When I recently asked some colleagues about what they missed from office life, the subject of food, communal kitchens and eating at work reared its ugly head.
What we eat at work and how we eat it, are highly charged subjects and there is a divide between the long-suffering sensory defensive and the not-so-silent munchers and odour proliferators.
Whether it’s the smelly curries, tinned fish, boiled eggs, or the loud crunching, snorting and inhaling of food, it seems that some of us have been shaking our heads in disgust while the prime offenders are oblivious. It is possible that they believe (a) we admire them for working without a break or (b) we simply love the aroma of their half day old tuna sandwich.
Then there are the aggravations caused by food and time wasting. In my last office job, I became quite fascinated by a couple of individuals who arrived at work and proceeded to take over the office kitchen to prepare large cooked breakfasts for themselves. This not only caused irritation due to the confronting early morning pong of fried eggs, but also brought complaints about why everyone else was expected to get on with the day’s work, while these people chatted away at the company skillet, as if they were Nigella or Rick Stein.
To be clear, and I think I speak for others here, I do not want to see people eating muesli when I try to make a cup of tea at work. In fact, I don’t want to see anyone eating muesli at any time. And please, I beg you, never enter my office eating an apple. The smell is overpowering, and I cannot concentrate on what you’re saying while I am worrying about where that core will end up.
I once had a long conversation with my colleague, Martin, about the etiquette of banana peel in the office. We had three major items on our agenda. (1) Should colleagues feel free to wander about the office eating bananas; and (2) should they then feel at liberty to leave their discarded banana peel in other people’s bins; and (3) is the wanton scattering of fruit peel and also the leaving of mouldy coffee cups on other people’s desks a human flaw or an open declaration of hostilities? We must have been busy that day.
One of my favourite Martin stories involved his nemesis, who I will call Cliff. One day Martin realised that Cliff was wandering into the office with chips and assorted fried items likes sausage rolls and mini quiches, that could not have been purchased in the only nearby café. Where were these coming from? Martin asked. Cliff proudly boasted of visiting the nearby cemetery and funeral home and helping himself to the caterer’s plates at the wakes of strangers.
On another bad day, Martin watched Cliff, with growing disgust, crunching noisily on a sesame seed topped bread roll over his keyboard. Having lost quite a lot of crumbs and seeds to the keyboard, Cliff then opened the roll halves on his desk, picked up his keyboard, turned it over and bashed it a few times over his bread. Now that I think about it, Cliff has not been seen for some time.
In her wonderful book, 448 Rules for Life, The Thankless Art of Being Correct, comedian Kitty Flanagan comes to the rescue with some handy advice on food in offices.
“Don’t bring your leftover fish curry to work and then heat it up in the office microwave,” writesKitty. “No-one wants to spend the afternoon in the noxious fishy miasma you’ve just recreated. And as for bringing hot chips into the office, that is not just smelly, it’s also mean. Because for the first thirty seconds, hot chips smell delicious and now you’ve made everyone in the office want hot chips. However, pretty soon those hot chips will turn cold and the office will smell like every teenage McDonalds employee when they come home from a shift reeking of cold grease and congealed fat.”
Mercifully, Kitty also provides no nonsense advice on time management and bringing food into meetings. “If you’re so busy that you’re bringing soup to a meeting and slurping it during proceedings, then organise your day better. Either reschedule your meeting or reschedule your soup slurping.”
Where do you stand on these issues? Not bothered? Happy to crunch your apples and heat up your curries, or are you curling up under your desk in a state of sensory defensiveness when someone eats smelly food near you.
I welcome your views on this terribly important workplace subject, as does Martin, even though it’s not his real name.