GERMANYThe Dow, the FTSE, the Hang Seng — all these are economic indices of a sort. But in Washington, there’s another index that might offer a more intimate picture of people under economic pressure, and it’s as near as the office fridge. Let’s call it the Lunchbox Index.

Decades ago, lunching out used to be an integral part of the Washington working day, with expense account palaces like the long-gone Sans Souci filled to capacity with the great, the good, the powerful and, yes, journalists pumping their sources.

That still goes on, but more often than not, lunch is a meal to be grabbed on the fly, close to a phone and a computer. Even a take-out lunch can be costly: soup or a sandwich is easily $6, a substantial salad $10. Want a cookie for dessert? That’ll be $3, please. Even those who can afford the time to go out to lunch might have second thoughts about paying $20 or more for a daily mid-day meal.

SPACE SHUTTLEEnter the Lunchbox Index, a totally unscientific measure of how financially pressed Washingtonians can feel in economic hard times.

Just a peek into even our office fridge, which┬áis probably like other office refrigerators around town, shows it’s crammed with leftover-filled plastic containers, plastic supermarket bags filled with home-packed food, clear plastic zipper bags of chopped salad vegetables and lunchboxes of every description, plus a door-full of well-aged condiments. The freezer compartment is loaded with boxes of diet meals and a few cold packs.