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I Spent a Day at Pitchfork Eating Only Free Food and I Felt Terrible

There is only one good free meal at the whole fest, and everyone knows it.

A free-food bounty.   Photo: Carrie Schedler

Pitchfork is a music festival, sure—but it’s only half about the concert. Known for its edgy, youthful lineup, the festival has become a feeding ground for brands to woo millennials with endless gratis eats. So on Sunday, I took them up on it, vowing to eat only the free food handed out to festivalgoers. My stomach is still recovering.

2 p.m.

Upon arriving, I go into survival mode. Having cased the food offerings on Friday and Saturday, I know that Clif bars will be my key food source. (They’re really pushing this new version stuffed with chocolate hazelnut and almond butters, like candy for the REI set). When the sales reps aren’t looking, I take four and slink away.

3:30 p.m.

I settle in for my late lunch. The multi-course affair begins with a dollop of soft-serve kefir from Lifeway (tart, refreshing, and rich in probiotics to counteract the gastrointestinal sins to come). I consider going back for seconds, but realize the girl manning the machine will just see me, standing alone, asking for more free frozen kefir, like Oliver Twist if he became obsessed with his gut flora. Instead, I take two bottles of strawberry kefir and chug them, then pocket a cup of solid kefir for later. Dessert is a half-melted kefir popsicle that drips down my fingers. I insulate it with three cans of cherry Bai, a “Sparkling Antioxidant Infusion” drink with five calories that promises a jolt of “Nature’s Caffeine” for later in the evening.

4 p.m.

I eat my first Clif bar, coconut filled with almond butter. It’s fine. I start to eat a second. Still fine.

4:05 p.m.

Lyft’s tent has Everlasting Gobstoppers. To get them, I listen to a pitch from a man who definitely knows I am using him for candy. I avoid eye contact and take three packets.

4:15 p.m.

A meal of 1.5 Clif bars, 9 Gobstoppers, and kefir does not sit well. I fantasize about lying down in the grass as I stand in a throng at Joey Purp’s set. I try to drink a Bai, hoping the fizz will settle things, but the “Sparkling Antioxidant Infusion” is laden with fake sugar and causes disconcerting stomach growls. I eat another half of a Clif bar to address this new issue. That also doesn’t help, so I try to focus on Joey Purp instead. Strangely, this sort of does.

4:35 p.m.

A random guy offers me a beer. Even though it’s free, I decline.

4:45 p.m.

I am walking to my preferred bank of Port-A-Potties when I see the Holy Grail: free Strawberry Mango Chicken Salads from Wendy’s. This is the best free food item at the festival, filled with actual vegetables and protein rather than nut butter. And every single day, they’ve run out before I could get to them.

I make my bathroom break quick, but by the time I return, the salad line is 50 people deep. “Sorry for the wait,” chirps a Wendy’s rep as I join the queue. “They’re back there grilling the chicken fresh, slicing the strawberries! These salads are super-fresh!” I want to ask if she thinks I have a shot at getting a salad, but realize my tote is bulging with aluminum cans and the optics of asking are not ideal.

5 p.m.

The line has not moved. Fear sets in, as does hunger. I take another bite of Clif bar and slurry-stomach returns. I pray Wendy will provide.

5:10 p.m.

We’re moving quickly, until I’m two people from the front—and then we’re stopped again. There is confusion at the grill. If I don’t get a salad, I will be stuck eating Clif bars for dinner. My stomach turns a bit, and I look at the Wendy’s rep pleadingly. Do you know how much this salad means to me? I ask, telepathically.

5:13 p.m.

Success. I cannot remember being happier at any other time during this festival than when a dude in French-braided pigtails handed me my very own salad. I suppress a cheer. The salad is perfect, and it tastes particularly excellent paired with a lukewarm kefir cup, Topo Chico, and free Virtue cherry ciders squirreled out of the VIP section.

7 p.m.

With naught but lettuce and oats to absorb the hard ciders, the alcohol goes to my head. Mindlessly, I eat the rest of my Clif bar and decide that it’s my favorite food.

9 p.m.

Another Bai, thinking that it will power me through dancing to Solange and watching Game of Thrones when I get home. Instead, it riles my stomach to a rumble I can hear even over a full brass band. I brace myself against a fence and hope the discomfort passes. My burps taste like stevia.

10:30 p.m.

By the time I get home, my stomach has settled, so much so that I realize that I’m actually hungry. Reflexively, I reach for another Clif bar.

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