Encounters in Publishing #27: The Gift of Food, by Liz Mathews

Weight loss and gain can have a lot to do with the time of year. You may have experienced the panic of losing that pesky belly flab in time for bikini season (You want to go to the beach tomorrow!? Guess I’m not eating lunch or dinner today…), and if so, you’re probably also aware of the warming comfort that foods like chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven and gooey macaroni and cheese provide as the days turn chilly.

Well, folks, we’re entering the insulation-acquiring season. At my office, this typically starts now, right around Halloween, when several editors in the office start shooting around emails saying, “The pumpkin is filled with chocolate—stop over!” and the foot traffic between the different departments increases exponentially.

But it doesn’t stop once the orange bags of candy at the Duane Reade get steeply discounted. Oh no. Come November, we have entered holiday season, when the authors and the agents and the vendors and all the other everyone decide to thank us for our efforts. With food. Lots of food. Food that is filled with sugar and fat. (And preservatives, since a lot of this food has quite the distance to travel before it ends up on the “take” shelf right outside my office.)

For a time, the free snacks are a wonder and a joy (except for the blue homemade marshmallows that showed up one year—those were just weird). People flock to it, selecting a chocolate this and a sugar that. Sometimes a fruit basket will also arrive, and exclamations of, “Something healthy! Good timing,” float down the hall.

But by December 15, the take shelf is full of crumbs and unopened caramel corn canisters. We’ve had too much, and even our animal instinct to hoard sustenance is overcome with disgust at our individual lack of self-control. Or maybe some of us have a scale at home, and are simply horrified at the number we saw flash in red the other morning. Whatever the reason behind it, the food that continues to show up on a daily basis becomes a burden. It’s a sad thing to say about a gesture intended as a gift. But even before our holiday break begins, we are simply done. We avert our eyes, or keep a wide distance between ourselves and the brightly packaged calories on the shelf, as though the food is just waiting to fling itself at us, to latch onto our shoulders (or hair! even worse!) and ride us back to our desks where it will force itself down our mostly unwilling throats.

Happy beginning of the holidays, friends! If you happen to stop by between December 3 and December 23 and find my door closed and locked, you’re welcome to knock and I’ll let you in. But otherwise, I’ll be protecting myself from myself. I’ve got a two-piece to fit into come May 2014.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.