Alpine climber Blake Herrington has put up a number of bold new routes in Patagonia, Alaska, and the North Cascades at the relatively young age of 25. But as I sit across from him at 10 p.m. at Roberto’s, the 24-hour dive Las Vegas Mexican joint, I am not interested in his climbing stories from those wild places. Rather, he is fired up about the $2.50 tostada, buried under a pile of free accoutrements from the salsa bar, that he’s working on, and he is excited about how much free stuff Roberto’s makes available for its patrons.
“Have you heard of Food Value?” he asks. I say, “I think so,” and he says, “No, you haven’t.
“Food Value is a complex, algorithmically derived formula, principally accounting for one’s satiety, nutritional benefits, and money spent in order to ascertain said food items.”
In other words, Food Value is how much you can get, both calorie-wise and nutritionally, for as little money as possible. Or no money, if possible. One on end of the spectrum is expensive French pastries that are all sugar and fat, and on the other end is, say, a Chinese buffet that you got a 2-for-1 coupon for. Or a free trip to the Whole Foods salad and prepared food bar. (Refer to Blake’s graph.)
Food value is the science – and I know it’s doing science when people say words like “algorithm” – of how dirtbag climbers eat, or aspire to eat at all times. Swiping abandoned half-eaten pizza off cafeteria plates, Yvon Chouinard and friends eating cans of dented cat food for a summer in the Valley, honing your radar for finding free food, all of that. And Blake is possibly one of the leading field researchers of Food Value.
He collects receipts at Wendy’s restaurants to take surveys to get coupon codes for free $3.50 cheeseburgers, then goes into Wendy’s and convinces the employees to let him order $3.50 worth of other menu items.
And his method of ordering a Chipotle burrito is deviously genius and so nuanced that I had to ask him to re-tell the details via e-mail:
A little-known fact is that when one’s Chipotle burrito exceeds the boundaries of its earthly wrapper (a.k.a. tortilla #1), they will supplement its torn casing with a secondary tortilla. Based upon this premise, I’ve had great success being up-front and letting the folks at Chipotle know that usually my chosen burrito tears, and so they ought to simply place two overlapping tortillas as the initial canvas upon which to craft their/my masterpiece. With two tortillas, and the implicit obligation to fill them, one ends up with nearly a double burrito. It’s also key to skip over the low-calorie “filler” item (i.e., white rice, or at a Subway, iceberg lettuce) and go straight to the better alternatives like meat or spinach. Order every component as though this will be THE final item, prompting the employee to include more of it than normal. For example, say to them, “… and then, just a bunch of the Fajita-style chicken.” (a free upgrade that includes peppers and onions). Once they add a greater-than-normal amount of said ingredient, repeat again and again. Practice your tone and inflection before going into the restaurant.
Food value, of course, applies to food you prepare yourself as well as craftily maximizing your dollar at restaurants.
“Since Food Value partly relies upon the cost of something, things that are healthy, filling, tasty, AND FREE basically achieve the maximum possible food value.” Blake says. “Since these things are rare, more generally-accessible items with high food value are the dirtbag diner’s staples such as pasta, brown rice, peanut butter, quinoa, etc. As far as restaurants, some Mexican places have salsa bars that include things like fresh pico de gallo, veggies, sour cream, and even shredded cheese. In these cases, one maximizes food value by ordering a basic dish (side of tortillas, chips) and crafting a taco salad with an astronomical food value.”
I was slightly ashamed at Roberto’s when I gave up on my $6 order of huevos rancheros, and Blake took my leftover tortillas, ran to the salsa bar, and proceeded to build a second meal on his way out the door of the restaurant. And then crushed some 5.12 trad route at Red Rock a day later.