What Pasta Bowls And Gravy Boats Have To Do With The Economy

International supply chains were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, plus, as of this writing, inflation has risen like a SpaceX rocket soaring out of this world. This has given rise to an international food crisis. Grain production especially suffered, which came on top of the climate crisis causing widespread damage to wheat crops. All this has led to the unthinkable: a pasta shortage (via Parade). 

In August 2022 a much-needed change was signaled when Ukraine sent out its first grain shipment since Russia invaded in February. But as this all unfolds, pasta has been roped into the economic crisis again, in a very different fashion. Sean Snaith, a highly-regarded economic forecaster who accurately projected the end of the Great Recession, told Forbes that he foresees a recession, but only a mild one: a "pasta bowl recession," as he says ... wait, what?

What is a pasta bowl recession?

Sean Snaith likens the potential recession to a pasta bowl, not because the future is full of carbonara, unfortunately, but rather for the shape of the bowl itself. As he explained to Forbes, pasta bowls are "wide, low, and shallow." He predicts the economy will gradually decline into a recession, but only for a year, before gradually climbing back up the sloped side of the pasta bowl, once again.

It is worth pointing out that pasta bowls quite often have steeply sloped walls, but Snaith is an economist, not a chef, so take it easy on him. Nevertheless, the analogy should be encouraging, as Snaith told Forbes. He believes that a mild slowdown would give supply chains the time to catch up to demand and help the Federal Reserve curb inflation. He further emphasized that the job market remains strong, suggesting the recession will be brief. If the pasta bowl analogy is to prove accurate, Snaith had better be right. But, if the bowl gets too wide, things will go cold, as Lydia Bastianich wisely warns.

What is a gravy boat recession?

Back in 2009, Sean Snaith gained notoriety for another fiscal tableware term: the 'gravy boat economy.' According to UCF Today, published by the University of Central Florida, where Snaith currently serves as director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness, the gravy boat metaphor illustrates the same decline-to-incline journey of the pasta bowl, but with a much different beginning. A gravy boat has a rather steep wall on the handle side, a deep bottom, and a graduate incline up the prolonged spout. It represents a recession in which the economy takes a hard hit and plummets, then gradually climbs out of trouble over the course of years.

A pasta bowl, being generally shallower than a gravy boat, is certainly a preferable piece of dinnerware to slip into. The metaphorical "width" of it will largely depend on consumer spending, which has been on the decline, but Snaith predicts the potential dip will only last four quarters, i.e. one year (via Forbes). Hopefully, his foresight this time is as accurate as it was in 2009.