It wouldn’t be a stretch to see a pie chart in an economics class.
But it’s a sure bet you’ll see lots of pie-related charts — and maybe even some actual pizza pies — in McKendree University’s novel new economics course about the pizza industry.
Some on campus call the course “pizzanomics,” although its official title is Special Topics — Economic Analysis of the Pizza Industry.
The course is the brainchild of assistant economics professor Eric Abrams, who combined his profession as an educator with his passion of being an amateur pizza chef when he created the recipe for the new course.
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“Because I like to make pizza, I find I often talk about it, using it as an example in my other classes,” Abrams said. “It seemed natural to combine the two and make a class about the economics of the pizza industry.”
While the class is meant to have a fun spin, its subject matter is serious.
On Thursday, students discussed the fluctuating prices of commodities used to make pizza, including wheat, tomatoes and sugar, as well as profit margins. They also discussed the power of the lobbying arm of national pizza chains, which keeps Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s chains from being lumped into the same category — and from facing the same regulations — as fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Hardees and Jack in the Box.
This fall, in the first semester the pizzanomics class has been offered, 11 students signed up. Abrams said he’s pleased with the turnout, which he initially projected to be eight students. More students expressed interest in the class. But, being a 300-level course, it required students complete classes on micro and macro economics as prerequisites before they could sign up.
Like a good pizza crust, Abrams hopes the number of students who sign up for the class in the future will rise.
“I took it because I needed the upper-level hours and I wanted to take a fun class,” said McKendree senior Lauren Apetz, a speech communications major. “Talking about economics is a lot more fun when you wrap up the discussion in talk about pizza. It’s something you have to be creative to research because this is not something you can find in a text book.”
Business administration major Jacob Schlote, a senior, said he had an economics class with Abrams in the fall.
“I really liked the way he taught and I really liked the class,” Schlote said. “So when I heard about the pizza class, I thought it sounded like a good idea. Pizza economics is a fun topic to discuss.”
Besides, during the fall course, Abrams brought in some delicious homemade pizzas from the brick oven he built in the back yard of his Aviston home. Schlote is hoping it happens again in the new course. But, so far this semester, it hasn’t happened.
“People complain when I talk about food during classes, that it makes them hungry for some,” Abrams said. “I have another class before (Economics of Pizza), so imagine what would happen if those people had to sit there and smell pizza the entire class. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Instead, Abrams said it’s more likely he’ll have a pizza field trip, where he’ll take the class to his house and let them top their own pies before he slides them into his 650-degree outdoor oven.
There might also be some trips to local pizzerias in the works, so students can talk to their operators about the ins and outs of their business.
The economics course isn’t the only contribution McKendree has made to the world of pizza.
Graduates of the university are responsible for turning out some tasty fare.
McKendree alumni are among the operators of local pizzerias Schiappa’s, Papa Vito’s and Jonny’s. McKendree’s Louisville, Ky. campus has ties to national chain Papa John’s, which calls that city its corporate headquarters.