Why free stuff always comes with the price

Some things just make me wonder… I can’t logically explain them…

About a month ago (yep, the idea was marinating in my head for quite a while now) I wanted to catch up with some of my friends from FastCompany, the previous place I worked for.

Somehow we agreed to meet at the technical meetup after work (classic engineers, right? :)). The place was conveniently located in midtown and easy for all of to get to. That particular meetup was about database internals.

Now, just so you know, there are a lot of meetups going on in the city every single day, but somehow my friends picked that particular one about databases. I was curious. Did they really want to know more about that particular database technology?

Well, yes, that was certainly a part of it. But the real and more important reason was pretty simple – free food!

I came a bit early and had a chance to talk to other people at the event. Most of them wanted to get upstairs to the meeting room as fast as possible, as they didn’t want to miss the free food.

That was fascinating to watch. Just imagine, people who make 100-200K a year were rushing in to get some free food! Wow. Anyways, my friends arrived a bit late and when we got up there, the place was jam-packed with people. All the seats were taken and we literally had to sit on the floor!

It was very unusual and surprising for the technical meetup. At least for me. I thought maybe it’s all about the speaker or the topic and prepared to be blown away by the awesome information I was about to learn.

As for the free food, well – since my friends arrived a bit late, the free chips and dip were already gone. Needless to say, they were a bit bummed out about that. Chips and dip were gone, you guys! No kidding!

Anyway, there I was sitting on the floor anxious for the event to start, observing all of the people and wondering what will happen next.

The event was running a bit late and finally, some dude showed up with a bunch of free t-shirts and notepads. The crowd was ecstatic and alive once again!

Turned out it wasn’t the main speaker, just the guy who organized meetup (I think?). Well, apparently he knew some tricks about marketing and importance of free stuff )) It was definitely working.

Finally, after all of those branded freebies (marketing materials) were gone, the database guy took the stage and the event officially started.

Long story short, about 15 minutes in I realized the presentation was super boring and left…

The idea was to catch up with my friends, so I wasn’t too upset about all the wasted time. It’s just that whole experience made me wonder if all of those people actually came to hear the presentation about the postgresql database internals or it was the free food and drinks that did the trick? Probably both.

Let’s pause for a sec and talk about the costs associating with attending that free event.

There was no admission cost, definitely a positive thing. Then there was “free food and drinks”, also free, right? When you look closer though, you realize that free “food” actually did more damage than good – junk carbs, lots of sugar, nothing useful for your body or brain at all… On top of that awesome “free food”, we got 1.5hr of boring presentation.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire that guy’s desire to deliver free information about database internals to other engineers, but it was just boring for 95% of people there… One guy in the middle of the room fell asleep after 15 minutes of the talk. Literally, no jokes.

Maybe it wasn’t the presenter, but the topic itself? Then again, the room was jammed packed with people and I had to sit on the floor. The topic was ok I think…? How about free food? ))

I will never know the answer, but the only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be using the power of FREE stuff on my own events! 🙂

Here is another similar story. A few weeks ago I went to Whole Foods to buy some lunch and on the way out saw a huge line of people lined up to the ice cream truck far ahead. I was immediately curious and asked some people in the line what that whole fuss was about. Turned out that ice cream track was doing a promotion and giving up free ice cream for everybody! Yay!

Was it really free? Let’s see. You would have to stay in line for about 30mins to get your free ice cream (which normally costs around $5), plus you would have to put that sugary thing made with questionable A1 milk into your stomach…

Now last (I promise) example before I go. When I joined the HBO about half a year ago, I was excited to learn there was a discounted cafeteria for the employees. Will tell you more, I was eating there for a few month and the food was much much cheaper compared to other places around. I was pretty happy about that.

As some of you may already know from my previous posts, back in August I introduced some radical changes in my life. What I discovered was that the quality of food that we eat plays the critical role in our lives. It’s extremely important to consume the best food that you can find in order to feel great, as well as stay focused and energized all day every day. Cliche, yet most of us (including myself) never really considered it seriously.

At the time I was suffering from the mood swings (on the border with depression), lack of energy and frequent headaches.

After reading some more books on the topic like Plant Paradox, Head Strong, Grain Brain, Body by Science and others I started paying close attention to what I put in my mouth.

First I stopped eating grains and dairy and switched to salads with mixed greens and a lot of spinach topped with cold pressed olive oil (a separate topic on its own). For the proteins, I try to go with grass-fed natural meat and wild caught fish, but it’s extremely hard to come by…

In general, the idea is to reduce carbs and instead consume more healthy fats. Again, I did my diet changes not because I wanted to lose weight, but primarily to get more energy, reduce fatigue and get rid of headaches.

Did it work? You bet! I feel much more alive and sharp than ever before. The headaches reduced significantly even though I do get them from time to time even now, usually the day after I eat some junk stuff (happens sometimes as we are all humans).

But let’s get back to my discounted cafeteria for a sec. I told you I started eating more greens, right? Well after diving deep into the topic, I learned the importance of organic food versus regular conventional stuff.

There is a great website called EWG.org ( The Environmental Working Group ) that published dirty dozen and clean fifteen products lists. The website contains a ton of useful info and I highly recommend everyone to check it out.

I was surprised to discover that Spinach was holding second place on the Dirty Dozen list, right after the strawberries. That means non-orgainc spinach is literally loaded with pesticides and I was eating a lot of it in my discounted cafeteria!

That discovery made me do another change in my lunch routine. Today it looks like this – I buy a bottle of cold-pressed olive oil and keep it at my desk in the office. At lunchtime I take it with me and go to the cafeteria where I buy some meat and avocado, then I go to Whole Foods store and get organic mixed greens from the salad bar (along with some other goodness).

Turns out even Whole Foods doesn’t give you high-quality cold pressed olive oil at the salad bar. All you get there is a glass bottle with the tape sticker which just says ‘Olive oil’. Stay away from that stuff.

Yep, as you can see it takes a bit more time and not super convenient. In addition to that, some people in the office probably think I’m crazy keeping a bottle of olive oil at my desk, but those are my choices.

It’s fascinating to see how much junk we consume every day and expect our bodies to function like a well-oiled machine… There are no miracles guys, you need to say NO to the free stuff, at least when it comes to the food.

I’m giving you a permission to take free notepads, pens and t-shirts at the tech meetups, I know it’s hard to resist, but not the free food! Remember, the goal is to disconnect from the matrix and the food around us is designed to keep us in there, to destroy our brains and free will.

Remember, the good stuff is never free! Catch yourself next time you grab that slice of free pizza during the rainy day, think about my post and put it back. I said put it back. Great job! 🙂

Wake up, Neo... The matrix has you...

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