How to Power Lunch When You Have No Power

The power lunch for modern knowledge workers, who can no longer escape the confines of their cubicle for more than fifteen minutes before someone might notice that they are potentially not being productive — but who do not spend enough time on Reddit or Hacker News to seriously entertain the notion of drinking Soylent (yet) — is the chopped salad.

The chopped salad is, at one level, adult baby food: a low-carb, surprisingly filling pile of organic greens and assorted, maybe local vegetables that is studded with tastier bits of sustainably produced protein like meat, cheese (hey bro, that’s not paleo), and nuts, and coated in a dressing — preferably an organic vinaigrette — all ground into a remarkably consistent puree by a large, half-moon shaped blade. The elegance of the mixture is that a given salad’s most appealing ingredients, typically the unhealthy ones, like bacon and the dressing, are evenly distributed throughout the otherwise healthy mulch, making every bite equally palatable, even delicious; for this reason, the venerable Cobb salad, which features chicken, avocado, bleu cheese, and bacon, is perhaps the perfect chopped salad. Because every bite has virtually the same taste and consistency, eating a thoroughly chopped salad requires little more attention than sucking down air — it can be shoveled into the mouth with one hand, mechanically, without even pausing to glance at the morsel being inhaled. The ergonomics of the bowls are even designed to facilitate to such mindless shoveling; proportionally, they are quite deep, concentrating the mass of the salad at the bottom of the vessel, keeping it glued to the desk while one blindly cycles the arm from bowl to face hole and back again.

The chopped salad is engineered, in other words, to free one’s hand and eyes from the task of consuming nutrients, so that precious attention can directed toward a small screen, where it is more urgently needed, so it can consume data: work email or Amazon’s nearly infinite catalog or Facebook’s actually infinite News Feed, where, as one shops for diapers or engages with the native advertising sprinkled between the not-hoaxes and baby photos, one is being productive by generating revenue for a large internet company, which is obviously good for the economy, or at least it is certainly better than spending lunch reading a book from the library, because who is making money from that?

While the chopped salad still concedes some rapidly eroding ground to the notions of taste, pleasure, and what constitutes food, it is, in most ways, a perfectly efficient lunch, since it wastes neither calories nor time. (Healthy workers, who eat salads instead of burritos, are alert workers.) That, combined with the deep personalization inherent to its nature, makes the chopped salad the purest lunch product of our ceaselessly quantified, algorithmically optimized times. The only way a lunch break could be more productive is if companies could replace human employees with a form of labor that did not need to eat at all, but that is surely crazy talk.

P.S.: If you are an office drone considering the purchase of freshly ground mulch to sate your hunger, of the chopped salad mini-chains in New York City, Sweetgreen is the most forward-thinking, in both its food and branding, for which you pay accordingly. However, despite the higher prices, the quality of its ingredients are little better than Chop’t, the land of a thousand (mostly good) Cobb salads. Just Salad locations tend to run the gamut from sort-of grimy to depression-inducing. Thus, Chop’t probably offers the best exchange rate, green to chopped green.

Photo by Patrick Gage Kelley