I hate Tom Brady, and I hate meal kits. I hate what they stand for, I hate that they’re symbols of cheating, and I hate that both inhabit the same universe. Combine the two and it’s like a terrible ankle blister merged with a canker sore.
That’s probably why my editor signed me up for Tom Brady’s meal kit, TB12 Performance Meals. Cruel jokes delight him, and he knew that adding a couple bucks to Brady’s gazillionaire checking account would bug the shit out of me—well, mission accomplished, boss.
So I perused the TB12 website—in Chrome’s Incognito mode—and immediately formed hard opinions: The branding reads like a ShamWow infomercial crossed with the most intense, annoying dude at your CrossFit gym: Achieve and sustain peak performance! Food is your fuel! Its website is jock-masculine, loaded with references to “power” and images of Brady squinting his beady eyes into the snowy distance while throwing a football. This has little relevance to my lifestyle; the only time I squint into the snow is from my back porch to see whether my dog has finished taking a number two in the yard.
I should explain: My Tom Brady aversion begins with my team allegiance. I’m a Giants fan, and Brady is Robert E. Lee. Yes, he’s the enemy leader, but it’s compounded by the myriad ways that make him so damn punchable: the impenetrable self-assurance, the double-breasted peacoat, the fact that he looks about seconds aways from going full Patrick Bateman. He’s a Trump-apologist cyborg version of every asshole college dude who thought his high-school pull-ups record was relevant conversation material. Brah, let me talk to you about my paleo diet!
The meal kits aren’t paleo, but they do ascribe to Brady’s notoriously rigid diet that eschews gluten, meat, butter, cheese, and strawberries. They also make “limited use of soy.” These aren’t your girlfriend’s yoga-mat chia pudding cups, though, oh no—these are designed for achieving and sustaining peak performance. They’re high-protein, full of superfoods, and cost $78 for three dinners a week.
That comes down to $13 per plate, as each dinner makes two servings, which might be reasonable in this alternate meal-kit universe I’ve thus far managed to avoid. But $26 seems like an awful lot to spend on a vegan dinner—aren’t chickpeas like a dollar a can? I can make a gigantic pot of lentil soup for about $6, and will be guaranteed leftovers for days. But perhaps that lentil soup does not prime me to achieve peak athletic performance.
I already cook with a lot of veggies because I live in Missoula, Montana, where I have enough space to grow a sizable garden. It’s cheap and relatively easy. I’m not eating vegetables to be self-righteous, like I know Tom Brady is. But okay, trying to keep an open mind, I dove into the first box that arrived on my doorstep emblazoned with #eatlikeagoat a couple weeks ago. Soon, I thought, I’ll emerge from my dog hair-covered flannel cocoon as an athletic goddess butterfly.
The first week’s meals included creamy red pepper rotini, quinoa Power (Power!) Bowl, and congee. The box arrives with all the ingredients necessary to prepare these dinners—minus salt, pepper, and olive oil—and recipe cards with step-by-step instructions. As with all meal kits that are slowly destroying our planet, ingredients are packaged excessively in plastic sarcophaguses and Ziplocs and containers. Week one’s meals say they contain between 610 and 720 calories, and take between 30 and 40 minutes to prepare.
I started with the quinoa Power (Power!) Bowl, which is just a small scoop of quinoa topped with arugula, roasted carrots, chickpeas, rehydrated blueberries, and lemon-turmeric dressing. As my boyfriend bluntly pointed out, it’s a salad—a $13-per-person salad topped with a dressing that looks like baby shit. But it tasted... okay. The agave-drizzled, roasted carrots were sweet and satisfying, and the turmeric and blueberries made me feel smug for eating not one but two superfoods in one meal. Boyfriend was less impressed; he said it tasted like rabbit food. Then he made himself a second dinner of leftover pasta and Girl Scout cookies and cursed Tom Brady with gusto.
Creamy red pepper rotini was fine, if a little gritty because it uses chickpea pasta to get around the gluten thing. Also, the cashews were missing from my box so I used almonds in the sauce instead, which made it taste slightly off, texturally. The week’s clear winner was the tempeh congee, a phrase I can’t believe I just typed. I saved it for last because it sounded, frankly, terrible. I was proven wrong though; the coconut-ginger rice was sweet, sticky, and spicy, the tempeh toothsome and nutty-caramelized. I would actually make this recipe again—I calculated what it would cost using ingredients from my grocery store: $15, half the price of this meal-kit dinner.
But you can’t put a price on self-righteousness, which is what these TB12 meals are actually delivering. I felt so virtuous after eating these dinners, full as they were of nutrients and superfoods and fucking fuel, man. I eat fairly healthy on the regular, but these were next-level. Like an ascetic monk, I felt like I was floating above humanity on a cloud of moral superiority. This is what it’s like to be Tom Brady, I realized.
So, experiment concluded, I went online to cancel my subscription. Before I could, though, TB12 was going to ship me another week of meals. Then I could cancel. Okay, fine, whatever, it’s the company dime, I figured. My boyfriend howled when another box showed up on our doorstep the following week—“I thought we were done with this?”—and there was much gnashing of teeth.
The second week’s box contained ingredients for red curry vermicelli, fennel and cannellini bean ragout, and sweet pea corn cakes. The vermicelli was fine, if bland; the red curry paste wasn’t spicy enough for me and the Japanese yams didn’t cook through. What’s bonkers though is that the meal allegedly contained 990 calories. 990 calories! Without meat or dairy! I could order Thai green curry with shrimp from Noodles & Co. for fewer calories than that, though I guess it wouldn’t be packed with power and fuel. (I’m not even going to write about the white bean and fennel ragout over polenta, except to say that it was the most yellow meal I have ever eaten.)
In retrospect, the TB12 meals had some hits and some misses, though even when I liked a certain meal—the tempeh congee or the quinoa bowl especially—I would never shell out $78 a week to get the ingredients delivered. But someone out there will, I guess. My dad, a divorced man in his early 60s with minimal kitchen skills, loves his Home Chef-brand meal kits. I get the play-by-play in detailed text messages that always end with a total dad-level revelation: “Have you ever tried lasagna with eggplant, Katie?”
I’ve psychoanalyzed who I consider to be the prime Tom Brady meal kit customer, and it’s a dude with disposable income who goes to the gym twice a week but owns enough sleeveless Under Armour muscle tees to outfit a JV baseball team. I’ll admit it would be really hard to come up with ideas for high-protein, gluten-free, vegan meals every week, and TB12 takes the guesswork out of it. All the meals aren’t winners—like Tom Brady in the Super Bowl—but neither are the gluten-free/vegan recipes you’d find online, probably. So if you are part of that very narrow subset of wealthy customers looking for athletic-minded, gluten-free, superfood-packed vegan meals, Brady has your back.
On another note, I did not become the wall-climbing, kettlebell-heaving, rope-ladder-shredding beast I’d so earnestly hoped for. I probably lost a pound or two by eating virtuously for two weeks, but I plan to offset that with beer and the Girl Scout cookies I hid from my boyfriend’s ravenous kitchen raids. I can’t say I hated the TB12 meals, but they didn’t inspire me to tell all my friends about them, convince me to go vegan, or shave time off my average running pace. Tom Brady is still a cheater and an asshole, and now he’s $156 richer.