career

There are two types of people: Those who eat at their desks and those who would never.

Last week I had a few people around for a dinner party.

Towards the end of the evening, our conversation somehow wound up on the topic of eating in the office. My partner, who owns a small business, begun his usual spiel about how food is banned in his workplace. But rather than roll their eyes along with me, several of our guests nodded sagely in approval.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable,” said one with a serious nod. “I hate it when I have clients come into our office, and it stinks like a cafe.”

“Oh, totally!” agreed another. “Go outside! Take your food elsewhere! It’s a big world out there.”

Wait, what?

I listened on in part shock, part amusement as they continued their impassioned banter about food in the office. It seemed that there was some major feelings going on here.

…and I became suddenly and acutely aware of the smell of parmesan wafting from the kitchen.

via GIPHY

I have a confession to make: I am a serial desk eater.

It all begun when I was 18, and I was fired from a reception job with a large property firm for eating a salami sandwich at the front desk. My job was pretty straight forward: sit at the desk, greet clients, answer the phone, and don’t eat sandwiches at the front desk.

It was a lovely office, with this cavernous reception area that echoed every sound, including chewing. It was a Friday, and the reception area was empty. Seizing my opportunity, I carefully unwrapped my sandwich and took a big bite.

By the time I heard the elevator bell ring, it was too late. She was marching over with her high heels clicking on the polished floorboards and before I had time to swallow she was peering down at my crumb-covered face with a look of utter disgust. The best I could do was slink the rest of the sandwich underneath the desk and hope she didn’t mention anything.

Well, she did. I was given my marching orders, and learnt for the first time in my life the seriousness of eating at work.

It really, really p*sses some folks off.

In the years since, I’ve worked for a wild variety of people and places. I’ve worked in retail, fashion, advertising, admin, and banks; each office different from the last.

At some, eating at your desk wasn’t just allowed, it was expected. Encouraged, even. At others, just the hint of a crumb on an otherwise spotless desk was enough to send the office manager into anaphylactic shock.

ADVERTISEMENT

As I write this, I’m staring at a mandarin peel and half-empty cup of tea, as my colleague across the desk polishes off a pear and a tub of yogurt. Oh, and there’s the faintest whiff of tuna in the air from someone’s salad a few hours ago. It goes without saying that this is an eating office.

But I wonder if there are non-desk-eaters in our midst? Silently grinding their teeth as they shoot darting looks to the mandarin peel sitting happily next to my computer.

Just sitting there.

Smelling like mandarin.

Give them half a second of your time, and the non-desk-eaters will seize the opportunity to walk you through their reams of food-free arguments.

It’s unhygienic, they’ll tell you. It’s bad for your digestion, they’ll say. You end up eating more junk, they shriek. It decreases creativity, increases muscle strain, decreases productivity, increases stress…up and down in a terror tale of sticky keyboards and mouldy tupperware.

And they’re not wrong.

Fast Company penned an article called ‘What Successful People Do During Lunch’, and I must say, they present a compelling argument. Getting UP and getting OUT is their motto, pointing out that tax-deductible team lunches are great on the pocket, whilst walking to a venue or just around the block gets the blood moving and your brain working.

Also, it’s ‘free time’ to knock over errands, or catch up on personal projects.

“Thirty minutes might not seem like much, but it adds up,” points out the article. “Do it every workday, and that’s 2.5 hours per week, or 125 a year and—more importantly if you’re running a side business—30 minutes you don’t have to stay up at night to get stuff done.”

Mamamia writer Meri is struggling with the 'no food at your desk' policy. 

There certainly seems to be varying levels of offence when it comes to eating in the office. Some foods, it would seem, are far worse than others. Curries are a big no-no, whilst anything fishy is downright disrespectful.

One of our guests at dinner the other night said that he was hosting a meeting with new clients in his open-plan office, when the smell of bacon wafted in. A colleague was frying bacon on the sandwich maker.

And I'm still deciding whether I find that genius. Or disgusting. Or both.

Tuna, boiled eggs, leftover take-away Indian food, pizza, anything with onion, kimchi and popcorn are the worst offenders, whilst anything messy such as crumbly pastries or peanut-butter toast are sure to infuriate the non-desk-eaters.

ADVERTISEMENT

(Side note: I personally have had to witness a full-blown tantrum with my boyfriend when I tried to eat a ham and tomato croissant in his car. I won't tell you what happened, but he did end up with an entire croissant shoved down his air-conditioning ducts. There is only one way to deal with venue-specific eaters, and that's with an iron fist.)

Do you know what's definitely not OK? Tuna. Tuna at your desk.

So the question remains - where do you draw the line when it comes to food in the office?

Do you publish a full list of banned foods, and wait for the backlash from the various food intolerant individuals who can only eat organic eggs and ocean-fresh salmon chunks? Do you preface all job interviews by asking their thoughts on reheated vindaloo for a Tuesday lunch? Or do you just sit back and hope that general good manners will prevail?

Director of Brisbane deportment school June Dally Watkins, and general fancy person Jodie Bache-McLean reckons we all just need to start being a little more polite.

"It is all just common sense really, we spend at least eight hours a day with our co-workers, let's ensure that we show consideration to one another," she says.

"If your office is small and you do have a passion for pungent food, perhaps find a shady spot outside, take your lunch break and enjoy the peaceful surroundings and enjoy your lunch."

Let's just take a minute to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror and ask: do YOU have a passion for pungent food?

I will end this piece with an anecdote about the dangers of non-office-eaters.

The last time I visited my partner at work, I bought his workmate along a cupcake. Not just any cupcake. An organic, gluten-free, carrot cake cupcake with hand-whipped cream cheese icing.

Feeling very happy with myself, I presented the dear chap with the cake. To my surprise, he wasn't as pleased as I thought he would be. If anything, he seemed rather put out. It was only as I walked out the door that his nervous looks in my partner's direction made sense.

The boss's girlfriend had bought him a cake.

The boss didn't allow cake in the office.

It was the ultimate trap, and me - salami sandwich toting, smelly food rights advocating, mandarin peel leaving me! - was the bad guy. If you're reading this Greg, I'm really sorry.

Who's up for a revenge picnic at my boyfriend's office?