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Eating Through the Month at the Museum

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 12, 2010 4:20PM

KateMonthatMSI.jpg Yesterday, Chicagoist sat down (virtually) with Kate McGroarty, the winner of MSI's Month at the Museum contest. Karl had already bothered her for the podcast, but we wanted to know more details about how she eats while she's living in a museum! Is she stuck eating from the food court? What about (horrors) a month without booze?

Kate: That’s probably in the top 5 questions I get every day, is what do I eat!

Chicagoist: Are you a “food person” in your non-museum life?

Kate: Oh yes, I love food. I love cooking, I love baking, I love eating - all of it.

Chicagoist: But you can’t cook for a month! Is that making you crazy?

Kate: It is kind of a pain, because I find cooking to be really relaxing. I had a discussion once with someone about how cooking is the perfect combination of art and science, so it fits with this job! But, I’m also eating very well, so it’s not something to complain about.

Chicagoist: So, your meals are sponsored by Whole Foods. What is the actual process? Do you send orders? Is there a giant freezer in the museum basement?

Kate: They had a list of things that they had available, and I tried a lot of them for the first week - now I pretty much have my three or four favorites that I eat regularly, so they know what to get. Every 5-6 days, one of the employees goes to Whole Foods, picks them up, and they go in a mini-fridge in my room.

Chicagoist: What has made the cut?

Kate: Salmon, Chicken breast, fruits and vegetables. I was a vegan for a year, and I’m also gluten-free and dairy-free, so believe me, I really appreciate the food selections. I’m finding, though, that I don’t have a lot of time to eat and I need a lot of long-lasting sustained energy, so I’m eating a lot of lean meats. I’m obsessed with sweet potatoes and beets, so I eat a lot of those. Occasionally a really fun side dish like fennel with edamame, or something like that.

Chicagoist: Do you eat most of your meals in your small cube?

Kate: No - I do not eat in that cube. You may find me eating a snack in there from time to time. Only the dinners are from Whole Foods, the breakfasts and lunches are by Sodexo in the food court. I eat my meals either in the food court or in my private bedroom.

Chicagoist: What do you like at the food court?

Kate: There is one station that I eat at every day - because every other station has gluten or serves pizza with cheese on it. Except for “Marketplace” - everyday they have some kind of meat and steamed vegetables and rice. The other day we had spiced shrimp with grits, and it was great!

Chicagoist: It doesn’t sound like you’re doing too badly! Is there any alcohol allowed in the cube?

Kate: No - it’s in my contract that I cannot drink for the whole thirty days.

Chicagoist: Even at events?

Kate: Well, the contract says no drinking unless given explicit permission by the project manger. So, when we were at the Columbian ball, they said “You can have one glass of wine.” I said “really?!” They said, “Just one.” So I had one little glass of red wine, and that was tasty. We had another dinner at the smart home, and they offered me a glass of wine, and I said “If I have one, I will fall asleep in my meal” - I was so tired! Even if it wasn’t a rule, I wouldn’t be drinking this month.

Chicagoist: Is there anything else food-related that you think someone not involved in this experiment would find interesting?

Kate: Some of my favorite moments have been late at night when I get pizza cravings. Even in my application video I mentioned that I love pizza. Amy’s makes a gluten-free dairy-free pizza. Everyone asks what happens when I get a midnight craving. What happens is I go to my little fridge and get my pizza and I turn on all the lights and eat a pizza all alone somewhere in the museum.

It’s so funny because everyone is monitoring what I’m eating. Day 9, the manager of Sodexo came up to my cube and said “You know, you can eat anything you want, right?” I said that I knew, and he said “Well, the other day all you had for breakfast was coffee.” Then I realized that he was getting reports from people about what I was eating! It’s funny to me to think that there is this whole team of people who are thinking “What does Kate want to eat?” I’m actually losing weight, because I can afford to eat how I want to.

Chicagoist: What do you do for desserts?

Kate: Sometimes, I get lucky and they bring me delicious berries. Also, people have been bringing me treats! Once they brought me vegan cookies and those were gone in like a day - that was embarrassing.

Chicagoist: Have you had visitors try to bring you treats? Are you allowed to take them?

Kate: Yes! I posted on the blog that I really liked bottlecap candies, and the next day, someone brought me a whole ziplock bag of them. I was like… whoa. That was one of the first instances where I realized people I don’t know are reading this!