Last week’s Best Picture Oscar is the latest praise for “Spotlight,” a movie that dramatizes The Boston Globe’s investigation of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church.
The only thing I can add is that the film’s depiction of the dietary habits of newspaper reporters is, sadly, right on the mark.
As “Spotlight” opens, Globe staffers gather in the newsroom to bid farewell to a retiring colleague, but it’s clear that nice speeches aside, the real attraction is free cake. We see ink-stained wretches toting huge slabs of it back to their cluttered desks. One hungry scribe, in a clear rebuke to Miss Manners, chats about his latest story while his mouth is full of icing.
Grazing grows into a side theme in “Spotlight,” as we watch an editor make a lunch of cheese crackers, and see his young protege go weak with rapture when offered cold pizza.
It all seemed familiar to me, thanks to three decades of watching my print journalist friends consume pretty much whatever they find in front of them. Years ago, just after taking my first daily newspaper job, I decided to make brownies for my new office mates. But my oven thermostat was broken, and the brownies never got hot enough to set. The result was a large pan of chocolate goo, which I brought to work anyway, curious to test my theory that reporters would eat anything.
I left my culinary disaster on a table without comment, then returned from a coffee break to find several copy editors hunched over the brownie batter like a pack of wolves who had brought down a caribou. They had fetched an old pack of Saltines and were using them to scoop the pan clean.
“This dip is really sweet,” one of them told me, “but it’s not too bad.”
An old sportswriter of my acquaintance sustained himself for years on a regimen of Vienna sausages — those slimy links normally reserved for fishing trips when hunger strikes and the day has brought no catch.
He savored not only the sausages but the gelatin in which they were packed — a strange ooze that looked like the residue of a Petri dish. He relished the slime as a palate-cleanser, raising the little tin can to his lips and slurping it down like Hannibal Lecter enjoying his fava beans.
The most useful study of the pathologies of newsroom nutrition was conducted by the late Washington Post columnist Henry Mitchell in his landmark 1982 column, “The Lure of Klondikes and Cheetos.”
Mitchell didn’t offer much hope that reporters are capable of nutritional reform, but our management has recently taken a stab at it. The office food bar is now stocked with wholesome fruit cups, grilled chicken salad and roasted shallot hummus with fresh veggies.
I will let you know if there are any takers.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman