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Why Do Tech Bros Have Such a Weird Relationship to Food?

Alissa Nutting, creator of the HBO series “Made for Love,” on food, freedom, and the democracy of pizza

Man in a black jumpsuit surrounded by people in beige jumpsuits, with one person holding a white plate of orbs.
Caleb Foote in an episode of “Made for Love.”
Beth Dubber/HBO Max

When Hazel Green (played by Cristin Milioti) escapes from the Hub in Season 1 of HBO’s Made for Love, the first thing she wants is a beer. It’s been a decade since she’s left the Hub, the complex her tech billionaire husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), built to secure his company and keep him from ever having to interact with the real world. He’s baffled as to why she’s escaped. The Hub, to him, is a paradise, where every interaction is planned and measured, and food is a tool for energy and efficiency. Which is why there’s no beer, no pizza, no corn chips, and why Hazel is so desperate to leave.

So far in human existence, no one has figured out how to recreate the pleasures of eating food in the ways that we know it to be. Protein shakes and Soylent and food cubes may provide all the nutrients the body needs, but they’re no stand-in for the experience of biting into a good sandwich, for toasting a friend across the dinner table in a buzzing restaurant, or shoving through a rowdy bar to scream-order your drink. These are the things of life, and the things so many in the tech world seem to be hell-bent on “optimizing” beyond recognition. Why eat when you could intermittently fast? Or unless you know the exact protein content of everything on your plate? Why waste time with food when you could be doing anything else?

In the second season of Made for Love, Hazel has returned to the Hub, though she’s trying to exist there on her own terms — much of which involves eating whatever she wants, to Byron’s horror. Food creeps in in different ways, from the Flavor Balls Byron feeds everyone in the Hub, to staff sneaking off and brewing their own beer. We spoke with Alissa Nutting, creator of Made for Love, about the metaphor of food, and why pizza is a threat to the tech-bro mentality.

Eater: It seems so clear that there’s a very stark divide between how food is presented in the outside world versus inside the Hub. Is that something that you explicitly defined when you were writing this season?

Alissa Nutting: In researching the character of Byron and looking at this tech-bro culture, one thing that was always really interesting was to see how the different CEOs approached food — like, the Twitter CEO had this strange salt water diet that involves a lot of fasting and calorie restriction — and just looking at how “efficiency” really trumped all of the other factors about eating. I mean, when I think about food, I think about taste and pleasure and satisfaction. But I was looking at it through this tech lens where food is something that will “biohack” my body and give me the greatest performance, regardless of things like taste or preference. All of that was stuff we really thought about in terms of Byron.

When I see Byron or any of these real-life tech bros, I realize that the reason that I’m not them is that if I had billions of dollars, I’d be flying around the world to eat things. And it still baffles me sometimes. I’m like, “Why is this not your instinct?”

It’s this whole culture of inventing an economy and inventing wealth and playing with these concepts like abundance and scarcity. You have extreme inflation, extreme overvaluation, extreme wealth compared to the labor that’s being put in, and these are people who are amassing more money than any one person should ever have in several lifetimes. It almost seems like this badge of distinction to be intentionally restrictive or withholding. It feels like some bizarre form of psychological justification or compromise.

Capitalism is absolutely a pyramid scheme. There’s this lie that if you have enough discipline, you can be as successful as any one of them. So there’s this constant fascination with the habits of the wealthiest CEOs and all of their bizarre rituals, as if any one of them have more grit and tenacity than an average minimum-wage worker. It’s really part of the fairy-tale narrative that each exceptionally wealthy person is asked to invent this lore around their habits that really distinguishes them from their fellow man, because their wealth certainly does.

You have a version of Soylent in the Hub, Flavor Balls, that are these spheres that give you an entire meal and all your nutrients in one bite. And it’s not just Byron eating them, it’s everyone who works there buying into it.

They all buy into this cult of Gogol and doing everything in the Gogol way. I remember watching a documentary about this Silicon Valley supplement company that was about biohacking, and watching all of the workers sit down at this table — they all do intermittent fasting, and they were all there to break their fast together. It was really a part of the corporate culture.

In Season 2, we were thinking, if you are in this regimented, very, very controlled food-and-drink environment, you have all of these scientists — wouldn’t some of them probably try to sneak off and brew alcohol? We wanted to include that element of humanity for realism. But in [Season 2’s fifth episode] we filmed this scene where someone who’s close to Byron bullies him into eating real food. It actually felt in the landscape of this character in the world, but we created a lot more violence than we intended, so we cut it. It was interesting going against the character’s wishes that way, with some chicken turned into this super dark, nightmarish thing.

I feel like there are other parts in the show that get at that. I was thinking of the scene in the beginning when Hazel is making it clear that she doesn’t want to be there. She takes a slice of pizza and wipes it on this glass wall. And Byron looks at it like this is a threat to everything that he’s built.

In a way it really is! For this character, it is just all about viewing what’s optimally best for yourself nutritionally, and maximizing the output of your body and having zero germs. He’s a character that really shuts himself off from the rest of the world. And I think pizza’s one of the most democratic foods; there’s something so deeply communal about it. It’s made for more than one person by design; that, along with the grease and the high calorie value, makes everything about pizza really antithetical to who Byron is and really representative of the life that Hazel had before she entered the hub.

There’s also a scene from the last season where Hazel is talking to a divorce lawyer and detailing how bad her life in the Hub was. She wasn’t allowed to eat “unhealthy” food, and everything she put in her body was really regimented. And the lawyer jokes, “That doesn’t sound like abuse, that sounds like a spa.” Can you talk a little more about this reaction to not being allowed to drink beer or eat chips or pizza — that it’s seen as a good thing by so many people?

In this show and with these characters, we’re navigating this language of privilege, and how anything can be a tool for abuse. But I think that food is one of the most common. Most recently in the media, the whole Nxivm story really stuck with me, this profound calorie restriction and normalization of disordered eating and expectation of thinness under the guise of discipline and health.

I think, especially in Season 1, we were looking at issues of total control, and Hazel feeling like all of the decisions in her life are being made for her, even down to the food she eats. And yes, there are layers to that. There are people in the world who don’t have access to organic vegetables and would love to have the diet that Hazel was put on, and people who are checking into spas for thousands of dollars a week to have such a diet served to them. But again, coming back to feeling trapped and feeling like a prisoner in your own home — even these spaces of privilege can be turned against you.

Right, if you can’t drink beer or eat pizza whenever you want, what’s the point of the power? I feel like this whole season really speaks to the themes of artificiality versus reality, and how you really can’t get rid of someone’s drive to want to experience something real — even if you make a perfect artificial world for them. How does food play into that?

Whether it’s a literal gut level or a cellular level, we can tell when there is a difference — like a dish that you have homemade by a family member versus a version you get at a restaurant, and tasting that near miss. I think that’s a really good metaphor for the Hub. As exact of a replica as they can make things, there is intrinsically within us this truth-detecting software.

Food is absolutely a part of that. I will never forget moving to LA and going to the farmers market for the first time, and tasting a tomato and just having this epiphany. That was really a radical, paradigm-shifting moment for me. And I have pretty staunch lowbrow food tastes: Taco Bell is truly my favorite restaurant. I really would rather go there than a Michelin-starred restaurant. But so much of that is it having been so long since you’ve had the real version that you adopt the fake version as your standard, until you have an experience that makes you remember everything it could be. For Hazel, that really is what those 10 years in the Hub were like. In this season, it’s going both ways, where she’s having these experiences in the real world and realizing everything that the real world can hold. But she’s also back in the Hub and beginning to reconsider the power and the technology that the Hub can bring, that maybe she hadn’t appreciated the first time she was inside.

If there’s a third season, is there anything else that you hope to do with what these characters eat and how that affects them?

Absolutely. We’re now so on the cusp with the metaverse, and I’m really wondering how food and eating, and the experiential things like dining and restaurants, are going to translate. That’s something that I would say I’m pretty curious about.

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