• Muffin eating, ctd.

    Ah, the benefits of Marginal Revolution readers. If only they’d subscribe and comment more! About muffin eating, Eric, presumably one of them, asks,

    But how do you maximize your utility from eating a muffin if you’re seated?

    The law of diminishing marginal returns suggests you will enjoy the first bite the most and each subsequent bite slightly less. We all know the crown is the most desirable, the stump the least. Do you therefore maximize utility by using your first few bites to eat the most delicious part, or do you engage in some sort of smoothing behavior by starting with the stump and finishing with the crown?

    Notice it is important that the context is seated muffin eating. On foot, eating the crown first risks loss of stump, which is almost surely not going to maximize utility. I don’t eat a muffin upside down while seated (though maybe I now will!). If I did, I might justify it in one of these ways:

    1. When famished, I hardly even taste the first few bites. Why waste them on the crown? My utility function is dominated by the desire to fill my stomach. Then, after consuming the stump and feeling slightly better, I can slow down and enjoy (and taste) the crown. It’s hard to savor in haste.
    2. A muffin, while very filling, is too small a meal over which to notice a change in marginal return. Returns are essentially flat, not diminishing, so it doesn’t matter how one consumes it.
    3. There’s immense utility gain in the questions one receives about why one is eating one’s muffin upside down. That overwhelms any slight utility loss due to diminishing marginal returns.
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    • Neuro-economics can help us out here. We know that people enjoy the same wine more if they think that it cost more. To maximize utility while eating and sitting, your best bet would be to serve it on a nice plate, have cloth napkins and have the table in one’s preferred setting, at the beach or overlooking the mountains. Maybe having the muffin fed to one by Natalie Portman might work also, though that might minimize marriage utility.

      Steve