Where to Find the Power in a 'Power Bowl'

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A reasonable question: In this, the Year of our Bowl 2016, what truly distinguishes the “power bowl,” an artfully curated and composed selection of vegetables which may be pickled or roasted but are certainly beautiful (especially with the right VSCOCam filter), a protein of some kind, and and probably an acid-spiked dressing that tastes vaguely “global,” all gently lolling on a warm, moist pile of fluffed grains, from the chopped salad — a homogenous, finely diced mulch of fresh vegetables, healthy protein, and a touch of delicious fat that makes the whole thing work?

The chopped salad is the perfect mid-day nutritional replenishment for the mid-level modern knowledge worker in our post-app economy who has neither the time nor the inclination to eat a lunch with any possibility of variation from bite to bite, which would require more attention than the little needed for the automatic elliptical motion of the arm from bowl to face, jaw swinging open and then clamping shut over and over until the fork comes up empty and the vessel can be deposited in the garbage can under the desk. Because the modern knowledge worker cannot afford to let the appearance of being productive ever slip, even during their alotted lunchtime — and eating something less healthy than a salad is tacitly unproductive — whether they are producing a tangible good for the entity who has contracted their labor or they are participating in the startup economy by buying things from Amazon or looking at ads on Instagram as while dutifully taping “like” on each of their friends’ brunch photos because there’s no point in Instagramming a pile of grass clippings.

The power bowl is “almost like a hug” because it is “based on macrobiotics” and “brings everything together” and it is also “very Instagram-friendly.” It is for an extremely busy person who needs a “really satisfying meal” for between $14 and $25 but who also somehow has the luxury of just enough time to appreciate every individual component of the power bowl — the pickled red onions, the Japanese yams roasted just to the point of a light, marshmallow-y char, the undulating poached egg with its neon yolk slowly spilling out from the center, the Pollockesque drizzle of a green, snappy dressing, the deep harmony and soft contrast of the colors and flavors — and to capture it all in a perfectly level and carefully composed overhead shot for their thousands of Instagram followers. And that is all before taking a single bite, each of which must be thoughtfully considered and precisely executed to ensure a harmonious distribution of textures and flavors, crunchy and soft, umami and acid, a process that must be repeated again and again and again, until the bowl is empty.

The chopped salad is consumption that fuels production; the power bowl is consumption transmuted into production through performance, one that fits entirely within the square frame of Instagram and that implies no adherence to any particular diet fad, or even an overly conspicuous life, just vaguely effortless with lots of self-care and good taste, but the sort that carefully signals that it in truth requires a lot of time, or money, or both. Which is all it was trying to say anything about, anyway.

Photo by Dimes