Food & DrinkThe Athens Diet

Mat Lewis Eats Mickey D’s, Shift Meal Gravy and Discontinued Pasta Sauce

Foie gras. Lamb burgers. Roasted marrow. Food is all the rage these days, and anyone who’s read, for example, New York Magazine’s New York Diet feature has no doubt encountered mentions of items like these. Those articles, filled with lurid descriptions of high-end grub—all very expensive if, no doubt, quite exquisite—are proudly voyeuristic: pure, unadulterated foodie porn.

Sure, reading how celebrities and other such movers and shakers grub day to day is kinda fun, in a falsely satisfying sorta way, but the truth is that most of us poor schmucks could never afford to eat those things. Yet the creative working class, too, needs sustenance to survive. And so Flagpole has set out to discover what sort of food fuels the Athens music community—one overworked, underpaid service industry sap at a time.

You may know Mat Lewis as the keyboardist and singer for local indie-pop outfit Grape Soda, or you may know him from his various other endeavors (stand-up comedy and restaurant working among them). When we approached this downright approachable dude, he eagerly agreed to document a week of his dietary happenings for the benefit of our readers. [Gabe Vodicka]

Tuesday, Sept. 11

I have the day off today. The night before, I went to the grocery store. I found a jar of red pepper Alfredo sauce that was only 89 cents (because it’s been discontinued) and threw it in my cart with the rest of my staples: an onion, a green pepper, scallions, frozen soy buffalo “chicken” wings and a few Totino’s Party Pizzas. I don’t know why they’re called party pizzas when they’re clearly meant to be eaten by one sad, probably shirtless individual, but they’re cheap, and if you take one out of the oven before it gets crispy, you can fold it in half like some sort of fusion-style taco.

Luckily, it doesn’t come to that, as I catch my roommate in the kitchen making black bean tacos on his lunch break. He shares his tacos with me, and I do some dishes, because that’s part of the Roommate’s Code.

I make miso soup with mushrooms and tofu for an early dinner. Cooking tip: If you garnish something with enough chopped scallions, no one will notice that all you did was boil water, then throw stuff in it. Seriously. I didn’t even cook the tofu.

Later that night, my roommate shares more food with me. This time it’s a stir-fry with homemade seitan over brown rice. I don’t know why he’s being so nice to me. I decide that gradually poisoning me is impractical and not my roommate’s style anyway, and I eventually let it go.

Wednesday, Sept. 12

I work early most Wednesdays. After a few hits of the snooze button and some positive affirmation, I roll out of bed and head into The Grit. My first hour there is an un-caffeinated blur of breakfast preparation, but soon I get to enjoy one of the cornerstones of the food service industry: the shift meal. My standard breakfast is two cups of black coffee, two scrambled eggs and two biscuits covered in white gravy. I had never even heard of white gravy before I moved to the South, but now I’m hooked on that funky slop. It makes me feel downright folksy.

Back at home, I whip up a quick bowl of fried eggs and leftover brown rice from the fridge. It’s about as unsatisfying as it sounds, so I microwave some of those fake buffalo wings, dice them and put them on a party pizza for a sort of bizarro version of Transmet’s BBQ chicken pizza. Paired with a warm Hoegaarden I found in my room, it tastes only good enough to serve as a mournful reminder of better days. It is delicious.

Thursday, Sept. 13

Work begins with another pile of carbs and white gravy, washed down with coffee. After I clock out, I take a stroll down washout lane to McDonald’s and get myself a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I’m not a vegetarian; I just eat like one most of the time. I treat my meals like carbon offsets: a few days of cruelty-free eating and I can support a terrible fast-food chain with only a moderate level of guilt.

For dinner, I decide to make some pasta and try out that cheap Alfredo sauce. Without any added spices, it tastes like skim milk with bits of red plastic floating in it. Figuring this to be my punishment for consumption of an inferior burger, I eat it without complaint.

Friday, Sept. 14

The pasta sauce was terrible, the McDonald’s makes me a bad person, and the buffalo chicken party pizza was just depressing, but after a good night’s sleep and a long day of work, I’m ready for another go. I dump a can of black beans and a can of diced tomatoes into a pot, and once it’s simmering, I throw in a handful of textured vegetable protein (TVP). TVP looks sort of like crushed corn flakes, but it’s a dried soy product that soaks up liquid and becomes soft and delicious. With the addition of some of my roommate’s homemade chili powder and sautéed onion and green pepper, I’ve got enough filling to last me at least half a dozen burritos. I have two on the spot, another later that night, and share some with my roommates.

Saturday, Sept. 15

Downtown Athens during a home game is an eerie place. The streets are empty, but every parking spot is full. At 9 p.m., my girlfriend and I race against the impending post-game chaos to get to Dawg Gone Good BBQ. I put my hazards on, she jumps out, and before you can say “hunker down,” we’re heading back home with a rib plate. I feel like an animal tearing hunks of flesh straight off the bone—though I concede that animals don’t compulsively wipe their hands clean between every bite.

Sunday, Sept. 16

I finish off the rest of the Alfredo sauce for lunch. Salt, pepper and a mountain of Parmesan helps.

I work a dinner shift. Whatever the opposite of a cornerstone is, that’s what forgetting to put in a shift meal order before the kitchen closes is. I arrive home a little after 11 p.m., sweaty, hungry and sober, to find my roommates participating in the Sunday night tradition of hunting down and drinking every beer in the house. Sure, Sunday sales has made the tradition obsolete, but I join in anyway. My girlfriend makes us tacos with smoked pork she got from Costa de Jalisco, the carniceria a few blocks away.

Monday, Sept. 17

It’s payday! To celebrate, I go to Grilled Teriyaki for their early bird special, which has the cheapest sushi I’ve been able to find in town. I gorge myself on raw fish until I can’t think, because I’m an American, and that’s how we eat. I sit back, my stomach a zombie aquarium, and reflect on the past week.

I could really go for a party pizza.

Grape Soda next plays Thursday, Oct. 4 at Nuçi’s Space.