‘Planet Money’ Star Jack Corbett’s Grub Street Diet
Corbett became a star on TikTok with videos for NPR’s “Planet Money” that paired clear explanations of complicated topics with unexpected visuals, like a union-busting video that included a scene of Corbett holding his own head. (It makes sense when you see it.)
Illustration: Margalit Cutler
For the past few years, Jack Corbett has been the content star behind the NPR Planet Money TikTok account, where he explained the military-industrial complex with pixel art, offered a (headless) look at the risks of unionizing, and examined the law-evading allure of Delaware’s tax code, among other topics. Now he’s taking a break and reviving his dormant sourdough starter. After spending the holidays at home in the midwest, Corbett returned last week to Los Angeles, where he was able to ring in the New Year with a fancy sandwich, “disgusting” seltzer, pricey pine nuts, and — of course — a miniature loaf of fresh-baked bread.
I was stuck in Ohio. Like many people’s, my flight was canceled, and I was at the airport for six hours. I walked laps and compared the food prices at the different little lobbies, trying to optimize. I ended up getting a few Uncrustables. They were only $2.50 each, which is not bad as far as airport stuff goes. I think they’re for kids, but they’re also pretty good.
I got back very late and revived my sourdough starter to bake later in the week. I’ve been making sourdough since 2018. I started back in college as a way to save money because each loaf costs about 20 cents and I was really living nonexistent paycheck to nonexistent paycheck. The bread was pretty bad for a long time, but eventually I got good at it. Then, unlike the rest of the world, I stopped making it for a while during the pandemic.
For Christmas, I just got a medium-size loaf pan. It’s a very awkward size. Perfect for a bread bowl, but I feel like bread bowls are kind of blasphemous. An entire loaf of bread for just one portion of soup? It doesn’t divvy up right. And what are you supposed to do with the bread’s insides? Make croutons? Hell no.
For dinner, I snacked and ate some almonds. Whenever I’m hungry, I just eat raw almonds. It’s a very bland life.
I didn’t really eat breakfast, but I ran over to the grocery store to get a bunch of stuff after being gone for so long. I go to the grocery store most days; it’s my happy place. I decided to make basil pesto because I can afford to buy pine nuts now. It’s a big thing for me. They’re so expensive. Each little pine nut is like 25 cents. It’s crazy.
I drank a ton of “passion fruit” LaCroix. I had a 12-pack rolling around in my trunk — then my motor oil exploded, and so now the cans are all sitting in my sink, covered in soap. I just pour it into a glass. I’m all about the passion fruit, apricot, and beach-plum flavors. I buy it when it goes on sale. I’m a bargain shopper, aside from my $18 pine nuts.
I snacked all day on vegan pistachio ice cream that I’d made. It wasn’t actually vegan, because I used honey, but it was from the farmers’ market, so I feel like the bees are treated nice. It’s friendly. I’m not vegan — I eat eggs and fish; pescatarian vibes — but I am dabbling in it.
I’m on leave from NPR right now, working on stuff for my great beyond. It’s the first time I’ve really had off in almost three years of doing this. I’m proud of all the TikToks I made last year for Planet Money. I think I made 20, maybe 30. I’m especially proud of the video about the No Surprises Act, just because there’s a pretty cool Radiohead reference in it. Also the one about comparing different economic schools of thought to astrology. It’s always awesome to have angry people in the comments from both sides: Astrologists and economists. I like making everyone equally unhappy.
I got to make videos for a lot of the topics that I had meant to do for a long time, thesis-of-the-channel-type things that I was personally curious about, like gentrification, how to unionize, tax brackets — bigger questions that I’ve been able to research and digest and regurgitate in a fun little TikTok way. But there’s a certain grind to being an internet creator, always feeling like, I should have that other video out right now or How are the views on this post comparing to the last one? So every single day, I go on an apple walk. I walk a mile along Sunset Boulevard and buy an apple and then I walk back, because if I don’t do it, I’ll go crazy.
For dinner, I bought a ton of canned garbanzo beans and then I roasted them in the oven. Very easy, very simple, and they’re crispy and awesome. I love them.
I was still getting my sourdough starter ready. It takes all week after I’m gone to revive it. I didn’t really have breakfast but I snacked on the stuff that I had in the fridge.
I went to a couple friends-of-friends’ New Year’s Eve parties. At one, I had the most disgusting orange-vanilla-cream sparkling water. At the other, I just had a very tall glass of water, but they had a giant charcuterie board and so I sat by that eating all the nuts and berries like some kind of caveman.
It was an early night. It was very cold and rainy in Los Angeles, and I needed to go home and feed my sourdough starter. It’s an awesome out whenever you have to just, like, leave a place. Oh, I got that sourdough starter that I gotta feed. If you have a baby, I assume you can do the same kind of thing. I gotta feed that kid.
Early in the morning, I went to Wax Paper, a sandwich shop in Frogtown where all the sandwiches are named for NPR hosts. I got a Kai Ryssdall, the Marketplace host. It’s a tuna sandwich with celery, lettuce, and black-olive aïoli on a sesame roll. Crazy stuff on it.
Whenever I go there with a friend, they’ll be like, “Hey, he works at NPR,” and the people who work at Wax Paper will be like, “Oh, cool.”
I put that pistachio ice cream in my coffee in the morning and it’s like the best thing I’ve ever had in my life. It’s nutty and slightly green. All those pistachios cost a lot of money, too. Whoever’s selling these nuts is really making bank.
That evening, I finished starting my sourdough. In the kitchen, I’m a forager. Every hour, I’ll go to the fridge and I’ll grab five olives. Or I’ll just eat a tomato. Or a bunch of dates. Dates are incredible. I think there are so many fruits that never made their way to Ohio when I was growing up there. When I first had a passion fruit, it was like, What the hell? What’s this dinosaur egg?
Finally, I baked my sourdough. I’m all about the mini Dutch ovens. They’re intended for soufflés or something, but I bake mini-loaves and make sandwiches with them. They’re adorable and fun to give to people. People always comment that it’s just a roll, but it’s not. I treat it the same way I would a big loaf, only smaller. The whole crust structure is different.
At my local grocery store, when the bread flour was on sale, I would buy as much as they had. They stopped putting it on sale because I was doing that. Now I buy giant, 50-pound bags of flour. I order them online from a place called Central Milling in Utah — I think they’re worker-owned — and they just show up on the porch. I’m sure my mailman hates me.
My big goal for the day was to make pickles. I like fermented things. I think every single thing in my diet so far has been very acidic. My pH is probably zero. My blood could melt steel. I made the pickles to be given away, though. Then I ripped off a few hunks of my sourdough and ate them with olive oil, all grizzly.