Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What is the Best Food Experience at a Think Tank?

Let's be honest, think tanks are not restaurants and are not exactly culinary powerhouses.  Nevertheless, many of them serve food (breakfast, lunches, buffets, snacks, receptions, cocktails).

For many years, AEI has been known for its cookies which are (or at least were) made in-house.  In the past, AEI has had an Election Watch Series ($60 fee; so far this year, I've only seen unpaid ones) which included smoked salmon and ultra-tasty scrambled eggs.  Regular AEI events consistently provide tea, coffee, and Poland Spring water.

Back in 2008, Ruth Samuelson of the Washington City Paper wrote about think tank cuisine.  In that article, she explores eating at AEI, Brookings, and Reason.

Although I couldn't attend, on May 18, 2009 the Center for American Progress (CAP) held an event titled "Food Matters with Mark Bittman and Jose Andres" in which a Jose Andres-made Spanish "bento" was apparently served.

Blogger/reporter Spencer Ackerman argues that you can "fairly decently" judge a think tank's influence by the quality of its lunch.

The most impressive recent event I attended was at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) which included a post-discussion reception with lamb chops, shrimp, crab cakes, and an open bar.

But let us not forget the food poisoning incident in 2007 in which scores of people got sick at CEIP.  Wrote the Washington Post's Al Kamen:
A lot of heavyweights in the development world attended a Nov. 30 luncheon roundtable at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to discuss the relationship between climate change and development.
The list at the event, sponsored by the U.N. Development Program, featured World Bank chief Robert Zoellick; Kemal Dervish, the head of the UNDP; and former senator Tim Wirth, now president of the U.N. Foundation and moderator Gregg Easterbrook.
A few days later, attendees got this e-mail from David Yang, who coordinated the event. "I have learned to my dismay that some people became ill with stomach problems over the weekend after lunching" at the event. He advised that local health officials are investigating. (None of the featured speakers took ill, but a large percentage of the 170 folks attending did, we understand.) "As part of their investigation, the public-health authorities would like to survey as many of those who became ill as possible," he wrote, adding that anyone wishing to be surveyed should let him know.
Preliminary culprit appears to be the pasta salad, we're told, but nothing is for sure.

What is your best (or worst) food experience at a think tank?  Has anyone else noticed a decline in quality/quantity of food at think tanks since the recession hit?

Also, I've put up what I believe to be the first-ever poll on think tank food.  Please vote to see the latest results.  Polling ends at the end of the year.  [I could only choose four think tanks.]