Earl Bronsteen had a rather unique New Year’s resolution in 2010. He planned to do something many thought impossible, even unthinkable. He set out to eat 50 free lunches at financial seminars. That’s right; Bronsteen became public enemy number one to some financial advisors. He became that thing that causes many in the seminar business to lose their lunch. For one year, Earl Bronsteen was a professional plate-licker.
When I caught up with the 86-year-old Bronsteen an obvious question came to mind: “Did you gain any weight?”
The question got Bronsteen laughing. “No. The meals all balanced out. For every dinner of filet mignon, I had a couple of soggy tuna salad sandwiches.” In other words, not all seminar meals are created equally.
The project to attend the seminars and to write a book about it (The Adventures of a Free Lunch Junkie) came about after Bronsteen received a mailer to attend a reverse mortgage seminar at The Cheesecake Factory. Although he didn’t need or want a reverse mortgage, “the food there is to die for.”
As he developed the book, he knew the tone he wanted to take: “I didn’t want to write an exposé. I wrote it as a satire.”
Bad food…and so little of it
Instead of complaining about unsuitable practices detailed in a report on seminars that he read, Bronsteen writes that: “What strikes me as particularly distressing about this extensive report is that there isn’t one word about either the poor quality of the food or the undersized portions that some of these sponsors try to pass off as lunch or dinner.”
While his family supported the idea for the book not everyone was on board to attend the seminars with him. “My wife didn’t like the idea of mooching. She only went to one event and then never went back,” he says.
This idea of a “free lunch” carried an interesting dynamic in the wealthy Florida suburb where Bronsteen lives.
“It puzzled me why there weren’t more people at these seminars. There were very few people at some of the meetings. I couldn’t understand why until it finally hit me. I have a feeling that people who have real money, the millionaires, are embarrassed to go to a free lunch. The people in my community who have real money are either already taken care of or are too proud to attend.”
Although Bronsteen set out to write his satire about eating free food, one seminar he attended on health care struck a nerve. “I wound up taking out a long-term care policy for my wife. That particular (topic) made sense to me. We’re both seniors. All you need to do is look around at all the people needing health care, and, with health care being so expensive, this one just made sense.”