Office food politics ... Does this look familiar?

Office food politics ... Does this look familiar?

From the social lubricant of the office morning tea, to the unadulterated joy of knowing that it’s almost lunchtime, food provides many of the peaks of the otherwise bland and featureless landscape of the average workday (particularly if you are, like me, extremely gluttonous).  Unfortunately food, or more specifically the food preparation and consumption habits of one’s seemingly normal colleagues, can also provoke many of the workplace’s most heated frustrations.  Herewith is provided some basic guidance for the maintenance of a reasonably positive workplace kitchen environment.  

Rule 1: Don’t steal food. 

If you work with an office food stealer, you have my sincere condolences.   There is very little in life more frustrating than spending all morning looking forward to your delicious sandwich, only to find that someone has liberated it from the fridge and given it a new home in their stomach. 

If you ARE an office food stealer, you also have my sincere condolences.  Clearly you were raised in total isolation from all human contact in the manner of the Jodie Foster movie ‘Nell’, and that cannot have been an easy start in life.  Allow me to offer you the following advice.  If a delicious sandwich is present in a communal fridge, no matter how much you may wish to pounce on it, drag it back to your Gollum cave, unhinge your jaw and swallow it whole, courtesy demands that you refrain.  Consider the possibility of purchasing your own sandwich, an activity that can be imbued with just as much hunter-gatherer satisfaction as pursuing wild game for sport.

Basically, there’s a reason why ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ has the status of commandment rather than gentle suggestion.  If you steal food from an office fridge, at some point you can expect to be smitten with grievous vengeance.  And if you’re the food thief in my office, consider this your fair warning - I have elaborate revenge plans for you, some of which involve a dye cannon and a booby trapped sandwich bag. 

Rule 2: Know that nobody cares about your food allergy

Or more specifically, nobody cares about it enough to listen to you talk about it at length.  I genuinely feel sorry for anyone who cannot know the delights of cake/bread/pasta.  When I offer you a slice of cake at morning tea, and you inform me that you cannot partake due to your gluten-free lifestyle, I feel sad for you in much the same way that I would feel sad for someone with a parking ticket, a tax audit or any other mild to moderate inconvenience.  I also distinguish between those for whom food allergies are a health condition rather than a recreational outlet – as an extremely greedy person I can appreciate that living in a world where your well-being depends on refraining from eating delicious foods must be unutterably frustrating. 

However, my sympathy runs in inverse proportion to the amount of time you spend staring into middle distance and lovingly describing your symptoms.  By the time you’ve hit five minutes telling me about the gastrointestinal havoc my slice of cake would wreak upon you, know this: I will almost certainly be fantasizing about stabbing you in the face with a loaf of sourdough. 

Rule 3: Throw out food once it is no longer fit for human consumption 

It took a truly superhuman amount of effort not to use multiple expletives in writing this, mainly because some of my colleagues are, to put it politely, committed to the preservation of food beyond the point at which it has become a genuine health hazard.  I recently discovered an open can of beans that was so elderly it had sprouted a coating of mould so vigorous that it no longer resembled legumes so much as a tiny Warholian terrarium of grey, moss-covered boulders.  What made it particularly special (and by ‘special’ I mean ‘hair-tearingly aggravating’) was the fact that on top of this sad state of affairs was a Post-it note entreating ‘Please don’t throw me away’.   

While I appreciate the effort put into cheerily anthropomorphizing a can of beans, I struggle to understand the mind of anyone who would devote a Post-it note’s worth of thought to their preservation, only to leave them for long enough that they would become a potential source of botulism.  If you’re not going to eat it, either throw it away or invest in a small bar fridge where you can conduct science experiments to your heart’s content (or at least within the boundaries of Australia’s fairly rigorous prohibitions on the development of biological weapons).   

Rule 4: Clean up after yourself

Rivalled only by office bathroom etiquette as a subject of clip-art festooned passive aggressive notes, kitchen cleanliness appears to be something that everyone agrees on in theory, but some people fail to execute in practice.  It only takes one person to befoul the microwave, leave Weet-Bix crusted bowls in the sink, and generally transform the space from a shared working environment into a foetid university share house. 

I suspect most people already know this, but everybody hates that person.  Don’t be that person.  Clean up your Weet-Bix, wipe the microwave after you use it, and enjoy the quiet satisfaction that comes with knowing that nobody will be cursing your name as they attempt to eat amidst your piles of filth.   

Rule 5: Let your colleagues be in charge of choosing their own food

I’m not sure whether this issue is unique to my office, but we are home to a small yet vigorous cohort dedicated to a crusade against all ‘unhealthy’ foods, a mission which eventually coalesced into an obsessive campaign against the vending machines, those blessed sources of 3pm caffeine and sugar. 

Shockingly, there appears to be a fairly significant Venn diagram intersection between people who have the time and energy to obsess about vending machines, and people who leave the office promptly at 5pm and who therefore have never needed to depend on said vending machines as a source of life-giving carbs while still at the office past dinner time.  If you share this quasi-parental preoccupation with your colleagues’ food choices, allow me to remind you that your colleagues are adults (unless you work for an employer where the presence of vending machines is unlikely to be the most troubling issue).  They can choose for themselves whether they would like to consume the occasional caffeinated soft drink without your assistance.

These are by no means the only food etiquette norms about which I feel strongly (believe me, I have a LOT of feelings about people who consume tuna at their desks then breathe their cat food breath into my work space, to name but one).  However, if we all at a bare minimum follow these basic rules, we can devote more energy to the positive side of workplace food culture, like competing in charity bakeoffs, and obsessively trying to reverse engineer Janine’s apricot cheesecake recipe.