should our office have a policy on healthy eating at work?

A reader writes:

I’m curious about how to institute a workplace healthy eating policy that is respectful and non-judgmental.

The background: I work for a health charity that focuses on a single chronic disease. Our regional office in particular is on the west coast and is a little hyper-aware of being healthy leaders. We don’t have an official policy about food in the workplace, but some in our office take it upon themselves to be health-conscious about the food choices that we make personally and especially when we spend the office budget on any food items and catering. (As a side note, there seems to be always booze at our events.) There have been complaints before about the junk food, soda, and fast food that people bring back to the office and the worry is about optics. But also there is the frustration that some feel that we’re betraying our mission and aren’t leading by example.

A few coworkers feel very strongly that we need a policy about it. They run a program that covers healthy eating and cooking so they are extra sensitive to the optics of our office when it comes to food, and they feel resentful for having to police people about food.

I personally don’t feel like we need a policy at all. It makes me resentful that my food choices are measured against some code of conduct. I also question how it’s going to be implemented and enforced by HR, if at all. But I feel caught in the middle. I’m big on respecting people’s boundaries and personal choices. In my mind, there is a clear distinction between spending our organization’s money on unhealthy food and spending my own income on it. But the line gets blurred when I get criticized for bringing back an unhealthy lunch during office hours. I don’t think there is ever any good that can come out of commenting on other people’s food. We have regular volunteers too who come in and bring tons of treats all the time. Some of their lunches also wouldn’t be accepted as healthy. Our executive team is also notorious for habits like asking for cupcakes during catered lunch meetings, and generally there isn’t buy-in from the top that we should be living our “brand” of healthy living.

We just had a staff meeting this morning, and one program manager was vocal that we need people to stop bringing in cupcakes and cookies for celebrations and make better choices, and it’s about making better decisions to “live our brand.” She’s frustrated that she has to even explain the need for an internal food policy, and that we should already be living our healthiest selves.

Do you have any suggestions on how to start a workplace policy that doesn’t alienate people or make people feel ostracized and is actually effective?

Well, first, if there isn’t buy-in from the top of the organization, you probably don’t have standing to do this at all. That’s a policy that your senior leadership needs to be on board with — and if they’re asking for cupcakes at lunch meetings, that’s probably not going to happen.

But even aside from that, most organizations shouldn’t be policing what people eat.

That’s not to say that it’s never reasonable to set some boundaries based on your mission. It’s reasonable for PETA, for example, not to allow animal products in its offices because its entire mission is about stopping the use of animal products. And it would be reasonable for your organization to decide that it was only going to serve healthy food at organization-sponsored events, and even to only offer healthy snacks in the office’s vending machines, or not to have soda machines on-site. And it would be reasonable for an organization like yours to say that people shouldn’t eat unhealthy foods while representing the organization to volunteers or the public.

But a health charity telling employees what they can and can’t pack for lunch seems like an overreach. And who’s going to be the judge anyway? Is the organization going to say that a sandwich is fine if it’s on wheat bread but not if it’s on white bread? Are you just going to ban chips and desserts? How are you going to adjudicate the conflicting info about, say, paleo diets versus vegetarian diets? What about vegetarian versus vegan? There’s plenty of research showing eating meat leads to cancer, stroke, and heart disease — will you ban meat on office premises? Where exactly would you draw the line, and (as you ask) how will you enforce it?

You’re hiring adults, and you’re presumably hiring them for the work they do, not for the food they ingest. You should trust those adults to manage their own food choices.

I do think there’s a middle ground here, though, and it’s to make healthy food available. Find caterers with healthy options for work events. Put fruit in the break room. Bring in healthy lunches for everyone every Friday. And yes, talk about what foods the organization will and won’t spend money on; that’s a logical place for the org’s stances to play out.

But let your employees decide for themselves what goes in their mouths.

{ 1,047 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Yrsa

    Who’s deciding what’s healthy, and based on what criteria? Different people have different health needs. My doctor has instructed me to eat more red meat than I currently do. That’s not good advice for a lot of people, but my cholesterol is normal and my iron is crap, so it’s good advice for me. It is profoundly Not The Employer’s Job to police this stuff. Do not do not do not

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    1. Fictional Butt

      Yep. Last summer I had super low blood pressure and was instructed to eat a bag of salty chips every day. I’m guessing that wouldn’t fly in this office.

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      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Friend of mine has super low blood pressure and very little sense of taste; I can’t eat anything he cooks because the salt levels are physically painful.

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        1. FiveWheels

          Same! “Healthy” levels of salt would leave me with crashing blood pressure and horrific muscles cramps that completely incapacitate me.

          That said, if my reason for lots of salt was just I really like salt, that’s just as valid and absurd that another adult would think they have a right to restrict it.

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      2. Just Another Techie

        Same here! My doctor was thrilled when my blood pressure hit 100/60 because it meant I wasn’t fainting multiple times a week. And when I had to give up caffeine when I got pregnant (I know, lots of recommendations say moderate caffeine is safe, but for my particular situation my doc recommended going cold turkey) my blood pressure plummeted again. It was really scary actually, and you bet, I was adding salt to ev.e.ry.thing.

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      3. DCGirl

        I have a friend who experienced low blood pressure after surgery for a kidney transplant and was told to eat potato chips. If it’s good enough for someone like her, no workplace has a right to judge her for it.

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    2. Antilles

      Who’s deciding what’s healthy, and based on what criteria?
      Given that scientists, doctors and dietitians often aren’t entirely sure about general criteria for ‘healthy eating’, I certainly don’t think a company and boss (who presumably *aren’t* medical experts) should try to wade into these waters.

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      1. Mike C.

        Seriously. I hate hate hate it so much when someone in middle management does this, but doesn’t have the background in that field to know what good data looks like.

        When I can google a massive metastudy from the National Academy of Sciences in five minutes countering the policy you just created, you’ve seriously screwed up.

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      2. The Strand

        Thank you for saying this! Doctors as a group do not have adequate training in nutritional topics. (This isn’t just my opinion: it is accepted as a major drawback in modern medicine.) They simply have too many other things to cover when they’re in medical school, and schools are still struggling to integrate it into their training.

        And there are legitimate nutrition experts who disagree vehemently over the same criteria – and I’m not talking about a personal trainer who read a few books on nutrition, but nutritional scientists who have written dissertations and spent years on studies.

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        1. Anonymoose

          We just had a dietician give a presentation at work as part of an all day health ‘retreat’. I was SHOCKED when most of our questions were responded simply with ‘eh, it’s fine in moderation’, without taking into account anybody’s personal history. So, even professional dietitians don’t get it right. Why would I trust my boss when she has exceedingly less experience to judge a good diet? This across the board policy idea is absolutely absurd.

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          1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

            “It’s fine in moderation” is actually a pretty good attitude and one that my dietitian (and many other) holds. There can obviously be more instruction depending on medical history and such, but overall, that is actually one of the healthier attitudes to have about food as a whole. How much of each individual’s background was the RD supposed to go into if it was just a general presentation?

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          2. Zombii

            To be fair, the dietitian was giving a presentation as part of a health retreat, not treating everyone who attended that retreat individually as a patient. If you went to a dietitian as a patient and they gave general advice without getting any background information or medical history, that would be hugely problematic. This was not that.

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      3. the snide one

        My doc recommends the Mediterranean diet. I’d be asking for the wine chiller for my bottles of red, microwaving fish in the break room, and stocking up on dark chocolate – medically approved!

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      4. Julia

        Right? I had a doctor tell me to “eat a steak” – I was at a healthy weight (how I miss that) and my iron levels were pretty good for a vegetarian, while he looked 15 months pregnant, which probably isn’t healthy. So not even doctors give good advice 100% of the time.

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      1. Amber T

        I had this exact argument with my coworker. I try to follow a specific macro diet (reach certain levels of protein, fat, and carbs a day). What I discovered (specifically for ME) is that I overindulge in carbs and was usually quite under protein and a bit on fat. So I started having eggs and cheese for breakfast. When said coworker offered me his granola, and I turned it down because carbs are too easy for me and I had already eaten, he tried to scold me for eating two eggs because “eggs are so bad! They’re so full of fat! And cheese!” He tried to follow up with me a few times during the day (after I walked out of that conversation), including trying to shame me in front of other coworkers (who mostly had the reaction of, “what is he talking about?”) until I put my foot down and told him outright that what I choose to eat is none of his concern, and that the next time he brought up my food choices, I would be going straight to his manager. Fortunately he backed off on that one front, unfortunately he’s still the world’s most annoying coworker for a variety of reasons. (Fun fact, when telling a friend outside my company ridiculous stories about him, we use the codename Fergus!)

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        1. Faith2014

          I’m a primal eater and love my eggs, cheese, and meat. I stay away from unhealthy carbs and focus instead on veggies. Anyone “correcting” me would get an earful.

          Now, I restrict my chattering about my diet because there are a lot of pros and cons to any eating approach. And I’m sure some of it is genetic. But people who think they know it all food-wise irk me no end.

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        2. azvlr

          I’m reading in your reaction years of listening to Alison. In other words, you are internalizing her advice to others and therefore not having to write in for advice! I like to think she has a significant impact on how I conduct myself in the workplace (and in some relationships), as well.

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          1. Amber T

            Haha I’ve been an avid reader for about a year now. I’ve definitely stopped and thought, “what would Alison do?” multiple times, whether it’s about a problematic coworker (Fergus…), how to ask for more/less responsibilities, how to negotiate. I bounce ideas off another friend (who introduced me to the blog in the first place), and whenever we ask each other for work advice, it always starts with “well, Alison would probably say…”

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            1. Anonymoose

              Oh, Fergus, that little scamp!

              (also, me too = ‘What Would Alison Do?’ and usually I find it to be a good/healthy practice as it has lowered my immediate response to freak out in most circumstances.)

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              1. QuestionSubmitter

                @azvlr – Not sure if that comment was for me or someone else, but if it’s me I am DEFINITELY taking it as a compliment! Like Amber T and Anonymoose, I’ve been an avid reader and many occasions I’ve busted out the mental exercise of “What Would Alison Do” as well.

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          1. Anonymoose

            But it’s so good (as I sit here literally eating granola straight from the bag at my desk. Nom nom nom. ;) )

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    3. ali

      Exactly this. I need red meat for iron, and I can’t eat wheat bread but I can eat white. “Healthy” to one person can be deadly to another.

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    4. Moon Elf Tempest Cleric

      Yes, I was recently advised to gain weight for health reasons and would be really upset if I suddenly had to bring in super low-cal lunches.

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      1. Arjay

        Yes, we just had a discount at a local eatery negotiated as a perk for “healthy eating.” The items eligible for the discount are all based on calorie count. I really wish they’d call it what it is, a discount on meals that meet these low(er)-calorie counts, and not brand it as “healthy.”

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        1. Ros

          Especially since many “low calorie” options just replace fat with sugar, which leads to a lovely sugar low about 2 hours after eating, but it’s lower in calories so must be better… somehow?? Argh.

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    5. Lala

      Exactly! My husband has Crohn’s, and there are tons of food that people consider “healthy” that are huge food triggers for him: grapes, bell peppers, a lot of other raw fruits/veggies. They’re the OPPOSITE of healthy for him. He also can’t have foods that are overly processed. My grandfather’s doctor told him he needed *more* salt in his diet, not less. My brother has to avoid spinach and peanuts because he’s prone to kidney stones–he actually got kidney stones after a year of trying to be healthier by adding more nuts and greens to his diet.

      People are individuals. Healthy is not the same for everyone.

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      1. ThursdaysGeek

        Your last point is especially true, even when people have the same disease.

        My SIL has Crohn’s and she can’t eat gluten. A friend has Crohn’s and loves bread and veggies (including peppers), but can’t eat any dairy or meat. Our bodies are as individual as we are.

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      2. MsEsq

        Just wanted to say – I have chronic kidney stones, so I have to avoid nuts/dark greens/soy products, and I seem to never avoid having people comment on this, like, “but nuts are sooo healthy!” Which is another way to agree, healthy is completely individual. There would be no way to have policy that could encompass everyone!

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        1. Gadfly

          My husband has been a vegetarian for 35 years, never drinks, and gets gout. Bad gout. Telling him to lay off the bacon and beer doesn’t help him. He actually has to watch out for raisins and certain cheeses and beans when he starts to feel gouty. He just responds that much to purines.

          A former co-worker boss ate a lot of baby cookies after surgery from stomach cancer–it literally was all she could digest other than some special medical meal pouches.

          Every body is a little different.

          It also ignores a lot of other non-body health measures. If something non-“healthy” soothes me, and makes me happy, why not count it for my mental health? If someone has a condition where texture is an issue, or consistency, they may have very limited diets consisting mostly of heavily processed foods. All calories are good calories if you can hardly eat.

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      3. Ramblin' Ma'am

        Very true. My mom had a flare-up of diverticulitis in her 50s and for the rest of her life she reacted really badly to raw veggies/salads/etc. “Bad” foods like processed white bread or pasta were much better for her.

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        1. Anonymoose

          That sounds just like my MIL too. You will never see her eating any fruit, unless it’s super processed like a jam or something. But butter, meat and pasta? She’s all over it, bless her heart!

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      4. RKB

        I have Crohn’s and had my bowel resected in 2012. I cannot eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, or anything too high fibre. Whatever is healthy for me might not be what’s considered generally healthy.

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    6. Fishcakes

      Exactly. And people have very different personal views of what is “healthy.” Quite a bit of the unwanted dietary advice I get is based on common myths, pop-nutrition, or somebody’s naturopath.

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    7. MMDD

      Exactly. We have several food allergies and sensitivities in our home so what’s healthy for others is not necessarily healthy for us. Those sensitivities do in fact include several fruits and vegetables, and with the amount of work that goes into our meal planning and prep around these restrictions, I would be seething if someone tried to tell me my work lunch (!!) wasn’t up to my employer’s standards and then possibly discipline me for it. Oh no. No no no. I would become a problem employee very quickly.

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    8. Kate

      This! I have hypoglycemia, and as such every meal I eat has to be protein heavy. I get the feeling people in OP’s office would take one look at my typical lunch, with three types of protein and *maybe* a piece of fruit and start food shaming me. At which point I would begin explaining my diet, at top volume, and conclude with “and that’s why you ignorant judgmental jerks who think you are doctors are wrong”. And then I would probably get fired.

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    9. Elizabeth H.

      To be fair, I totally understand all of these concerns but surely there are some food items that every reasonable adult who was aware of the most basic principles of nutrition would identify as not conducive to human health. For example, Twinkies. Skittles. Cheez whiz. I feel like you can draw a line around such items without getting into whether eggs or red meat or wheat are bad for you and the difference between types of diets like paleo or high carb low fat or whatever. I think a lot of people who care about nutrition and healthy eating can reasonably degree about whether they think eating animal products or carbohydrates is worse for you, for example, but a lot of people would agree that at a minimum, stuff like Little Debbie snack cakes aren’t healthy.

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      1. Just_Dixie

        Agreed, but regardless of whether or not something truly is or is not healthy, I certainly don’t want my employer policing my food choices, ever! No, no no!

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      2. Pebbles

        So what? I just had a Twinkie with my salad for lunch. A banana Twinkie! I love these things and frankly I don’t care that it could sit on the shelf until doomsday and still be edible. I’ve also consumed a homemade fruit smoothie for breakfast and last night was grilled chicken skewers and brown rice for dinner with fresh strawberries for dessert. The point, that many people here are making, is that even unhealthy foods can have a place in our diet without completely upsetting a healthy lifestyle, and it’s nobody else’s business. People should be free to enjoy the foods that they enjoy without having someone else tsk at them.

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        1. Elizabeth H.

          I agree completely that unhealthy foods can have a place in one’s diet without completely or even minimally upsetting a healthy lifestyle! I couldn’t agree more. Even if someone has a generally unhealthy lifestyle that includes eating Twinkies, as opposed to a healthy lifestyle that includes eating Twinkies, that’s 100% your prerogative.

          However where the difference comes in I think is that you can do that on your own time and not necessarily at work. It’s like if you work for a vegan organization that only wants vegan food in the workplace bc it reinforces their image and mission. Or if you are an executive for J Crew and they want you to wear J Crew clothes when you go to networking meetings so that you project the brand image. You can wear whatever you want when you’re not at work or in a situation where you are representing your work place. Similarly with food.

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          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Your nutritional needs don’t change when you’re at work. Someone who can’t eat leafy greens, nuts, etc, or who needs to eat red meat or high-salt foods is still going to need those things.

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          2. MsCHX

            I have to disagree. Sustenance isn’t anywhere near in the same league as clothing. Almost everyone has their clothing “policed” in a way at work.

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          3. Pebbles

            See I don’t see clothes and food at all similar. What an employer requires you to wear is not going to affect your well-being (economics aside, I’m hoping if there’s a specific uniform that the company is going to provide it or make it affordable). Clothing is what everyone will see constantly during your work shift. Hardly anyone to no one will know what you are eating during your 30-minute lunch break (unless you microwave fish!). Food is something that regulates how our bodies function and as many commenters have already noted affects our well-being even to a life-and-death point.

            And no, I’m not trying to argue that Twinkies do that for me, but at what point does this initiative reach the ridiculous level? Pretty quickly I think if the company designates someone as the food monitor and everyone has to open up their lunch bag before they can eat anything. Or the company relies on everyone to “tattle” on each other which is a huge hit for morale and being able to work with others effectively.

            Leave people to adult for themselves.

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          4. Jessie the First (or second)

            Clothes do not affect your health (unless I suppose you go to the Arctic in a bikini). But food does. Food is so, so, so tied to your health. So a policy about only eating “healthy” at work FAILS. Because what is healthy for me – based on my weight, my specific health conditions, my health risks – is going to be different than what is healthy for YOU.

            Some people need high calorie diets. Some people need low calorie diets. Some people need low sodium, others need high. Some cannot eat wheat, some need extra iron, some need extra calcium, some need no dairy, some need no citrus, or no tomato, or a million other combinations.

            My work does not get to decide what is healthy for me to eat and then require that I eat that way. They don’t know my health history and conditions.

            Comparing requiring making employees wear a particular clothing brand to requiring employees to eat “healthy” as a blanket rule is so wrong-headed I have run out of ways to say it. Health isn’t achieved by conforming to a blanket one-size-fits-all diet. And hey, while we are at it, labeling foods “good” and “bad” is bad policy because it feeds into eating disorder thinking, on top of everything else.

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          5. Liv

            If my employer told me to eat ANY food “on my own time,” I would be documenting and reporting it as discrimination and demanding a written apology.

            What exactly are they going to do to police it, anyway? Snatch it off me? Make me vomit it up? Fire me for eating a chocolate? Hellooooo lawsuit!

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        2. Optimistic Prime

          They make banana Twinkies?!

          (Also, it’s a myth that Twinkies don’t go bad. They actually have a shelf life of about 45 days.)

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        1. Hotstreak

          Nobodies. But if the company is providing food for meetings, the break room, catering events, etc., it’s reasonable for them to say “We’re no longer spending company funds on Candy, Snack Cakes, or Donuts. Instead we will provide fruit and veggie snack trays, mini sandwiches, and mixed nuts.” Such an approach would obviously exclude some people, just like the existing approach excludes some people. As long as you are still allowed to bring in your own food to eat for lunch or at your desk I don’t see an issue.

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          1. Yomi

            I just want to point out that I think it makes perfect sense for the company to say that their catered events will be catered with food that is good for people who are dealing with the particular health issue they are all about. “When we order catering, we don’t order soda, we get sparkling water” or whatever is the new hotness these days.

            It’s having a policy that has anything to do with what I bring from home for me personally to eat on my breaks/lunch that’s a problem for me. You don’t need a medical excuse to have a soda, but I’ve known so many diabetics that keep soda around specifically because of how quickly it can bring up your blood sugar. You can’t tell employees how to actually live their lives. You can say what type of events your company will present and pay for.

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      3. OhNo

        I’m just going to call out one of your examples: skittles. Did you know that skittles are often suggested as a good way to treat blood sugar dips for people with Type 1 diabetes? For all you know, the OP’s office could ban skittles and leave a diabetic employee without their go-to emergency measure.

        Just because you think something is universally considered unhealthy doesn’t make it so. Everything has a time and place. If the OP’s office really wants to focus on healthy eating, they should be preaching moderation, not banishment.

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        1. Hotstreak

          In your example, the diabetic should have their own supply of medical emergency food. Certainly the entire office does not need to eat skittles because this one person occasionally needs to eat them. Why would they give something that’s not even close to optimal for 98% of their employees to satisfy the 2% with special conditions, instead of the other way around?

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          1. Steph B

            But the original question was on creating a policy that limits what employees can bring in their own lunch bag / eat in the office. OhNo’s example shows how banning even candy is fraught with potential risks for a employee’s personal health.

            My husband is Type 1. He was working with his current employer for over 2 years before anyone even knew that he was diabetic, and it was after a hypoglycemic episode.

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          2. The Strand

            But OhNo referred to food being “banned”. (This column has included letters where people were banned from bringing certain types of personal foods for eating at their desk or during lunch time. The letter writer says her colleagues are “resentful” about having to “police” personal food choices of their colleagues – not just what’s being offered in vending or catering.)
            Does the diabetic has to reveal their condition, in order to be able to bring some food in that’s on the ban list?

            The kind of free food an office might offer =/= the kind of food a person might personally bring in for themselves. Either can be subject to a ban.

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          3. Optimistic Prime

            Because the person in the 2% could die without it, whereas no one in the 98% is going to die from occasionally eating Skittles?

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        2. Annabelle

          I think OhNo was trying to say they shouldn’t outright ban skittles, rather than refusing to provide them. As in, it’s cool if the company doesn’t want to pay for that stuff. But it’s crappy if they refuse to let people bring candy, snack cakes, etc. to work from home.

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      4. The Strand

        For some people who do deal with disordered eating, attempting to completely eliminate a food or characterizing food as “bad” or “good” can actually lead to more problems. I am fine with vending machines offering better choices (I am annoyed that my healthcare employer doesn’t stock options that are better for a variety of eaters, actually). But other than that I don’t think it’s appropriate to completely avoid or ban certain classes of food.

        When one of my friends went into treatment for anorexia, it was because she had overreacted to a family meal with an ingredient that she felt was “bad”. I also shared living space with a bulimic who would get up in the middle of the night and eat all the “bad” food, then purge.

        Little Debbie snack cakes and Coca-Cola aren’t the most nutritious thing you can eat, but I’m sure they could be very valuable to a person having a hypoglycemic episode.

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        1. Elizabeth H.

          But if you knew you were hypoglycemic and needed to have high sugar snacks on hand, clearly you are planning ahead in some way so you could plan to bring a “healthier” food that had the same amount of quick digesting glucose or whatever necessary property is. There isn’t a magical property that only Coke or convenience store oatmeal pies have.

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          1. Kate

            As a hypoglycemic, I gotta say, this is really unrealistic. Life happens. Your car breaks down, you have to walk to a gas station, your whole meal plan is now off. You are going to have to figure out how and where (and with what money) to get the extra food you now need. Or the elevator breaks down.

            I keep an emergency Nutrigrain bar in my person. Sometimes I have given it away to someone who needed it and then run into an emergency myself.

            Sometimes a hypoglycemic person will forget their lunch on the bus, and work in a big industrial park with only fast food chains. I actually had a shift that ran long unexpectedly once, my job then was really physical. By the end of it I was in trouble. I stumbled up to the store I worked in and by dragging some change from the depths of my purse I was able to buy salted peanuts. The protein from those saw me safely home for the 45 minute bus ride I had to take.

            I have to be super aware of where food sources are, if I have my lunch, and when I am going to get to eat. Banning junk food is not only unrealistic, in terms of who decides what junk is, it is dangerous and I would say discriminatory income and health wise.

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          2. Yomi

            Are you hypoglycemic or diabetic? Because all of the diabetics I have known in my life (and that measures in the dozens) have repeatedly said the fastest, most reliable and best ways to raise their blood sugar quickly are foods that most people consider unhealthy. Not sure where you got the oatmeal pies, but soda is number one on that list. It’s partially because it’s the crappy for you type of sugar that it works, or at least that’s how I understand it.

            That’s on top of the fact that everybody is an individual and has to find what works best for them (everybody I know has a different go-to for emergencies because they’ve experimented and found what they like). And THAT’S on top of the fact that no, in fact, science and medicine and nutrition can’t make a list of what is always bad and unhealthy and evil or whatever. Which only ADDS to the problems another commenter mentioned about how labeling specific foods as “bad” and “good” is actually a really big problem for people with disordered eating.

            It’s impossible to make any comprehensive, scientifically based, would fit for everybody policy which is why there shouldn’t ever be that kind of policy. You just can’t tell employees what they can eat for lunch if you want to have a good workplace.

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          3. Humble Schoolmarm

            Type 1 diabetic chiming in. My go-to snack is apple juice, which is healthier than pop, but I’ve often had people start in on “You know that’s full off sugar, blah, blah cancer” while I’m trying to guzzle it down. Usually a “well, I’m diabetic so…” does help. The other thing is, I have juice that stays at all the places that are my space like my house, my desk and my car, but it’s a bit of a pain to lug everywhere and exploding juice cartons make a horrible mess (ask me how I know), so my back up in those situations are low-fat, low-fibre, high-sugar candy that get my blood up quickly before there’s an emergency.

            I guess my point is cater healthy, sure, but make me explain to the lunch police why it’s either a pack of life-savers or and ambulance ride and that’s a problem.

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          4. Jessie the First (or second)

            “If you have This Medical Condition, then you ought to behave This Way” is not an okay thing to say to other people, unless you are those people’s doctor.

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          5. Zombii

            >>you could plan to bring a “healthier” food that had the same amount of quick digesting glucose or whatever necessary property is.

            Apples and other fruit work okay but they’re not ideal. Fruit juice is going to be sugar-policed the same as soda if the Lunch Monitor knows anything about sugar—-and there’s usually corn syrup in fruit juice, btw, which is the same Demon Ingredient that makes Coke a no-go in your scenario (in the States at least, most countries use cane sugar).

            This leaves us with legitimate medical products: glucose tablets and gels can be purchased from any pharmacy. Downsides are 1) they taste disgusting and 2) cost significantly more than candy and soda, if you’re comparing sugar/servings to cost. I resent having to go the more expensive route if there’s no better reason than optics.

            Reply
      5. Tuxedo Cat

        I have depression, and there are days I don’t feel like eating so any eating for me feels like a win even if it’s junk food. There have been points in my life where I’ve lost an unhealthy amount of weight. I know it would be better to eat some fruit versus whatever thing I go after, but I feel like some caloric intake is better than nothing.

        Reply
        1. AnonMouse

          YUP. There are days when I come home from work, lie on the couch and cycle through the self-hate spiral on repeat. If the only thing that tempts me to break out of it and eat is a pizza, it’s really not the prerogative of anyone else to tell me I should be hand-crafting a fresh kale salad.
          Also, orthorexia is a thing. I have known people who had it and lived on, literally, liquefied yams with cinnamon, because they were convinced that anything else was “bad”. Moralizing about food has consequences.

          Reply
      6. Gadfly

        Nope. I would not agree. Try working with someone with something like AFRID where a Twinkie might be one of 5 foods they eat. Literally 5 foods. Twinkies are MUCH better than no Twinkies at that point.

        Reply
        1. Gadfly

          Twinkies are amazingly more healthy than feeding tubes big picture… you can argue nutrients, but when you consider injury, infection and other issues, yay twinkies.

          Reply
    10. Woah

      I have positional orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and generalized dysautonomia. You can pry my olives, special salt drinks, and occasional emergency bag of chips out my cold, prone on the floor hands. Because that’s where I’ll be if anyone tries to claim they’re unneccesary.

      I have eaten straight packets of salt in front of people before any they invariably almost throw up at the sight. I can do that if everyone finds that “healthier.”

      Reply
      1. Another Speechwriter

        Same here, Woah. POTS and generalized dysautonomia means all the salt. My colleagues know if I’m on the floor to bring me chips or goldfish – or straight salt. It stinks to walk through the world with POTS and battle the illness with the morality of food choices.

        Reply
    11. FiveWheels

      At one point I was seriously ill (as in, nearly died, have permanent residual health effects) as a result of a fairly unusual condition. I lost something like 25lb – and I only weighed about 115lb in the first place.

      For a while, I couldn’t eat much more than fries and plain burgers from a notoriously “unhealthy” fast food chain. It was the only thing with the combination of tasty, bland, high calorie and available almost immediately I felt able to eat.

      Without being able to eat that food, I simply wouldn’t have had enough calories to live and I’d have needed to be fed by tube of some kind.

      Now, I eat there when I feel like it because I enjoy it. Both are equally valid reasons for me, as an adult, to choose my own food.

      Food police. Ugh.

      Reply
    12. Yomi

      Exactly. I have literally a team of specialists helping me figure out what’s going on with my health regarding food, diet, and weight. I don’t care how well intentioned they are, no coworker and no office is going to have as much information or as much subject matter expertise as my _team of doctors_. Even just having somebody going on about not bringing in cupcakes anymore because of “living our brand” would have me straight to the job postings and sending out resumes.

      I would assume that being a health based charity, you must be aware that shaming and harping and moaning and groaning have been shown scientifically to do _absolutely nothing at all_ when it comes to changing habits and encouraging a particular type of eating. If you can’t just encourage through positive reinforcement, then you’re creating a workplace a lot of people wouldn’t want to be in.

      Reply
      1. Gadfly

        That, surprisingly, does not seem to be a good assumption to make. Health based non-profits seem to be very resistant to the idea (regardless of tge evidence) that shaming people into health however you define it doesn’t work. That or they are support rather than change goals.

        Reply
    13. PersephoneUnderground

      Yep! As someone who was told by my doctor once “can you maybe have a chocolate milkshake, at lunch, too?” when I was already having fried chicken sandwiches, I emphatically agree that there is no way to set a standard like this from the outside!

      Yes, veggies are good for you, but individual food choices just can’t be parsed that easily. I have a lot of trouble keeping an appetite and keeping my weight up because of a side effect from a medication I take, hence the milkshake comment! So an office telling me I need to eat a light salad when I emphatically needed more calories just wouldn’t work. Healthy food for me= high calorie and something I can muster an appetite for even when I’m not feeling great. I love veggies, but I also needed that fried chicken! And I really wouldn’t have wanted to explain why I needed an exception to a policy like this- none of their business, especially in my case since the med I take is for mental health, which I keep intensely private.

      Apologies for posting to an already busy thread but you said exactly what I was thinking!

      Reply
  2. Katie

    As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, this is the worst idea I have ever heard. Please don’t create a policy like this.

    Reply
    1. Sunshine

      Seconded.

      Healthy means different things to different people, you don’t know what people have been through, and stuff like this can cause relapses. For me personally, learning to eat the occasional treat without guilt was a HUGE thing, and while if my workplace started banning such treats I’d like to think it wouldn’t cause a loss in progress, but it’s hard to say.

      And of course on the flip side, there are those people who outside of work might be marathon training and need to carboload or eat 4000 calories a day. And as Alison points out, there’s so much different information on what counts as eating healthy anyways.

      Ugh. Diet police are the worst.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        One of the hardest things I did in my recovery from disordered eating was learning to decouple morality and food. No food is morally “righteous” or “bad” – it’s just food. I’m not a “good person” or “bad person” for my food choices. I refuse to participate in the “Oh, I’m being so bad today!” thing that so many people do.

        This has had the side effect of giving me the ability to “resist” treats if I’m not in the mood for them. I have several coworkers who marvel at my ability to leave a chocolate bar or candies on my desk for days without devouring them. I’ve explained that it’s because I no longer consider treats to be morally “bad”, and it removes the whole “lure of the forbidden” aspect. Since food is morally neutral to me, I don’t deny myself anything based on the idea of how I shouldn’t be eating it, so I know that I always *can* eat whatever treats I am in the mood for – and by extension, I don’t feel compelled to “take advantage” of treats whenever they’re available and so the entire decision is just “do I want this thing right now?” and if the answer is “no” there’s no “temptation” for me to “resist”.

        All of this is to say, a workplace that deliberately and specifically moralizes over my food choices would be HUGELY damaging to my mental health.

        Reply
          1. Jadelyn

            I have the fat acceptance movement to thank for that, tbh – Kate Harding’s blog, Ragen Chastain, Red3Blog, that whole group is what helped me make that shift in thinking to regarding all food as morally neutral. I would definitely recommend them for people who are struggling with this kind of thing!

            Reply
        1. Beckysuz

          Yes yes a thousand times yes. I have never commented here before(just lurk), but this whole comment is exactly how I feel. I had an ED for 15 years. It nearly destroyed my life. Getting over food being either “good” or “bad” was the single biggest win I’ve had for my mental health. I can absolutely eat the cookie or not eat the cookie, and I feel no shame or stress either way. Food is just fuel now, something my body needs. So I refuse to feel guilt or participate in that “oh let’s be bad” mentality so many people want you to join in on

          Reply
      2. Code Monkey, the SQL

        I breastfed after I had my kid. For a while, I was hitting up the vending machine twice daily, drinking liters of water and bringing huge lunches, plus getting thirds whenever we had leftover office food. I was probably eating double my usual caloric intake trying to keep my milk supply up, and still losing weight. If someone wanted to tell me at that point that I needed to conform my meals to some branded plan of steamed vegetables and whole grains, I would have laughed and then started eating my piles of snacks in the car.

        Reply
    2. MuseumChick

      Oh I didn’t even think about that angle of this.

      It’s a really good point to add to the list of why not to do this.

      I’m glad to hear you are recoverying Katie.

      Reply
    3. Anon Accountant

      Ooh this is an excellent point. And now I’m thinking about others that have certain health conditions and would feel weird if their job began policing or monitoring what they ate or brought for lunch.

      And I always think define “healthy”. Because that is relative and this is such an organizational overstep. Exception of PETA which I understand.

      But I like Alison’s suggestions of food offerings such as fruit or maybe offering a veggie filled salad bar option for lunch.

      Reply
      1. Nea

        Like you, I also think that they need to “define healthy.” For example: low-sodium diets. Whole milk has less sodium than skim, so is someone on a low-sodium diet really saying they don’t care about their body if they chug the 4%?

        Reply
    4. Annabelle

      This is exactly what I was thinking. After years of recovery, I worked in an office with really toxic issues surrounding food, bodies, and weight. They outright banned fast food, pizza, a couple other types of takeout. It was horrible for my mental health.

      My current workplace replaced traditional vending machines with health food ones, and there’s monthly health initiatives. Those types of things might be an alternative to saying “no junk food.”

      Reply
    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This is super important, and I’m so glad you raised it. There are legitimate and significant health reasons for not interfering with people’s personal diets.

      I had a classmate who had a hormonal disorder in which she literally looked like she was wasting away (it was not an eating disorder, but she was bombarded with people trying to subtly hint to her that she had one). She had to eat extremely high calorie and calorically dense foods to keep her body from shutting down, and some of that food would not be seen as “healthy.”

      Would she have to “out” her medical health before someone would waive the healthy eating policy for her? What if she had food allergies/sensitivities (e.g., celiac)? An eating disorder? I think implementing a policy like this would be disastrous.

      Reply
      1. Recovering Adjunct

        Yeah, and once you “out” yourself as having a chronic health condition, people have a LOT of ideas about how you should be managing your diet with everything from your diet to the way you sleep at night.

        Reply
        1. Liet-Kynes

          Ask my partner, who had a scare with a benign but fast-growing tumor a few years ago. HOLY CRAP, the number of times she got totally unsolicited advice to drink mangosteen juice or apply magnets or whatever.

          Reply
          1. General Ginger

            I’m glad your partner’s scare turned out to be benign! But ugh, MAGNETS. I wish I didn’t know what “apply magnets” meant, and yet.

            Reply
        2. Anon...forever!

          And most of those ideas tend to be wrong. I think one of the worst phrases in the world is “Do you know what you should do?” It’s usually followed by advice that is not needed, not wanted, or not correct.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yes (agreed!), and it’s followed by its demon twin, “Have you tried ___?” because clearly someone with significant health problems knows nothing about managing their health.

            Reply
            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

              And their little siblings, “Have you ever considered…?” and “I just heard about this on Facebook…”

              Reply
              1. Jadelyn

                And its horrible cousin, “My mother’s hairdresser’s sister’s boyfriend’s baby-mama’s father tried [thing] and it cured them completely!”

                Reply
            2. Recovering Adjunct

              I’m going on Humera soon and my mother-in-law (who is the loveliest person in the world and sincerely only wants to help) asked if the doctor thought I could do acupuncture instead.

              Reply
              1. General Ginger

                And these sincere lovely people are somehow never convinced by insisting “if the doctor thought I could do Other Thing instead, she would have already said so”.

                Reply
          2. Anon for Days

            I’m going through chemo treatments for cancer, and I am ready to rage at a couple of people: “My disease is not your multilevel marketing opportunity!”

            Reply
            1. Former Employee

              Oh, dear. I hope you tolerate the chemo well or, if not, that there are drugs they can give you to counteract any side effects. Even more important is that the ultimate goal of the chemo is reached and the cancer is gone. Wishing you all the best at this difficult time.

              PS: Being pissed off at these idiots might be a good thing – rage away!

              Reply
            2. General Ginger

              Oh, ugh. I am so sorry you are dealing with that nonsense on top of tolerating chemo, and wish you all the luck with your treatments!

              Reply
            3. Catherine

              A good friend of mine had cancer a few years back, and everyone had *lots* of advice on how she could cure cancer with diet and a good attitude. We started calling these people ‘Can-splainers’.

              Hope the chemo doesn’t knock you around too much and that you are soon cancer free.

              Reply
        3. Ange

          Yeah, I have a colleague who told me I could cure my diabetes in 3 weeks by following her diet. I did not take her up on that offer.

          Reply
          1. BeautifulVoid

            I have Crohn’s, and the worst story I ever heard from someone who also has it was when someone told her she could completely cure her Crohn’s disease by eating one macaroon a day. Yeah. Yeeeeeeah.

            I had to shut down a well-meaning friend a couple of times before she finally understood that what’s healthy for her is not healthy for me, and no, I would not be trying whatever diet the latest woo “doctor” she was following recommended. It’s better for our friendship if we just don’t discuss food at all.

            Reply
            1. Fleahhhh

              LOL I think I heard that one once. 30 year history of Crohn’s / UC and only have ever been able to control it with immunosuppressants- but yes, tell me more about your special diet / juice fast / turmeric / supplement regiment / wtf-ever-bullhonky-you-saw-on-natural-news.

              Not saying that some of these things won’t help the symptoms but no, they will not cure me. Thanks for asking!

              Reply
          2. BeautifulVoid

            I have Crohn’s, and the worst story I ever heard from someone who also has it was when someone told her she could completely cure her Crohn’s disease by eating one macaroon a day. Yeah. Yeeeeeeah.

            I had to shut down a well-meaning friend a couple of times before she finally understood that what’s healthy for her is not healthy for me, and no, I would not be trying whatever diet the latest woo “doctor” she was following recommended. It’s better for our friendship if we just don’t discuss food at all.

            Reply
        4. The OG Anonsie

          YES. Then when you’re not feeling well on Thursday it’s how dare you, we saw you eat fast food yesterday and you said you stayed up late the other night, you’re not taking care of yourself so you’re not entitled to take Thursday off. Doesn’t matter how irrelevant that is to your actual health, folks get ideas.

          Reply
        5. Lissa

          Even with something pretty mundane/common like I had, the random “helpful” advice…. thanks, random internet person, I’ll definitely believe that I should not have recommended surgery because drinking pure apple juice and pure olive oil will get rid of gallstones! That makes sense!

          Reply
        6. My Aura Does Not Need To Be Massaged

          Oh ye gods, yes. I have an autoimmune disorder that makes it difficult for me to walk without a cane, and I have had to learn to lie and say I was in a car accident or something when people ask why I use the cane, because otherwise the odds that I will be bombarded with stupid and unwanted advice (“Have you tried giving up gluten? Juice cleanses? Acupuncture? Magnets? Essential oils? Apple cider vinegar? Reiki? Magical healing crystals? My sister’s neighbor’s friend’s daughter had that disease and she bought Dr. Bullpoop’s 100% Pure Homeopathic Snake Oil Made From Certified Organic Snakes and was completely cured!”) are way, way too high. Living with my health issues is tiring enough without having to keep gritting my teeth and nodding politely through yet another lecture about whatever nonsense someone heard about on Facebook or the Dr. Oz show this week.

          Reply
      2. many bells down

        My daughter has an actual, physical disorder of the digestive tract that sometimes inhibits her ability to digest food. We still had to have FOUR doctors confirm she didn’t have an eating disorder before they’d treat the problem. So you can imagine, the general public assumes she has one frequently.

        Reply
      3. Gadfly

        I had a friend who was in the military. They got sick of having to triple ration him at meals to keep his weight up. So they kept him in bed for 3 days, covered with electrodes. Turns out his basal metabolic rate required 3500 kcal a day. Just to loaf in bed. He was over 6 ft and often got down to almost 100lbs–actually life threatening if he got sick. And because he drank drano as a toddler he had a limited diet. You bet he needed milkshakes and soda and greasy hamburgers and avoided a lot of veggies.

        Meanwhile, if you read any of the follow up stuff on dieters or things like ‘Biggest Loser’ or famine survivors you get people with bmr of 800 even, because of how their bodies responded.

        Reply
    6. Marillenbaum

      Seriously! The staff members say they’re sick of “having to” police people on this, when really: They don’t! And they shouldn’t. Unless someone is microwaving day-old fish covered in stinky cheese, leave it alone.

      Reply
        1. Stop Food Policing

          I live in fish country and everyone at my office has microwaved fish at least once. It’s cultural and it’s a cheap source of protein. I actually am surprised at how often this comes up as a “do not do” as I wouldn’t consider policing someone’s food choice based on odor.

          Reply
          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            A coworker of mine was microwaving a meal including fried calamari today. It smelled glorious and I kind of wanted to steal it.

            Reply
        2. DArcy

          *microwaves fish*

          I am absolutely not behind this and would push back aggressively if any coworker tried to implement such a restriction.

          Reply
      1. Amy

        Yep! I think it’s almost the other way–they have to STOP doing this, it’s neither their job nor an appropriate way to interact with your coworkers.

        Reply
      2. The OG Anonsie

        Right, the note that they resent that they feel they have to do this… GoodNESS, people. Not only do you not have to, you absolutely should not be.

        Reply
    7. BWooster

      Seriously. There just simply isn’t a way to police people’s eating habits “respectfully.”

      The answer to how this workplace can implement a healthy eating policy respectfully is “don’t.”

      Reply
    8. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      Same boat here. My recovery was completely derailed by orthorexia…but hey everyone was congratulating me because of my healthy diet and extensive meal prep habits.

      Reply
    9. another quasi anonymous poster

      Seriously! I’m in treatment for an eating disorder and one of my compulsive behaviors is secret eating – if I was told that I couldn’t openly have certain foods at work that would be incredibly triggering.

      Reply
      1. another quasi anonymous poster

        (By “secret eating” I mean literally hiding out to eat – in bathroom stalls, in my car…it’s something I haven’t done in a while but I could see it being really easy to fall back into if I were surrounded by people joking about the food police and leadership who went out of their way to reinforce “good”/”bad” food morality.

        Reply
        1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

          Same here. I am JUST at the point in my recovery where eating certain foods in front of people outside of my inner circle doesn’t make me anxious. Having official rules in place surrounding this would cause some serious issues and I might just take to leaving the office every day for lunch since one of my fears is people seeing what I’m eating and judging me. I mean, one of my coworkers already judges other people’s choices, but I can handle him since it’s one person being a jerk. Having it come from the company would be horrifying.

          Reply
    10. Another Anon

      As someone who has cycles of restrictive *and* binge eating, this would really screw with my mental health. I’d probably lapse, if not relapse totally, and my cycles would get longer and more extreme. OP, please don’t implement any kind of policy. Your employees are people, not mindless robots. They can make their own choices, and trying to influence those choices could have drastic effects on your employees’ health – which is surely the opposite of your company’s mission.

      Reply
    11. Amy

      Yes. ‘Healthy’ eating doesn’t look the same for everyone. Even if controlling employees’ diets was a reasonable thing for an employer to do, there’s no way to implement guidelines that will be healthy for everyone–you might be able to get something that would be healthy-ish for the majority, but you’d likely be screwing over at least a couple people.

      Not to mention: ‘Healthy eating policies’ too often functionally mean either ‘weight loss diet’ or ‘latest nutrition fad’. All enforced by your employer, of course. I’m really not convinced it’s possible to do them well, or that employers should consider it reasonable to try.

      I think your actual problem here is that you have a couple of preachy coworkers who are very wrong but won’t drop their incorrect ideas. The actual solution is that these people need to take their noses out of their coworkers’ lunches, and need to be shut down when they try to bring this up again.

      Reply
  3. Hills to Die on (formerly AMG)

    Even if you eat healthy, an occasional treat is okay. I’m not the kind of person who would take it very well if someone had comments about the cupcake I was eating. I think it would lead to more problems than anything.

    Reply
    1. Not Karen

      The occasional cupcake is healthy. It’s good for the soul. Metaphysical health is just as important as plain old physical health.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        What’s the point of living life if you can’t enjoy an occasional cupcake?

        No one’s going to live forever, no matter how healthy you eat. Why deprive yourself of some pleasures?

        Reply
        1. Marillenbaum

          Also, are you actually living longer, or does it just feel like forever because it’s so soul-crushingly dull?

          Reply
          1. Aunt Margie at Work

            I just spit my vitamin infused, mineralized organic mountain spring water. OK, it was Diet Cherry Pepsi. I’ll find my own way to HR!

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              Heck mine is a regular cane sugar Pepsi. My doctor would yell at me, I’m diabetic, but I do not care. The caffeine helps the pain and migraines (there’s a reason why if you look at the ingredients in “migraine over the counter drugs,” you’ll see caffeine in that Excedrin Headache pill. And I hate coffee, and tea sometimes takes too many spoons even with my electric kettle. So Pepsi is my thing.

              I have however learnt to never, ever, ever on pain of being so dehydrated I’ll end up in hospital (which happens at least once a year when the temp goes above 90 for a week,) drink ANYTHING whilst reading AAM.

              Alison, maybe you should put a note in the posting guidelines: Ask a Manager can be hazardous to your sinuses and keyboard if you are eating or drinking whilst reading. Please put your food where you cannot reach it when enjoying this site.

              Reply
              1. King Friday XIII

                Having figured out that I’m apparently sensitive to corn syrup, Real Sugar Pepsi is a freaking godsend.

                Reply
                1. JessaB

                  Anecdotally of course, HFCS Pepsi makes me have the munchies. I maintain weight better on cane sugar. Other’s mileage may vary.

              2. Fafaflunkie

                I’ve had plenty of those moments here myself! My poor monitors at work and home have been covered in many a spray of coffee/soda/various adult beverages whilst visiting this site.

                Reply
              3. Emelle

                Ohhhhhh caffeine for migraines. Yes.

                I can stop/slow down/lessen the intensity of a migraine by eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger and drinking a diet Coke -it has to be both, just the DC alone doesn’t cut it. I have no idea how I discovered this, or why it works, but in 24 years it has not failed once. If you tell me I can’t eat my miracle cheeseburger. DC healing meal at work, I am going to need to take more sick days.

                Reply
                1. JessaB

                  Yeh whatever works for you, go for it. Every one of my friends who have migraines do different things. I think doctors have to play hit or miss with treatments cause everyone seems to have different triggers and things that help.

        2. Blurgle

          Actually, I could live my entire life without cupcakes. To me most sweet food tastes utterly repulsive. Give me salt and vinegar chips doused in garlic powder and cayenne instead!

          Reply
          1. JessaB

            Another garlic powder fan. I love it. Instead of salt and stuff I put it on my popcorn. I’ll take garlic in everything for $2000 Alex.

            But I also like cupcakes, if they have actual icing or nothing, I hate buttercream. I prefer what we used to call frosting.

            Reply
            1. Pebbles

              I once on vacation found a garlic restaurant. Literally every food they served had garlic in it! Even the ice cream (which is why I went there)! Yummy!

              Reply
              1. JoAnna

                There used to be a restaurant in Winnipeg called Gilroy’s that incorporated garlic into everything in the menu (even the wine and desserts). It was amazing.

                Reply
              2. Not the Person I Thought I Was

                There’s a restaurant (or used to be) in San Francisco called The Stinking Rose. Awesome!

                Reply
                1. Pebbles

                  Sorry, the restaurant that I had found was called Balthasar in Tallinn, Estonia. I really want to check out these other restaurants JoAnna and “Not the Person I Thought I Was” mentioned. 40 Clove Garlic Chicken from The Stinking Rose…yum!

            2. Cleopatra Jones

              Buttercream icing is the devil!
              It used to be made with real butter, which is kinda bad for you, but hey butter does help you absorb other nutrients from food. But now most buttercream icing is made with pure vegetable shortening (think Crisco) because of the pure white color. It tends to dye better than butter yellow. Sorta like when you buy paint, they start with a pure white base.
              Also, shortening holds up better under warmer conditions than does butter, so your wedding cake won’t melt in 90 degree weather.

              Finding that out in a cake decorating class was the reason I now ask what kind of icing is on a cake/cupcake.

              Reply
              1. Not the Person I Thought I Was

                “Buttercream icing is the devil!”

                Yeah, I like it too. I eat it out of the tub with a spoon.

                Reply
              2. Overeducated

                I never liked icing as a kid, I’d always eat the cake out of the middle at birthday parties and asked for ice cream cake at my parties instead. The pure sugar flavor just didn’t appeal. As an adult I learned to make buttercream from scratch, as well as cream cheese frosting…now I have changed my tune on frosting.

                Reply
          2. Detective Amy Santiago

            I am actually far more likely to pick something salty, crunchy, and spicy over cupcakes too :)

            But the point is the same. There’s nothing wrong with indulging on occasion.

            Reply
            1. AnonEMoose

              At certain times, I will have one hand in the potato chips, and the other in the M&Ms. Or be devouring kettle corn by the bag, because the craving for salt/sweet is so intense. Mess with me at your peril at these times, because there will be bloodshed.

              Reply
              1. JessaB

                Do not start me on Harry & David’s moose munch popcorns, the one with the salty sweet corn and chocolate covered nuts. Yum.

                Reply
              2. RKB

                There are these new things from Reese’s… tubs of peanuts, pretzel balls, reese cups, and reese’s pieces. I devour those endlessly. They’re so good.

                Reply
          3. General Ginger

            Ooh, I wonder if a very small drizzle of vinegar might work on my garlic powder/cayenne popcorn. I will have to experiment! Thank you for the idea.

            Reply
      2. Annabelle

        Plus completely depriving yourself of treats is likely to make you crave them even more. One cupcake every once in a while isn’t a big deal

        Reply
    2. Just Another Techie

      And draconian food restrictions often lead to bingeing in people who would have been totally fine having the occasional high-sugar treat in moderation.

      Reply
      1. SignalLost

        This. I don’t cook for myself due to lots of unhealthy mental processes around food, but I can directly point to the fact I’m 40 and eat kids cereal as a result of my parents policing kids cereal when I was an actual kid. I’m sure if I actually stopped thinking of eating by myself as fuel and eating with others as when food is social and important I’d drop that, but I explicitly started with kid cereal because I wasn’t allowed it at home. Policing people’s food choices is a poor idea with a lot of ramifications, and I can’t think of any good ones.

        Reply
        1. Hey Karma, Over here.

          Me too. Like I’m earning the status I didn’t have as a kid when the others would have the toys from the cereal box or the stickers from the snack cake box. I’m in my 40s, too and I still want to be second grade cool sometimes.

          Reply
      2. JessaB

        Also they can lead to eating disorders, measuring everything and being super restrictive whether you’re fat or thin, can become a serious disorder around eating.

        Reply
    3. Amber T

      I’m loving your username, because if my company tried to implement this policy (which they wouldn’t do in a million years), this would absolutely be the hill I would die on. And not even because I want the occasional cupcake, but because your food choices are so closely related to your health. Everyone has a different idea (or proven method) of what a healthy diet and lifestyle is. Some people can’t eat specific foods for reasons that are nobody else’s business. Some people don’t like certain foods simply because they don’t like it.

      I’m getting rant-y which means I won’t be articulating my words that well, but yes, this is a hill to die on for me.

      Reply
    4. Emmie

      OP will need to address the persistent employee. Perhaps “I appreciate your focus on our mission, and I need you to stop asking us to create an official policy about this. I understand how important it is to live our mission, which is to educate people on healthy eating habits. [If that’s true.] It is an overreach for our organization to create and enforce a policy policing employee’s personal food consumption. It’s also an overreach for our employees to police other employee’s dietary habits.”

      I’m sure other AAM’s have better language. I am not in love with mine. In addition to all the other reasons here, you run the risk of negatively impacting employee – HR relations by policing lunches and snacks. There’s also a risk of ADA issues too. (Admittedly, those risks could be managed when a HR policy is needed.) I recommend you inform your manager, and perhaps the higher leaders of this persistent employee’s suggestion. I have a feeling that she might attempt to aggressively suggest this to other leaders, so a uniform response would be helpful.

      Reply
      1. Lo Flow

        Exactly, made me wonder what she is like to work with if she is so persistent about policing peoples’ food choices.

        Reply
        1. Emmie

          I agree.

          I find that people “police” things that they have no problem managing. But everyone has their own vice.

          Reply
      2. JessaB

        Yes, except the ADA thing would be extremely problematic. If I need to eat something that they don’t consider healthy, I now have to explain to every single person watching me eat, that I am NOT actually in violation of the policy. My food choices and the fact that I need to eat frequent small meals and not one big one, is due to my protected status as disabled, and BTW you don’t have a right to know that.

        Food policing is okay for vending machines, and if they own a cafeteria they can certainly decide what to serve there. And also what they bring in for catered events. But what I bring in, is my business.

        Reply
    5. TL -

      But a single food choice is not good or bad, healthwise. (Unless it’s spoiled. That’s a bad choice.)
      Eating a lot of sugar in your diet isn’t great for most people, but a single sugary snack isn’t an empirically unhealthy choice. You need calories and sugar in your diet and it’s fine to occasionally get them from sweets.
      It’s not fine to always get them from cupcakes but they’re not bad foods.

      Reply
    6. The OG Anonsie

      Yeah, this is what I was gonna say. Even if you were somehow able to clear up alllll the other stuff already discussed above, I stick to an anti-inflammatory diet most of the time for a specific health condition. It makes me have to eliminate a lot of my favorite foods a majority of the time (and not objectively junky foods, but things like staying massively low carb) and it sucks and I hate it.

      If I want a cupcake or fast food every couple of weeks as a treat, you can stuff it if you have a problem. If I went for the french fries after three solid weeks of leafy greens and fish and the company came along to give me crap about it*, I would not be even a little bit amused.

      *I actually worked somewhere people did this occasionally, not as policy but as nosy jerks, and it was infuriating.

      Reply
    7. kittymommy

      If somebody got between me and my cupcake there would be problems.

      Seriously though, these are all grown ass people that are entrusted with what I would assume jobs very necessary to the functioning of the charity. How about entrust them with the same level of respect for decisions they make over their own person??!!

      Reply
    8. Liv

      If someone commented about anything I was eating at work or tried to “police” it, I would just laugh and go back to eating it. What are they going to do? Take it off me? I agree it leads to more problems.

      A few months ago, a colleague commented on a small cupcake I brought to work (it had been my daughter’s birthday and it was leftover from her party, so the whole family got a cupcake in their lunchbox that Monday – yippee!). I got so irritated at her gabbling on about how it was full of sugar, fat, carbs… blah blah (like literally half an hour after I’d finished it, she just wouldn’t let up) that I eventually snapped and told her considering my weight was smack bang in the middle of a healthy range, that I run a 5km every morning before work and eat reasonably healthy normal portions, I didn’t think I’d be taking any advice from her (she is quite overweight and doesn’t exercise at all).

      Not my proudest moment, and I don’t like that I said those things to her but there was only so much I could take before I snapped. I think “policing” food can lead to some of us becoming unnecessarily nasty.

      Reply
      1. AJHall

        The point about there being only so much one can take without snapping is an excellent one. The people going on about eating healthily are disregarding the downstream effect the existence of the policy, and the licence it will give to people who are already food policing, on workplace morale. They are going to turn this workplace into a toxic swamp if they aren’t careful, and stress really isn’t healthy for anyone.

        Reply
  4. Cassandra

    Speaking of optics… food policing tends to impact fat employees more severely, letting us in for a greater allotment of various sorts of shaming (on the continuum from eyebrow-raising to behind-the-back gossip to open comment on fat people’s food choices to concern-trolling about health to open insult). I would think it worth considering how to eliminate, or at least lessen, those effects.

    Overall, though, I agree with Alison: offer healthy food on the organization’s dime, but please, please don’t food-police.

    Reply
    1. JessaB

      OMG I didn’t actually get there on this one but yes, you are so, so right. As a fat woman I get enough concern trolling, but making it policy? Oh heck no.

      Reply
    2. OhNo

      Ooooh, good point. There’s always going to be people who equate “healthy” food with thinness, and they’re hell to work with at the best of times. Making their idea of “healthy” food an actual workplace policy would be the worst case scenario.

      Reply
      1. Einfallslos

        Why is it so weird to equate healthy food with being thin? Usually, if you’re eating healthy you maintain a healthy weight and don’t get fat, or am I mistaken?

        Reply
        1. Lynxa

          You are mistaken. Many disorders like PCOS or, in my case thyroid, can cause weight gain with no real correlation to calories. My cousin looks fairly large but is a marathon runner and is exceptionally healthy. She just can’t lose weight due to PCOS. What I weigh depends almost entirely on what my thyroid is doing. If my levels are low, it doesn’t matter how few calories I take in I am going to gain weight (and lose my eyebrows and eyelashes).

          Reply
          1. Avocado Toast

            “You are mistaken. Many disorders like PCOS or, in my case thyroid, can cause weight gain with no real correlation to calories.”

            Wrong. I am completely, decidedly, unequivocally AGAINST having food policies at work at all, but I can’t stand misinformation, especially about health and fitness.

            NO hormonal disorder violates thermodynamics. PCOS’s insulin resistance and hypothyroidism – in the simplest of terms – BOTH slow down metabolic processes. That means your BMR is lower than somebody with no hormonal disorder. But at the end of the day, CI=CO is still king. You just have less allowance on the CI end because the CO is smaller.

            I don’t care about how you get your calories, but if you want to lose, you eat less than you burn. If you want to gain, you eat more than you burn. And if you want to maintain, you eat exactly as much as you burn. Hormones only affect the “what you burn” portion. They do not manifest calories out of the ether.

            Reply
        2. One of the Sarahs

          You’re mistaken. Everyone’s metabolisms are different, and some people (my partner, eg) can exist on chocolate and crisps, but stay ridiculously slim, while I eat better, exercise more, and carry more weight.

          That’s before you get into medical conditions and eating disorders. But one of the really sad things is that there’s always a number of people whose cancers, for example, weren’t spotted as they started losing weight randomly, and rather than say “hey, you should check that out with a doctor”, everyone around them praised them for it, preventing it from being caught early enough to make treatment easier, or even effective.

          Reply
        3. Gadfly

          I had a dangerously underweight friend who lived on burgers, soda and milkshakes. Just a genetic quirk–he had a basal metabolic rate of about 3500 kcal a day.

          Thin=/=healthy

          Reply
    3. I woke up like this

      I’d like to also point out that these few coworkers are ALREADY policing what people are eating–even feeling resentful about it. So in addition to not creating a policy, someone needs to step in and tell these folks to STOP telling me how to eat in the office.

      Reply
  5. Rebecca

    If you want to focus on what you consider “healthy” snacks at work related functions, OK I guess, but as far as what people bring in their own lunches that they bring from home, no. What you consider healthy may not be healthy for everyone, and unless their food choices affect their work performance, I say leave it alone.

    Reply
    1. Doug Judy

      At OldJob the president of the company is a health but and banned all unhealthy snacks, sodas, and food from the cafeteria he deemed unhealthy.

      People still are what they wanted. Some even had “contraband” items at their desks for people to buy. IT even had a cooler of soda people could come and buy from (profits went to charity).

      Eventually he loosened up a bit and the cafeteria started serving more normal food.

      Adults will eat what they want.

      Reply
      1. Amber T

        Lol black market for junk food. Banning stuff makes it more desirable anyway. We have a fridge full of soda, and I maybe have one every month or two. Tell me soda isn’t allowed? I’m gonna be craving a pepsi for a long while.

        I also have no problem a workplace deciding not to have “unhealthy” foods provided. If my company decided to stop supplying us mini bags of doritos, sure, I’d be sad, but that’s the company’s money and a ‘perk’ to employees, so they can control it. They can’t control my ability to bring in a snack food, cuz that’s just dumb.

        Reply
      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        This is a legit plot on the TV show “No Tomorrow”.

        It was funny on TV. Not so much in real life.

        Reply
      3. TootsNYC

        They took candy bars out of our vending machine at one job.
        Goodness, did I make a TON of money for my kid’s school during their candy bar sale.
        I think I sold 11 boxes, and I had people coming by and saying I should have bought more boxes so I could have kept it going longer.

        Reply
      4. Amy

        Yes! My employer stopped selling soda in the cafeteria (didn’t even ban it, just stopped actively offering it so people had to bring their own if they wanted it). It was amazing how quickly the black market coca cola sprung up!

        Reply
        1. QuestionSubmitter

          Hey question submitter here – this was one thing I forgot to touch on with Alison. One of the arguments came up which was “Well if HR can institute a dress code, why not a food code?” If organizations have the leverage to and already control our behaviours to a certain extent, why not food? Not saying this is a good thing but I wasn’t sure how to counter-argue besides “It will make everyone miserable.”

          Reply
            1. QuestionSubmitter

              Makes sense.

              I think if given the authority and time to do so, these few coworkers will go ahead and flesh out a policy that has all the details of what’s allowed, exceptions, etc. I don’t see them being daunted and they will get it done. Really hoping it doesn’t get to that point.

              Reply
          1. AnonEMoose

            Food is far more fundamental than clothing. And is closely related to health – in ways the people pushing for this are almost certainly not anticipating. Diabetes…celiac…allergies…intolerances. Being told to dress a certain way is unlikely to kill someone or send them to the hospital; one of both of these things can absolutely happen if someone gets the wrong food, or doesn’t get the right one.

            Reply
          2. SignalLost

            I think you have lots of suggestions already but my stab at this is:

            You can have a dress code for the same reason you have your logo professionally designed because it’s about appearance (not optics) but you can’t have a food code, regardless of industry, the same way you can’t have a bathroom-use-frequency policy because it’s about what is literally going on inside your employees’ bodies and that has nothing to do with the company’s appearance.

            Bathroom use and food consumption are invisible activities, as it were, where dress is visible and therefore the company has an interest in being well presented. Even if your org thinks healthy eating is part of appearance, you have 500+ comments telling you why your org is wrong to consider it that way, from a variety of mental, physical, and emotional viewpoints. Very few people would be actually harmed by not being allowed to wear sleeveless tops in the workplace; many people would be directly and harshly harmed by someone else’s idea of healthy eating, so it’s not appearance anymore.

            The idea a food code and dress code equivalence is an argument you feel you need to prepare for is a strong suggestion your org is really, really, really not in line with conventional employer/employee boundaries, in both directions.

            Reply
            1. QuestionSubmitter

              @SignalLost thank you for that super thoughtful reply.

              That particular argument has been brought up by an individual (and will again I suspect) so not entirely an organization/employer perspective. Very personal.

              Reply
              1. SignalLost

                Yeah, I’ve seen some of your other replies. I think you or someone higher up (I think you are peers?) needs to have a serious talk with her about food policing and that it will stop, immediately, because it’s not her business, she’s not qualified to know why anyone eats what they eat, and it is possibly harmful to her to be so obsessed about this.

                If you read the post a month or two ago about the person with an accommodation for OCD where the org was starting to insist people had to wear jewelry symmetrically, to my read of the post, reply, and comments, the org was effectively complicit in allowing the employee to harm their therapeutic work by going along with increasingly-unreasonable requests. Obviously, this is a huge summary, but I bring it up because your situation seems similar: if this is coming from one or two people, your org may be allowing them to hurt themselves by not shutting this food policing down and being willing to even engage in a discussion that assumes food policing is logical to do. I’m not suggesting they have a disorder, because I don’t know that, but I feel very, very strongly that food policing is inherently harmful and someone who wants to engage in it is expressing a harm they feel (and not the one they’re saying they feel). I’m not sure if that makes sense – curse you, text, for being so hard to communicate through sometimes!

                Reply
                1. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived

                  Yes. At minimum the food police are being unmitigated assholes. It is a service to them and your entire workplace to put a stop to this behaviour.

                  By all means cater the food you want but please don’t monitor people’s lunches.

          3. Irulan

            The major difference is that, barring certain specific concerns like religiously-mandated head coverings, most dress codes do not put policies squarely in opposition to the legally-recognized rights of protected classes.
            This food policy would force limits on the diets of people who have food allergies, intolerances, pregnancies, eating disorders, religiously based diets, etc. Would the company require people to request ADA accommodation to eat their doctor -prescribed normal diets? Would pregnant women be outed against their will? Can you imagine how that sort of consequence would look in the media, even if the policy were to hold up in court?

            Reply
            1. Observer

              Oh, and even dress codes can wind up causing problems, aside from the obvious religious issues. There was a pizza chain – Domino’s? – that had a policy requiring their delivery people be clean shaven. They got sued in court because that apparently has a disparate effect on blacks who are more prone to some skin condition that makes shaving difficult or painful.

              That’s not to say not to have dress codes. But if something as external as a dress code can get messy, something as internal and individual as diet is a minefield.

              Reply
              1. Gadfly

                My husband deals with that. He’d rather be clean shaven and it just isn’t an option for him. Unless he wanted to use extra strong chemical remover. Thick hair also making shaving and chemical removers more difficult…

                Reply
          4. Amy

            Dress codes, done well, are about practical concerns rather than about policing employees. Lawyers wear business clothing because it gives their clients the impression that they’re professional and competent, and because a judge might see it as contempt if they showed up in court in shorts and flip flops. Scientists wear lab coats and closed-toed shoes in labs because lab coats protect their clothes from damage and shoes protect their feet from any spills or dropped glass tools or etc. If a company doesn’t have that kind of practical concern backing up their dress code, I would argue that it shouldn’t exist either–“The CEO hates purple, so the dress code now states that purple clothing is banned” would be bad policy.

            There are a lot fewer immediate practical concerns about food. I could see a food policy like “Someone is deathly allergic to peanuts, and this is a small office so they’re inevitably exposed to whatever food everyone else brings in, so please do not bring in peanut products” being entirely reasonable. But blanket ‘healthy eating’ policies are almost always about policing employees up to someone’s personal, somewhat arbitrary standard than about actual immediate problems that have to be addressed. Therefore, they are bad policy.

            Reply
            1. Amy

              And before someone tries to pull the “But the employer will do better if their employees are out sick less, and a good diet is important for health!”: Food policies do not fix that. First, there’s no such thing as a universal ‘good diet’, so you can’t enact blanket rules to make people eat in the way that’s most healthy for them as an individual. That makes any kind of healthy eating policy either ineffective (if specific rules are implemented, they won’t be right for many people) or impossible to enforce (if no specific rules are implemented, how can anyone be violating it?).

              Second: Employees aren’t robots. People get sick even if they eat perfectly all the time. There is no perfect formula of diet and exercise and lifestyle that will make illness go away. I feel like the root of the panic over food/health is really just rooted in this fear of illness and mortality, and guys, we’re all going to get sick sometimes, we’re all going to die eventually, eating a cupcake once in a while won’t change that.

              Reply
          5. Liz T

            Companies with dress codes don’t think jeans and tee shirts are bad things that should never be worn–they think they give off an unsuitably casual impression to clients and colleagues. You know why most dress codes don’t say anything about what underwear to wear? Because it’s NOT RELEVANT and NOBODY’S BUSINESS.

            Reply
          6. nnn

            Or you could argue from the other perspective: “You know, you’re right! Let’s get rid of the dress code too!”

            Reply
          7. Betty Cooper

            Not being able to wear sleeveless clothing at work has very little impact on my overall health. Not being able to eat high-salt foods or red meat on my lunch break has the potential for a much higher health impact.

            Reply
          8. LadyL

            I mean, not to get too off topic but I’m not a fan of dress codes either. I find that they’re usually pretty sexist, and way too many of them involve elements of body shaming.

            But yeah, clothes are important to people for sure, but they’re never as deeply personal as food is. You need to eat food to survive, food is cultural, it’s often tied up in morality (although it shouldn’t be), etc etc. They’re very different things.

            Reply
          9. AJHall

            What’s wrong with “It will make everyone miserable” as a counter-argument? Does the food-policer deny the existence of the misery or think it’s worth it for the Cause?

            Reply
    2. Woah

      My relative works at a religious hospital that bans caffeine. There’s an intense black market for things like Mountain Dew and Rockstar when most people would probably be drinking coffee or other moderate beverages if there was a selection and not such a forbidden feeling and need to suck down as much caffeine as possible.

      Reply
      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        I really, honestly don’t grok this kind of restriction. Maybe it’s because I belong to a religion with restrictions we’d never force on people, but the notion that “everyone MUST follow our faith’s rules whether they want to or not” just seems so alien to me.

        I mean, intellectually, I understand, but in my gut I can just never make it make sense.

        Reply
        1. AnonMouse

          I once managed to stun a Christian fundamentalist into silence by telling him that my faith requires spouses to be equals, and that his concepts of strict gender roles in marriage would be a massive violation of some of its most basic principles – basically a sin. He turned a rather interesting colour.

          Reply
  6. N

    Please don’t police the food that people bring into the office. Some people may have a history of eating disorders or may have severe dietary restrictions, so they may already be uncomfortable with people commenting on what they eat and how much. And sometimes, frankly, people need fast food because they have no time/are short on money/just need something comforting and filling. I agree with Alison–make the healthy food available, but don’t police what people choose to eat.

    Reply
    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      When I was pregnant, my doctor went over morning sickness.

      “Your body decides what you eat. Not you. So it’s whatever stays down. If that’s Cheetos and bananas, then Cheetos and bananas are what you eat. You and your baby can get sustenance out of anything. A tummy with some food in it is better than an empty tummy.”

      So, yes, this is a terrible idea for yet another reason.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        This reminds me of when Phoebe was pregnant on Friends and wanted meat despite being a vegetarian.

        And you’re absolutely right that this is yet another reason the idea of a food policy is terrible.

        Reply
        1. Blue Anne

          When my vegetarian-for-decades sister was pregnant, I watched her buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, and eat the entire thing in the car, with her hands, in about ten minutes.

          Baby wants what baby wants.

          Reply
        2. The Other Katie

          This is a thing that can happen when you’re pregnant – I was a vegetarian up until week 25 or so, when I started eating all the cow. It’s among the reasons not to police food in the workplace (though not as important as the blanket principle that adults get to decide what they eat).

          Reply
          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            I’m honestly just picturing you, heavily pregnant, climbing into a pasture and devouring an entire herd of cows. Eat all the cow!

            Reply
      2. Gen

        I was on 400 calories a day if I was lucky when I had morning sickness and anyone coming to judge me when I wasn’t ready to announce the pregnancy would have gotten their head bitten off :/

        Reply
      3. SlightlyAnonny

        Not pregnant but had a brush with an illness that left me unable to keep anything down for days and then literally the only things that would stay down were candy and soda. I was also doing really well on a weight loss regimen so this was a blow but it’s what would stay down. My coach said something similar, “focus on your health and do what works for right now.”
        I would have been furious if a coworker had walked up on my while I was sipping ginger-ale and trying to keep down the gummi bears which were the first thing I had been able to keep down in three days and tried to police my adult choices.

        Reply
      4. Falling Diphthong

        Oh hallelujah for sane doctors.

        I ate oatmeal despite queasiness when pregnant with my first child, thinking ‘healthy’. (And I like oatmeal.) Threw up so violently that I couldn’t touch it again for two years.

        Reply
      5. Putting Out Fires, Esq

        A giant carton of goldfish lived at my desk in the first trimester. People commented because it was hilariously huge, but no one said anything about my Orange cracker based diet. That’s because adults don’t tell other adults what to eat

        Reply
      6. Juli G.

        Yes! Same thing except I was cheese pizza and Taco Bell hard shell tacos with just meat and cheese. My doctor said “Tomato sauce! You’re getting veggies in! Good work!”

        Reply
      7. Allison

        Somewhat unrelated, but all this talk of eating really “weird” diets while pregnant because sometimes it’s all you can eat, reminds me of a time where I had 10+ canker sores all over my mouth, and a lot of the food I usually ate became unbearable, so I ended up subsisting on food that was nice and gentle on my mouth, like white rice and mac n cheese. You would have had to pry those Velveeta microwave cups out of my cold, dead hands!

        Reply
      8. JoAnna

        When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I ate nothing but chicken broth and Easy Mac for about 20 weeks. They were the only foods that would stay down consistently.

        Reply
        1. ChickenSuperhero

          I threw up the whole lovely pregnancy, and 1.5 year after birth still have morning sickness if there is a bad smell. For me, the worst was white *glistening* food. Eggs? (No – partner had to go into the yard to cook and eat eggs, hunched over a camp stove.) Cottage cheese? Ughhh. Tofu? Urk. So what vegetarian protein is left?

          I finally realised that plain chicken made me throw up less, but it was a struggle to finally let myself eat the stuff. Saved my life though!

          Reply
      9. AMPG

        When I was pregnant with twins, I had the WORST time eating enough to not get dizzy/queasy regularly. I ate cheeseburgers for lunch all the time and put peanut butter on everything. I was so grateful for the calorie lists at the quick-food places near my office because I needed 1000 calories for lunch just to make it to the end of the workday. I probably would’ve killed anyone who gave me a hard time about it, too.

        Reply
      10. Cafe au Lait

        I’m 16-weeks pregnant right now. Yesterday I ate jello and ice cream for breakfast because it was all I could tolerate. In past weeks, I’d buy a spinach pie from Olga’s every day because at least the cheese gave me protein. Taco Bell has also become a favorite. I can tolerate the beans and rice with a little cheese.

        Reply
        1. SebbyGrrl

          Where are you that they still have Olgas!?

          No more in CA.

          Love everything there and real greek/mediterranean gyros are not the same.

          Still trying to imitate their salad, again no version (even Greek salad in Greece was not the same kind of good.

          I often fantisize about their hamburger!

          Reply
      11. VerySleepyPregnantLady

        Using my anon-name from the open thread, rather than my usual one.

        My husband has said he wants me eating organic food as much as possible. On some level, I look forward to puking my organic diet *at* him.

        (So far, I’m not actually puking, just experiencing intense nausea that makes me wish I was puking. I am sleeping 12+ hours a day, so husband has food shopping & prep duties for the foreseeable future.)

        For realz, some people don’t have choices about “healthy” food.

        Reply
        1. Zombeyonce

          I was sick for 5 months of my pregnancy and only threw up when I got on a plane. Afterwards was the first time I had any relief in months, since just having a constant feeling of nausea was worse for me than just throwing up a few times.

          Reply
          1. Perse's Mom

            I agree – rather intensely – about prolonged nausea being worse (SO MUCH WORSE) than just finally barfing. And I hate barfing SO very much.

            Reply
      12. Gadfly

        I got a diabetes, endometrial hyperplasia, pituitary tumor (causing in part the other 2) combo diagnois a few months back, and the meds have conflicting side effects that have me about the same way. My body is finding food complex enough right now, and my priorities of being able to leave the house without a diaper trump putting on a show of “healthy eating”

        Reply
  7. Amadeo

    You can pry my cheeseburger out of my cold, dead hands, ‘Live our brand’ employee. I agree with Alison, if you’re catering for the company or otherwise providing food to employees, I think that’s the only time that it’s fine to choose what’s being eaten (and who’s going to tell the Folks On High they can’t have cupcakes? I’d volunteer that vocal employee) but unless you’re going to buy my groceries every week, nobody gets to tell me what goes into my lunch box, thank you.

    Reply
    1. Not the Person I Thought I Was

      And cook them. Buy your groceries and cook them. If they’re going to get intrusive, make ‘em pay AND work for the privilege.

      Reply
  8. Lora

    My workplace provides snacks and lunch, and it’s invariably healthy or at least healthy-ish: some sort of baked/roast/steamed protein, two vegetables, salad. Granola bars and fruit, yogurt. People mostly eat it because it’s free and it’s there, unless they have an allergy or something.

    I can’t be the only person thinking that perhaps it’s time to examine the efficacy of the program, if it’s not working on employees who are presumably more motivated and aware than a random stranger.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      That last point is excellent.

      And I’m surprised at the coworker who is frustrated that everyone isn’t living their very healthiest lives. Better to figure out why, than to just be frustrated that her ideal diet isn’t attractive to more people. The ‘why’ can have a lot to do with what is the default easy option, which Lora’s workplace is doing right.

      Reply
      1. Lora

        We also have a few healthy eating type restaurants (well, vegetarian) within walking distance, and the landlord arranged with a farm CSA to have a drop-off site in the quad between the buildings. It’s mostly just that they made it super convenient and cheap to eat the healthy stuff: If you want pastries at the coffee shop, you can go get them, but you will wait in line and there’s no WiFi in the coffee shop. Some days when we are really motivated, we will go (or send someone out) to the ice cream shop a few blocks down the road, but it rarely happens because it’s such a pain in the butt to set up who wants what that we just don’t.

        Reply
        1. myswtghst

          It’s mostly just that they made it super convenient and cheap to eat the healthy stuff

          That’s pretty much the key. If you want people to behave in a way you deem to be “healthier”, make it so behaving in that way is easy for them. It doesn’t have to be about policies and punishments, and it doesn’t have to be about accomplishments or rewards for subjective behaviors – just make it readily available.

          Reply
      2. Jadelyn

        Well, and who’s to say that they’re not living their healthiest lives? Mental health is part of health. My healthiest life includes junk food because it’s a deliberate and entirely necessary mental middle finger to my past eating disorder, and it helps enable me to *eat at all* despite my executive dysfunction caused by multiple mental illnesses. This IS my healthiest life. It may not look like it to some moralizing stranger, but that’s because they don’t get to tell me what “my healthiest life” looks like.

        Reply
        1. Fifty Foot Commute

          Yes. This is exactly what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how phrase it that wouldn’t sound like I was trying to say “Hostess cupcakes are healthy for me because I say so.” Thank you.

          Reply
      3. QuestionSubmitter

        But I understand her frustration. She comes from a place where she sees her identity as a dedicated employee here deeply fused with who she is as a person already (consistently making healthy choices). To her, it’s not “her diet” but rather a set of values and messages that defines our organization’s mission. So I guess if we’re in the health promotion business, we have to be role models too?

        Someone also made the argument that we should be role models, then this choice comment of “Would you take diet advice from a doctor who is overweight”? Not even touching that with a 10-ft pole.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          But the thing is, her identity issues are *her issues* to deal with, not something she needs to be foisting off onto everyone around her by policing and moralizing their personal lifestyles (and getting frustrated when that doesn’t work).

          And I know this is hard to hear, as someone who works at a nonprofit and is deeply invested in the mission of my nonprofit I definitely get the difficulty in separating oneself from the Cause, but sometimes a job is just a job – even at a nonprofit org. People who work at a health promotion business are still people who exist outside of that identity. We’re not obligated to be living embodiments of our employers’ values both on and off the clock. I love my org and I care deeply about our Cause, but I’m still an employee, someone who is trading labor and skills for money. It’s still a business relationship, not a personal one.

          Reply
        2. Grits McGee

          It sounds like a lot of this is stemming from a lack of boundaries between personal and professional life for the people that are pushing this. You can be a valuable employee and contributor to a nonprofit without having to form yourself into the living embodiment of your organization’s meeting. Even though you can get almost everything you need, no sane person would expect Target employees to only shop at Target; or for an environmental advocacy group to have a garbage can. Just because this is her way of contributing to the nonprofit’s mission, it doesn’t mean that it’s a helpful way for anyone else. (And honestly, if it’s obnoxious as your letter sounds, this food policing is probably driving staff, volunteers, and stakeholders away, which is actively harming your organization’s mission.)

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yes, this. I’ve worked primarily for nonprofits in my life. It’s extremely dangerous and toxic to start conflating your personal identity with your organization’s mission, and it shows a real (and problematic) lack of boundaries.

            As for the employee who made the comment about a “fat doctor,” all I can feel at this point is pity with an edge of repugnance. It must be very difficult to make one’s decisions based on superficial and potentially erroneous observations and misplaced value judgments.

            Reply
          2. One of the Sarahs

            Yes, yes, yes! Some charities/nonprofits, especially the small ones (and I say this from experience) expect people to make sacrifices that no profit-business would dream of – whether it’s work 12 hour days when paid for 8.5, not claiming expenses etc, buying one’s own office supplies to not spend “the cause”‘s money, or having to “live the mission”. It’s seen as virtuous in these places, but it leads to burn-out, inefficiency and high turnover.

            Reply
        3. AnonEMoose

          Having her dedication as an employee be a big part of her identity is a choice she gets to make…for herself. But she doesn’t get to make that choice for everyone else, which is what she is basically trying to do.

          Reply
        4. Annabelle

          I think one of the fundamental issues you’re describing is that your colleague has imbued food with morality. Her identity is none of my business, but I would caution her (or anyone, for that matter) against that.

          Folks in reovery from eating disorders (self included) spend a lot of time un-learning the idea that foods are “good” or “bad.” I think reaffirming the super-flawed belief that food is somehow a moral thing would be really harmful. You never know what your other coworkers may be going through, so I just wouldn’t risk it.

          Reply
        5. Hapless Bureaucrat

          From a policy and program standpoint, the most effective programs are those where people have natural incentives to comply, and I’d imagine that’s even more important for healthy eating programs. I understand the frustration– she believes in this work! But presumably so do her coworkers, and they deserve to have her believe in them, too.
          Examining unintentional barriers or disincentives at the company (or even in the programs) is a better idea than putting policies on peoples private meals in place. (Your eventual compromise policy sounds fine.)
          Some of those barriers could be specific to the company, and they could use some of the incentives other commenters have pointed out to encourage healthy choices. And maybe in the process of examining them she’d discover issues she could address to make your external programs better too.
          Either way, it takes the moral weight off individual coworker food choices, while giving her an outlet for her desire to improve things.

          I’m being far more diplomatic than I would be if she were my coworker and judging my lunch, by the way, which is usually the product of balancing limited time, limited sodium, past history of disorded eating, and limited money. None of which I should be forced to share with a colleague to justify my sandwich.

          Reply
          1. QuestionSubmitter

            Well said! Your comment about taking the moral weight off food choices is essentially why I wanted to write to Alison for help. I believe we do great work and I want to respond positively to this push towards healthy eating… but at the same time how do make this push without judgment and disrespect.

            Reply
        6. JanetInSC

          I seek out overweight doctors because I’m tired of being fat shamed by younger doctors who spend a lot of time at the gym. I’m paying you. Don’t make me feel like a failure…it won’t have the desired effect.

          Reply
        7. Observer

          Well, she’s flat out wrong, both about what constitutes healthy choices and about making healthy choices being the same as moral virtue. There are enough comments here about the healthy choices part. But if you look, you’ll see why even not so healthy choices are not a moral indicator at all.

          Lastly, just because SHE sees her identity as fused with the organization and “healthy choices” it’s just utterly inappropriate of her to expect that from others.

          Reply
        8. Falling Diphthong

          A while back there was a question from someone whose employer had recently provided nutritionists, as a cool perk for employees thing. (They also had a gym and such.) The nutritionists targeted the serious athletes and tried to get them to commit to The Diet so that they could write testimonials and be in photo shoots promoting The Diet and how it gave them this physique. Writer was a weightlifter who was not going to be able to do his sport on 1200 calories a day and a bunch of soy. It turned out other people–especially the targeted athletes amongst the employees–found the nutritionists annoying, not a plus, and the company got rid of them.

          Reply
        9. Falling Diphthong

          “Would you take diet advice from a doctor who is overweight?”

          I’m going to break this down:

          I would not be inclined to take weight loss advice from a doctor who is visibly obese. (Unless they had photos showing that they were now ‘quite chubby’ and had once been ‘spherical.’)

          I would also not be inclined to take advice on managing diabetes or Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis or a hundred other problems from a doctor who visibly had that problem raging out of control. So is that the case here? Is this health issue, whatever it is, one that is easy to diagnose at a glance? Is it due solely to the diet people eat? Is the cure solely diet based?

          I’m going to guess no. A lot of people have made observations about being chubby with excellent medical levels of various things, or very thin with awful levels of those measures. Diagnosing health with a glance is very hard to do, and I am going to guess your coworker is not a brilliant physician, but rather someone who equates weight and health and moral goodness. If it’s not based in science–science as applied to each individual worker, not as applied statistically over 1000 people–then you shouldn’t be giving it a place in the office.

          Reply
          1. cleverhandle

            Being “visibly obese” (whatever that means) is not evidence of a “problem raging out of control.” You acknowledge in your last paragraph that diagnosing health based on appearance is difficult, so I’m confused by this part of your comment.

            Reply
          2. JM60

            I don’t get not trusting the diet advice of a fat doctor. Whether or not the particular person giving the advice follows it is irrelevant to whether or not it’s good advice. Diet advice doesn’t suddenly go from being bad advice to good advice just because the doctor giving it is healthy vs overweight.

            A doctor’s job is basically a type of engineering job. In performing that job, it’s doesn’t matter how well they take care of themselves; What matters is whether or not they have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to evaluate what is or isn’t wrong with you, and can proscribe the right remedies (including lifestyle changes).

            I grew up with a next door neighbor who was a retired dentist who had rotten teeth. When I met him and discovered this, I didn’t think “He doesn’t know how to take care of his teeth.” Instead, I thought, “He knows how to take care of his teeth, but chooses not to for whatever reason.” Not listening to a doctor’s advice because the doctor is fat is equivalent to thinking that my neighbor dentist doesn’t know how to care for his teeth, which makes no sense to me.

            Reply
          3. Gadfly

            I wouldn’t take it from a thin one. Not unless they could show they had previously been large. Having skinny genes doesn’t improve their advice, it usually just makes them think it should be easy for everyone.

            Even then I want them to be able to show the loss maintained for at least 5 years. And that rules out about 95+% of weight loss according to the weight loss industry itself. So I doubt I am finding that doctor…

            Reply
        10. Liz2

          Limiting options sends the message that your company doesn’t trust its own people AND that the only way to truly live healthy is to be forced into it and not empowered to make choices. That’s the actual message you send when you make these policies. This actually destroys the message your company is trying to make.

          Now, if you want to only offer certain foods at events, and company provided options are kept to a particular brand- sure. But that’s not in any way limiting the choices people need to make for themselves.

          Reply
        11. Cascadia

          I guess I can see the frustration, but you really can’t control people’s personal choices unless you make it part of the job description. I have a friend who works for a non-profit that promotes bicycle use – and she drives her car to work. Does she believe in the mission? yes, but also, it’s just her job, and due to a lot of different life circumstances, she drives to work instead of biking. Can her employer force her to bike to work? I don’t think so. They certainly can incentivise it though, which they do! She gets crazy good perks when she bikes to work. But you can’t punish her because she needs to drive to work – she does her job, she does good work, end of story.

          Reply
    2. Tuckerman

      What I like about this strategy is that it helps out people who want to eat healthy but who have little time to prepare food (e.g. roasting and pulling a chicken).

      Reply
    3. SignalLost

      I don’t entirely agree that the employees should be part of the program to work there and that’s a metric of its efficacy. I worked for a local trade org that was vehemently in favour of the TPP while I was not. I confined my comments about it to my circle of friends (and celebrated its death on my own time). Generally, a militant vegan shouldn’t work for the beef council, but employees don’t have to exactly match their employers’ missions to work well with and for the employer.

      Reply
    4. Amy

      I also feel like this program probably isn’t effective. In part because it sounds like it presents a very narrow vision of ‘healthy’ food, and in part because the people running it don’t sound like they have any idea how to actually inspire change in people.

      Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      Unless the clients are literally in the office investigating what every employee eats for lunch on a daily basis, there are no “optics” to be concerned with.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        This. You can disallow food at the reception desk and certainly McDonalds or whatever if food is allowed in that highly visible spot. But what employees eat for lunch is none of their business. As a person who has a few food sensitivities and who cannot eat most vegetarian meals because they raise havoc with my digestion, I really don’t want some bossy intrusive employee micromanaging my lunch. Control the food machines and what is stocked in the break room for snacking. Then leave people the heck alone.

        Reply
        1. DecorativeCacti

          Yes. I agree with this. Create a policy that says that the company will provide “healthy” meals for company events, please don’t have McDonald’s bags or sodas (which can be hidden in opaque glasses/bottles) if you’re visible to the public. But what goes on in the employee break room? No one’s business.

          Reply
      2. N

        I’ve also found that in many workplaces there is one person who is highly concerned with “optics” and wants to be very controlling about the one *thing* they have a problem with. When I worked in retail it was a manager who wanted the store to be spotless even more than she wanted to make sales. At my current office, before I arrived, it was a manager who refused to spend any money on marketing because we are a mission-driven organization and that would smack of “wasted funds.” I suspect that only one or two people in OP’s organization really care about the “optics” of unhealthy lunches.

        Reply
  9. MuseumChick

    Please don’t do this. There are so many things that can/will go wrong. I’m picturing an extreme vegan and extreme paleo person going at it over what is “healthy”. As for the cupcakes and the lady who complained about them, is any forcing her to eat them? Anyone, to eat them? Will the office only allow sugar-free snacks? What if it’s someone’s “cheat day” and they bring a cookie with their lunch? What if someone can only afford pasta (is pasta healthy? Paleo says no! Vegetarians say yes! Vegan say only if it has not animal products!).

    I would hella resent this and start looking for a new job.

    Reply
    1. Xarcady

      If those sugar-free snacks you mention have any sort of artificial sweetener in them–there’s a whole bunch of folks who can’t eat them without suffering severe gastric distress. So not a healthy option for them.

      Reply
      1. Woah

        Ugh and migraines. And my husband had a kidney condition as a kid that he feels gets aggravated by aspartame.

        Reply
      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        I have a friend who is deathly allergic to artificial sweeteners. She gets uncomfortable when any of us order a diet soda and we’re out for fear of cross-contamination.

        Reply
      3. Just Another Techie

        And also the latest research implicates artificial sweeteners in metabolic disorders and weight gain. I’m sure that’s sooooo much healthier than having the occasional cupcake.

        Reply
  10. Akcipitrokulo

    I would quit. Depending on how desperate I was, I *might* wait until I’d found another job, but a culture that is willing to be so intrusive is not somewhere I’d work willingly.

    Reply
    1. ChickenSuperhero

      Yeah. Although the management being normal argues for ignoring the pushy meddler. But it sounds like a bullying work place. L

      Reply
      1. Akcipitrokulo

        I might talk to highers up… but if became policy?

        Actually in UK so might just start breaking it all the time and then sue them for unfair dismissal if they did anything… :)

        Reply
    2. AJHall

      Me too. This whole discussion is reminding me of things my mother and sister told me about paternalistic workplaces they worked for; in one of them the tea-and-coffee cart came round at 10.30 every morning. The tea and coffee were free, but if you wanted it without milk you had to bring a doctor’s note because milk was *good* for you and you weren’t allowed to refuse it without demonstrating a viable objective reason and no, “I loathe milk to the point of gagging” wasn’t a good enough reason.

      The pushy employee seems like a lawsuit or an assault waiting to happen.

      Reply
        1. AJHall

          I imagine vegans, along with any moderately observant Hindus and Buddhists in the workplace realised they weren’t welcome there, and pushed off to pastures less judgmental. Which is what’s going to happen if OP’s workmates get this policy adopted.

          Reply
          1. Gadfly

            Many vegetarian hindus use dairy religiously. Literally. The bigger problem would be lactose intoletance in people of southeast asians descent as unfermented/processed milk is not as common. More yogurt, paneer, ghee…

            Reply
  11. Sarah S

    My work started a healthy-eating initiative once. It consisted of the HR manager sending around emails of recipes with “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!” as the subject line. That initiative did not last very long.

    Reply
    1. Princess Carolyn

      Oh my gosh. I’d be flipping desks in rage if anyone in my office (much less HR!) sent me that kind of thing.

      Reply
    2. Fictional Butt

      Nothing tastes as good as getting my ribs stuck in the chair I’m sitting in? I can say from personal experience that that is not true.

      Reply
      1. (Different) Rebecca

        …as someone who dislocates ribs often, may I offer up a horrified “OMFG OUCH!” in your direction…?

        Reply
      1. Anonygoose

        I am fully of the opinion that pizza followed by a large bowl of ice cream tastes WAY better than skinny feels.

        Reply
    3. Kowalski! Options!

      If my manager ever said/wrote/hinted at that, I’d tell her to quit smoking so she could actually *taste* food. Luckily, my manager’s taste buds are working fine and she’s the biggest source of chocolate on the floor because her kids are always engaged in some fundraising thin or other.

      Reply
    4. Jesca

      Haha I’m sure the equating skinny to healthy went over well. Holy moly! Ya know interesting enough I was actually a lot less healthy when I was younger and about 30 lbs smaller. I ate the worst prepackaged cheap cheap crap sold in the frozen food isle. I felt like crap all the time, my blood pressure was higher, and I was starting to have medical problems. I definitely was a lot less healthy than I am now when I was considered “skinny”

      Reply
      1. Jesca

        Ahh this keeps cutting off my posts! But I had added that I was also very poor and on my own during this time. No way I could have afforded anything else. It would have been financially devastating to me if a place enforced healthy food.

        Reply
      1. ChickenSuperhero

        Water down yogurt, on Friday afternoon pour it on their chair and carpet.

        /I fantasize elaborate revenge scenarios but never do them.

        Reply
      1. Newby

        I would be tempted to print it out, write “how about this?” and put various treats outside his office every day with it.

        Reply
      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        I’m hoping you meant “skinny” but “skin” is making me laugh so hard. It’s worth getting flayed alive for some of that sweet, sweet bacon!

        Reply
    5. AW

      Which is the other problem with these initiatives: they’re usually just a cover to harass people about their weight.

      Reply
    6. Delta Delta

      I once got very skinny through a combination of crushing depression and marathon training. Can say conclusively that didn’t feel great. Would’ve gladly traded that for a pint of ice cream.

      Reply
    7. Jadelyn

      That phrase in particular is literally a pro-ana (pro-anorexia) tagline. I would have left a swathe of destruction in my wake on the way to that person’s office to destroy them. That is beyond inappropriate.

      Reply
      1. Buffay the Vampire Layer

        Yeah, wow. I just got a very unpleasant flashback to when I used to hang out on those websites.

        Reply
      2. Anonyfat

        I first heard it in a Weight Watchers meeting back in 1998. It’s been around a looooong time.

        Reply
      3. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

        Yeah, I would have been fired. Or something. I already had a small incident in which I got kind of loud with a coworker who said he “understood the appeal of bulimia”. I mean, it wasn’t anything crazy, but I’m sure the people who saw me get upset were surprised. I cannot imagine what my response would be getting an email like this and FROM HR NO LESS. It’s appalling. And sooooo disordered. And also, skinny isn’t necessarily healthy? I know several people personally who got skinny through illness or anorexia/bulimia/exercise addiction…not exactly markers of health. And I know people considered fat who can outrun me any day of the week and eat balanced diets. So…

        Reply
      4. OhNo

        Same. I’ve seen what eating disorders can do to people, and you better believe I’d be in their office raising holy hell within minutes of receiving that email.

        Reply
      5. Optimistic Prime

        Yeeeeeah, I used to hang out on some pro-ana sites back in the day, and that was a common tagline the members would say to ‘encourage’ each other. So when I saw it I had a very unpleasant reaction.

        Reply
    8. Liz2

      Wow- I wonder how long ago that was because that was a Kate Moss quote and a big pro-ana (anorexia) slogan.

      Reply
    9. LadyL

      That’s…actually incredibly sad. Without going into details, a while back I found myself frequently reading a website dedicated to individuals suffering from eating disorders who felt that their EDs were a good thing*, and that was their slogan. It’s disturbing that your HR (!!!) manager thought that kind of thing would ever be remotely acceptable to share.

      Also disturbing? A lot of the same images/slogans/memes secretly shared on that website 10 years ago have now entered the mainstream, only now it’s completely open and described as “fitspo”.

      *It was slightly more complicated than that, but I’m not sure how much detail is appropriate to share. Basically, it was kind of like, “No one understands us except us, so we have to support each other”. People going into recovery were cheered on, but also people engaging in dangerous eating habits were cheered on as well. IDK.

      Reply
    1. Jadelyn

      LOL, I literally read the headline, said to myself “Nope! Next question?” (and then clicked through to read it anyway, of course.)

      Reply
  12. Princess Carolyn

    Too often, “healthy” is used as a synonym for “low calorie,” which is one of the many reasons it’s crappy to judge people on the “healthfulness” of their food choices. When offices bring in “healthy” foods, they tend to focus on fruit and low-fat options like pretzels – which are certainly not unhealthy, but they’re foods I’m supposed to eat sparingly because I have insulin resistance problems. The cheese or beef jerky that would be healthy for me might be too fatty or salty for someone else’s idea of “healthy.”

    And, part of being healthy is not being overly rigid in your diet. Healthy people eat cupcakes. Being worried about the “optics” of someone in your organization eating cupcakes or pizza is just fueling the unreasonable all-or-nothing thinking about diet that so many Americans are prone to.

    Reply
    1. Anxa

      Yeah, this is one thing that gets me all the time.

      I’m 125 lbs and 5’5″. I’m also low-income. I don’t see a low-cal substitution as healthy. I view it as a waste of money.

      I cannot tell you how many times I ended up getting a super unhealthy meal because the place I volunteered at had redone their cafeteria pricing (I got a voucher), so I could either spend the whole thing on a salad (not enough food), or get a single slice of ‘pizza’, because even though it cost the same as the pizza, at least it was high calorie and filling, even if it used up my whole voucher. I walked several miles a shift at the gig and I wasn’t gonna do it on a small handful of beans tossed on some greens.

      Gone were the days of a piece of chicken parm, a side of vegetables, and a small serving of past or a piece of glazed chicken with a side of rice.

      Reply
  13. Justin Casey Howles

    Also, are you paying everyone enough to bring in all this healthy food? If someone can only afford white bread for their sandwich, are you going to get on their case about it not being organic 7-grain wheat bread?

    Reply
    1. Stop That Goat

      That was one of my first thoughts. Those healthy foods aren’t particularly cheap which is a whole other societal issue.

      Reply
      1. Zip Silver

        Well, the “healthy” snacks aren’t. Healthy food in and of itself is pretty cheap if you do meal planning and pack your own lunches. I bodybuild as a hobby and I eat for around $40 week if I’m not going out (including lots and lots of meat). Things like kale chips or almonds can be pricey though (and a lot of the “chips” can be done pretty easily in a cheapo food dehydrator). You pay a premium for prepackaged “health”

        Reply
        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          It’s easy if you don’t live in a food desert and you have the time, skills, and equipment necessary to prepare things.

          Reply
          1. K.

            Yeah, I can name several food deserts in my city in which the residents have corner stores at best, not grocery stores with fresh produce. Folks living there have very likely never seen or heard of kale chips.

            (I make kale chips in my plain old unglamorous oven.)

            Reply
            1. Wendy Darling

              I used to live in an area that was primarily student housing, and it wasn’t a food desert but it was kind of the food doldrums. The nearest grocery store carried fresh produce and meat but it was *nasty*. The meat was always tough, the produce was mushy and flavorless, and all of it would be rotten within 48 hours of bringing it home. Most of their clientele was students living in either dorms with no kitchen or efficiency apartments where the “kitchen” was a microwave and a hot plate on top of a mini fridge, so they mostly sold prepared and packaged foods.

              I had a car so I drove several miles over to the posh grocery store in the upper middle class single-family home neighborhood to get my fresh food. People with no car would have had to take transit like 40 minutes each way to get there.

              Reply
              1. Jaydee

                We have two main grocery stores in town (same chain) and a couple of smaller ones. My family moved across town, switching from Store #1’s area to Store #2’s area. It is clear which side of town most of the college students live on because there are so many things we could find in our old store but not in our new one. But we also have a good selection of energy drinks available now….

                Reply
          2. TL -

            I think he just means it’s not expensive to actually eat healthy; it’s expensive to pay for the markers of eating healthy.
            Doesn’t mean everyone can afford to do it/has the time or access but it’s also not true to say that eating healthy is prohibitively expensive.

            Reply
            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              Again, that depends on where you live, your access to ‘healthy’ food, and your ability to prepare said food.

              Reply
              1. Jadelyn

                And let me just lean on the whole “ability to prepare said food” part – I have major depression, anxiety, and ADHD. These are all disorders that cause executive functioning problems, sometimes very severely. I have learned, over the last 15 years of living with these issues, that if I try to force myself to implement *Healthy Eating* plans, I will literally just wind up not eating because there’s too much Stuff that has to happen between “I’m hungry” and “I’m eating”, to do with selecting, buying, preparing, cooking, etc. I use stuff like individual cracker and chip packets, microwave meals, and other things like that that would be considered “unhealthy” foods to close the gap between what I need calorically and what I’m capable of doing for myself at any given moment.

                Also, I have a history of disordered eating. Trying to force myself to “eat healthy” – ESPECIALLY if it’s something that I feel is being forced on me, or if I’m feeling like people are judging me over it – brings up a lot of psychological and emotional issues and runs the risk of triggering a relapse. To me, for my mental and emotional health, “junk food” is a necessary part of my diet.

                I literally would quit a job over this. Any employer that thinks they have a right to regulate what goes into my body is unworthy of my time and labor. Regulate what the company pays for, sure. Regulate what’s served at company-sponsored events, sure. Regulate my personal diet? Both middle fingers upraised as I saunter out the front door.

                Reply
                1. Detective Amy Santiago

                  I am right there with you. I may have the best intentions of preparing ‘healthy’ food, but my anxiety and depression make the execution difficult.

                2. Wannabe Disney Princess

                  I’m with you there. I’ve battled depression off and for most of my life. The worst of it was right after my dad died. Getting something in my body that even vaguely resembled food was a major achievement. Had somebody at work commented on that there’s a high likelihood there would have been bloodshed.

                3. Aeryn Sun

                  This. I’m just so exhausted at the end of the day, partly because of my stressful job and partly because of anxiety/depression that I tend to rely on frozen meals. I usually try to cobble a healthy meal together, but I usually end up with something like a bagel in there because it’s easy to throw in. When I’m just tired and emotionally drained after working it’s hard to think “well let’s spend 30 -45 minutes cooking” or planning a week’s lunches in advance.

                4. Jadelyn

                  @Detective – It used to be that a couple times a year I would get the urge to Be Healthy From Now On and buy a bunch of fresh produce and stuff that requires a lot of prep…which inevitably got thrown out a couple weeks later because I never did anything with it bc it was too much work. So I’ve learned to just stomp on that urge at this point, because it’s not going to go anywhere.

                  @Disney – when my fiance and I separated for awhile a couple years ago, I lost a TON of weight in the space of about 2 months because I was literally just not eating. If anyone had commented on my eating habits I absolutely would’ve snapped, so I sympathize!

                5. peachie

                  Seconded on almost every point. I’m glad I’m not the only person who thought, “Well, I would definitely quit [and stop eating at work for my notice period].”

                  In my own experience, the medicine I was on + depression generally made it so that, for nearly 18 months, I did not experience hunger and often got sick when I tried to eat. I lost 25% of my body weight despite trying very hard not to, getting down to a dangerously low weight.

                  My issues with making/preparing food were similar to yours–it was often all I could do to go to the grocery store, let alone trying to actually make food every night. I was perpetually exhausted, had no motivation, had no appetite, and eating was not only not-pleasant (in that I stopped experiencing pleasure/”good tastes” from eating)–it was often uncomfortable, painful, or sickening.

                  So–I ate whatever I wanted. If I had even the slightest craving for, like, a candy bar, I would get that. If I felt like I could stomach some fast food, I would devour that with no shame. If I wanted a soda, I’d drink it for the calories. In fact, I preferred high-calorie food, because I desperately needed to gain (or at least maintain) weight.

                  I’m not arguing that this is healthy, necessarily–but it was sure more healthy than literally not eating anything.

                6. Matilda Jefferies

                  Adding my voice to this chorus as well. Yesterday it took me ten minutes to prepare a bowl of cereal, because the brain function just wasn’t there.

                7. Sparky

                  For a while my best friend’s HIV+ medications not only took is appetite away, but they made food really unappealing. If he found something he could force down, he ate it for every meal. Breakfast bars worked for a while. The smell of chocolate was appealing, but eating it was not. So he had bowls of crumbled chocolate bars around to hep him eat other foods, and because he kept hoping he’d be able to eat the chocolate. He was losing weight and desperately needed calories. I don’t think he could have held a job at this point, but if he’d dragged himself to work or some event, he wouldn’t have needed any commentary on whatever he was doing with food.

                  We don’t know what other people are going through. When I was trapped in a toxic job and my cat was dying, I think I ate a chocolate bar at work every day. I don’t now, but if I did I also wouldn’t want to hear anything from anyone else about it. And boy, would someone have regretted saying anything to me at that job.

                8. The Other Katie

                  People shouldn’t have to justify what they eat. Whether it’s because of a food desert, lack of time/money/skill, mental or physical barriers, or just because you like a good cupcake, grownups get to choose the food they put in their mouth. Even if they work at a health charity.

                9. Heather

                  You just made a giant light bulb go off over my head – it never occurred to me that my ADHD was affecting my ability to plan/execute meals. I just assumed I was too damn picky & lazy. But reading your comment, I realized that trying to figure out what to eat gives me the same OMFG-where-do-I-even-start brain tornado as trying to put my thoughts down on paper (or screen…if I had a dollar for every draft comment here I abandoned I could pay for a personal chef). Thank you for helping me add that to the list of “ohhhhhh THAT’S why I act that way” ADHD discoveries :)

                  And I beat myself up enough about this stuff – if my coworkers started in on me? It would not be pretty.

                10. Jadelyn

                  @Heather – glad I could help! I’ve gotten a lot of great lightbulb moments like that from friends on social media who have ADHD, especially before I was diagnosed. That’s what prompted me to see my psychiatrist and ask about it, in fact – if I identified with literally *all* of someone’s posts on ADHD, that seemed to indicate maybe I had it too? And sure enough, lol.

                  Anywho, I sympathize. Executive dysfunction is so awful. That’s why I keep no-brainer food on hand, so I can just go grab a prepackaged thing and eat it when I’m not up to handling the “Where do I staaaaaaart?” stuff.

                11. tiny temping teapot

                  Yuppers. Sometimes it seems like even too much to cook a frozen pizza for 15 minutes and I will literally be like, okay, crackers it is. Or half a pint of ice cream. Whichever. (And then there are the days where I just don’t eat because I don’t notice I’m hungry, etc. Too much to get off the couch.)

                12. Ramona Flowers

                  Me too. I have anxiety and ptsd and a load of other stuff to deal with. Plus some abuse stuff from my childhood that just makes it really hard for me to be kind to myself about food.

                  After finding me on the kitchen floor after yet another panic attack about it all, my husband told me eating food is good enough. Because eating some food is better than eating no food, and right now I have other worries and if I’m eating and enjoying it then great.

                  The thought of being food shamed at work… no thanks

                13. JanetInSC

                  “Both middle fingers upraised as I saunter out the front door.”
                  Exactly!!!
                  Lack of time and energy makes healthy food less appealing…and some of need comfort food at the end of a long day.
                  But, really, that’s my business. No one has a right to tell me what I can and cannot eat.

                14. Jaydee

                  I have similar issues (including ADHD and anxiety) with healthy eating. If I plan my meals carefully and make the plan easy to follow, I can eat a very healthy diet, feel satisfied, and enjoy my food. But if the simplest thing goes awry – the dog barfs in the morning and I run out of time to pack my lunch or I realize the last of the lettuce wilted or the strawberries got moldy – then it is a quick downhill spiral to not necessarily eating any produce all day but getting 1,000% of my RDA of cookies.

                  I don’t have an eating disorder, but I do have some disordered eating habits (I think mostly related to my anxiety and ADHD and the wonderful combination of perfectionism and impulsiveness inherent thereto). So having people around me engaging in food moralizing or very restricted eating is unhelpful. Having people around me who love good, nutritious food and model good eating behaviors and moderation is very helpful.

                  Also, the very notion of what a “healthy” diet looks like is so controversial. I mean, I think we can all agree my 3 cookie lunches aren’t healthy. But what if they are accompanied by a salad? With light dressing? Full fat dressing? Vinegar and oil? Is pasta healthy? What’s the optimal ratio of carbs to protein to fat? Does it differ if you’re diabetic, have heart disease, are underweight, are training for a marathon, are pregnant, all of the above, none of the above?

                  And now my perfectionism is clamoring to optimize my diet, which means my impulsiveness is going to want to grab the first cookie I see (and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th… because that’s how she rolls). But we had a really tasty and visually appealing lunch with good company!!! There was avocado! We have coffee! We are full and satisfied! Come on guys, settle down and go back to reformatting this letter forever while also responding to every ping when a new email arrives. There you go…all better….

                15. Ellie

                  Yep, I have ADHD, anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and rheumatoid arthritis.

                  Which basically results in me being mostly unable to prepare food (either my brain rebels or my hands rebel) and even if I can get my fingers to hold a knife steady enough to cut something up, halfway through I’m probably going to start freaking about about Oh My God, Food and then I’ll panic and either not eat or b/p. Frozen stuff, prepackaged stuff, anything that comes basically complete and requiring very little preparation is the best way to get me to eat something without it turning into a whole ordeal.

                  If my workplace tried to implement any kind of food policing… I dunno if I’d quit or bring the issue to HR unless I was recruited by other unhappy coworkers. Most likely I’d just stop eating at work, at all. Super healthy. But hey, I’d lose weight, and that’s healthy, right?!

            2. Fictional Butt

              A taxi to the grocery store can be prohibitively expensive. An oven can be prohibitively expensive. It’s not just about the cost of the food itself.

              Reply
              1. kittymommy

                One of my closest friends worked for a charity for quite awhile upon graduation. Her apartment, the only one she could afford, had a microwave, small fridge and that was ur. I gave her an electric skillet and she got one of those one burner plug in things.

                Reply
              2. TootsNYC

                or a fridge! I have a cousin who’s currently traveling with the circus (yes, really), which means she lives in an RV, and they have a generator that provides the electricity.
                But she is often without, because other people’s AC will blow the generator, or use up all the power.

                So she can’t keep food fresh.

                Reply
            3. Bess

              It costs me far more to eat fresh veggies, lean meats, and whole grains than it does to eat white bread PB & J, mac & cheese, and hamburger helper.

              Reply
              1. TL -

                But mac ‘n’ cheese and hamburger helper *doesn’t* cost, in terms of just money, more than rice and beans with frozen veggies and maybe a sauce or meat for a stir fry. Or baked/microwaved potatoes with frozen veggies and bacon pieces. (totally not a judgment of eating either way, though.)

                We an idea of what “healthy” looks like and that diet is expensive – organic, super fresh, antibiotic-free and labor intensive. In reality, a healthy diet can look completely different from that version of “healthy” and be so much cheaper and easier (and yes, still not accessible to everyone).
                (This is not to say healthy diets don’t include hamburger helper, white bread pb&js, and mac&cheese, because they totally can do that too. My point is only that our society’s optics of healthy are not the only version of healthy.)

                Reply
                1. JGray

                  You make a very good point about the optics of healthy. I for a while banned things such as hamburger helper and mac&cheese because I kept reading about not eating things from a box and how unhealthy it was. I was trying to feed my family as best as I could. Well it was so overwhelming and time consuming making everything from scratch all the time. I have tried those things in magazines that says prep only takes an hour on Sunday. Then I spend my whole day prepping for the week. I think that things in moderation are best depending on your situation. For this letter I sort of felt that this was more of a preachy situation where unless you were eating an all organic vegetarian diet you were being shamed as being unhealthy. I think that most people can agree that there are time when you want the cupcake or the french fries but that doesn’t mean you are unhealthy.

                2. Observer

                  That’s not really true. That bit of meat can cost, and so do the frozen veggies. And the frozen veggies means that you actually have a working freezer and the money to keep it running. Shelf stable food means you don’t have to worry about the electricity going out.

                3. TL -

                  @Observer: Which is why I said maybe with meat (since if you eat hamburger helper I’m presuming you’re eating with meat of some sort? And if you’re going home to directly cook the hamburger because your electricity is out you can do the same with frozen veggies; cook when you get home instead of store). And none of that matters if you can’t do it for Reasons; if you can’t you can’t and that’s the end of the story.

                  But also I didn’t say “everyone can afford to eat like this” – I specifically said it can be cheaper and affordable and still not accessible to everyone. There is still a huge difference between a $150 grocery bill from Whole Foods every week and a $35-50 from your local grocery store BUT both bills can result in equally healthy diets.
                  The problem we have is the cultural perception that if you can’t afford the $150 Whole Foods bill then there’s no point in trying anyways, even if all you can do is add frozen or canned veggies to your mac’n’cheese once a week.

            4. Slave to a toddler overlord

              It all depends where you live. I may not live in a food desert bUT I have a high cost of living. For exsmple cauliflour is 5 dollars a head, apples are generally 2 dollars a pound, and prices just go up from there. A cob of corn is a deal if I can get 1 for a dollar. Now I watch for sales but it still costs me 150 a week to feed us.

              Reply
              1. Whats In A Name

                A trick I use is to buy frozen veggies! They are packaged at the peak of freshness and are just as healthy as fresh (as long as they don’t have the sauce). I wait until they go on sale and stock up.

                Reply
          3. Tuxedo Cat

            Also, assuming that you don’t have a some big dietary restrictions. That makes healthy eating more difficult from what I gather.

            Reply
            1. Blurgle

              Especially since too many people equate “healthy eating” with “lots of beans, tofu, nuts, and grains” – which I’m sure is wonderful unless you have Crohn’s, food allergies, celiac disease, etc., etc.

              Reply
              1. VivaVirago

                Yep. I have IBD, and tofu is fine for me, but those other things? Not so much. Or, to be more accurate, what I can tolerate is variable – but it’s definitely the case that sometimes I can’t have any of those at all without causing myself great harm.

                Reply
              2. Annabelle

                Yeah, this is important. I have a wheat allergy and IBD, plus a crappy relationship with food. Sometimes all my body lets me eat is meat and potatoes, and someone chastising me about it would be really hurtful.

                Reply
                1. Jane Eyre

                  Big yes to this! I have IBS and wheat and nut allergies aling with a disordered eating history. Sometimes potatoes and meat is the only option. They are often the only foods I tolerate.
                  Thanks for posting.

              3. Not Rebee

                Yes, I have a nut allergy and a soy allergy. The soy allergy is minor, the nut allergy isn’t. Of course, most “healthy food” tends to toss in a lot of tofu or meat/dairy substitutes (since the distinction between healthy and vegan/vegetarian is… not especially defined in the minds of ordinary people), and that’s all either soy based or nut based. Plus, nuts (peanuts especially) seem to really be a huge push from healthy people for snacks and such. I don’t care how healthy almond milk is, I wouldn’t drink it if you paid me because I’m allergic. Same with soy milk. I can do tofu, and soy sauce, and all that stuff but I try to actively steer away from unnecessary soy substitutions because I never know how much soy I am consuming otherwise.

                Reply
          4. Falling Diphthong

            I keep getting reminded of this when I travel. At home there’s an embarrassment of easy options; in a distant grocery store the vegetables might all be sad and the only bread white and squishy.

            Reply
          5. seejay

            I just had this argument with a friend who has a full kitchen with all the trimmings and the skills and time to make full meals and room to store leftovers. Compare that to a mother with two kids who’s working two part time jobs on minimum wage without a vehicle in a food desert without all the tools and supplies for a kitchen, and you understand why the kids are eating fast food when she gets home from exhausted from work.

            Eating healthy is a very complicated problem that can’t be boiled down to just a money issue.

            Reply
            1. oldbiddy

              I’ve gotten into the same argument many times with colleagues who wonder why people don’t just purchase 50 lb bags of rice and beans plus some cabbage and cheap meat. It’s not just the money, it’s the time/energy/ability/motivation to purchase and cook food that is crucial. Middle aged me has a car, a Costco membership, a kitchen and fridge with freezer, so those healthy cheap meals are easy. Grad school me worked all the time, didn’t have a lot of money, didn’t have a car/kitchen/fridge, so it was easier to live on cereal, microwave burritos and cheap slices of pizza. Same me, different circumstances.

              Reply
          6. ChickenSuperhero

            And the health. Throw chronic illness in, and there are plenty of chips-and -hummus days.

            Reply
        2. AW

          Food prices vary by region, store, and the exact neighborhood you’re shopping in. Fresh food is more expensive in poorer neighborhoods (assuming any is available and in decent shape).

          and a lot of the “chips” can be done pretty easily in a cheapo food dehydrator

          Yes, but you have to be able to buy one of those first. You also have to have space for it. That’s the problem with claims that it costs $/week to eat a certain way: no one accounts for the cost of things like equipment, accessories, or even spices.

          Reply
          1. Justin Casey Howles

            I love the ones that say “Make a week’s worth of meals for $20!” but then after the list of ingredients, they include a little asterisk that says “We assume you already have olive oil and paprika and pink peppercorns and 10 onions in your pantry because everyone has these things!”

            Reply
            1. Antilles

              Also, the ones where the “week’s worth of meals” is actually just preparing ONE meal but with such a huge volume that you’re having leftovers of it for the next six days.

              Reply
              1. nnn

                And, added to that, some people aren’t able to physically tolerate eating the same thing every day for a week. (A dish containing onions one day? Delicious! A dish containing onions three days in a row? We’re gonna have a bad time.) And many, many others would actively dislike the lack of variety.

                Reply
                1. Blurgle

                  They assume nobody lives alone and everyone has a huge house with space for a freezer.

                2. Pebbles

                  Yet another example of how people are different. I absolutely would LOVE onions three days in a row! And potatoes! NOM!

            2. Simonthegreywarden

              It also implies you have the freezer space or a separate freezer to store the frozen meals.

              Reply
            3. Dan

              When I first was learning to cook in my “I’m just out of school and broke” days, I picked up this “quick and easy meals” book. It wasn’t too bad, except I was starting from scratch, and lots of the meals used completely separate ingredients. Every time I’d shop for one meal, I’d spend $20. I quickly went back to take out.

              One secret to spices: Shop in the ethnic section of the store, or shop at an ethnic market. Big bags for cheap.

              Reply
            4. sam

              They also assume you own even more basic things like cooking utensils. or a functioning stove.

              I’m not even economically disadvantaged, but I went through a period a while back where I didn’t have gas for 14 months because there was a problem with my gas line. It’s fixed now, but cooking on a hot plate and out of a toaster for over a year gets real old, real fast.

              And I’m someone who had the time and resources to actually deal with this issue – I didn’t have to deal with, say, a slumlord who was actually trying to use this to force me out of my apartment; I don’t live in a crappy neighborhood where contractors/inspectors/etc. won’t travel; I have a job and boss who was completely understanding of the NUMEROUS mornings when I had to work from home so that I could let the plumbers into my apartment to do tests and other stuff.

              And I have a job that pays me well enough to both deal with this issue and to afford the MANY nights of takeout when I got tired of hotplating/toasting/microwaving dinners.

              Reply
          2. Tuxedo Cat

            And knowing this to begin with. Some people really don’t know how to make food nor do they have the time or access to pursue cooking classes or watching clips online.

            Reply
            1. nnn

              And, added to that, it sometimes takes trial and error to learn how to make food. Some people don’t have the time and resources to put into food preparation without a guarantee that it will result in edible food.

              (When I mention this to foodie people, they often say that you just need to follow a recipe. But when I follow a recipe in front of foodie people, they criticize me for following it exactly because obviously it needs less butter or more cooking time or something.)

              Reply
              1. SarahTheEntwife

                Things like temperature are also hard to judge the first few times even if you’re an experienced cook but using an unfamiliar kitchen. Ovens don’t necessarily heat to the temperature they say they do (especially in a crappy rental apartment kitchen) and “medium heat” is very subjective. “Medium dice” potatoes really don’t matter that much if your medium dice is a bit different than the recipe writer’s, but heat can be the difference between edible food and something that’s burnt or still raw by the time you desperately need dinner.

                Reply
                1. nnn

                  This too! I recently moved to a new apartment with a different kind of stove (glass cooktop – I do not recommend), and the temperature behaves completely differently than the ordinary electric elements I’m used to. It takes forever to heat up, and then rapidly overheats if you look away for half a second. I’ve ruined more meals getting used to this stove than I did in my first 15 years of cooking for myself.

                2. Dan

                  Not only that, but the type of pan matters as well. I have a set of aluminum pans that conduct heat very well, and a different set of pans that don’t. So “medium high” on my aluminum pans will burn the food, or cook it way differently than the same setting with a different pan.

          3. JessaB

            Or the actual room to do it. People living in shelters have no cold storage and often no cooking area/utensils.

            Reply
          4. Serin

            Don’t food dehydrators run fans continually for several days? If so, they’re not an option for people who don’t have consistent access to electricity.

            Reply
            1. Michelle

              My husband made deer jerky in a dehydrator once. Actually, it was several dehydrators running for 3 days and he had to rotate the little screen things they were on. The constant whirring of the machines made me feel like I was going insane and the smell was overpowering. I showered every morning but still smelled like deer jerky before I left for work.

              Reply
              1. nonegiven

                Yeah, if DH wants to butcher another deer he can take it to the meat packer. I don’t have the energy to wrap it much less clean up all the blood.

                Reply
          5. One of the Sarahs

            I have a small kitchen because all the houses in my neighbourhood are Victorian, with galley kitchens. I could swap to a larger house in the suburbs, but I value living in walking distance from everywhere I need to be.

            I can’t buy the huge bulk packs of toilet rolls, or tins of tomatoes/beans or the huge bags of dried beans. I have a standard UK freezer, with 4 drawers, so there is limited space to bulk-cook-and-freeze.

            It frustrates me when people say “I live on £X a week”, when what they mean is once every couple of months they get a huge order/shop of food in, and their cupboards are full of the ‘staples’ like tins/dried food/pulses/rice/flour/pasta/spices, because they’re not counting what they have in storage. Or “buy a huge pack of dried beans and bulk cook them”, because cooking the beans for an hour and a half is something I can afford in gas bills, but lots of people can’t, and having a second freezer in the garage, or whatever means that’s a totally different experience to my tetris-ed single portion meals in 4 small freezer drawers.

            Reply
            1. sam

              I would kill for a galley kitchen :)

              My kitchen is so tiny that I…don’t have drawers. One lower corner cabinet, which holds my sink. 4 upper cabinets – 2 for food, 1 for dishes, 1 for glassware. That’s it. You can literally only fit one person in my kitchen at a time.

              I saw someone downthread mention a 50-lb bag of rice, and all I could think was for the people who suggest that it’s easy to just buy giant bulk food items, are they also going to buy me a bigger apartment to store these things in?

              Reply
              1. One of the Sarahs

                Yeah, exactly. My “small house” is relatively small, compared to the huge Georgian buildings in other parts of the city, but spacious and luxurious compared to other parts again. And just having 2 of us living here is different to if we had 3 kids, eg, in terms of what space we have.

                When I first knew my partner, she lived in a bedsit, with the most minimal kitchen. And her bedsit was at the top of a tall building with lots of stairs – going to the supermarket and carrying everything back on the bus AND humping it up the stairs makes the 50lb bag of rice a joke. Sure, I guess she could have gone on a specific shopping trip for the rice, and thrown out her one easy chair and used the rice sack as a beanbag….!

                Reply
        3. Just Another Techie

          Having the time to DIY healthy snacks isn’t a luxury everyone has. People who come home to do a second-shift of housework/child care/elder care for example. Or people who work two jobs. Or people who have health conditions that require time and energy to manage. It’s great that you can eat healthy for so little, but not everyone has that ability.

          Reply
          1. Annabelle

            This too. For people who work hourly or are already stretched too thin, time is quite literally money. That goes into budgeting, too.

            Reply
          2. Recovering Adjunct

            And some people just stink at cooking. It’s a skill that has to be taught and some people try and try but never get a feel for it.

            Reply
            1. Jadelyn

              And some of us simply hate it. I find cooking boring and repetitive and am more than willing to take a hit to my “healthy food” meter in exchange for having more time to spend on things I actually enjoy.

              Reply
          3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Yeah agreed.

            A couple years ago, my roommates and I signed up for a local food co-op — six months of a giant haul of fresh veggies weekly! It was awesomely priced and we got a ton of food, plus the opportunity to try things we’d never experienced before, but…

            We were getting vegetables literally yanked out of the ground, still caked with dirt. Making dinner for three people went from taking about 45min to taking minimum an hour and a half, and often two hours or more. Two of the three of us were handicapped, and the third worked long hours at two jobs and didn’t have the time to cook (and was also a very lousy cook when he tried).

            While we enjoyed the veggies (and I have tried since then to find garlic scapes, which I fell in love with, to no avail) we didn’t sign up again, because it just wasn’t worth it.

            Reply
            1. Tara

              Have you tried growing your own garlic scapes? They’re incredibly easy to grow if you really love them. Just plant a regular garlic bulb in some dirt and soon you’ll have scapes.

              Reply
              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                Someday I’m gonna hook myself up with a planter box on the balcony for them, but ‘someday’ keeps being “not today.”

                Reply
                1. seejay

                  I’ve always wanted to grow my own herbs in a planter box but same thing… “not today”. I did get a counter top hydroponic garden for herbs but outside of basil the rest of the herbs turned into “cat munchies”.

                2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                  “Cat munchies” is my big problem; my cat will shred any greenery that gets within range of her mouth. I discovered this when I found her otherwise deeply lazy derriere on top of my desk chewing on a peace lily (toxic)! Hopefully if I keep the garlic out on the balcony, which she doesn’t much care for, they’ll be safe.

                3. seejay

                  some herbs they don’t like. Other herbs are great once they grow big enough to withstand kitty chewing on them. The hydroponic garden was awesome once the plants were big enough, outside of chives (he’d eat that down to stubs no matter how big it grew so I gave up on them).

                  Then he started eating anything as soon as it sprouted so they didn’t even get a chance to get big enough to withstand a few munchings. He’s push books over so I bought a length of chicken fencing and put that around the garden and it worked great. Once they were big enough, I took down the fencing, and one by one, he pulled all the pods out and they’d die out. Except basil. He doesn’t touch basil, except once in awhile he eats a leaf (then yarks it up somewhere). I have basil coming out my ears *all the time* but bugger me if I can get any other herbs to grow. :/

                4. Danger: Gumption Ahead

                  I always wanted to grow herbs. Unfortunately the cat has different ideas. He rips every leaf off of anything we bring in the house and we have no outdoor space. After a few vegetation massacres we gave up.

              2. Electric Hedgehog

                What is a garlic scrape? I have a few bulbs that I’ve been growing from sprouted cloves for the last 10 months or so, so if there’s deliciousness to be had from my patio garden, I want it!

                Reply
                1. Lora

                  It’s the stalk and flower bud of a hardneck garlic. Only hardneck garlics make them, though. They are mildly garlicky and nice in stir-fries – something like a garlic-ish asparagus.

                2. aebhel

                  They are delicious! My parents grow garlic, so I always get scapes in the summer, and it’s delightful.

                3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                  What Lora said — like a mild garlic, but closer to being actual vegetable than just a seasoning. I added them to everything I made when we got them from the co-op and fell in love with both the texture and the flavor.

                4. Falling Diphthong

                  If you leave the scape on, the garlic plant sends energy up into the stalk and flower. If you cut it off, the plant puts all its energy into bulking up the root–that is, the part that humans want to harvest. Scapes were initially just a waste product, cut to encourage better bulb size, but someone noticed they actually taste quite good.

          4. Matilda Jefferies

            I am super, super busy at this point in my life, with a full-time office job, full-time parenting, and dealing with my own and my children’s mental health issues (along with those of my ex-husband, to the extent that they impact the children.) Not to mention time with my current partner, and if I’m really lucky, a few minutes to myself as well.

            One of the ways I deal with all that is to eat a lot of convenience food, because right now I have more money than time. That’s not a problem that is easily solved, and I would have some very strong words if my workplace started telling me I needed to do even *more* work in order to comply with some arbitrary policy around what I eat.

            Reply
          5. aebhel

            This. I have a stocked kitchen and I know how to cook, AND I have a spouse who can cook, and it would still be a prohibitive investment of time and energy for me to make my own health food from scratch consistently. And I actually know how to do it, because I grew up in a family of hippies where home-made granola and yogurt and bread was the norm.

            If it’s something a person enjoys and has time for, it’s not hugely pricey (which still doesn’t mean everyone can afford it), but I have other things I’d rather be doing with my limited free time, and if my coworkers got snotty about me bringing leftover mac & cheese or pb&j on white bread to work, or whatever, I’d be pretty annoyed.

            Reply
        4. Observer

          This is a perfect example of the problem with the cost calculations that get thrown around. You say that you eat well for not too much, but you ignore that you have the luxury of doing food planning and extensive meal prep – both of which are real costs – AND that you actually eating an atypical diet. Lots of meat is actually NOT a good diet choice for a lot of people. And with meat,you really can get higher quality (in terms of nutrition) meat for less than one would expect.

          But when it comes to other things, it’s just not the same. Whole grain bread is more expensive, more perishable and harder to get (especially in smaller lots) than white varieties. Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially out of season, are more expensive that canned / frozen with sugar or other additives. Dried beans are generally easy to get and inexpensive, but you need to be able to plan ahead and you need TIME. And, that all assumes that you are not living in a “food desert” – a place where access more than the absolute staples and convenience foods are limited.

          Reply
          1. TL -

            Just an FYI, frozen vegetables are actually really similar to fresh vegetables in terms of health benefits/nutrition profiles.
            Don’t feel bad about your frozen veggies, people!

            Reply
              1. Kelly L.

                And so much more convenient for me, since I don’t have to worry about them going bad if I don’t eat them right away.

                Reply
                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                  God yes, I love frozen veggies (and fruits!) for that. I buy giant sacks of them every other month or so and I’m good.

                2. many bells down

                  And the one thing I LOATHE about cooking is chopping stuff up. Especially onions. When I discovered my grocery store had bags of frozen diced onions… I don’t care if they’re more expensive than a fresh onion. I won’t a) throw half of it out because I didn’t need it all for a recipe, and b) not leave them to rot because I couldn’t deal with dicing an onion that week.

            1. Katie the Fed

              I just want to take this opportunity to plug an amazing book – “Birdseye” about Clarence Birdseye who revolutionized frozen foods. So fascinating.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I’ve been wanting to read this for ages, and this comment nudges me closer to actually doing it :) Thank you!

                Reply
            2. K.

              Ditto frozen fruit if you buy the unsweetened kind. Veggies and fruit are frozen at peak freshness. Both are staples for me in winter.

              Reply
            3. Observer

              Note I said *with sugar or other additives*. The price difference between plain frozen strawberries, for instance, and ones in syrup is huge – almost twice the price. Plain (and almost tasteless) beans in a can – not too bad. Baked beans in who knows what sauce? Even less.

              At least the canned stuff is shelf stable, so you don’t have to worry about the electricity and you can keep it ANYWHERE. But frozen stuff has its own set of costs cash and non-cash.

              Reply
          2. Fiennes

            While I cosign the majority of this comment, i wanted to point out that frozen fruit is almost invariably available without added sugars or syrups and loses very little nutritional value through freezing. Canning is another story.

            This message brought to you by my many, many fruit smoothies.

            Reply
            1. Oryx

              The day it dawned on me that I could be making fruit smoothies with frozen fruit instead of fresh was life changing.

              Reply
              1. Happy Lurker

                Is there a particular brand you use? I have tried a few different ones and the texture is nasty. I wish I could remember the brand. My family will not drink them, so I use fresh for now.

                Reply
                1. Snargulfuss

                  If you have access to Costco, they carry a big bag of frozen strawberries, pineapple, mango, and papaya. I blend that with orange juice and fresh spinach or kale and it’s delicious.

                2. Elizabeth H.

                  Whole Foods has the best frozen fruit and vegetables and they are really cheap too. So high quality. I actually really dislike the texture of smoothies with fresh fruit, too watery.

                1. Lunchy

                  Imagine the look on my face as I realize that I could have been doing this instead of heating up the frozen strawberries and adding ice.
                  My life is forever changed :o

                2. Code Monkey, the SQL

                  My ex does frozen strawberries in diet Sprite when he’s dieting to cover the taste of the sweetener, and I’ve found I really like them in regular seltzer too.

                3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                  I also do a shot’s worth of fruit juice in a glass of zero-calorie sparkling water — you get a lot of the taste of the juice without basically drinking pure sugar.

            2. AnotherAlison

              Frozen fruit is fairly expensive, though. (As can be fresh fruit.)

              I am living with a middle schooler and college student on lean weight gaining diets and my husband and I are trying to eat healthy and not gain weight, and my experience is that it is super expensive to eat this way when you’re very busy. My oldest kid buys frozen chicken patties for $6/bag. Fresh fruit costs a lot. Greek yogurt costs a lot. Granola costs a lot. We are paying a lot for convenience, but I don’t have a weekend day to do food prep.

              Reply
              1. Justin Casey Howles

                Yes, I had to buy frozen raspberries for a recipe once and I think I spent $10-$12 on less than 2 pounds of frozen raspberries. It was quite the sticker shock. I think it’s because they were organic that the price was driven up, but it was the only brand of frozen raspberries in the store.

                Reply
              2. Whats In A Name

                I get a 5lb bag of frozen strawberries for $7 at WalMart and I think they also have a mixed fruit one! If you have the storage and a WalMart nearby maybe your town will have similar pricing?

                Reply
            3. Observer

              Correct. But have you looked at the price difference? The sweetened stuff is SOO much cheaper in most cases.

              Reply
        5. Just Another Techie

          I’d also add that lots of “healthy eating” advice would call your diet horribly unhealthy because of the “lots and lots of meat” which just circles back to Alison’s question of who gets to decide what counts as healthy or not.

          Reply
        6. Annabelle

          But you have to have access to fresh food, a full kitchen, and the necessary equipment for it to be “cheap.”

          Idk if you’re familiar with the cycle of poverty – how poor folks end up buying 10 pairs of $5 shoes rather than a sturdy $50 pair because the upfront investment isn’t doable – but a food dehydrator is a pretty good example of that.

          Reply
          1. Annie Moose

            Otherwise known as the Sam Vimes “Boots” Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness: “A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

            Reply
            1. Sarah in Boston

              One of Pratchett’s many, many words of wisdom. I think about that quote and the related bits from “Guards! Guards!” in discussions of poverty.

              Reply
            2. HRKylie

              I talk about this theory to people all the time, especially when talking about why people in poverty spend all of their tax refund money instead of saving it. When you’ve spent the last year deprived of things because you don’t have any extra money, you tend to go all out when you finally get extra money. Terry Pratchett was a brilliant man.

              Hope being the greatest of all gifts is also a concept I used to explain to my husband why people buy lottery tickets.

              Reply
              1. Dan

                I once worked with a guy who had pay day loans and a $3k tax refund. We lowered the refund by decreasing the withholdings, and immediately started paying down the pay day loans.

                I do not understand why people have huge refunds at the expense of being broke the rest of the year… especially if that’s just going to be “splurge” money.

                Reply
          1. KellyK

            I think the sandwich category is relevant when the overall topic of discussion is how to enforce some form of healthy eating in a workplace setting. Acknowledging both the varied definitions of “healthy” and the time and effort that goes into getting yourself fed *at all* when you have food intolerances is really important for anybody who’s considering policing other people’s food at work. (I mean, there’s also just the “mind your own business” argument, but that never seems to get much traction with the food police.)

            Reply
            1. aebhel

              I’m a fan of the MYOB argument. I don’t see why people’s personal lunch choices are even a matter of debate unless they’re offensively smelly or allergy-triggering or something.

              Reply
          2. aebhel

            Eh, not really. “It’s easy and cheap to eat health food” is not even close to universally true, and regardless, it’s not really an answer to the question.

            Reply
          3. SarahTheEntwife

            If your workplace is dictating what you can eat, it’s much more important to make sure that everyone actually can eat it. There’s always going to be someone who can’t eat the party cake or the potluck food or whatever, but that’s a huge distance from “I can’t reliably eat lunch at work anymore”.

            Reply
            1. Cringing 24/7

              If my workplace is going to be telling me what I need to eat and what not to eat, they best be feeding me daily with plenty of options so I don’t get bored (because if you’re going to be petty enough to try to run my life, you’d better be prepared for the level of excitement I want in my life).
              Just like I would react to a stranger giving me ‘advice’ on how to live my life – “If you want me to even consider giving you a say in my life, you’d better be paying my bills.” Alas, no one’s taken me up on the offer yet.

              Reply
          4. Jessie the First (or second)

            The LW is talking about basically imposing a diet on the entire office. So, whether people can afford crock pots/microwaves/fresh veggies and whether they live in a food desert and whether they have time and whether they know how to cook, etc – those are all HIGHLY relevant.

            There is such huge variety in incomes, health, dietary needs, cooking knowledge, time, interest, mental health… and on and on and on that making any kind of food policy that specifies what people can eat in the office just can’t work.

            Reply
          5. PB&J

            Thanks. Was just about to say this but was 99% sure someone else would have picked up on it first. So much sandwich territory.

            Reply
          6. Observer

            Not at all. The issue here is not to enforce a standard on people to accommodate the outliers. The idea of this particular sub-thread is to recognize that there are some very real costs to eating healthy even when it looks relatively inexpensive from one type of position, and that for many people those costs are just not practical. Thus trying to enforce a code of “healthy” eating based on the idea that it’s actually cheap and easy to eat healthy is mistake because there are going to be a LOT of people for whom this not going to be true – for a variety of reasons. Each particular reason may not be all the common, but in the aggregate it winds up being a fairly substantial portion of the population.

            Add all of the other issues, and ultimately it’s almost certain that any workplace is going to run into a significant proportion of their workforce for whom this kind of thing causes major problems.

            Reply
        7. Zip Silver

          Jesus, I didn’t mean to open this can of worms. I was meaning to compare Whole Foods “healthy food” to just regular cooking. I buy most of my food at Walmart and crock pot the meat and veggies a few days ahead of time.

          Reply
          1. PB&J

            Your point is valid. As soon as anyone highlights that it can be just as expensive to eat junk as healthy, or that healthy food is largely as affordable as junk, everyone has a barrier as to why that isn’t true in 100% of the cases. Not everyone can eat sandwiches but that doesn’t stop them from being a tasty, simple lunch.

            Reply
            1. Observer

              Again, that just not really true. Yes, for most of the population eating healthfully on a fairly low budget is doable. But the people for whom this is not true are not some minuscule proportion of the population.

              Reply
            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I worked on food access and the environmental/social determinants of health for several years (and still do, although “food” is no longer the focus of my E/SDH work), and my experience is that people who do not face the same level of social vulnerability or lack of access to food really do not understand, accept as fact, or empathize with the barriers that face people in comparatively more vulnerable/inaccessible positions.

              Some of my service communities lived 20+ miles from the nearest food outlet, and milk routinely cost $8–10/gallon (and they were not in Alaska—they lived in an agricultural belt). The next closest outlet was 20 more miles away, and milk was $5/gallon. One of those outlets does not accept WIC, and the other doesn’t accept SNAP. And when you factor in the cost of gas (nevermind lost time or wear and tear), to access the “cheaper” milk, its real cost was about $23… and it’s not going to keep. Those barriers can be insurmountable even without considering ability, access to storage/electricity, adequate tools, etc. When I tell people who are not from that region that story, they spend most of their time trying to argue with me about how I’m wrong or exaggerating, despite the fact that I have objective fact on my side.

              There are certainly neighborhoods where eating junk can cost the same as eating healthy, but a lot of underlying assumptions have to be true for the statement to be true.

              Reply
              1. Dan

                Yeah, I love the general attitude of “because it is true for me, it is true for everybody.”

                I’ve found that cooking for one and not eating the same thing for a week and keeping expenses down takes a LOT of effort. Most proteins freeze well, so it’s easy to portion them out, but fresh vegetables and herbs don’t scale well. My grocery store will sell smaller sizes of herbs, but you’re still paying 75% of the cost of a full bunch, for maybe 20% of the full amount.

                The alternative is eating the same thing for a week, which drives me nuts.

                Reply
              2. seejay

                I used to make some really broad assumptions about food prep and shopping and education too.

                Then I moved and met people outside my education, income, and upbringing. And I listened to them and their struggles and I looked beyond my own privilege. And I tried to actually *see* their own personal struggles and how their experience and situation was so vastly different from mine.

                Having a close friend with an untreated disability, living near poverty, with almost no support network, mental health problems, and struggling to just find $5 to buy food for a week made me much more understanding and sympathetic. It *wasn’t* easy for her to eat healthy, she had to get by on whatever she could get at the stores within walking distance with whatever cash she was able to get that week through the few means she had for income. :(

                Reply
                1. Sunshine

                  Yep, I used to think like this until I was really broke. And then it was like, no, I am going to slow cook a ham hock with root vegetables. Even though pork makes me ill and is unhealthy, because that is a week’s meals for £5. And if I have spare cash I’m going to buy pizza because jesus wept, it actually tastes of something. So glad to be away from that now.

            3. all aboard the anon train

              This is really not a “sandwich” situation. Whenever this subject comes up there are pretty broad assumptions about how food is cheap and eating healthy is easy as long as you do X, Y, Z, and it’s pretty dismissive to ignore that a large portion of people are affected by these things. Just the assumption that eating healthy is cheap when produce is anything but cheap is almost every city, state, or supermarket I’ve been in is pretty ridiculous.

              The reason why this always comes up is because people make general assumption that eating healthy is easy and affordable for everyone, and that is, among other things, pretty privileged and classist.

              Reply
              1. seejay

                It’s a *huge* problem that has a lot of variables at play so it’s not even remotely reasonable to say “it’s applicable to most cases except for a small percentage”. You can start with just income, but then that starts becoming unbalanced when you take into account time (not just preparation but also commuting if a person doesn’t have a vehicle or good public transit), a kitchen with more than just basic tools (and even some basics people don’t have), basic food staples for some recipes (flour? oil? vinegar? mustard? what else?), storage for leftovers (tupperware or plastic baggies, those all cost money). I cook as a hobby and my kitchen and supplies in it, not counting the large appliances since I don’t own them, probably cost upwards of $5k right now because I’ve taken the time to build it up. Sure it’s easy for me to just grab a recipe and have 95% of everything right there, but I know people that wouldn’t be able to even start something because they didn’t have the bowls or cookware, or even the starter food basics.

                That’s not even getting into the skills required. Sure, cooking shouldn’t be that difficult, but I spent some time figuring things out and throwing out food that was horrible. I couldn’t imagine having to throw out $10 worth of food that I’d ruined and knowing that was my entire budget of food for the week. I had to do that when I was a student, but at least I knew I could go over to mom’s and eat there when I was low.

                Reply
                1. Optimistic Prime

                  Aaaand all of the other economic factors that come into play – like getting your electricity or gas turned off because you can’t afford the bill and all your food spoiling; or getting evicted and not being able to take your food with you to the next temporary place you stay; or having to temporarily house some other family members who were recently evicted themselves and the food you thought would last you two weeks lasts you three days.

            4. aebhel

              The point is largely irrelevant; it’s like saying that most people CAN exercise, therefore it’s not an issue for a workplace to require employees to exercise. People are adults who are presumably capable of making their own choices for their health, and it’s extremely tiresome to have people continually popping up to say ‘Healthy Eating Is Easy, I Can Do It, Why Can’t You!!’

              The issue is that when someone says, “look, it’s not realistic for me to be able to eat this way,” you should assume that they know their own circumstances better than you do, and refrain from evangelizing about how Easy!! it is.

              If you’re trying to figure out what kind of food the workplace should serve, the fact that healthy food is largely as affordable as junk is relevant. If you’re trying to control what people bring for their own lunch… well, you actually have to contend with people’s individual circumstances, and also you probably shouldn’t do that in the first place.

              Reply
        8. all aboard the anon train

          Produce is extremely expensive, though. In my area, five non-organic apples at a normal grocery store (think Shaw’s or Market Basket and not Whole Foods) comes out to around $5.00. That’s a lot of money. I’m lucky to get them for maybe $0.80 apiece if they’re on sale.

          If you’re on a strict budget, the last thing you want to do is spend $5 on 5 apples when you can buy prepacked things that cost half the cost and actually feed you a meal. That’s why a lot of people would rather spend that $1 on fast food than a “healthy snack”.

          This argument always comes up and while I think it’s genuinely well meant, it’s pretty tone deaf and ignores the fact that produce is pretty pricey. Even “in season” produce is pricey. It’s expensive to eat healthy.

          Reply
          1. Dan

            Produce, herbs, and fish are all not cheap. Portion size matters, too. I’m a big math guy who cooks, and if I’m truly eating a $3 meal, it’s because I’m pretending to be poor for the week (like celebrities do),

            Reply
    2. Ange

      And some people have allergies or intolerances or healh conditions that mean they can’t eat certain foods that are considered healthy. Or issues with the texture or taste of certain things.
      There’s a minefield there that your colleagues don’t seem to be considering.

      Reply
      1. Misc

        My goodness yes. Very simple example: brown rice is supposed to be much healthier than white rice, but I have real trouble digesting it. There’s a whole murky complicated realm of competing needs and restrictions out there.

        Reply
        1. Amber

          To me brown rice just tastes bad, I’ve never liked it. I’ve been able to switch to every other healthy alternative but not that. It’s probably because I grew up eating white rice almost every day at dinner, I didn’t try brown rice until I was an adult.

          Reply
          1. Brogrammer

            Eh, you never know – I grew up eating brown rice and never developed a taste for it. I just thought I didn’t like rice until I was living on my own, able to do my own shopping and bought white rice for myself.

            Reply
        2. Amber T

          And how much detail are you willing to give on allergies, and will the food police be willing to listen? “(Food product) doesn’t really agree with me” could mean “I don’t really like it” (which is fine) or “it gives me explosive diarrhea so if you’re gonna force me to eat this you better clear the bathroom from now until eternity.”

          Having a policy like this just invites the food police out, and it’s awful enough when you have one or two buttheads who think they get to comment on what you’re eating because “health reasons.” But now you’ll have people who actually (somehow) have power over what you choose fuel your body with. I am a capable adult with a relatively healthy average diet, but if I feel like a cupcake once in a while, I’m gonna have the damn cupcake!

          Reply
          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Lord, yes. I’m not technically allergic to tomatoes, but boy do they make me hurl! I’d hate to see someone go “Well, you put ketchup on your hot dog, so OBVIOUSLY tomatoes aren’t a problem for you!”

            Reply
            1. AnyPenny

              Same here! I cannot put tomatoes in my mouth without getting an immediate gag reflex because I already know it won’t stay down. I do fine with ketchup, completely chunk-free tomato sauces, and really small amounts of salsa that have been pureed to the point of being nearly liquid. If I actually managed to swallow one down my stomach would be violently trying to remove it. It’s the same with seafood. While not allergic (that I know of) I cannot keep it down, with the exception of small amounts of tuna which took me a long time to work up to and I still struggle with that. It is nobody’s concern how or why someone eats the things that they do – to dictate that in an office is horribly misguided.

              Reply
              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                YES, you feel me! I’m so glad, having this gag reflex against tomatoes sometimes makes me feel so incredibly weird because it feels like everyone around me loves them, and I’m left going “no tomatoes NO TOMATOES” every time I eat out. And still get tomatoes half the time anyway because it seems like people just assume lettuce and tomatoes go together.

                Reply
                1. ChickenSuperhero

                  That’s so interesting, in an unpleasant for you kind of way! Have you ever read the Hollows/Rachel Morgan series? Humanity is almost wiped out by a virus that happens to be carried by tomatoes, so there are terrible social taboos around tomatoes.

                2. AnyPenny

                  I used to get comments ALL the time growing up and even during my early 20’s. “Of course you can eat tomatoes. You just ate spaghetti.” Nevermind the huge pile of tomato chunks left on my plate. I really hate when I ask for no tomatoes and food joint simply removes the tomatoes from an already made plate (like salad). If it’s uncut tomatoes, then it’s no biggie. But if there are tomato seeds or a few diced pieces hiding under another food my stomach turns. I just cannot handle it. Blech! My son, however, loves them. He walks around popping him in his mouth like grapes. Yet my daughter tries really hard to avoid them because her stomach “feels really uncomfortable” afterwards.

          2. Hey Karma, Over here.

            And then come the exceptions. Well, Marcy is pregnant. Charlie is diabetic. Lucy is that vegetarian who eats eggs, Patty is kosher. And none of that is anybody’s business. But now it’s practically in the employee handbook.
            This maybe-issue is turning into a non-issue time suck that is either going to blow up (like the no lights in the office people) or fester into a toxic workplace cesspool of we v. they. Particularly because top level is not on board, this is going to become a Thing for self-appointed food police and their targets.

            Reply
      2. Gen

        Yep, this. It’s fine to police the vending machines since they represent your brand, and maybe the foods you provide for celebrations, but I can’t eat 90% of what most people think of as a healthy diet. I would be resentful as all hell if I had someone who wasn’t my nutritionist/doctor standing over me dictating what they imagine constitutes a healthy diet. That’s going to lead to people either revealing private health information, going hunger or making themselves sick. Now I’d go for the ‘loudly explaining in detail what happens when I eat X’ explanation because I have no shame, but others might make themselves ill and not perform as well at work. Or they might well just leave for somewhere that doesn’t pry into their business.

        Reply
        1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

          Oh man, I haven’t done it often, but at least once at work when a guy kept trying to tell me that I could totally eat gluten, I finally told him EXACTLY what would happen if I did. Didn’t have to have THAT conversation twice.

          Reply
          1. many bells down

            My husband considers himself “lucky” because he gets the associated skin condition with his celiac – dermatitis herpetiformis. So it’s a visible itchy marker of just how gluten affects him and he never has to explain that twice.

            Reply
      3. TL -

        A healthy diet is a pattern, not a single choice.

        Cupcakes every Friday isn’t inherently unhealthy; cupcakes every meal is.

        Reply
      4. Recovering Adjunct

        Yep. I’m off of wheat, eggs, dairy, most raw fruits and raw vegetables due to Crohn’s disease. A few weeks ago, I was shamed by a waiter the other day for ordering just potatoes and bacon at a breakfast joint. There was nothing else on the menu I could have eaten. Sometimes I live on white rice because that’s literally all I can handle.

        Reply
          1. Recovering Adjunct

            I did not and I am ashamed to say I tipped him as well! I get all tripped up in the women being demanding/bad tippers BS that I hear from my friends who work in restaurants.

            Reply
            1. Optimistic Prime

              There’s some work showing that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy – wait staff sometimes have preconceived notions about who is going to be difficult or a bad tipper, so they treat those customers differently, and then when the customers don’t tip them well or become irritated in reaction to the poor treatment they are getting the wait staff blames it on their identity and not on, you know, their own behavior. Sometimes the wait staff are doing it unconsciously.

              Reply
        1. mikeiam

          I have Crohn’s as well, and sometimes it’s not even about what foods might set off or make a flare worse, it’s about what foods even taste good at the moment and that I can tolerate even trying to eat. I fully admit that in the height of a flare I don’t make great food choices, but I also realize that eating what tastes good and is palatable in the moment and getting ANY nutrients/protein in my body is better than not eating at all.

          A policy like this would have me going straight to HR about accommodations and straight to a head hunter to look for another job.

          Reply
          1. Recovering Adjunct

            At my sickest, I lived on gummy bears, it was the only thing that sounded good and didn’t rocket out of me immediately.

            Reply
            1. mikeiam

              I default to salty or sweet, usually salty. A certain fast food chain’s fries have been my one consistent go-to when I can’t make myself eat anything else during a flair.

              Reply
        2. LCL

          I just had bacon and only bacon for my midmorning protein snack. It’s OK in moderation. It cracks me up that it is available prepared at the local grocery that is known for vegetarian food. Gotta get there early to get bacon, it sells out every day…

          Reply
      5. Helen

        This is very true. For example, some people with kidney disease are not allowed to eat whole grains, high protein foods, and certain vegetables, which is the opposite advice for most people.

        What you eat is your own personal choice, and no one has the right to weigh in on that except perhaps your doctor. And maybe your mother, if she’s otherwise nice.

        Reply
    3. NonnyNon

      This. Eating healthy can be very expensive. I bring in chips and cheap granola bars because I can’t afford to eat fresh fruit/veggies and organic trail mix every day. If I got told that all of my snacks were banned from the office because they’re unhealthy, I’d better be getting a raise so I can afford healthy alternatives.

      Reply
    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yes. I think everything Alison noted—an organization can prioritize serving healthy snacks/foods at its own events, limiting access to vending machines full of soda/junk on its premises, etc. I also think the cupcakes are ok, if that’s how people want to celebrate (seriously, people can have occasional sweets and it doesn’t mean their entire diet is “unhealthy” or “off brand”). But policing what employees bring to work on their own for their own consumption? No.

      If your organization is dedicated to addressing a food-related disease, I really hope that folks understand the significant impact that class background, built environment, and access to food play in whether or not someone even has affordable food choices.

      And I’m pretty annoyed/disturbed at your colleague who wants people to “make better choices.” I generally don’t find it effective to moralize this way, and if I had a coworker who was on a crusade about my personal eating habits, I would find them insufferable. It would certainly impact my ability to hear them out on this issue.

      Reply
      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        “It would certainly impact my ability to hear them out on this issue.”
        No worries there. They don’t want you to hear them out. They just want you do what they say.

        Reply
      2. DecorativeCacti

        I have personal experience with one of these types. She secretly ate fast food every day and no one took anything she said seriously. The “healthy” snacks she got put in the vending machine never got eaten, mostly out of spite, and were changed back.

        Reply
        1. QuestionSubmitter

          Hello! I submitted this question and thank you everyone for the thoughtful comments so far.

          This is super complicated and I acknowledge that food is very personal which makes this whole thing even more sensitive. An update: so far we’ve settled on a food and beverage guide for any events (external or internal) that essentially uses our budget. This means using donor dollars responsibly and I’m 100% on board with being faithful with our health messaging. The grey area being discussed is celebrations that use personal money. The leading solution is a ratio of both healthy and unhealthy options – so must serve fruit or a healthy alternative along with the chocolate cake.

          I think Princess nailed it with the comment about factors that go into making food choices. My hope is that this initiative won’t come down to the level of policing individual lunches and snacks. And I’m reminding myself to stay positive because this is a good thing!

          Reply
          1. nonegiven

            You need a policy that no one working at your company can comment on another employees food choices.

            Also, be prepared after you’ve planned your healthy food and beverage guide for events. People will complain that you didn’t have anything they could eat.

            Reply
          2. Formica Dinette

            The leading solution is a ratio of both healthy and unhealthy options – so must serve fruit or a healthy alternative along with the chocolate cake.

            I used to work for a company where we did this for the monthly birthday celebration, which was paid for with personal money. We would buy cake, fruit and a veggie tray. All of it got eaten.

            Reply
            1. a different Vicki

              My then-employer wanted to throw a party to celebrate my wedding, and they asked what kind of cake I wanted. I asked for and got a chocolate cake from a nearby bakery, and told them to please be sure to have fresh fruit, because I knew at least one person was allergic to chocolate. (She and I weren’t the only people to eat the fruit, either.)

              I have another friend (not a coworker) for whom the chocolate cake would have been the healthy choice, because she can’t eat most raw fruit.

              Reply
          3. Anonymous Poster

            Your solution sounds pretty reasonable, really.

            Organization money -> organization values.
            This makes complete sense.

            And it’s fine to ask for a healthy alternative at celebrations and events even if you were an organization that wasn’t organized around healthy eating for a wide variety of reasons.

            Also good for not policing lunches and snacks. I’d be part of the fast-food-in-the-parking-lot brigade.

            Reply
            1. QuestionSubmitter

              Yeah that’s certainly happened :( I bought a chocolate bar once and couldn’t deal with the stress of what happens if someone saw me eating it inside the office so I ate it in my lobby. Over the last year, I grew more confident in the work I do and stopped caring as much.

              Reply
          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            This sounds super responsible and thoughtful (and positive!), OP. Thank you for taking this on. I agree that hopefully people will tone down their policing in response to this. If they don’t, I think it’s worth raising the issue and addressing it—you shouldn’t be harangued for your meal choices!

            Reply
        2. Aunt Margie at Work

          See, that is the problem with this type of idea. It’s not brought up out of any sense of concern for the company, for the employees. It’s a power trip.

          Reply
      3. the_scientist

        So, I work for a cancer organization. Given that obesity, alcohol, red meat, cold cuts, and innumerable other factors, dietary and otherwise, have been scientifically linked to increased cancer risk, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine is a major part of our prevention platform. But rather than police what employees choose to eat, the organization has partnered with local and provincial governments to create an evidence-based food and nutrition strategy, which will address the systemic issues: food insecurity, unsustainable food systems, a lack of nutrition literacy, cooking skills etc. There are absolutely ways that organizations can “live their mission” without policing their employees’ food choices.

        Reply
      4. On Fire

        This (the Countess’ comment) is pretty much where I fall.

        DH and I both like to cook. We eat fairly healthful meals, most of which are made from scratch. We grow some of our own vegetables and herbs; we buy and eat a lot of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits.

        But if I want a cheeseburger at lunch, or if I make a big batch of double-chocolate walnut brownies for my job’s potluck, or if I stir-fry my fresh homegrown vegetables instead of steaming or eating them raw, *that is not the business of my job to criticize.* If my job said, “Nope, no brownies; gotta bring healthy stuff to potlucks,” they could do without my potluck contribution forever afterward. And if anyone DARED to “police” what I brought *for my personal consumption* it would get very ugly, very fast. It’s my food. It’s my business.

        I don’t have food issues. I have boundary issues, as in, don’t cross my boundaries. And something like this stomps all over them.

        Reply
        1. On Fire

          And I meant the Princess’ comment, not the Countess. My apologies to both of your highnesses! :-)

          Reply
    5. Karen D

      One of the biggest employers my neck of the woods has healthy eating as a basic tenet of its organization. They actually do a lot to further that – most of their locations have cafeterias featuring healthy, tasty, affordable food (including at least one non-meat entree a day and a lavish salad bar). They limit soda-cup size and they put healthy snacks, including fresh fruit, in their vending machines.

      They found they could only take it so far, though. Some people just want unhealthy options. So they brought in things like potato chips, ice cream, candy bars … and then marked them up and used the extra money to help keep the prices of the healthier stuff low. Pretty devilishly clever for a faith-based organization :D

      Reply
        1. Karen D

          Their cafeterias are open to the public as well, and there’s one close enough to work to make it occasionally worth the drive.

          Reply
      1. QuestionSubmitter

        That’s awesome! And do you find that most people are receptive and happy with the healthy and tasty offerings? (I bet they are! I’d love a lavish salad bar)

        Reply
        1. Karen D

          It seems like one of the key functions of work cafeterias is to facilitate the proliferation of complaints about the work cafeteria, lol, but it’s always looked crazy busy whenever I visit. (To be clear, I don’t work there. It’s a hospital chain, so large numbers of the public also visit. Everybody eats in the same cafeteria.)

          There are multiple stations; really, something for everyone, including pizza, sushi, a grill with burgers and chicken sandwiches, etc. One time they had a chef cooking custom risotto, yum! It’s all reasonably portioned or self-serve. There’s another, bigger, hospital in town but its cafeteria, by comparison, is pretty pitiful.

          Reply
      2. nnn

        I really wish every single organization that sells food would do this! It’s so disheartening to see a basket of local peaches at the farmer’s market for $9, but a giant tub of additive-full ice cream from the grocery store is $3, and McDonalds has a dollar menu. Seriously, I would love to be feeling the pinch when I indulge in chips if I didn’t have to think “It’s kind of expensive, but I can make it work” when buying fresh local produce.

        Reply
      3. CMart

        That’s how my last employer ran their subsidized cafeteria. The healthier you ate, the cheaper it was. A salmon filet, quinoa, and steamed broccoli would be $3.50 while a burger and fries were $8. I desperately miss the 60 cent vegetarian soups and 14 cent/ounce salad bar.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous Poster

          I would love that option. Too often I’m dissuaded from the fish and salad at places because it’s double the price of anything else on the menu! I’m too much my parents’ child and too cheap to cough up the extra for the fish.

          I wish more places would implement this.

          Reply
        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

          Oh man, a cheap salad bar would be either my doom or my salvation, I’m not sure which. I adore fresh baby spinach, which my old job had in their salad bar.

          Reply
        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          This is brill. If I had access to a cheap and delicious salad bar, I could live the rest of my days at that bar.

          Reply
      4. sam

        One of my former employers had a system that was similar. It was managed by one of the big food service companies, and they served healthy and less-healthy options, but if you bought a healthy option, you got a plastic “coin” each day – (different colors for entrees vs snacks). Once you collected 5 coins of one color, you could get your next healthy entree or snack (depending on which color you had) for free.

        So positive reinforcement, rather than any sort of “prohibition”.

        Reply
    6. SebbyGrrl

      This an SO many reasons…

      People with: eating disorders, low resources, lifestyle challenges, etc. this list could be a mile long.

      OP Just no, DON’T do this. Don’t pursue this.

      And repeating what Alison said, if the top level of the company is not behaving this way you have no right and even less legitimacy for this kind of policy.

      And further – your company needs to have a talk with everyone to stop commenting on and stop policing what other people eat, put in their bodies. NO ONE else gets to decide what I eat unless it was a condition of my employment when I was hired.

      This is a very bad idea.

      Reply
      1. SebbyGrrl

        Further here’s an example of how dis-incentivising these kinds of policies are.

        Where I was working the local branch decided to encourage exercising to have a contest. This included giving staff time to walk, 2 or 3 times a day.

        But only walking at work counted, and there was prizes.

        I already do pilates 3 times a week. I have to walk my two terriers in the morning before work and when I gt home. None of this counted.

        I couldn’t walk at work because of the nature of my position (had to be at my desk except for designated lunch.

        So I was basically not allowed to compete, much less win.

        Everyone else in the office is jazzed and talking about it constantly.

        It was isolating, demoralizing and in the end the company/local HR and my supervisors lost all of my respect because of this short sighted, disrespectful (of people who were already exercising and trying to live a healthy life style)and literally IGNORANT competition.

        Reply
        1. tiny temping teapot

          I’ve worked at environmental places that had bike to work competitions and a) I don’t bike, b) I didn’t want to because of the prevalent weather where I lived and c) environmental impact wise, I didn’t drive and took public transportation everywhere so I was already doing the green friendly thing.

          Yeah, competitions can be super ineffective.

          Reply
        2. Tuxedo Cat

          We’re having one of these at my place of work. Not to this extreme. What I don’t like is that this is the only “office bonding” activity we’ve done all year, and I suspect it will be the only one except maybe a Christmas party. It excludes a bunch of people who have physical challenges.

          Reply
  14. K.

    I prefer to eat healthfully and I’d quit if my company started peeking in my lunch bag every day. I worked for a company that prioritized health and the solution was to make healthy food available, like Alison said. The cafeteria mostly had healthy options, there was fruit in common areas, and a gym on site. You didn’t have to partake in any of those things and you weren’t penalized for NOT taking part in those things, but they were there. (My boss in particular was a health nut so all food-related celebrations were healthy – healthy restaurants for team dinners, breakfast instead of cake for birthdays, etc.) Policing people’s food when you are not a registered nutritionist and the person in question is your client is generally a bad idea.

    Reply
    1. motherofdragons

      That seems like the perfect approach to promoting health without stepping on the landmines around individual food choices. Lots of options, no consequence either way.

      Reply
    2. Just Another Techie

      Where my partner works the food in the cafeteria is all labeled, either 3 green stars for healthy, or 2 yellow stars for borderline or 1 red star for eat only in moderation. I really don’t agree with their decisions (a lot of high sugar crap is labeled as healthy for example and all meat products are red regardless of how they are prepared) but it still leaves the actual choices up to the individuals while still promoting corporate’s ideas of what is “healthy” or not.

      Reply
    3. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

      Oh man, I would take breakfast foods over boring sheet cake any day.

      Reply
  15. Risha

    Ugh. Just, ugh. Food policers are permanently on my shitlist.

    I’m 100% fine with the company deciding that they only want to spend their money on “healthy” food, however they want to define it. But having a bunch of well meaning overreachers, a few concern trolls, and, lets face it, at least one orthorexic watching what I eat for lunch every day? NO.

    Reply
    1. QuestionSubmitter

      I think you’re right, they are well meaning and their frustrations are valid. If given the choice, I don’t think they want to be food policers. They genuinely feel frustrated that as a health charity focused on preventing chronic diseases, we don’t walk the walk. I can see where they’re coming from. Though I’ve always replied that people are adults and make their own choices at the end of the day.

      I can’t even imagine what it’s like working at a fitness club or Lululemon – do you guys think they screen people for personal health habits and behaviours? I can see that they’d want to align lifestyles of their employees to their brand.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        Well, there’s a difference between walking the walk as an organization (the things Alison suggested, like controlling what food the org serves and offers) and insisting that individuals walk the walk in their personal lives. Frustration with the former I can understand; the latter is not an obligation.

        Reply
        1. Jennifer's Thneeds Understand Theory of Mind

          ” insisting that individuals walk the walk in their personal lives ”

          This sounds too much like what I’ve read here about how religious orgs often work. (I have no personal experience to go on.)

          Also, haven’t we had conversations here about how jobs at mission-driven organizations (like non-profits, and churches) need to be *jobs*? Paid well-enough, not expecting people to put up with crappy JOB conditions just because of the org’s mission? This “optics” talk sounds a lot like that.

          Also, the people who are talking about policing: do they live up to their own standards all the time, effortlessly? It’s easy enough to avoid foods you actually don’t want. Or do they perhaps feel deprived of certain things (and secretly proud of their martyr status) and think that others should share their pain? They really need to be reminded to MYOB.

          Reply
      2. On Fire

        OP, you said here, “If given the choice, I don’t think they want to be food policers.”

        Thing is, they seem to be taking this on themselves. There’s not buy-in from the top people, since they want cupcakes at meetings. So these food police may talk about “having” to do this, but from the information presented, they only have to because they choose to.

        Reply
      3. SarahKay

        But they do have the choice! They are, in fact, choosing to be food policers. They may well do it out of genuine frustration that their co-workers aren’t eating food that they see as healthy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making a choice to food police.

        I hate, hate, hate, shop staff folding my receipt (yes, I’m weird). What it makes me want to do is snarl at them that if I want it folded I can fold it myself, and by the way, you kept me waiting while you folded it. What I actually do is smile politely at them and wish them a good day. This is a choice.

        Your co-workers also have a choice. They really need to stop making the policing choice, for all the reasons everyone has given in this thread.

        Reply
      4. Observer

        If given the choice, I don’t think they want to be food policers

        Not true. *You* would not be the food police if you have a choice. But they ARE choosing to be the food police. It’s not their job – it’s a choice they are making. And then they are trying to use that to manipulate others into doing what they think is the right thing.

        Beyond that, your food policer is apparently quite ignorant. Aside from the fact that adults need to make their own decisions, it simply doesn’t work the way they think. Diet is almost never the only determinant of whether someone winds up with a certain chronic disease or not. And, as others have mentioned, there is tons of solid evidence that the diet that is ideal for some situations is not good at all for other situations. Thus trying to police people’s diets based on the one chronic condition you are working on actually violates the broader tenets that the organization should have as its foundation.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Yeah, this is related to the office vigilante thing in general. And I actually have some sympathy for the overall impulse that people need to do things a certain way, dammit–it’s just that this isn’t a situation where that applies. Could they turn their energy to making sure people clean up after themselves in the breakroom and toss expired food from the fridge?

          Reply
      5. Bald-Headed Narf-Herder

        Hi QuestionSubmitter – I’m concerned that you’re giving these people too much credit. Well-meaning people back off when others set up boundaries or tell them no. People who don’t respect normal boundaries are not well-meaning or nice people. (double-negative sentence ftw!)

        ***The worst people/petty dictators I’ve encountered are the ones who sincerely believed in the goodness of their cause.***
        Disagreements and hurt feelings meant little to them. They would not stop giving advice/demanding change, because they were convinced of their own good intentions and the rightness of their cause – and no rational argument could convince them otherwise. I understand the attraction (and manipulativeness) of your colleagues’ persistent arguments and caring mother-hen approach – but they have to back down and respect that they’re in the minority. If your thoughtful new policy changes aren’t enough, then probably nothing will be.

        “If given the choice, I don’t think they want to be food policers.”
        Yes, yes, they *DO* want to be the food police. Otherwise, why would they put so much effort into convincing *you* of an intrusive policy that not even the top executive spy into? It seems a little sneaky and controlling to me.

        I just want to encourage you to stop thinking of these colleagues as well-meaning, and start thinking of them as people who can’t or won’t process the harm and mental stress and anti-productiveness their ideas would inflict.

        Reply
      6. Zirco

        You say that your health charity is aimed at preventing chronic diseases. I have a chronic disease — Type 1 diabetes — and your workplace’s policy would make my life much more difficult if were implemented at my workplace. When my blood sugar is crashes, I need the Skittles, I need the candy, to bring it back up. The differences can be tiny — a blood sugar of 85 is perfect and 75 can be low. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, and all of the healthy eating is irrelevant to whether or not you get it.

        There are similar issues with Type 2 diabetes. With Type 2, diet can be one contributing factor of many. It is certainly not the only factor. Those who use insulin or oral medications to control it can run into the same problems with low blood sugar that I do. Keeping candy away is doing them a disservice.

        Reply
  16. Roscoe

    Totally agree here. My office provides a lot of food, and has recently moved to healthier options. While there was some light grumbling about things, in general when the office is providing it, we don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

    However, if a place tried to tell me what I could bring for lunch , or even what I can bring back from lunch when I’m bringing my own stuff I’d be very annoyed by that.

    I think the most your company could do is provide less junk food for meetings, and maybe in order to incentivize people to eat healthier, provide a bigger variety of health foods free for lunch, but anything further is too much.

    Reply
  17. paul

    The only way I would tolerate a policy like this is if I was very desperate. And I would be gone as soon as possible.

    Reply
    1. BWooster

      I’d put up with it if the company paid for the food. Even then, with allergies, intolerances, religious requirements, and just disagreements about what’s healthy, this policy would run aground pretty quickly.

      Reply
  18. fposte

    I think we’re in a creepy orthorexia-as-food-culture place right now, so I have a bit of a hot button for this kind of thing. The answer to the people who “feel resentful for having to police people about food” is to stop policing people about food.

    If I were there, I’d push really hard on Alison’s notion of backing healthy offerings rather than policing whatever people bring. If possible, I wouldn’t even put the the fruit bowl in the break room; I’d put it the closest acceptable place to desks, and I’d have more than one if people were spread out. Right now your org seems to be replicating the issues in the larger culture that *aren’t* helping people that much with chronic disease; might be nice to explore being a model for ways that do.

    Reply
    1. Liet-Kynes

      Yeah, it’s either orthorexia (give me organic, farm-to-table, biodynamically grown produce or let me starve!) or incredible indulgence. Nothing in between.

      Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      Right now your org seems to be replicating the issues in the larger culture that *aren’t* helping people that much with chronic disease; might be nice to explore being a model for ways that do.

      Seconding this so hard. Haven’t we established that “I judge you for that cupcake” is completely ineffective in getting Americans to eat fewer cupcakes?

      Reply
      1. (Different) Rebecca

        Seriously. Also, if someone is judging me for a cupcake, of the two of us I’m going to be the happier person, with no judgment in my heart AND a freakin’ cupcake to nom.

        Reply
        1. Anon...forever!

          YEP! Love me some cupcakes! Hate me some judgy food police!
          I have a busy body neighbor big into her health. She’s a stay at home mom and while her kids are in school she works out and then cooks wonderfully healthy meals and snacks for her family. I am a working mom with not as much free time for cooking and working out, but I do what I can to keep healthy. Wednesday night is our most busy night of the week for family obligations and it has become the one night of the week we get McDonalds. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s a treat for the kids. My neighbor is now outside all the time thanks to the better weather and makes a comment about the fast food every week. “That’s not good for you, you know!” Yes, I know but it’s tasty and I’m not feeding it to your damn kids and (to quote Jim Gaffigan) “has your mother ever made anything as good as a McDonalds french fry??”

          Reply
          1. Sarah M

            If you haven’t given her the Evil Eye Ray of Death in response to that yet, you are a far, far better person than I.

            Reply
          2. Simonthegreywarden

            I’d want to reply back that commenting on my food choices isn’t good for anyone either.

            Reply
          3. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

            My new favorite response to unsolicited health advice is a ever-so-slightly condescending, “I’m comfortable with my choices, thanks, though.”

            Though in this case I’d be more inclined to excitedly congratulate her on her newly obtained master’s degree in clinical nutrition followed by acting really confused about why a non-professional would be commenting on your choices at all. (For the record, even the professionals shouldn’t do this or be expected to do this unless you’re paying them, but it’d get the point across. Ha!)

            Reply
        2. Umvue

          I dunno. I suspect there’s a certain pleasure in socially constructing a set of rules that let you and your friends feel superior to other people while leaving enough wiggle room for your own indulgences — and “healthy eating” is vague enough to serve well.

          Is smugness tastier than a cupcake? Probably depends on the cupcake, and on how often you get other chances to feel smug. Of course, I suppose needing to feel smug in this way might signal some deeper unhappiness that is much harder to satisfy than a sweet tooth.

          Reply
          1. Simonthegreywarden

            In a lot of ways, I feel that the food morality movement is sort of the modern religious movement. Like with religion, most of it is about telling people what they are doing isn’t your definition of right; people proselytize based on their own perception of evidence; and the ones who take it to the most extremes are the ones most likely to offer judgment instead of support.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Exactly! This is why I think the term “clean eating” became so popular; it’s a very testamentarian phrase. And it’s all about ensuring eternal life, or near as dammit.

              Reply
      2. sub rosa for this

        Judging people for eating cupcakes is, in fact, a great way to get us to eat more cupcakes. (Speaking from the perspective of my own personal experiences and dealing with my own eating disorder, anyway.)

        And nothing ruins a planned-for, budgeted-for indulgence quite like someone’s snarky offhand “Should you be eating that?” :(

        Reply
        1. nonegiven

          You know, you may be right, it’s not nearly enough. Scuse me while I run and get 4 more before they’re all gone.

          Reply
    3. Mike C.

      I think we’re in a creepy orthorexia-as-food-culture place right now

      Yeah, I really agree with this. I get so frustrated trying to be more healthy only to find so much advice out there easily debunked with casual searching. There’s so much snake oil out there.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        My hatred for the phrase “clean eating” has reached rant level. Cleanliness = virtue = some kinds of food is such a horrific equation. It’s all dirty, people.

        Reply
        1. Kelly L.

          OMG this. Yes, you should wash any actual, mechanical dirt off your food before you eat it. After that, it’s all clean.

          Reply
          1. Delta Delta

            Ooh, but, I rather love picking a fresh strawberry and eating it while it’s sun-warm and a little sandy from the ground. Maybe this isn’t clean eating, technically, but it’s joyful.

            Reply
            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

              Like I grew up with in Rhode Island — if that clam doesn’t have a bit of sand in it, it’s not worth eating!

              Reply
        2. LBK

          I loathe few empty pseudoscience buzzwords more than “toxins”. You don’t need to go on a juice cleanse to get rid of “toxins” – you have a liver for that.

          Reply
            1. Mike C.

              That’s such a fun game. Sometimes you can get them wound up over “dihydrogen monoxide” for bonus points.

              Reply
    4. VioletEMT

      Thank you. Food shaming / policing doesn’t work to help people be healthier. Tons of research backs this up. Food choices are so, so personal.

      Reply
    5. Brogrammer

      The answer to the people who “feel resentful for having to police people about food” is to stop policing people about food.

      As always, your comment is on the nose. Why is this even a thing?

      Reply
    6. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

      Yes! This!

      I’m totally for companies choosing to provide nutrient-dense (I’m so over using the word “healthy” to describe some good over others because ALL food can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet and any food can become unhealthy if consumed in excess…yes, even carrots.) food to employees, but policing what employees eat is bananas. First of all, it’s a pretty well-known fact that deprivation of a particular type of food leads to binging later on (ask me about my candy obsession during my restrictive eating disorder bouts some time!)…and also, every person is different and has different needs. I feel like garbage if a go low-carb (and it only serves to trigger my eating disorder issues) but others swear by it. BECAUSE of my eating disorder, it’s important for me to be able to legalize all types of foods…which actually does mean eating cupcakes at work sometimes since one of my fears is eating sweets in front of people. And the message that sweets and other allegedly “unhealthy” food have no place in a healthy diet is just plain wrong.

      All foods can fit into a balanced diet…and everyone will have different needs. The only people who should be concerned about an individual’s diet is their doctor or dietitian. It’s not the place of an employer to police such things…not to mention the major issues these sorts of policies would cause for many people with eating disorders.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I initially struggled with your first sentence because I was genuinely reading “bananas” literally and thought you felt the solution was to have people eat bananas.

        Reply
        1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

          Hahahaha…nope. Though there is this bonkers YouTuber who subsists primarily on bananas and I have to assume has major nutrient deficiencies.

          Reply
          1. a different Vicki

            Elsenet a friend was sarcastically suggesting the “monkey diet”: you can eat anything you like, but only after you’ve had five bananas that day.

            Reply
      2. TL -

        YES this. There is no perfect, healthy diet.
        There are healthier patterns of eating and less healthy ones; there are broad guidelines to them that make sense but if you feel energetic and okay on your diet and you can do everything you want to with your body (assuming there’s no other physical limitations), you’re probably just fine.

        Reply
        1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

          You sound so much like my dietitian that it’s borderline freaky. Haha…

          Reply
      3. EyesOnMyOwn

        I eat a diet that conforms to what is currently viewed as ‘healthy,’ ( it is, in fact, healthy for ME,) and it is zero percent my business what anyone else eats.

        I wish the courtesy went both ways, though. Please, please, please, co-workers. I’m not eating salad AT you.

        I would find a company policy about anyone’s lunchbox inappropriate and intrusive.

        Reply
    7. Sfigato

      No way, man, they need to institute a clean-food only policy. Furthermore, if it ain’t biodynamic, don’t even THINK about bringing it to work.

      Reply
    8. nonegiven

      What they actually feel resentful about is that the people they are ‘forced to police’ won’t do what they say. They are lucky they don’t get their tires slashed.

      Reply
  19. Wannabe Disney Princess

    There’s two rules I live by at work: Don’t mess with people’s money and Don’t mess with people’s lunch. I know, for me, that if it’s a rough week I may “reward” myself by bringing a cookie in my lunch because it gives me something to look forward to. If someone were to take that away from me or make me feel ashamed for enjoying a treat, I’d start job searching in a big, BIG hurry. I’m an adult, I do not deserve to be treated like a kindergartner.

    Reply
  20. twig

    No. no no no no no.

    Who’s deciding what is healthy and by what criteria? My healthy may not be your healthy.

    Reply
    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      Lewis Black had a rant in his standup routine about eggs. First they were healthy. Then they weren’t. Now they are. “Make up your mind!”

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Avocados too. They were good because they were a vegetable. Then bad because they have fat. Then good because it’s the good type of fat. Then bad because overall calories count. Then good because you need fat to feel full. Then…

        Reply
        1. ThursdaysGeek

          Even calories count differently for different people. Not just calories from different foods work differently, but some people can gain weight on the exact same diet that others lose weight on.

          Reply
        1. Liet-Kynes

          The whole field of nutrition is on pretty shaky experimental and procedural ground, since you really can’t change only one variable or employ double-blind testing when it comes to someone’s diet. When you remove something from someone’s diet, they replace it with something else. And we’re notoriously bad at gauging quantities of various things we eat; I know someone who’s fully capable of eating an entire bag of jelly beans and then claiming he has no idea why he’s not losing weight since he cut down on gummies. We’re even worse at accurately tracking and reporting our diets.

          So most nutrition studies are shaky at best, and then it’s filtered through breathless, clickbait reporting in a story written by a Buzzfeed intern or some “science journalist” who minored in biology 25 years ago, and it rapidly becomes completely hopeless. There’s a reason Mike Pollan came up with “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

          Reply
          1. Antilles

            And we’re notoriously bad at gauging quantities of various things we eat
            Oh my gosh this. In fact, we’re so bad at it, that it actually is stunning when you finally do start measuring quantities. Wait, why is there so little pasta on the plate? Have these things secretly gotten bigger?

            Reply
            1. TL -

              Every time I’m ordering at Chipotle: why do you give me so little!?!?
              Every time I’m actually eating Chipotle: Why do you give me so much?!?!

              Reply
          2. JustaTech

            I feel bad for anyone who studies nutrition in humans. There’s basically no controlling your subjects, and all the timelines are just too long. Humans are seriously the worst study subjects ever, and if we weren’t humans we’d never study them! :) (I study humans, but at least not what they eat!)

            Reply
            1. Optimistic Prime

              I came from a lab that studied nutrition in humans (wasn’t my area but many of my colleagues worked on the project), and it’s actually kind of fascinating – the lack of controls and stuff were kind of the point. But we were health psychologists. Human messiness was the feature, not the bug.

              (I studied drug use and sexual behavior…same problems with an extra helping of shame.)

              Reply
          3. Kate

            Yep! I remember one particular meta-study when they looked at cancer-causing-food research. And the shocking results were that everything causes cancer. Literally every food increases your cancer risk overall, even if it decreases your chance of getting a particular type of cancer. If I recall correctly, the authors’ tongue-in-cheek recommendation was to stop eating if you didn’t want cancer.

            Reply
            1. Pebbles

              I have for years been saying (half tongue-in-cheek) that I will die of cancer one day, it’s up to me to pick which one.

              Reply
            2. Optimistic Prime

              Well…living increases cancer risk. I cynically wonder whether we’re going to realize one day that all of the significant results we’re seeing are just an artifact of time, and that the real issue is simply that the longer you live the more likely you are to get cancer.

              Reply
        2. sub rosa for this

          OMG yes. First, someone does a study that says, in these three people out of ten thousand, eating quadrotriticale increased their white blood cell count by a small fraction of a percent.

          Then the next day’s headline reads, “MIRACLE GRAIN CURES CANCER!” and talks about that study… without giving any of the actual scientific detail… *sigh*

          Reply
          1. Liet-Kynes

            It’s always fun to Google for the actual paper. “NO GOD DAMN IT THE P VALUE WAS 0.06 THATS NOT WHAT IT SAID” (╯° °)╯︵ ┻━┻

            Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              Parenting magazines I found were particularly loathe to put in any footnotes with the actual scientific study. When I dug them out, they had a strong tendency to be “we found a small effect in our sample of 17 premature babies, and figure this applies to all people everywhere.”

              Reply
              1. Lunch Meat

                Or the fact that most studies of adults are of college students or 20-something year olds who need money.

                Reply
                1. Falling Diphthong

                  That threw off the sleep research for decades. If you give a college student $20 and tell them to fall asleep, blam, they’re asleep. Finally someone realized that 20 year olds who are terminally sleep deprived but otherwise healthy might not be representative of everyone.

                2. Optimistic Prime

                  Or credit for their psychology class so they can graduate!

                  (Which personally – as a research psychologist – I find to be hugely unethical.)

              2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                Not even that. Most studies are like “While intriguing, these findings are preliminary and require further research.”

                Reply
    2. BRandy

      Do they want to inspect the fillings of my sandwich? How I make my tuna fish up, that I us lots of mayo.

      Reply
    3. Mischa

      Absolutely. I eat only fresh, unprocessed foods…because I literally cannot eat heavily processed foods at all, thanks to IBS. It’s a total pain to have to spend your whole weekend cooking, plus it is incredibly expensive. Some days I just want a box of cheap mac and cheese without suffering the gastric consequences.

      Reply
  21. NoMoreMrFixit

    Is the company paying for this healthier food? What people eat, paid for with their own money, is their own business regardless of the organization’s mission. I’d be ordering pizza and have a junk food drawer just to push back on this idea.

    Reply
  22. Fine line

    Big Brother is watching. This what I fear the most – being told how I have to live. My life, my choice.

    Reply
  23. Kage

    This is actually a big thing in the Architectural world right now with the new WELL certification program that’s coming out there (https://www.wellcertified.com/). It’s a program designed on certifying spaces based on promoting occupant well-being and nutrition policies/requirements are a big part of it. I believe even that some of the larger US insurance providers offer discounts to companies if they have various nutritional/fitness incentive programs. If you do get buy-in from upper management, you could look at the WELL framework as a potential reference for things you could enact.

    A big note/caveat here is that the organization should be focused only on setting requirements for the food that the company provides (i.e. what they stock in vending machines, what they purchase for company lunches, what they tell vendors bringing in food, etc). They do not want to move into harassing/berating people for what the individuals choose to bring in personally. The goal is to provide additional educational information/resources, as well as providing healthier alternatives, to allow individuals to make their own choices; not to brow-beat someone into feeling like they cannot bring their own lunch.

    Reply
    1. galeforcewind

      This exactly. I work in a WELL certified building and no personal food choices come into the policy at all. It’s all about what we provide to employees both in terms of catering/snack supply and education/resources. We, like OP’s workplace, are a health-focused, philanthropic company.

      Reply
  24. Snarkus Aurelius

    The other detail that’s frequently forgotten in the healthy food debate is food deserts. I’m not sure where you live, but food deserts are all over this country, primarily in poor areas. So not only is asking people to bring in specific healthy foods an overreach but there’s a decent chance you’re also asking people to shell out more money than they would otherwise — money they might not have.

    To AAM’s point about where to draw the line, if this is the case, will your employer give people raises or otherwise compensate them for the extra money they’ll be forced to spend in accordance with the healthy food guidelines?

    I’m also concerned about the word “optics” here. It’s more about the *appearance* of health than actual health itself, yes? I’m sure that’s not what they intend, but that is what optics mean. If they actually care about health overall, then great! What’s the health care plan like? Is it affordable? Does it cover preventative care? Is a dietitian covered? Are employees given enough sick time each year such they can use their health care plan? Are there enough providers in the area such that people can easily access their doctors and urgent care without driving long distances?

    At least these coworkers got one thing right: feeling resentful about policing everyone else’s food. They should feel resentful, which is a fantastic reason to stop.

    Reply
    1. Fictional Butt

      Yes. Not just money, but time and energy. I had a short-term living situation once where it took me 4 hours to do groceries, which included a long walk in very hot weather and a bus station where I was harassed. After 1 grocery visit I switched to buying freezer meals at the convenience store.

      Reply
    2. Fictional Butt

      I had a long comment, but I think my browser ate it. Anyway, it’s not just about money, but the whole experience of grocery shopping. I lived someplace once where grocery shopping required a several-hour round trip including a long walk in hot weather and a bus station where I was made to feel very unsafe. After 1 grocery trip, I switched to frozen food from the convenience store.

      Reply
    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      All excellent points, particularly re: a holistic vision of what it means for an employer to promote health.

      Reply
    4. QuestionSubmitter

      Someone else at the top of the comment section also talked about food deserts. We don’t live in one and for that I’m grateful. But like I said in my original question to Alison, something about being on the west coast makes people hyper-aware about being healthy. Our employer has a fairly reasonable extended health benefits packagae. The area we live in also has great services like a free call a dietitian hotline.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        Are you saying that all of your employees live in the same neighborhood? Otherwise, you really don’t know if anyone lives in food desert or “doldrums” as someone else pointed out.

        Reply
          1. Observer

            Eh. Unless everyone lives in the same NEIGHBORHOOD, you still don’t know unless you have much better familiarity with food options than most people do. And, in a small city this actually tends to be worse, because public transportation is less available or less usable.

            Reply
        1. ChickenSuperhero

          If there is a grocery store right next to work (I’ve had that at 2 jobs), does that negate the food desert effect around homes? Genuinely asking. I could see frozen food as a problem, but a cooler bag might make that workable. Carrying on public transport is a pain but I see people do that. Doing either with a disability is a problem, but then the root problem is food desert + disability.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            Not really – that still means you need to either buy prepared foods – which tend to be less “healthy” and more expensive when they are “healthy” – or eat only raw food, which is not really realistic.

            I cooler bag MIGHT make things more practical – or not. It’s not just about disability. And extra bag in NYC rush hour? Bad idea! An extra cooler bag if I also have a long walk? Not such a good idea, maybe. Besides a cooler bag does nothing for the food desert issues.

            Reply
  25. Liet-Kynes

    “I’m curious about how to institute a workplace healthy eating policy that is respectful and non-judgmental.”

    You don’t. Next? But seriously. There is no way you can tell functional adults with whom your company is in an employment relationship how you think they should eat, AND be respectful and non-judgmental. It is a contradiction in terms, no matter how diplomatically you attempt to roll it out. It is an overreach and a fundamental misunderstanding of your role as their employer and their relationship to you as their boss. I would be incredibly insulted if my employer tried to do this.

    Broadly, this is what annoys the crap out of me about charities, nonprofits, and other mission-driven organizations: the organization has a mission, but the mission becomes The Cause, and should be expected to put up with just about anything that advances The Cause, including anything from being told what to eat for lunch to crappy pay to uncontrolled overtime. The Cause does not give you license to overstep boundaries and professional roles.

    Reply
    1. ChickenSuperhero

      Yes. I would never ever ever work for a charity. A hugely high proportion seems to have unhealthy dynamics, all the way up to outright insanity and abuse. And usually for less money than at a regular work place.

      Reply
  26. Feeling Fruity

    If your organisation is focused on a single chronic disease, there may well be dietary advice that is suitable for those with that condition – that does not mean it is healthy for other people! There is no such thing as food that is universally healthy – some things other people consider healthy food can literally kill me. People have different needs, and they get to decide what to eat. Do not do this.

    Reply
    1. Clinical Social Worker

      Yeah my grandma can’t eat leafy greens. Really. It’s possible to be allergic or unable to eat “healthy” food.

      Reply
      1. not my usual alias

        And two people in my family have been told to eat more salt. Something that’s generally considered healthy for most people – lower sodium intake – would be bad for them.

        Reply
        1. nonegiven

          My MIL had high blood pressure since she was young. She had some heart trouble and congestive heart failure, restricted fluids. They kept giving her advice to eat a ‘heart healthy diet.’ I think there is a specific definition of that. She kept getting thrown in the hospital with low sodium, where i assume they gave her saline and fed her a heart healthy diet with no salt packet, at the same time.

          Reply
      2. ali

        me either. I can’t eat uncooked fruits or veggies or anything high fiber.

        I would say even if the org is a disease-specific using the recommended healthy diet for that disease is still a bad idea. Every patient is different, and the employees are not patients – and may have other diseases with other dietary recommendations.

        Reply
      3. Oryx

        Yuuuuup.

        I’m on one of the newer blood clot medications so it doesn’t effect me now, but yes, when I first got out of the hospital and was on Coumadin I was advised to not eat any leafy greens until they got my INR levels to the proper place and only then would they start to introduce leafy greens back in.

        And even the idea that people on Coumadin can eat leafy greens with monitoring is still a relatively new medical philosophy.

        Reply
      4. peachie

        Ha, reminds me of my boyfriend–he’s deeply allergic to some seriously banal foods, like apples, celery, carrots, melons…

        Reply
    2. Kelly L.

      This is what I’m wondering–like if it’s about diabetes, then maybe they’re trying to police everybody to eat things that are good for people with diabetes–even if the people in question don’t have diabetes. Or if it’s Crohn’s disease, you get a whole different set of restrictions–like the high-fiber veggies that are good for many other people can cause a lot of issues for some people who have it.

      Reply
      1. ali

        exactly – and with something like Crohn’s, there is no one set diet that works for every patient. and the employees are not patients.

        Reply
      2. Emily, admin extraordinaire

        Yeah, my dad’s diet when he was on dialysis was odd from a general-health standpoint. Low sodium, sure, but also low protein, low phosphorus, and low potassium. Which meant that whole wheat is bad, but refined wheat is good. Dried beans were bad, but green beans were okay. Potatoes were bad, but white rice was good. We used to joke that he had to put down the whole wheat roll and eat some cake (but not chocolate cake. Chocolate is bad).

        Reply
    3. Observer

      Yes! Those low fat 12 grain pretzels the food police will parade around will make someone with celiac sicker than sick. That organic, locally grown apple they will push could kill someone with severe contact dermatitis and no epi-pen. etc.

      This is not “not everyone can have sandwiches” territory. Because the point here is NOT to keep people from eating those foods, but to keep people from pushing those foods one others.

      Reply
    4. Newby

      I am actually on a high sodium diet because of a health condition. I don’t know how many people have told me that I need to use less salt because it is unhealthy. I love telling them that actually if I don’t use that much salt my doctor will make me take salt pills again.

      Reply
    5. only acting normal

      In my circle of friends there is: one diabetic, two coeliac, two IBS, two lactose intolerant, one shellfish allergy, three strawberry allergies, one *deathly* allergy to apples plus some other fruit, one allergy to the onion family, and me allergic to nuts…
      Try catering that lot “healthily”.

      Reply
    6. Whats In A Name

      Yes! When my partner had a hypertensive episode I adopted his very low-sodium diet. A year later I was in the cardiologist’s office being told to get more salt in my diet. Pronto. Time to fill the salt shaker.

      Reply
    7. Gazebo Slayer

      This. It’s like all the idiots who think that, because a small percentage of the population has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten is bad for everyone and no one should eat it ever.

      Reply
    1. Sadsack

      I vote for saying something the next time this comes up in a meeting, in passing, or anywhere. I bet there would be others who would chime in in agreement if one person would ask the food police to please stop.

      Reply
  27. tiny temping teapot

    If the top people don’t care about how it looks and want their cupcakes, it seems like the push for this policy is coming from one or two people. That would argue against trying to implement some kind of office wide policy about personal food.

    And I echo everyone else about food policing, who defines healthy, your “healthy” is not my “healthy” and also, screw you, only my doctor has a say in what I eat and even then I want the studies to back up his recommendation.

    Reply
  28. Janet

    I worked at a nutrition organization for a while and the policy was that we had healthy snacks and meals for events where the organization was providing the food. But if a staff member brought in donuts or had a cupcake in their lunch, that’s fine.

    Honestly, I think more importantly than policing is making health knowledge available. A workplace that has a dietitian available a few times a year that they pay for is better than policing lunchboxes. Offer a discount to fitness centers. Give people the tools to eat healthier instead of just telling them they’re not healthy.

    Reply
    1. Bits and Bobs

      +1 to your second paragraph.

      My workplace has an on-site gym that is very cheap to join (my partner’s workplace has a free gym!) where you can use the equipment, take classes, talk to fitness coaches or dieticians or have health check-ups. There is free fruit in the offices. The on-site cafeteria has lots of healthy options (and also cake and cookies and chocolate because people still like treats). They have a bike-to-work scheme. They’ve negotiated discounts with local food shops that sell healthy produce. There’s lots of ways to encourage healthy living without policing what people bring in for lunch, and the key is to make things available and then *let people make their own choices*.

      Reply
      1. Janet

        Yep. The nutrition organization offered none of that. Where I work now? We get up to $100 in health reimbursements per quarter. So this can be a gym membership or getting reimbursed for doing races or anything like that. They have a service where you can get fresh fruit delivered every week – just order it and pay. They have another service where if you pay, you can get healthy meals delivered every other week. We have showers on site for people who ride their bikes to work. A free gym is on site. The campus catering offers a number of healthy options. It’s really great.

        Reply
    2. Whats In A Name

      This is a great point too. If I showed our RD this post she would FREAK. She is very anti-policing and pro-educating, as our entire wellness program is.

      Reply
  29. AW

    I’m curious about how to institute a workplace healthy eating policy that is respectful and non-judgmental.

    You can’t, for all the reasons you give for being personally against this. Policing someone else’s diet is disrespectful and judgemental by definition. I’m right there with you except for the part where you say the line is blurry. The line, to me, is very clear.

    If anything, management should be making it clear that your co-workers need to back off. They have no business telling you or anyone else what they should be having for lunch. If they feel resentful then that’s a personal problem, not something that needs to be fixed with a policy condoning their behavior.

    Reply
    1. Princess Carolyn

      You’re exactly right. It sounds like OP’s gut is right about this, but she’s second-guessing her instincts because her co-workers are so vocal about this. I hope that means OP will realize there’s no good way to police food choices at work.

      Reply
    2. Gingerblue

      This. There is no way to respectfully, non-judgementally explain to a coworker that what they eat is more your business than theirs.

      An actual health initiative–about actual health, not “optics”–would make preventing random food-shaming by colleagues a priority.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        “There is no way to respectfully, non-judgementally explain to a coworker that what they eat is more your business than theirs.”

        Ooh. That is beautifully put.

        Reply
  30. Bend & Snap

    OMG NO.

    Really your policy needs to be that people only worry about their own food. Food shaming by policy is a horrible idea.

    My company has wellness initiatives out the wazoo, including subsidizing healthy food choices in the cafeteria (salad bar, that kind of thing) and charging regular price for less healthy food like chicken wings or dessert. That goes over really well and makes it easy to make good choices. But you know what, if I want a brownie, nobody’s going to say boo about it.

    Reply
    1. LizB

      I wish I worked somewhere with that cafeteria policy! My employer-sponsored health insurance has a discount program for produce and other healthy options, which I love in theory… but it only applies to very specific brands and items, which makes it basically unusable for me since I usually don’t want to buy the few things it covers each week, and half the time I forget to check the weekly offers.

      Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      Excellent example of an actual practical way to make the healthy options the easy options.

      Reply
    3. Liet-Kynes

      What this makes me wonder is if the org is sabotaging its own mission by adopting a similarly finger-shaking approach with its clients.

      Reply
  31. Annalee

    Honestly, I think the coworkers who “feel strongly you need a policy” about this should be taken aside for a sternly-worded conversation about staying out of other people’s business. They can cause real, serious harm if they’re going around policing other people’s food.

    First, it’s impossible for them to know what is and isn’t “healthy” for a coworker to eat. Even aside from Alison’s point about how there’s conflicting info on what’s “healthy,” even in areas where we have good guidelines, those guidelines are intentionally general. They’re aimed at entire populations, not individuals, who will have widely varying circumstances.

    A frosted cupcake may be the absolute healthiest thing in the office for a diabetic coworker whose blood sugar is crashing.

    Eating a cupcake in front of coworkers may be a major health milestone for a coworker who’s been struggling with eating disorders–and getting a snarky comment or a ‘policy’ shoved in their face about it could send them on a mental health spiral that could prevent them from eating for days.

    Please encourage your coworkers to keep their eyes on their own paper and off of other peoples’ plates.

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      I agree with Annalee, the more I think about it a serious talk is in order for that employee where it’s made clear that policing other peoples food is unacceptable.

      Reply
    2. motherofdragons

      Amen to all of this! The OP mentions being criticized for bringing an “unhealthy” lunch–not sure if that’s hypothetical, or if that’s actually happened, but that should be shut down immediately. I would absolutely say something to the higher-ups about how uncomfortable it is to hear these kinds of comments being made, and that they need to stop. And I had to laugh that OP reports that the coworkers “feel resentful for having to police people about food.” Easy fix! Don’t police people about food!

      Reply
  32. Kyrielle

    “There’s plenty of research showing eating meat leads to cancer, stroke, and heart disease — will you ban meat on office premises?”

    And, on the opposite end, look at a low-FODMAP diet – which I have to follow for health reasons. Add that I’m sensitive to tree nuts and *severely* lactose intolerant (hard cheese is not tolerable without lactase pills). And then let me know what you expect me to do, because eggs and meat are pretty much my protein sources if I don’t want to get sick. (And peanuts, but in moderation and with awareness of others’ allergies – peanut allergy can be nasty, the airborne protein molecules can be all it takes.)

    I had a coworker at a previous job who had an auto-immune disease that basically required a very low-carb diet.

    There is no one-size-fits-all diet.

    Should someone come to work there and hang out in front of a client eating a cream-filled doughnut? Well, no, probably not. But if they want to eat one during work hours, but not in front of a client? Carry on.

    Reply
  33. LizB

    I don’t think there is ever any good that can come out of commenting on other people’s food.

    Sing it from the rooftops, OP. Also co-signing all the comments above pointing out that what is healthy for one individual is not always healthy for the next, healthy people eat cupcakes too, and anyone with a history of eating disorders could be seriously harmed by your coworkers’ suggestion. Is mental health not part of your “brand” in their eyes? Just the fact that they’re already policing people’s food choices could be harmful and is way out of line. The way to encourage healthy eating is by making a wide variety of good options readily available, not by shaming people who make a different choice.

    Reply
    1. Hallway Feline

      The only good that can possible come out of commenting on other people’s food is:

      “Wow, that looks delicious! What is that?” (or some variation)

      But I 100% agree with your comment, LizB.

      Reply
      1. ThatGirl

        Yes, the only time anyone commented on my lunch at my last job was “wow, that smells really good, what is it?” and that was fine and welcome because I love to talk about cooking. (Not in an obnoxious food evangelist sort of way – I just love to cook.)

        Reply
  34. Katie the Fed

    “But the line gets blurred when I get criticized for bringing back an unhealthy lunch during office hours.”

    There aren’t enough 4-letter words in the world to describe the murderous rage I would have at this.

    By all means, bring in some healthy snacks – I’d love a fruit tray to nibble on during the day. But beyond that, nobody should be policing others’ food choices.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Why are people criticizing you at all? I mean, this is insanely inappropriate and worthy of addressing independently of whether to adopt a policy. People should not be going around policing their coworkers’ food choices (I think fposte and Annalee put it well upthread).

      Reply
  35. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    This is a horrible, horrible idea. Recently, two of my coworkers went low-carb. One of them quickly lost several pounds and could not believe how fantastic she felt. The other didn’t really see much change, but continued thinking she would see results if she stuck with it since it worked so well for others. Then she went in for annual blood work and found her cholesterol had shot up WAY past acceptable. Her doctor immediately had her switch back to how she usually ate, which was generally low-fat, lots of fruits/veggies.

    Healthy for you does not equal healthy for everyone.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      There was a bit of fascinating science where they had people eat things like a banana or a slice of bread, then measured things like blood sugar. Individual people could have opposite physical reactions to the same food.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        What?! People’s bodies are different and react in different ways to the things they eat?

        *insert “this is brand new information* gif*

        Same way that some meds work for some people and don’t work for others. Why are we still having so much trouble understanding this in 2017?

        Reply
    2. aebhel

      Yeah, I think generally if you feel energetic and healthy on what you’re eating, you’re doing okay. My spouse is skinny as hell and has an active job, and he requires a LOT of calories to get through the day; trying to live on lowfat yogurt and salads would probably result in him passing out behind the wheel.

      Reply
      1. sam

        I think it’s Michael Phelps who, when he’s actively training or competing, eats something like 20,000 to 30,000 calories a day? And because he has to eat so many calories, he ends up just eating massive amounts of calorie-dense foods.

        that amount of food is obviously not appropriate for anyone who is not, say, a world class competitive athlete in the middle of a competition, but for him, in that moment, it is absolutely “healthy”, because without it he would probably collapse from exhaustion.

        Reply
  36. Callalily

    This would enrage me and likely cause me to quit.

    I have a selective eating disorder; I physically cannot stomach eating most healthy foods despite investing in a lot of therapy to try and force/learn it. My food consumption is my business; despite the unhealthy diet I am on a number of supplements that keep my health in check.

    Banning unhealthy foods would be banning me from eating at work.

    Reply
    1. LadyL

      Thank you for sharing. None of us truly know what is going on with someone else, and it’s an incredibly bad idea to scrutinize what someone else is eating.

      Reply
  37. paperfiend

    I like the suggestion of making healthful food available. Presumably the program your organization is running has something to do with *encouraging* people to eat a particular way (as opposed to *forcing* them to do so). There should presumably be some expertise there that would suggest that dictating food choices isn’t generally going to work…

    Reply
  38. caryatis

    I’m with Alison on the “middle ground.” A workplace dedicated to health (or I would say any workplace) should not be pushing unhealthy food on employees. While others have pointed out that there’s no consensus on what is “healthy,” there are some clearly unhealthy things: employer-provided chips, cookies, fried food, chocolate, or donuts don’t belong in a healthy office. If employees want to eat unhealthy food, I say let them, but there’s no reason their employer needs to be providing it.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      ha! Even that’s not so clear. For instance, there is some evidence that chocolate has some real health benefits – of course it needs to be in moderation and some are better than others (eg how much cocoa vs other junk etc.)

      Not that I’m really suggesting that an employer needs to provide chocolates for staff. But it just goes to show how hard it is to make really hard and fast sweeping “rules” about this stuff.

      Reply
    2. Kate

      Yep, one poster above mentioned that their doctor ordered them to eat one bag of chips a day because of they needed more salt or something like that.

      Reply
    3. Sami

      If I, as a diabetic, had a low blood sugar incident, and a donut was close by, you better believe I’m going to grab it.

      Reply
  39. Katniss

    I would walk out the day this was announced if this happened at any place I worked. This is unacceptable. What other people eat is not your business nor is it the business of any employer.

    Reply
  40. Mike C.

    How are you even going to decide what is “healthy” to begin with? Are you guys sitting down with actual experts or snake oil salesmen?

    I’ve been trying to eat better, but there’s so much garbage out there – fad diets, people screaming about “chemicals”, folks wanting me to only eat raw food and other garbage. The last people I trust deciding that sort of thing are the people I work for.

    Look, there’s obvious stuff you can do! Veggie or fruit platters at meetings instead of cupcakes. Take the fryer out of the company cafeteria. Make sure there are working water fountains within easy access of everyone on site, that sort of thing.

    /Also tired of being told that “organic is healthier” when there is no data backing up that claim either.

    Reply
    1. paul

      I kind of lost it once on a formrr coworker who told me my nonorganic apples and carrots were bad for me
      …while eating an organic cheesecake the size of a plate. Just…no.

      Reply
      1. Teapot Librarian

        I had a friend INSIST that the hard candy she bought was healthy because “look, it’s fat free!” She could not get it through her head that hard candy is made of sugar and water, and it still had plenty of empty calories.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        My mom does this, and it drives me out of my mind. I try to eat organic for reasons unrelated to nutrition/health, but “organic” desserts, juices, and highly-processed breads and whatnot are not “healthier”—in most cases—than a conventional apple.

        Reply
      3. Clever Name

        Seriously. I still remember an insufferable classmate who sneered about my Nutri-grain bar I was eating (which was right after I had martial arts class and really needed some calories to get me through my next class). She turned up her nose and announced that she only put wholesome food in her body and that “your body processes that just like a jelly donut”. I just shrugged at her and kept eating my bar while thinking “your body processes everything the exact same way”. (I was also taking biochemistry that semester.) The next day she had a giant bag of candy, and I valiantly refrained from making a comment about her wholesome Everlasting Gobstoppers.

        Reply
    2. LadyL

      I’m really skeptical of most of the extreme diet fads. I remember hearing people rave about Whole 30, and looking it up only to find that they believe that it impossible to live a healthy life while being vegetarian or vegan. No substitutions allowed, and a rather condescending explanation of all the ways you’re killing yourself slowly by not eating animals. Been vegetarian all my life for moral reasons, not interested in giving it up now, and I seem to be doing fine, thanks.

      Every body is different and needs different things. No one diet will ever fit all, and having a very rigid structure for what foods you are allowed to eat + obsessing over the purity of your food is also incredibly dangerous for you (barring some medical reason to necessitate that level of scrutiny). Not to mention that it seems like 99% of the “food science” people use to justify or rebuke one diet or another is either totally made up or completely misunderstood.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        Paleo is a great example of this. The authors doesn’t understand how human evolution works and their conclusions were completely wrong. But it’s commonly treated as a perfectly normal thing.

        /Also, it’s called “stock”, not “bone broth”.

        Reply
        1. not my usual alias

          /Also, it’s called “stock”, not “bone broth”.

          Seriously, I’ve been wondering what the difference is…

          Reply
          1. Liet-Kynes

            Technically, bone broth is cooked for a longer time with a higher concentration of bones and meat.

            Reply
            1. Mike C.

              Then why are all the recipes so similar in both time and materials? It’s a bunch of meat and bones, sometimes roasted, thrown into water, sometimes with seasoning or herbs and left to simmer for several hours.

              Calling it “bone broth” is nothing more than someone trying to be conspicuously trendy.

              Reply
              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                The recipe for tomato sauce and tomato paste are similar, too. It’s a matter of concentration, intensity, and depth of flavor.

                There is, however, a useful culinary distinction between broth and stock.

                Reply
                1. Mike C.

                  I get that, but I just did a search for recipes entitled “bone broth” and entitled “stock” and the range of cooking times and range of materials overlap to the point of being the same. If I were to show people the recipes with the titles removed, I don’t think people could tell the difference.

            2. MadGrad

              I bought a little magazine of soup and smoothie recipes once (mouth surgery prep) that defined the difference that way and then ON THE EXACT NEXT PAGE listed a recipe for “bone broth” that advised a cooking time that they had JUST STATED was insufficient to define it as such. WHAT.

              Reply
          2. SignalLost

            The only difference is the homicidal rage I feel every time I run across “bone broth.” Where I work, I see it A LOT, and it makes me crazy.

            Reply
            1. Artemesia

              LOL. I was confused by that when I first saw it too. I cook up every carcass or serious meat bones that we have as a result of chickens, turkeys, roasts, hams with bones etc and make soups or lentils or whatever with the results. Never called it bone broth — it is just stock and has been for the last 50 years I have been doing it.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I thought I was missing something for the longest time–like, was this something that kept the meat out and used marrow? But then it turned out to be stock. Bah.

                Reply
              2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                Stock is made primarily with bones and aromatics and has a very light flavor and mouthfeel, and it’s intended for very light flavored soups, braising, poaching, and the like. But you’d never serve it as a soup on its own. Broth is made with a higher concentration of meat, is cooked longer, and has higher protein content and a more viscous consistency, and it can stand alone as a soup in its own right if desired.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Not my stock, bucko. If it can’t stand on its own, you didn’t cook it long enough.

                2. MagicalhealingfoodNOT

                  That’s inaccurate. I can make a light stock or a hearty one, depending on if I roast the bones and how long I cook it, and if I choose to clarify it or not.

                  I get such a giggle about the miracle of ‘bone broth.’ It’s soup, nutrisheeple!

                3. Liet-Kynes

                  No, it’s accurate, per a friend of mine who teaches at a culinary school. It’s just that the terms have been used interchangeably so long that the distinction is no longer meaningful.

        2. Falling Diphthong

          Satan did not salt the archaeological sites with evidence of grinding and cooking grains so that he could undercut a fad diet tens of thousands of years later.

          Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              Evidence of grinding grains and baking them, far far older. All over Europe 30,000 years ago.

              Paleolithic people living in places without grain, like the Arctic or rainforest, did not eat grain. If they were hip deep in seasonal wild grains, or other starches, they ate them seasonally and as part of a varied diet. Because they were trying to extract calories from their environment, not follow some fad that ignores excellent food sources at one’s fingertips.

              Reply
              1. Falling Diphthong

                And as Pebbles says, made starches into beer.

                There’s a serious archaeological argument that farming started so that people could get drunk year round.

                Reply
              2. nonegiven

                They ate grains but they didn’t settle in one place in large numbers and start farming them.

                Reply
      2. MegaMoose, Esq.

        Same here with the skepticism. I watched my mom yo-yo diet all through my childhood (so bad for you!), and I now subscribe to that most excellent piece of wisdom: the best diet is the one you’ll stick with.

        Reply
        1. Steph B

          1000x this! I am currently trying to institute healthy diet / activity changes in my own life, but I am super cognizant of my 4 year old daughter watching my every decision, so I am trying to make small steps in the right direction that I know I can keep and put everything in the light of the positive / not invoking body image issues that I have myself.

          Reply
      3. ThatGirl

        Whole 30 drives me crazy because there are some arbitrary “no no” foods that the woman who just straight up made the diet up didn’t like. Beans.

        But – if someone finds it works for them, great. You do you. Just don’t preach to me about it. :)

        Reply
    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      And not just that—are they going to provide a dietitian who conducts an individual analysis for each employee? Because people’s bodies are not identical, and that’s the level of analysis you need to create a custom “healthy” diet.

      Reply
    4. Jaguar

      I’m doing a double-whammy of trying to clean up my diet and trying to intelligently exercise better: twice as much lousy information!

      Reply
  41. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    I feel like my solution to this would be to start bringing in nothing but smoothies, where I can put whatever ingredients I heckin like and they’d just have to guess at the contents based on color.

    Reply
    1. Shayland

      If you put in a tiny bit of spinach it will turn green and look super healthy, but it doesn’t even really have a taste. ;)

      Reply
      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Oh, I usually throw in a good handful or two of baby spinach & baby kale. I’m still mastering the art of making smoothies without completely filling my blender by the time I’m done, oops.

        Reply
        1. aebhel

          I use a stick blender (since I went and broke like three regular blenders in a row :/) and I’ve found it works really well for not ending up with a GALLON of smoothie.

          Reply
      2. Nea

        Skip the smoothie and go straight to a mint chocolate milkshake. It’s a kind of greeny brown that looks seriously organic.

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      New idea: The company can stock the shelves for the healthful eaters exclusively with Soylent. I would pay to watch the reaction after a few days.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        You certainly wouldn’t pay t be around them though. “Gastric distress” is a common occurrence with users.

        Fun fact – the dude who created Soylent has no background in any biological sciences and once tried to kill off his gut flora because he felt that he wasted too much time in the bathroom. Oh, and there were also those heavy metal contamination issues…

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I recently met someone who was a college floormate of one of the founders! These guys just sound kind of strange, in general. Leaving aside the bizarreness of purposefully naming your product after Soylent Green, they’re also obsessed with things like polyphasic sleep. In general, they sound like guys who see basic bodily functions as the enemy of productivity/success, which is kind of alarming.

          Reply
          1. Jersey's mom

            I read that as polyphasic sheep, and thought, well isn’t that kind of normal sheep behavior, why would someone obsess about that?

            I need more caffiene. Wait, I’ll have to see if rhat”s on the approved food list!

            Reply
        2. Mike C.

          And one more thing – you can just drink an Ensure type beverage if you’re looking for something that has nutrition and has actually been developed and tested by actual experts! I think they’re cheaper a well.

          Reply
      2. sam

        Every time I’ve seen someone drinking that nonsense (which, mind you, is rare), I SOOO want to run up to them, raise my arms in the air and shout frantically “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!!!”

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          One of my close college friends has become a convert, and every time he launches into his advertising spiel about the scientific precision and nutrition value of Soylent, I respond with “Soylent Green is people!!” …which is so obnoxious and juvenile, I know. But I can’t help myself—from what I can tell, the folks selling Soylent may as well be selling snake oil or a $700 juice press with Bluetooth technology.

          Reply
  42. Violet

    While reading this question, I was thinking exactly what Alison said at the end:

    “I do think there’s a middle ground here, though, and it’s to make healthy food available. Find caterers with healthy options for work events. Put fruit in the break room. Bring in healthy lunches for everyone every Friday. And yes, talk about what foods the organization will and won’t spend money on; that’s a logical place for the org’s stances to play out.”

    This exactly! If you want people seen eating salad, for instance, provide them with a free salad bar. Nobody is forced to participate (you can bring donuts from home) but most people will partake if it is the path of least resistance. Breakfast meetings could have fruit and oatmeal, or whatever the organization defines as “healthy”. Again, no rules about what people bring/eat, but if the company wants to feature certain foods, they should be provided.

    Reply
    1. Hallway Feline

      Exactly! If the employer feels strongly about providing healthy snacks/foods, they should do that (and maybe not provide the less healthy ones). But never should they police what people bring from home.

      Reply