January 30, 2001

Geek delicacies from around the world: Macaroni and cheese

Author: JT Smith

- By David Graham -

We sit around all day, lights off, door closed, blinds shut, heating and lighting our rooms with our computers. Many of us have microwaves on one side, fridges on the other, and most of us eat the simplest, fastest food possible. We call ourselves "geeks," and we call our food "geek food." I have tried to outline some of the most popular flavours of geek food, here, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the concept, and those studying culinary arts wishing to broaden their horizons.

In its primary form, geek food consists of some form of polygelatinous glop which we proudly give to our guests. This particular delicacy is often referred to by its commercial name "Kraft Dinner," and consists of macaroni, cheese, and milk. This meal is very popular because it can be made quickly with only a few movements away from the keyboard.

Another popular food eaten by geeks is sushi, or its Korean counterpart, kimbap. Consisting of thinly cut vegetables, fish, eggs, rice, rice vinegar, and seaweed, it can be made at the rate of about a roll every 30 seconds, once the vegetables are cut and the rice is cooked. A large quantity of this can be made at one time, and it can be left beside the keyboard to be eaten for prolonged periods. This is particularly popular among coders and editors of sites such as this one, who spend a lot of time staring at their screens, looking for inspiration.

Another key category of geek food is food-on-demand, also known simply as "delivery."

At the top of importance in this category is the popular dish consisting of cheese, bread, tomato sauce, and an assortment of toppings that could include pepporoni, green peppers, mushrooms, or more obscure toppings such as corn, anchovies, or artichoke hearts. We call it pizza. Its complex appearance belies the fact that it was generally someone else who made it.

Also on this list is submarine sandwiches, Chinese food and the local pita joint, all of which are popular for much the same reason as pizza: each requires only two movements to acquire. The first is calling the delivery place, the second is paying the delivery person. Eating it should be left to the imagination.

The key to geek food is the simple premise that food should neither take a long time to cook, nor should it take a long time to eat. This genre of food should require little effort, no thought, and a clear idea of what the masterpiece is supposed to look like at the end. Geek food often contains a high level of pasta or other carbohydrates due mostly to the large amount of energy required to type at over one hundred words per minute. Vegetables, while popular in much of the world, do not grow very well in the dark houses of geeks and, as a direct result, are not very popular.

All geek meals are ended with fortune, popular for providing insight into all you ever wanted to know about everything you never cared about. Unlike its Chinese counterpart, the fortune cookie[1], fortune can give as many quotes as the diner would like and does not spoil the taste of the meal that person just had. Fortune is neither edible, nor is it animate, but is still an essential part of any complete, nutricious geek meal.

Most cultures around the world have specific forms of utensils with which they eat. In the West, for example, people generally opt for various comical looking cutlery such as knives, forks, and spoons. In the East, people often opt instead for a pair of bamboo sticks they call chop sticks. In a large part of the world, no cutlery is used at all. In geek culture, we're fortunate. Every time we buy a new computer, acquire an old computer, or add hardware to someone else's computer, we gain free utensils. Backplates -- the covers that protect unused expansion slots in the backs of computer cases, reinforcing the structure and preventing dust from getting in -- provide excellent utensils. A backplate left alone can easily cut through and serve a pizza. Using two backplates together, macaroni and cheese can be eaten, and sugar can be added to coffee with the bent end. With the help of strong backplates, other geek kitchen utensils such as ice cream scoops and mixing spoons can be fassionned together. Because of their wide availability in any geek household, this is the utensil of choice for most people raised in geek culture.

Nearly anyone can cook geek food, but there are only very few truly expert geek food chefs, much in the way nearly anyone can cook Chinese food, but only few are masters of the type.

Based on the facts presented here about geek food and geek culture, I propose an addition to the Japanese food show Iron Chef. It is known for pitting masters of Chinese, French, Japanese and Italian cooking against challengers, and I believe one category should be appended to the list of great food-making nations. This is the nation of geeks.

This is the master of all food eaten by computer programmers, tech writers, sysadmins, and otherwise computer-oriented folk. This Master Chef should be called: "Iron Chef: Geek."

The Iron Chef of geek food will provide, for once and for all, legitimacy to those of us who sit around all day, lights off, doors closed, blinds shut, heating and lighting our rooms with our computers, eating the simplest, fastest food possible, for we are geeks.

If you have any favourite geek recipes you would like to share, or have any comments on this or any other story you have seen on NewsForge, feel free to do so on our discussion page.

[1] It is worth noting that fortune cookies are a Western addition to Chinese cuisine and their bad taste does not reflect the over-all quality of Chinese food.

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