Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cheap Healthy Good and the Triangle of Compromise

A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with a friend who works with computers. After our fries were finished, we started talking about his job. “Here’s the thing,” he said, “and I think it happens with a lot of different occupations. When you work with clients, they want your work to be quick, cheap, and thorough. And you kind of have to tell them to pick two.”

“Why can’t they expect all three?” I wondered.

He phrased his response carefully. “Well, you have other clients who demand your time. And competition is always pretty fierce.” He sipped his Guinness. “And it’s kind of the natural order of things, you know?”


“Um, well. Think of it like this: If they want it done fast and cheap, the standard of work isn’t going to be very high. If they want it done fast and right, they’re going to have to fork over money for the extra manpower. And if they want it done cheap and right, it’s gonna take awhile.”

"Like a triangle."


“So getting all three is impossible?”

He shook his head. “Nope. You can get a little of everything if you’re willing to compromise. It’s kind of that sweet spot in the middle.”

“But getting people to compromise is tough.”


I nodded. The triangle idea made sense in a work context. And, when I though about it, it started to make sense in other contexts, too. “You know, it’s kind of like finding a New York apartment, except the parameters change a little.”

“Okay." More Guinness. "Go on."

“If you want a place that’s cheap and in a great neighborhood, it’s going to be a rat-infested hellhole.”

“Like your old place.”

“Right,” I continued. “And let’s say you have kids, and you want a place that’s cheap and nice. It’s going to be a gabillion miles from any subway stop. That’s why all our friends end up in Jersey.”

He finished my thought: "And you have to be making Derek Jeter-caliber money to live in a nice place in a good neighborhood."

"Right. Jeez. That guy."

Later that night, I tried to apply the idea to Cheap Healthy Good. And it got harder. Because here's the thing:
  • People say you can buy cheap and healthy food, but it won't taste any good.
  • People say you can buy delicious, healthy food, but it will cost a bagillion dollars.
  • People say you can buy cheap, delicious food, but it will give you ten successive heart attacks.
I disagree with all of those conclusions. Like my friend, I believe that compromise is key to maintaining balance between the cheap, the healthy, and the good. I believe this is possible:

Paying a little more will get you healthier, scrumptious-ier food. Adding a little butter won't cost you much, and will keep food from tasting like lawn scraps. And actually preparing it yourself – not a ten-course State dinner, but y'know, a casserole – will cost less and give you a good chance of making it into your 80s.

(Of course, adding "time" or "effort" into the equation would be a logical extrapolation of this theory, but it turns the 2D drawing into a much-harder-to-understand 3D pyramid, which would simultaneously blow my mind and tax my pitifully scanty knowledge of graphic design to its breaking point, so we'll ignore it for now and get back to ruminating.)

So there you have it. The CHG Triangle of Compromise. It's exists to remind us of three things:
  • We need not engage in extreme, black-and-white thinking when it comes to eating inexpensively, healthfully, and well.
  • Compromise is the key to eating inexpensively, healthfully, and well.
  • I am bad at Photoshop.
Readers, what think you? If you have any geometrically-based theories, I'd love to hear 'em.


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