

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Sandwiches as a Measure of Economic Prosperity

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One of the great things about living in Perth, Western Australia is that there is no actual way to end this sentence. And my feelings about it are sharpened all the more for having lived and travelled elsewhere.

On my most recent jaunt across the country, however, I had an epiphany — that one of the best measures of the commercial health of a city can be found in the answer to this question:

How easy is it to get a sandwich at the central train station?

If your city doesn’t have a rail system, just go and sit in the corner and practise your banjo until we’re done.

Sandwiches are a fantastic form of food. Originally the sustenance of chronic gamblers saving time better spent trying to disprove the universe, they compress an entire gamut of market stalls into a portable parcel of anything that can be sliced.

Vegetables in a basket
Nature: now only necessary in thin slices

Why sandwiches though? Why not, say, pizza? Or fruit? Well, firstly… fruit? Can you not find your banjo? But secondly: my hypothesis revolves around the idea that sandwiches are the food of choice for busy people, and are therefore an indirect measurement of the presence of business.

People who are just out to have a nice night can take the time to sit down and eat a meal. Groceries and takeaway are for people headed home. But busy workers on their break, or people out for some specific task… they require sandwiches! Or possibly sushi. But mainly sandwiches!

So if a shop is open and selling sandwiches, it must mean that people are out being busy and prosperous, and that they’re busy for long enough to get hungry, and that they’re prosperous enough have money to spend in their off-time. The most important part of this measure, though, is the time: if a sandwich shop is open at 8pm, it’s because all of this is true at 8pm.

In other words, just like the spectral peak of a short-lived radioactive decay product must indicate the presence of a parent radionuclide, sandwich availability must indicate the presence of a certain amount of commercial activity. By measuring the flux of sandwiches, we get a sideways glimpse of the activity of the city. (In this analogy, sushi can be considered a secondary spectral peak.)

In Melbourne, I passed a sandwich bar in the central station at 11:30pm (and it didn’t look like it was closing, either). In Sydney, I’m pretty sure you can still get one at 1am, but it’s been a while.

In Perth, the bakery in the central train station closes at about 5:30pm. Earlier on weekends.

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