Writers tend to be mum on what they are currently at work on, but what about a different, but still intimate, aspect to their creative routines—like what they eat? I asked a boatload of writers what they are having, or had, for lunch, on a random day...
I loved reading David Lipsky’s maddening book-long, ticker-tape-style interview with David Foster Wallace, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Taking in his agile brilliance in what felt like a casual, chill form was like being a kid and listening to your parents and their friends getting wasted out back near the bonfire—their conversations unfiltered and raw, different versions of who you knew them as. One detail I love is how Lipsky tosses in little descriptors about where the two would stop to eat. I’d be cheating if I went back to the book now, but I recall Wallace and Lipsky hitting fast-food joints like Denny’s throughout. Wallace seemed to always be driving the car, and I imagine he made the decisions on where to eat. Dude was always eating shit, and I like that because I’ll eat anything and everything.
Writers tend to be mum on what they are currently at work on, but what about a different, but still intimate, aspect to their creative routines—like what they eat? I asked a boatload of writers what they are having, or had, for lunch, on a random day this year. Why lunch? Because it usually happens squarely in the middle of the day and seems optional; lunch seems like the meal with the potential to be the most varied. You could eat a bloody porterhouse with mashed potatoes or a handful of microgreens with no dressing: lunch is chaos.
Gary Shteyngart - A ham sandwich. (He emailed an hour later to add “lasagna bolognese.”)
Amelia Gray - Steak in the pan with butter.
Ron Currie Jr. - "Mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with a few ounces of tuna, accompanied by a glass of tap water and a heaping helping of body image issues/fear of sudden cardiac catastrophe. Followed with a cigarette."
Zadie Smith - "The prawn wrap from Pret. Most days. I’m not proud of it."
Brian Evenson - "At Chipotle I ordered a salad to go, with lots of lettuce, black beans, fajita'd veggies (there's probably another term for that, an actual term), chicken, mild salsa and corn salsa, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and some extra lettuce on top to keep it from sticking to the top of the container, and some chips."
Elissa Schappell - Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, green salad, and water with lemon.
Jesse Ball - Theo chocolate 70% with almonds.
Emily St. John Mandel - "Usually quiche from the cafeteria at the university where I work."
Blake Butler - "I don't eat lunch unless I'm on vacation."
Helen DeWitt - "I tend to go through phases. I don't want to spend a lot of time thinking about lunch, so I employ fast and frugal heuristics: I think of a lunch I know I will like and buy in bulk so I don't have to think about lunch again for at least a week. Lunch one: avocado and Dijon-mustard sandwich. Buy seven avocados, jar of Dijon mustard. Or lunch two: very sharp cheddar with strawberry-jam sandwich. Buy very large block of sharpest cheddar available, jar of Bonne Maman strawberry jam. Both on some kind of whole-grain bread."
Teddy Wayne - "Today I ate my shame, regurgitated it as a self-disgust, and digested it again as indolence. Known in the physical world as udon noodles with shrimp tempura."
Alissa Nutting - Two cans of low-sodium V8. Handful of dark-chocolate-covered pretzels.
Lydia Davis - Green salad with cucumbers, carrots, olives, and chickpeas. Nothing else.
Dennis Cooper - A Swiss cheese quesadilla.
Jedediah Berry - "I ate a tofu banh-mi sandwich with extra 'meat' from Banh Mi Saigon on Route 9 in Hadley, Massachusetts. My girlfriend got one, too. I slathered mine in Sriracha sauce, and we split an ice-cold Mexican Coke."
Catherine Lacey - "It's usually leftover frittata from 3B and/or a salad. Some days I work from the morning until three or four and then I just go to our kitchen and eat like a barbarian standing up in the kitchen. There is usually a leftover salad or a curry from one of my housemates because they're always cooking."
Donald Ray Pollock - "I usually eat a peanut butter sandwich and a banana and drink a Diet Coke, but today it was a fried egg sandwich with cheese and a Diet Coke."
Miranda July - Smoked salmon and rice, an apple.
Erik Larson - "I don't eat lunch. Food makes me stupid."
Rebecca Wolff – Half an egg sandwich with mushroom and Swiss.
Grace Krilanovich - "Today I had breakfast tacos, which is what I usually make if I don't have a boring cheese sandwich or leftovers. These would be breakfast tacos in the Austin tradition, using small flour tortillas and filled with egg, cheese, cilantro, and refried beans or potatoes. Pace on the side!"
Ned Vizzini - "Right now I am writing for a TV show, but not one of the really rich ones that pays for lunch every day. This show pays for lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Today is Wednesday. So I'm getting a sandwich on Warner Brothers."
Benjamin Percy - A double-butter-burger deluxe basket from Culver's, the greatest fast-food joint on earth.
Emma Straub - "Some pesto pasta with arugula from my CSA and some cherry tomatoes and a giant mint iced tea. There might also be an ice cream course."
Kevin Wilson - Bologna on white bread.
Scott McClanahan - TGI Fridays microwavable chicken wings.
Trinie Dalton - Arugula salad and minihamburger.
Tom Roberge - "One of those green juice concoctions with kale and spinach and spirulina and whatnot, and a muscle milk. I work out during lunch and need the protein."
Rick Moody - "Some salad (which is constituted of greens from the farm market upstate, some grape tomato, the last little bit of fresh mozzarella, salt and pepper (no dressing), a toasted piece of golden-raisin walnut bread from the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza, and either a yogurt or some fruit, like green grapes or some cherries or something. Maybe a Vitamin Water Zero. I get the lemonade ones because my daughter really likes them.
Lynne Tillman - Greek plain yogurt, small red grapes, half of a Gala apple, and a few whole almonds.
Porochista Khakpour - "I’m either going to have macrosushi made of spelt and quinoa with tempeh or a Fakin' Bacon vegan BLT."
Joyelle McSweeney - "Had this awesome pita bread thing with Greek yogurt and apples."
Mark Doten - Egg-salad sandwich, bag of popcorn, Diet Coke.
Ed Park - "These days I usually eat a vegetarian burrito from Chipotle or a Mexican Caesar wrap from Chop't or an avocado-chicken sandwich from Pret A Manger. Actually, writing all that down makes me not want to eat them so much."
I was expecting more cheeseburgers and hot dogs and, I don’t know, horse tranquilizers washed down with alcohol, but I found it refreshing to discover that so many writers eat rather healthy—and motivating to eat better. There are exceptions (Percy, McClanahan, Pollock, etc.) but the main thing I can take away from this poll is that many writers are thoughtful in their lunch choices, which are detailed and premeditated—so not chaotic at all, in fact. I get the feeling that many writers view what they eat as fuel—their replies felt unexpectedly confident (even when self-deprecating)—instead of just a meal to mindlessly break up the day.
Today when I go to lunch, I’ll be thinking a lot about what other writers are shoving into their beautiful and tortured faces.
The VICE Reader is a series of original fiction—mostly. We will also feature the occasional poem, essay, book review, diary entry, Graham Greene-style dream-diary entry, Zemblan fable, letter to the editor, letter to a fictional character, and anything else that is so good we feel it must be shared among the literary-minded and the internet at large. Submissions may be sent to email@example.com.
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