That Time I Worked for Pfizer (and Started This Blog)

Many people ask me how I started this blog and why, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually discussed it. If I did, I sure as shit don’t remember, so might as well talk about it now while it’s top of mind. Lest I forget again in a few minutes. That’s one true beauty of aging: things feel fresh and new, even when they’re not.

But I digress.

During college, I interned at multiple places, but perhaps the most notable was The Howard Stern Show (pause for gasps). Yep, I did that for two semesters at Sirius XM. It was at that time that I knew I wanted to be in “media”, but I had zero clue what the role actually looked like. Did I want to be on-air talent? What about a producer? A talent booker? Sales? Literally there are a hundred jobs within “media”, probably more, and when I say I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life at that point, I really fuckin mean it.

PS – If you want more details about life at The Stern Show, let me know. It was a fun ride but this isn’t about that right now.

I used to be blonde.

Following my tenure at Howard Stern, I got a job. Was I a producer at The Stern Show? No. Was I a Production Assistant at Sirius XM Radio or The Food Network? Nope. I was…a temp. At Pfizer.

Let me walk you through this, because I know you have many questions.

It was 2008, the economy was in the shitter, and I could not find a job for the life of me. I moved into Manhattan after I graduated from FIT (Magna Cum Laude 3.8 GPA #humblebrag) with a Bachelor of Science in Advertising and Marketing Communications. I didn’t even go to my graduation, mind you, but I got my diploma on one of those fancy pieces of paper and that was good enough for me. I also made about two friends in FIT, so I was done. I was out. And I was ready for the real world.

Turns out, the real world kinda sucks. You learn that as you get older, but it is pretty cool to be able to buy shit for yourself. Even though I was blessed with a decent amount of money from the car accident settlement at a young age, I knew I wanted to have a “real job” to keep me afloat when the money eventually runs out (and it always does). I didn’t want to be one of those idiots who just lives off of settlement money. I mean, I guess if you make enough settlement money you totally can and, in that case, more power to you, but I knew mine wasn’t going to last that long.

So here I was, all excited to get some fascinating job following my awesome internship at Howard Stern, and I have gone on about 20+ interviews. Not one bite. I had no experience in the workforce (and wouldn’t you know it, talking to High Pitch Eric and Sour Shoes every day didn’t count as experience), and I was just on the verge of giving up when I got a call from a temp agency.

The guy said there was an opening at a “well known pharmaceutical company” and I should go for it. I almost fell asleep when the words “pharmaceutical company” came out of his mouth, but I was in no position to turn down money (even though I had it). In hindsight, I probably should have, but I like to think of myself as a hustler and I didn’t want to be lazy or complacent, so I said “absolutely”.

The company in question was Pfizer. They liked my resume (how?) and wanted to meet me (probably because I was the only one who said yes). The office was 10 blocks from my apartment, which was amazing, so I walked over there and met with a very nice man whose name escapes me now. Long story short, I got the job. Super. It was something and it was a good name to have on a resume, right? Plus, maybe I’d learn some cool shit. I vaguely remember them saying something about “coding” which was something only really smart people know how to do.

On my first day, I was introduced to my colleagues and given a cubicle. I literally couldn’t pick my coworkers out of a lineup. Not trying to be mean I’m just saying my memory sucks. Also goes to show just how boring this job was.

“You’ll sit here”, said my boss, “and I’ll be right in there if you need me!” pointing to his office, right outside my cube. He was so nice, I actually feel bad talking shit about this place, but it’s not like he owned the company, so whatever.

Imagine everything you know about office life that you learned in a movie. That’s what this place looked like. Fluorescent lights, gray carpet, gray cubicle, no windows, GRAY GRAY GRAY. It was like walking around the inside of a ceramic mug or Yankee Stadium (yea I said it). I looked around and thought, “well this ought to be great, I wonder how many people have killed themselves in this building”. Then, I found the answer as to why no one did: the company cafeteria.

I’m only slightly exaggerating, but this was hands down the coolest shit I’ve ever seen (at the time). The Pfizer cafeteria was like a sprawling food gift shop. It had that brightness to it, and it wasn’t gray like everything upstairs. Oh no, there were stainless steel countertops, shiny marble floors, and that big blue Pfizer logo on the wall that greeted you as you stepped off the elevator. Paradise, I thought, especially for someone who LIVED for meals like I did.

Pizza, pasta, salads, sandwiches, this place had it all. The chefs smiled and said hello to me when I walked by their stations – I felt like I was a guest at a Bat Mitzvah. Do I want sushi? Steak? Something from the salad bar? How about a little bit of everything?! “Have a little smorgasbord!” my inner self screamed at me, “this is the best part!”

Did you know that it was actually about to get even better? I took somewhere in the neighborhood of four plates of food (no shame) and headed to checkout. Soup, salad with ranch dressing, bacon bits and croutons (anyone who can ignore bacon bits and croutons at a salad bar is made of iron will), some pasta, a sandwich, dumplings, and a water.

I balanced my lunch tray ever so delicately on the little stainless-steel bars and the cashier said “$11.70” or something insane like that. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was CHEAP.

I looked confused and said “uhh are you sure?” motioning towards my meal for six, for one. She nodded. “I’m new, sorry” and I handed her my debit card.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “everything is discounted here! It’s like an incentive for people who work here”. My face just scrunched and then my eyes got wide. Like, real wide. As if she offered me drugs at a reduced price. “Oh no way!!” I said a little too loudly, “that’s awesome, thanks, no one told me!”

“Yeah! Welcome to Pfizer!” she yelled after me, and I skipped away just planning tomorrow’s feast in my head. It was the ONE damn thing I looked forward to each and every day.

Well, that cafeteria high lasted about 2 weeks. I was so bored at this job. What was my job exactly? Some of you are probably wondering. I have no fucking idea. Really, I don’t. I did some stuff on their website, like CSS crap and I managed some internal portal on the backend. I don’t remember honestly, but I can tell you that it was boring and easy and I usually went home during lunch and napped for 20 minutes once the allure of the discounted cafeteria wore off.

I remember my boss gave me a book on Javascript one day and said “if this is where you’re going to work, you will want to get good at this.” And I looked at the book, horrified, and said “but I do not actually want that.” That was sort of the essence of me in corporate life: insubordinate with a lack of filter. Remind me to tell you about the time I yelled at my own boss a few years later at a different company.

Anyway. There was another place nearby that was a combo of Mexican and Chinese cuisines, and that became my go to lunch spot. Don’t hate on the combo – it was kind of awesome. Quesadillas and pork fried rice? You got it. Tacos and dumplings? Comin right up. Did I not mention already that I was bored??

As I was half-asleep in my cubicle one day, I was reading my daily “news” which meant anything about food. New restaurants on Grub Street, reviews on Eater and the NY Times, and the blogs I browsed like Midtown Lunch, The Strong Buzz, and Serious Eats. I thought, I could do this – I know good restaurants and I know good food. I also like to cook. And my writing professors all claim I’m wasting a talent by not pursuing writing. Should I start a blog?

I should mention that I had taken a food writing class with Andrea Strong of The Strong Buzz a few months prior to my job at Pfizer. I LOVED her and loved her story: in short, she was a lawyer making 6 figures and quit her job to become a food writer. What the FACK. At the ripe age of 22, I was like “who does that?!” I never ever anticipated making food writing/photography my career, yet here I am. But anyway, Andrea loved my writing and really pushed me to start a blog.

I pondered this for a few days before committing to the idea out of sheer boredom. I needed a creative outlet and I was usually done with my Pfizer work by noon, so, why not?

I knew I needed a name, but nothing was grabbing me. Bacon was incorporated in most of the ones I tried, but I decided that would be a bit too esoteric. I knew even then that I’d probably piss off a lot of people with my writing and opinions, so I didn’t want to alienate vegans right off the bat.

In school they call that “strategic marketing”.

I remembered someone calling me a “skinny pig” once, I barely even remember who it was (again, memory sucks), but I thought that had a catchy ring to it. Not to mention it still implies a love for bacon, with the name “pig” and all.

I like that, I thought to myself, “The Skinny Pig”, great, now I just need a slogan or a subheading. I sat and thought about my diet and how insane my appetite usually was, and the word “gluttonous” popped into my head. Isn’t gluttony one of the 7 deadly sins? I asked myself. Holy shit, “Where Gluttony is No Longer a Sin”! I was really proud of that, not gonna lie.

After I came up with the name, I did some research on blogs and tried to find some common denominators: what platform did they use? Blogspot? Blogger? Typepad? At the time, not many people had websites or blogs, and I didn’t want to be just another blog with “blogspot.com” at the end of my domain (i.e. theskinnypig.blogspot.com), so I went with Typepad.

You had to pay for Typepad, but it was way more customizable, and thanks to the teeny tiny bit of HTML coding I learned while working for Pfizer, I made it all on my own. No templates, all from scratch (which is funny, because now I use WordPress and a template), and I even bought my domain on Godaddy.com (theskinnypignyc.com) and did the domain mapping all by myself! That means when you would type out the domain name, it would “map” to my Typepad web address and boom, there’s my blog!

I’m making this sound like a quick process for the sake of this post, but in reality, this took weeks to set up, probably closer to a month between all of the researching and domain crap. I’m not a tech-savvy person, and the only reason I did it myself was because I had plenty of time on my hands at that cubicle to dedicate to learning. Now, I barely have the patience or time to download a new app.

My first few posts were all about bacon-related things. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I started writing about any and everything that moved me in the food realm. Bacon just happened to be something I was really, really passionate about. Don’t hate, it was a different time back then. Bacon was just getting the attention it deserved and didn’t become grossly overused yet.

After that, I started looking up PR agencies in NYC that worked within the hospitality industry. I would send them a cold email introducing myself, and just ask if they would add me to their press release/distribution lists. That’s it (and I still advise people who are starting out in the blogosphere to do that). I’d say most of those emails went unanswered, but they must have done it, because before I knew it, I was getting press releases!! So cool! I was learning about new restaurants opening before the public did, and occasionally I’d get invited to try out the menu. At that age, and as someone who is new to this field, your first “comped” meal has to be one of the coolest feelings in the world.

I remember thinking “this is what Ruth Reichl does for a living – man, what I would give to do that”, and then I actually got to do it. Granted, it wasn’t for a living (yet), but right then and there, I found my new hobby. I blogged every damn day. I had so much to say and so much to share…and…for…who?! Quite literally, I would ask myself “who gives a shit about what I have to say? Who the hell am I?”

No one. I was no one. But I had a perspective. I had a sense of humor and a really big appetite. I spent every spare minute I had going to restaurants, food events, and covering all things food. If there was a food event in NYC, you could find it on my blog. Musings on Top Chef? On the blog. Recipes and reviews with poorly lit photos? Yep, that too.

I mean. Wow. Actual photo posted on the blog from 2010.

One day, a friend sent me a link to Grub Street and said “is this you?!” and my heart skipped a beat. I was IN Grub Street, the food arm of New York Magazine, under their “In the Blogs” section where they would pull news from. It was because I was the first to write about a new flavor update from Pinkberry (insert LOL here). Seriously. But this started to happen a lot. I was getting quoted and linked to NEW YORK MAGAZINE?! WHAT??

It’s so old, the photo doesn’t even exist anymore

Places like Eater followed suit and started pulling quotes from my blog, and it was honestly the most exciting feeling. All I remember thinking was wow, they actually like my writing and my point of view…maybe I AM good at this. Just keep fuckin going. And I did. Not because I wanted notoriety and more press dinners, but because I just couldn’t keep it to myself. I loved writing about food and making it funny. I didn’t ever have to force this.

From Eater – reviews on Allswell

I always tell my clients that what they do in their spare time without even thinking about it is their true passion. Or it’s an iteration of it. Think about that. What do you do in your spare time that doesn’t include binging Netflix? That is something you truly love. And even if you’re not pursuing it professionally, just the act of doing it leaves you unequivocally more fulfilled than not doing it.

The steps I took to get here were all over the place, but they were all pointed in one direction at the time: get on TV and maybe get a cooking show. I had no clue what I was doing, but I got on TV a few times, have been published by various food outlets, and appeared as a host or guest on numerous food shows. Never got a cooking show myself, but as the years rolled on, my end goal changed. So if you KNOW your end goal, taking all the tiny steps towards it is what helps you get there. Don’t aim for instant gratification.

Look at where I started in comparison to where I am now (like even from a food photography standpoint). You have to be patient and willing to learn, as well as make mistakes. And if you’re doing it because you truly love it, you won’t be counting the days until you’ve “made it” because you’re already living it. Whether or not you want to make a career out of it is up to you. And the hope is that one day you’ll just step back and say “holy shit, I accomplished everything I wanted…now what?”

But we’ll save that convo for another day.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing! Not only your very interesting career path (gotta hear more about the Howard Stern show!) but your advice. I 100% agree that chasing passions while being patient and learning is the way to go. As always, love your writing and how much you’re willing to share. Thank you.

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