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Even Spies Hate Stale Bread: Secrets Of The CIA Cafeteria

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Mar 23, 2015

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player and subscribe in iTunes.

At the CIA you need a security clearance just to get in line at the salad bar. But does that mean the food is better?

This week on The Sporkful, we expose the secrets of the CIA's cafeteria. (It turns out even spies hate it when the Pepsi turns out to be Diet Pepsi.) Plus, we talk office potlucks. Do you know how to tell a "collaborative meal" from a true potluck?

Welcome to the third episode in The Sporkful's special investigation of office eating.

And be sure to check out Parts 1, 2, and 4 in our series at the links below:

True Crime: Investigating An Office Fridge Food Theft

Office Fridges: What Would the Founding Fathers Do?

Is Free Office Coffee More Valuable Than Healthcare?


It all started with Jason Smathers, pastor of Golden Shores Community Baptist Church in Golden Shores, Arizona. Back in 2010, he was writing about areas where government and faith intersect, so he filed some FOIA requests with federal agencies. But the CIA said the information was too sensitive to release.

So Jason filed a new FOIA request: for the contents of the suggestion box in the cafeteria at CIA headquarters. This time, the agency was more forthcoming.

Here’s what the CIA sent Jason back in 2011. The complaints ranged from ineffective ketchup pumps to stale sandwich bread and a pressing almond shortage. (Remember, these are actual cafeteria complaints, and they're even more entertaining if you assume they're from America's most badass spies.)

Breakfast is Ready at Miriam's Kitchen

But the Spy vs. Cafeteria saga didn't end there. In 2013, George LeVines, a freelance reporter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, took up the cause. (At the time he was an editor at MuckRock, a website that helps people file FOIA requests.)

George thought the cafeteria complaints Jason uncovered were amusing. But he also recognized that requests like these can set precedents that could be used to force the release of more important documents down the road.

"For a clandestine agency...anything that you can get out of them is valuable," George says. "To see them respond and to see what they gave back, what they redacted – it’s a strategic maneuver.”

So George put in a follow-up request to get newer complaints from 2011 through 2013. And that’s when the world learned of the scandal of the Jazz Salad -- or Jazz Salad Ghazi Gate, as I prefer to call it.

Should salads with fruit be on the no-fly list? Will our grapes ever be safe again? And what is a Jazz Salad anyway?

Listen in to the episode to find out -- but before you do, please remove your belt and shoes and place them in a tray.


Later in the show, our discussion of office eating continues with Kristen Muller, managing editor at KPCC, Southern California Public Radio, in Los Angeles. Kristen called in to The Sporkful to get some advice on office potluck etiquette.

Together Kristen and I examine the most urgent controversies of this collegial food ritual:

-Can you eat at a potluck if you don't bring a dish?

-If you don't cook, should you contribute money instead?

-Is it still a potluck if the dishes are assigned in advance?


Eaters, we all know that a truly successful potluck is a rare achievement. After all, you're placing the fate of your stomach in the hands of others, so the main element is LUCK. (Planning a potluck menu is akin to rigging the system -- and that would be more like Vladimir Putin's Potluck Society!)

Of potlucks and life, a wise man once said:

"Sometimes you end up with 10 apple pies. But when it all comes together just right, it's magic."

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player and subscribe in iTunes.

Interstitial music in this episode by BWN Music:

- "Private Detective" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Hip Hop Slidester" by Steve Pierson

Photos via Flickr CC: GoonSquadSarah / lintmachine / Geoffrey Dudgeon / Sébastien Barré / World Economic Forum

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