The United States, 1993. Six very intelligent former Microsoft employees have locked themselves away in an apartment where they slave away in front of computers 16 hours a day, working on the IT idea of their lives. They’re not paying attention to what they eat – instead, they survive on ready-made meals and pre-packed snacks. Above all, it must be food thin enough to be passed to them through the mailbox in the front door: cheese slices, crackers, sultanas, take away pizza. These six guy are the protagonists of Douglas Coupland’s 1998 novel Microserfs, and they represent the world of computer nerds at the dawn of the boom in Silicon Valley, who were also famous for the food they ate: junk food, essentially, with no attention paid to calorie counts or vitamin, protein or carbohydrate content.
Since then the image of the computer nerd, drinking soda and eating the leftovers of yesterday’s fast-food, has stuck to computer programmers and the ‘great minds’ of the internet, as much any of the stereotypical images we have of them: glasses too big, pasty white pock-marked skin, dressing poorly in oversized t-shirts, and having slightly hunched backs and narrow shoulders. Until, that is, after years of failing to pay attention to posture, image and diet, a certain someone arrived: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.
Zuckerberg doesn’t stand out for spending hours in the gym or for being particularly handsome, but he has challenged the stereotype of the perfect nerd who only eats potato chips and frozen food. He did this by making a surprising announcement: I, Mark Zuckerberg, the head of a multi-billion dollar empire, am giving up my old life of eating fast-food, and from now on will only eat the meat of animals I can kill with my own hands. Possibly close to his own home, where Zuckerberg has already proven his new-found ability to snap the necks of locally reared chickens and slaughter pigs and sheep, just as people used to do in times gone by in rural areas.
This is just perhaps a small part of the geek revolution, which Benjamin Nugent’s book American Nerd: The Story of My People deals with in detail. The revenge of the former nerds deals with all aspects of the high-tech world, including a side which is less often talked about and ignored: what is served on the dining table. Besides Zuckerberg, many other high-tech internet gurus are also at the cutting edge when it comes to cooking.
If you need another example, just think of Steve Jobs: a Buddhist fixated with his diet and vitamin intake. Despite perhaps being a little confused about the ideology behind his food, he is certainly a consumer of fresh, natural products. In his career he has gone through various phases of dieting: first he only ate fruit and grains (he was a "fruitarian"), then he became vegan, while there have also been periods when he only ate fish and no meat (known as being a ‘fisharian’ – vegetarian, but also eating seafood). Today, after his liver transplant and other health problems, he has been spotted eating pasta and sipping mango lassi. A healthy menu, then, featuring no meat or fish.
Two big fans of Diet Coke have been spotted, however: the first is Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, while the other is none other than Bill Gates, who has been photographed so many times with the diet soda in hand that some people have started to wonder if he’s diabetic. His diet, though, seems to be very varied. Two times a year, when he could be found at Microsoft’s site on the Pacific ocean attending his ‘Thinking Week’, catching up on his reading and planning his company’s future strategies, the food he used to eat was light and quick. The few journalists fortunate enough to be admitted to his apartment on the ocean tell of having seen Bill lunching on cheese sandwiches with orange juice, only to then lose himself in tasty seafood soups at dinner time.
For the founders of Google, on the other hand, good food, eaten on company grounds, seems to be a must: besides having for years provided employees with at least two rigorously organic meals a day at Googleplex, the internet search company’s general headquarters, they are also big fans of kombucha, a sweetened, aromatic drink popular in China and Russia. Their employees can drink it for free at vending machines all around the building. Neither of the two, Sergei Brin and Larry Page, have totally given up on fast food, however, and confess to being big fans of caramel pop corn and M&Ms.
But it’s hard to maintain a healthy image when you’re a world-famous guru:Larry Ellison, Mr. Oracle himself, famous for his vegetarian-plus-fish diet, which he has openly discussed on many occasions, was photographed not long ago eating a hot dog. The photo, obviously, was quickly seen by millions the world over.