Posted Friday, July 30, 2010, at 11:35 AM
According to Sam Anderson's cover story in this week's New York magazine , there's only one thing in the entire universe that actor/artist/grad student/documentarian James Franco makes no effort to do. "I guarantee you he would not eat unless I fed him," Franco's assistant says of her boss. "He'll do the hand-to-mouth part, but I definitely bring it to his hands." Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, is similarly too busy to forage for food. "I spent two months in one room in Paris once without leaving," Assange explained in a recent New Yorker profile . "People were handing me food."
In a magazine feature, a refusal to engage with groceries is shorthand for the subject's extreme industriousness—he's too busy to think about carbo-loading. It's also a symbol of power: While you and I would likely die if we didn't eat, Franco and Assange have minders who dutifully bring them vittles, leaving them free to carry on their life's work.
Limited food intake can also be a signal that we're in the presence of a superhuman specimen. Though Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone piece got Gen. Stanley McChrystal relieved of his command in Afghanistan , the piece at least burnished McChrystal's tough-guy reputation by noting that he ate just one meal a day. A powerful man's meal-skipping also typically comes with a side order of light sleeping —just as consuming food is a sign of weakness, so is the all-too-human impulse to grab more than five hours of shuteye. A 2007 Los Angeles magazine profile of Pete Carroll marveled that the then-USC coach doesn't appear to eat, drink, sleep, or pee, leaving writer J.R. Moehringer—the proxy for us feeble readers—"hungry, tired, thirsty, and [in] need [of] ... a men's room."
Female profile subjects, not surprisingly, play by different rules. A man who misses a meal is an absent-minded genius. A woman who skips dinner runs the risk of being labeled an anorexic . In women's magazines, then, it's far more common for an interviewee to talk about how much she loves to eat—especially how much she loves to eat hamburgers . But take a lesson from MIA, powerful women of the world: Skip the fries .