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July 13, 2010

Food politics at the office

Indian foodBack when Sheila Dixon was still mayor and the Twitter feed FakeSheilaDixon was on a roll, there was a particularly amusing post that touched on a topic hotter than a pair of ill-gotten Jimmy Choos: office food politics.

"Someone should tell [Deputy Mayor] Andy Frank to cool it with the Indian leftovers in the microwave," FakeSheilaDixon wrote last fall.

I checked with the deputy mayor at the time to find out if he really was stinking up the second floor of City Hall with reheated tikka masala. Frank copped to eating Indian but said he'd never reheated it at the office, much less in the mayoral microwave.

The FakeTikkaMasala matter came to mind today when an editor floated the idea of a story about eating in the office.

There are issues beyond unwelcome aromas wafting from the next cubicle.

People feeling the need to slip out to their cars, for example, so they can eat junk food out of sight from disapproving colleagues. Or co-workers hogging the office fridge with their haul from the lunch-hour farmers' market.

Years ago, when I was at The Hartford Courant, there was a heated battle in one of the suburban bureaus over the contents of the vending machines. Some reporters wanted it stocked only with healthful offerings, while others insisted the chips and candy bars should remain. (I was in another bureau and can't remember which side won out, the nutrition Nazis who didn't trust their own willpower or the junk food junkies.)

If you have any sticky office-food issues -- sticky keyboards included -- I'm all ears. 

Sun file photo of the Indian food Andy Frank did not heat up in Mayor Sheila Dixon's microwave

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 1:59 PM | | Comments (26)


My coworkers routinely remark on the high sodium content of my Lean Cuisine or Weight Watchers meals. "Don't you know how bad for you all that sodium is?" they scoff. Then, they proceed to eat a bacon cheeseburger and French fries. A note to my colleagues: Just because the cheeseburger does not come in a box with nutritional information on it DOES NOT MEAN IT IS HEALTHY. This near-daily exchange kills me. It really does.

That's funny, KB. I'd like to ask you something by e-mail. Will you message me at LV

Hey you 2, no secrets around here...

I just want to see if KB will consent to being interviewed -- no names, naturally. LV

Our office is relatively small (14 people) so the biggest food issues here happen when a few people (4 or 5) get together to order a pizza or subs or chinese, etc. There is inevitably a group who feels "left out" and then retaliates a few days later by asking EVERYONE in the office except the 4 or 5 who ordered pizza.

There is one too-nice person who always gets stuck ordering, picking up and carrying back 14 sandwiches because she is afraid to hurt anyone's feelings.

Grow up people.

Someone here at The Sun was just grumbling about those who forget their half-eaten lunches in the fridge, leaving it to turn to compost. And those who bring in a week's worth of lunches, hogging lots of fridge space.

I feel intimidated by my cubiclemate, John-John Williams IV, because he's an A-list chef with a catering business on the side. I'm always afraid my lunches won't compare to his lunches. Food fear!

Food envy is natural, Sam. I'm used to it. LOL. I think you've been doing pretty good the last couple of weeks. At least I haven't seen you eating cheese sandwiches.

Well, you've got this giant Whole Foods bag with half a picnic in it. It's intimidating. However, I'll bet you can't whip up a batch of indian food like my in-laws.

Being in a particularly international department, in a particularly international place like Hopkins - one gets used to various pungent ethnic cuisines getting reheated at all hours. Indian, Latin, Asian - it's a veritable food court.

And we're not talking carryout or buffet. We're talking homemade, with ingredients shipped from mom from the home country. Stuff that you can't find here, for whatever trade, tariff, or ethical reasons.

For pure nose-pinching gall, nothing can beat the predominantly Chinese labs (there are more than a few), who think nothing of nuking extra-fishy fish leftovers in public, one right after another.

My office tried the healthy vending machine (actually, it offered more natural foods than healthy ones, as cane sugar cola can probably only be considered healthy if it is used to snap somone out of a diabetic shock.)

Anyway, I never saw a single person buy anything from the machine, and after a few months it vanished. The traditional vending machines featuring Coke, Pepsi, Ho Hos and Skittles remain.

The healthy or natural vending machine is a lot like a club that features live jazz. Everyone says it would be great to have one around, but no one will actually patronize one.

Hey, RoCK--I was just thinking it had been too long since we heard from you. Your comments are well taken.

I just wish people would learn how to use the toaster oven. I'm sick of smelling burnt toast.

And really, how hard is it to stand by the microwave when you're popping popcorn to make sure it doesnt burn.

And really, how hard is it to stand by the microwave when you're popping popcorn to make sure it doesnt burn.

I remember about 5 or 6 years ago at The Sun someone abducted a young lady's lunch. She was in somehwat of an IT related position and decided to send an email to baltsun_all about her refrigerator theft experience.

I can only imagine a few hundred folks at Sun park constructing the paper reading a rant from some unfortunate soul on Calvert st. It was something to laugh at @ happy hours for months to come.

Burnt microwave popcorn should be punishable as a hate crime.

I too remember the company-wide email at The Sun about the stolen lunch. Can't blame her but it was pretty funny to read that email...

Where I now work, we run into the freezer over crowding issue. People bring in their frozen meals for the week (or maybe multiple weeks) which leaves those of us with one or two meals no space left! It's pretty annoying. And all the super huge lunch totes in the fridge are a little nutty too when you just have a little tupperware container to squeeze in there....

I've noticed that in some brands, the "diet" frozen dinners have a higher sodium content then their "regular" counterparts. I usually just buy the "regular" dinners that are lower in salt though they have a higher fat content. I figure I'll just have to work out a little extra that day.

Something that makes me absolutely crazy is the compulsive need that people have to comment on what I am eating while I am at my desk. I am not a huge breakfast food person and will often eat last night's leftovers for breakfast. Every day, without fail, someone will walk past and say "oh, what have you got there? Ew, for breakfsst? That is gross!" I think it is so incredibly rude, not only are you giving me an unwanted opinion about something that is none of your business, but then you are insulting me on top of it! And I am not talking about something smelly or yak-worthy, it could be as simple as a Nutella sandwich or cold leftover steak. It infuriates me!

I have a serious food allergy. I'm allergic to all mammals milk. When a co-worker popped butter popcorn in the microwave right outside my office my throat started to close. I wasn't in EpiPen territory but it was a little scary. I can't even walk through the cheese section at Whole Foods without issue.

Ruby - I always eat dinner leftovers for breakfast. I can understand your frustration about such rude comments.

AI, I can relate (sort of). The smell of popcorn upsets my stomach and gives me a headache. Now I realize that that is not life-threatening like your situation, but it does make for a miserable day at the office when that is the most popular snack of choice!

Thanks NotableM, I appreciate the empathy! I'm glad to know that there are more of us out there!

@Ruby - steak in the morning is AWESOME.

Actually, some of that microwave popcorn could trigger some serious health concerns. I think there is something called "popcorn lung" or something along those lines among people who work in manufacturing the stuff.
It's not real butter, people!

I refuse to put my lunch box in the fridge at work. I use an insulated lunchbag with a freezer thingie to keep it cold. I just wish that some of my co-workers would wash their dishes when they are done and not leave them in the sink, And for God's sake, people either wash the toaster oven tray after you use it or bring in some foil - that thing is disgusting!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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