City Desk

Mysterious “Panel Crasher” Hunts for Free Food at Think Tanks

How much free food can one man eat? That's the challenge faced by  pseudonymous blogger Panel Crasher, who's been trying to eat as much as he can at Washington think-tank events since being laid off earlier this year.

The Panel Crasher, who wouldn't reveal his name in an interview with City Desk, lost his job at a nonprofit, in part, he suspects, because of sequestration. He's going to graduate school in the fall, but until then he's trying to hit as many food spreads as he can—and blog about Washington's panel subculture along the way.

His first attempt to score food, at a Family Research Council panel on birth rates, ended in disaster when he showed up a few minutes late, only to find everything but the condiments eaten. That inspired him to get to panels early, but not too early, in case event staff started wondering why he was hanging around.

Getting the most from a crowded panel schedule means knowing which think tanks will have the best food. The stingiest offerings, he says, comes from the New America Foundation.  "It'd be at noon or 12:30 and they'd have a cookie for everyone," he says. "If that."

The best food so far has come from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, which is hardly conservative when it comes to its spreads. AEI staffers foiled his attempts to document the food, but it was worth it, since the think tank offers a full lunch buffet—even shrimp, the crasher points out.

The crasher says his blog has been popular with former colleagues familiar with using panel events for networking. But that rising popularity doesn't make the slog much easier—he's committed to staying at each panel for the whole event, rather than just making off with the food.

For anyone hoping to follow in his thrifty footsteps, the crasher has some tips on making the most of think tank food: "liberal use of napkins," using two plates, if you can handle it. "Don't be afraid to get seconds," he says. "I mean, they're there."

Buffet photo by Shutterstock

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