Portable Food/Defensive Eating

It harkens back to my Boy Scout, “Be Prepared” days, but this topic of portable food is another of those basic, seemingly common sense items, that may not be so common “sensical” to everyone. The concept is simple. Schedules change, flights get delayed, the judge decides to work through lunch, the research facility is behind schedule and a meal is missed. The human body needs food to fuel the work being done. It is simple enough to have a small snack on hand for such contingencies. Rather than risk a negative physical reaction, headache, etc., having something available, even when no anticipated delays seem possible, makes sense. Perhaps I was scarred by the time I got stranded on a semi-deserted island when our boat broke down, but I’ve observed people panic when food deprived. When those people are my staff trying to get a research facility set up and their panic interferes with the work of the rest of the team, it becomes my problem. The same is probably true of water or whatever is necessary to keep the body going to get the job done. We’ve had a couple of strange experiences in this regard. One involved a psychologist who was observing, in something of a job interview fashion, a mock jury project at a major hotel. At some point, he took a homemade sandwich out of his briefcase and unwrapped the foil wrapper – oblivious to the reality that lunch would, of course, be provided in such a professional setting. He was prepared, but his low sense of self awareness, among other things, did not bode well for his job prospects. The other incident which is burned into Magnus lore is the “banana” incident. This involved a young employee who did not take time for breakfast at the start of the research day; the project was well underway by the time he got hungry. He was stationed in front of a 1 way mirror, meaning everyone in the observation room could see him when he peeled and ate a banana while operating the video camera. Needless to say, this did not make a good impression on the clients. In his defense, when counseled later, he said he was hungry because he skipped breakfast. This is where the defensive eating comes into play. In many environments, meal times may be thrown off. Better to anticipate this – have breakfast, have some snacks that can be discretely eaten – and know that you have to keep yourself going to get the job done. Getting the job done is the bottom line.

During my first interview for a job as a trial consultant, which took place in Manhattan, the experienced consultant who interviewed me asked if I was aware that working as a trial consultant required “defensive eating.” Maybe because I was awed at the sight of the Manhattan skyline from high above 57th Street, or uncomfortable in the new suit I bought to make a good impression at the interview, or it was getting close to lunch time, I responded that I didn’t know the meaning of this expression. The consultant who interviewed me looked surprised, but then she patiently explained that, when working as a trial consultant, I would be expected to travel across the U. S. A., work in unfamiliar cities and research facilities, work in courthouses, and generally speaking, work in conditions that did not permit me to have the customary 1 hour lunch break. Furthermore, she explained, I would be required to work long hours, including late at night, meaning I would be working when other people were home enjoying dinner with their family. For this reason, I would have to “fend for myself” by ensuring I had food, water, and other provisions to sustain myself during the inevitable times I would be stranded in an airport, or a courtroom, or on a train, or any other place where our work might take us. She went on to say I could never expect anyone to look out for me, to be sure I was well fed, hydrated, or comfortable, and that, if I could not accept this facet of the job, I was ill suited to a career as a trial consultant. I assured my interviewer that I could adapt to this requirement and adapt I did. I always travel with food, water, and other essential supplies, even when I am driving my car from my house, an hour away, to Miami or West Palm Beach. And, as an aside, I have never eaten a banana or anything else while being observed through a one way mirror!

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