"Smelly food in the office isn't the problem. You are."

We’ve all been there: we’ve brought the most amazing leftovers for lunch to work. We hit the microwave at 12pm to re-heat it and then eat it.

But… someone comes along to kill our food buzz.

“Oh my god!” they exclaim.

“What is that? Is that curry? Is that fishhhh?”

Is that food releasing a poisonous toxic lethal gas that will infiltrate our lungs and kill us all after it’s inconvenienced us for about three minutes???

Next thing you know, there’s a passive-aggressive note on the microwave about smelly foods tainting other people’s lunches, or an email to the entire department outlining courtesy and respect for your colleagues by not bringing food that distracts them or makes them nauseous.

Or envious.

It’s a situation that occurs daily in all offices around the world. But smelly food in the office is a major First World problem and we need to get over it.

Can you imagine these conversations happening in Developing nations? Where even office workers earning decent wages are so precious about the smell of food that they spend time berating their colleagues about their tuna sandwich?

Um, no.

Because in those countries, food isn’t taken for granted – not in the way we approach it in countries such as Australia, where it’s easily accessible to most of us, and many of us believe it’s our god-given right to enjoy perfect eating experiences – even at the office, a space that we share with other people.


I think it’s time we acknowledged that complaining about food that happens to have a scent that we don’t like is a privilege most of the world’s population doesn’t have.

That’s right: this is the equivalent of your mum saying “Eat your dinner because there are starving children in the world.” It’s the same rationale, but for apparently grown up people.

I’m guilting you into letting people enjoy their food. And I’m applying it to everything: blue cheese. Onion and garlic. Spices. Fast food.

Just get on with your own lunch, life and/or job.

Because if you really break it down, this repeated issue is simply about imposing our tastes and preference on what other people are validly putting in their bodies (as opposed to cigarette smoke, for example, which is harmful to everyone). So instead of asking people to be considerate and not bring in food that may offend someone else’s nose, perhaps the onus should be on those who insist on proclaiming their disgust to basically zip their lips.

If there’s an allergy, you need to speak up. If there’s someone who’s cooking steak on the sandwich press, they need to pull their heads in. Karen from accounting reheating her cottage pie without cleaning up the splatter definitely needs to be addressed.

Otherwise, just put a peg on your nose, and if needed, your mouth – and let other people eat their lunch in peace.

Jessie Stephens has a list of rules for everyone in an open plan office. She shares her feelings, on Mamamia Out Loud.