Jon Ronson is the gonzo journalist responsible for medium-spanning projects like The Men Who Stare at Goats (a book, a documentary, and also a fictionalized, George Clooney-starring film) and Frank (a film, and a book about the story that inspired the film). Unsurprisingly, his best-selling book from 2011, The Psychopath Test, is soon to be a movie, too, and my guess is his latest, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, will one day follow suit. The latter—an exploration of vehement, internet-based campaigns against people caught doing something dumb, mean, or unethical—brought him considerable criticism online, but he’s stuck it out on Twitter anyway. Originally from Wales, he left the UK four years ago for New York City.
For someone who’s spent time with conspiracy theorists, fanatics, military officials, mass murders, and corporate leaders, Ronson’s a remarkably affable and relaxed-seeming man. I spoke to him over the phone one afternoon while he walked his “squirrel-crazy” dog Josie and waxed semi-rhapsodically about yogurt.
Extra Crispy: Is there a particularly British way you eat breakfast?
Jon Ronson: Well, see, the only time I work well is in the mornings, so I just wolf down something very fast. I don’t want to spend time eating when I could be writing. It’s either Chobani or Kellogg's Chocolatey Special K, eaten very quickly. And then I have about ten cups of coffee.
Are there any uniquely American breakfast items that offend you?
Quite the opposite! You have a much better selection of yogurt than we do in England. Like with the fruit on the bottom, the sheep’s milk, the goat’s milk. I very much like Chobani and I don’t think they exist in the United Kingdom. They’re very tasty and very low in calories. I’ve tried all the different flavors. And I’ll tell you the one that disappointed—no, repulsed—me the other day. It was the guava one, have you ever tried it?
No, but that doesn’t sound very good.
It’s disgusting! Luckily it’s a limited batch, but Jesus Christ. It was like the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten.
Did you finish it?
Oh yes. But then I vowed, never again. I live quite close to Zabar’s and they have an excellent selection of exotic yogurt. People stop me in the queue and ask me what they’re like. So I think in my community, in my Upper West Side community, I’m known to be someone who tries out the experimental yogurt. I don’t like guava anyway, so why I would think that as a Chobani I would like it, I don’t know.
You must have had breakfasts with a lot of strange people, given the nature of your writing.
I associate breakfast with adventure because for my whole adult life I’ve been going to small towns in the middle of America and having adventures like the ones I wrote about in Them and The Men Who Stare at Goats. I always stay in Hampton Inns, so I associate the hard-boiled eggs and little sachets of Philadelphia Cream Cheese with great adventures. I like the sort of romance about it. I’m sitting in a rural town in America eating a hard-boiled egg, and at the next table is a soldier, and at the table next to that person, there’s a traveling salesperson. I really like that.
Is there a common breakfast for psychopaths? Did you notice a trend?
No, no trend, but my guess would be that psychopaths probably eat a lot of meat. Because they identify with predators.
I bet a lot of psychopaths are on the paleo diet.
What’s the paleo diet?
It’s supposed to be based on what cavemen would eat. Certain degrees of food preparation are unacceptable. People who are into CrossFit do it.
Ah yeah. Some of the psychopaths I’ve met were very into predatory animals like lions or tigers, so I doubt you get many vegetarian psychopaths.
They probably need blood to start their day.
I think we’re really on to something there, about them not being vegetarians. You know when I wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats I was on the Atkins Diet, and I kept passing out. I fainted several times. We were filming a documentary at the same time, and my camera man took me to one side and told me that the Atkins Diet was ridiculous and I had to stop. I’d interview these CIA guys and pass out in the car afterwards. It happened at least three times!
How did you feel physically?
I was so thin, I just felt great.
Was that why you did it, to be trim?
Yes! Of course.
What finally convinced you to give it up? It sounds like you fainted for a while before you stopped.
Yes. It was that I fainted too often. I was on a beach with my wife and I fainted, and yeah, when I was in Sardinia… I think it was all the fainting that eventually made me give it up.
It probably worked out okay though, because you were so light people could easily move you or catch you when it happened.
That’s very true. Also, the fact that I was so skinny meant that all the super soldiers were kind of amused by me because I didn’t look anything like them. And I think it’s quite good for the interviewee to be amused by the interviewer.
Was that your peak body, your Atkins body?
I think I was alarmingly thin. I wasn’t exercising. There’s footage of me being thrown around by soldiers. I was just skin and bones.
What are you dietary restrictions now?
I don’t eat meat anymore.
Will you eat meat at breakfast once we can buy lab-made meat?
Are they making that right now?
Absolutely they are.
If there’s no harm being done then I think it’s alright. Isn’t it? The only reason I don’t eat meat is because I don’t want to harm animals or leave a big footprint on the earth. Will the animals be in the labs giving up all of their meat for cloning purposes?
No, it’s one of those modern miracles where they conjure it. They just have water and the right molecules and somehow it happens.
Well if it’s just molecules, then yeah!
If you had the time for more breakfast, what would you eat? It sounds like you’re so happy with Chobani this question is probably moot.
I start writing at 7 in the morning and if it’s like 11 a.m., and I feel satisfied I’ve gotten in four good hours of writing, I might go off to a diner and have poached egg with Hollandaise sauce and whole wheat toast. That’s kind of the perfect breakfast, right? Just saying those words is making me feel hungry. With lots of coffee, huge amounts of coffee.
And then maybe some Chobani as a snack, a little later.
Did you know Chobani has opened up a fancy store in the West Village? I walked past it the other day and I did a double take. I must have been in a hurry somewhere because I’m amazed I didn’t stop and go in. It looks like a Marc Jacobs or something! And it’s just all Chobani. I’m gonna go. I can’t wait.
Charlotte Shane, PROUD VEGAN, is the author of Prostitute Laundry and N.B. She lives in New York in spite of the fact that the best nondairy ice cream is in Boston.