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July 21, 2003
Workplace Gastronomical Rapacity
I am utterly convinced that humans will eat just about anything for any one of a number of reasons. In some cases, severe and/or prolonged hunger will make you eat just about anything edible, and even some things that aren't. In other cases, you'll eat what you ate growing up following cultural lines, even if someone halfway around the world would only eat what you do on a dare or in front of millions of TV viewers for a cash prize. There are documented cases of people eating things they should not, which is actually the result of a natural instinct designed to provide nutrient intake that has gone awry. Of course, the biggest reason we'll eat something is simply because it's there.
It is my belief that if you have any food in your house that you need to get rid of, the most efficient way to do so is simply take said foodstuff into the office with you the next day. Those of you working in an office setting will know what I'm talking about - if any food shows up that is free, it is quickly consumed no matter what food it is and what time of day it is put out. I myself have participated in both sides of the equation. I've eaten layered sour cream and cheese nacho dip at 10am, and I have also disposed of some less than admirable liqueur chocolates simply by leaving them out in the morning by the coffee machine. Most were gone well before noon.
Recently this phenomenon delivered a personal low. I work in a very multi-ethnic company that has a significant minority of Japanese men. Whether the ravenous office phenomenon is global or they simply picked up on the omnivorous collective appetite here in North America, one of them brought in an obviously Japanese concoction and left it by the coffee machine to be consumed. I will fully admit to regularly being an active participant in workplace gluttony, but in this instance even I had to pass.
Lying there on the table was an open box, about the size of a large chocolates assortment, with approximately 30 items neatly arranged in rows. The box itself was completely blank, so it offered no clues as to what the items therein were. All I knew was that they were bright pink, looked somewhat like dried figs, and had a powdered substance on them. Even for a gastronomically abusive veteran like me, that is simply not enough information to commit to putting something pink down my throat, regardless of time of day.
Of course, there are others in the office that are less discriminating about what and when they eat. Not long after my encounter with the "food" I saw someone walk past my desk with a half-eaten pink blob in hand. I made some cautionary comment about "not eating anything that pink", and was reassured that whatever these pink things were, they were filled with chocolate. Chocolate? Mmm - chocolate. Somehow, that single detail was enough information for me. Next time I passed by, I took one.
I can only describe what I ate by telling you that it was squishy, gelatinous, covered in cornstarch as to not adhere to one's fingers, and filled with a gooey chocolate filling. Even as I found the first one simultaneously disturbing and tasty, I ended up having a second one later in the morning. If eating a bright pink squishy unknown Japanese confection well before lunch isn't a culinary low, then eating two must be. I honestly felt ashamed of myself for having caved in.
Why is office food so damned tempting? It's certainly not because it's inherently good, or even good for us. Perhaps our almost dormant hunter-gatherer instinct kicks in when we see a large cache of calories on display free for the taking, and we simply have to make the best of a good situation and bulk up for the long winter or rainy season ahead. My personal hypothesis is much simpler: we're all simply closet gluttons that surface quickly in the presence of free food. I would never normally eat something like nachos and dip or pink gelatinous chocolate goo-filled balls at home a few hours after breakfast. Whatever the cause or source of this drive, it's powerful.
No matter the reason why it happens, this experience with pink unknown foodstuffs has opened my eyes. I now recognize the fact that I am a willing, eager, and even frequent participant in office food consumption. As they say, knowing you have a problem is the first step in solving it. I'm certainly not underweight, so it's hard for me to justify eating food I find lying about the workplace on any sort of dietary basis. Now that I've actually felt shame for going too far for my own liking, perhaps I'll be able to turn a new leaf and Just Say No.
Of course, that's not going to stop me from taking advantage of my co-workers' appetites when and if I have something that needs to be consumed by someone other than myself. Gourmand emptor!
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