should offices have policies on healthy eating?

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 employees 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. I think people would feel resentful if their food choices are measured against some code of conduct. I also question how we would implement and enforce it, if at all. In my mind, there is a clear distinction between spending our organization’s money on unhealthy food and spending my own income on it. We also have regular volunteers too who come in and bring tons of treats all the time, and some of their lunches wouldn’t be accepted as healthy.

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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 619 comments… read them below }

    1. Wednesday*

      It’s been a long day already, and somehow I misread this as “It’s all about who gets to decide to eat someone else” and wow. That would be some workplace policy!

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          I remember a sci-fi story about manufactured food, with one that people craved. Then the scientist said the word “carnivore”, and everyone swooned. Then he said the word, “Cannibal”.

        2. cacwgrl*

          OMG! I think I know what you’re referencing and if I’m right and my mind is in the right place, I am dead. Comment of the day right here folks. Also, my mind basically exists in the gutter so if I’m wrong here, I apologize lol.

        3. Julia Gulia*

          long time reader, first time commenter and so happy to ummm pop my comment cherry on this one? Because yes. Phrasing. Duck Club forever.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        Funny Story: I worked for a director who got hated disaster planning with a passion, so he wrote the disaster manual to include only the absolutely unlikely scenarios (zombie apocalypse, plane crash in the Andes, shipwreck, etc). There was section in it where he’d put down that cannibalism was only acceptable by and amongst members of the same bargaining unit, and had to be based on seniority when engaged in…

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          There is case law regarding this question in Canada. If absolutely necessary, cannibalism is legal, but deciding who to eat first cannot be based on seniority.

          1. TiffIf*

            I read a book about the Siege of Leningrad and learned there is a legal distinction between eating someone who has died and killing someone in order to eat them. Obviously it makes sense that there is a legal distinction but I had never thought cannibalism in that depth before.

            1. Whimsical Gadfly*

              Where I grew up the Donner Party was a big deal so I learned there were similiar issues with them.

      2. NeutralJanet*

        I mean, I do think that a functional workplace should have a rule about that, in that I do not think you should have to work in an environment where people are regularly being cannibalized without any restrictions! The rule should be “no cannibalism”.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          Maybe only body parts that have spares? Eyes, ears, hands, feet, kidneys?
          I forgot about “To Serve Man”. It just came on late night horror TV, and of course Husband recorded it.
          My bestie is married to a man named Stu.

      3. Nelly*

        Congratulations to our top performers who get to enjoy a delicious BBQ!

        Commiserations to our lowest performers who get to be a delicious BBQ!

    1. Stitch*

      Alison’s PETA example is acceptable (clear, defined standards in line with the organization ethics,). I went to camp at the JCC as a mid and our lunches had to be kosher. That is fine.

      Amorphous restrictions on healthy eating are firm nope.

      1. Cait*

        I also liked her PETA example. I understand that, given what their organization represents, it wouldn’t be good for an employee to go to a meeting with clients/volunteers/etc. and start munching away on McDonald’s in front of them in the same way a PETA rep shouldn’t walk into a meeting wearing a fur coat. If you work for a company that upholds a certain image I think it’s implied that you believe in that image or at least respect it. So yeah, the company is well within it’s rights to decide what it spends its money on and how its employees need to conduct themselves professionally but as far as what they do at home and in their personal lives? Nope nope nope nope!

      2. B&R*

        Agree. I didn’t care for the answer here because what “healthy” is, is up for HUGE debate. It does depend on what the disease they are representing is, but the OP referred to things as “unhealthy.” And, what causes and doesn’t contribute to different problems is also up for debate, and different people may require different things for their own personal health. People with celiac can’t eat gluten, but it would be harmful for me to not eat the foods that contain gluten. And people suffering from the same disease could require different things too. And what if someone has an eating disorder on staff? Labeling food is decidedly unhealthy for them.
        The more I think about it, the less I like Alison’s answer.

        1. Ori*

          Yep. It’s telling that the program manager is ‘speaking out’ against cupcakes but not alcohol. Interesting that.

        2. Pell*

          I learned this year that I am hyponatremic on a near daily basis. 1620mg of sodium in a Top Ramen is a lunch that will forestall headaches, fatigue, auditory issues, and swelling for the rest of the day. I carry electrolyte tablets and sometimes just eat straight up salt from the break room shaker when I get a symptom.

          Healthy for whom indeed!

          1. Kal*

            Oh, hey, my people! Ramen is one of the best things to manage my salt levels. It sucks so much when I accidentally let it go too low. My other go-tos are potato chips and gatorade – not what outsiders would consider healthy. But no matter what, I always have a package of ramen nearby to just eat dry if it comes to it – its such a good way to get salt in quickly. Meanwhile, my bloodwork says I am perfectly healthy so it seems to be working just fine for me.

          2. CoveredinBees*

            Hmmm, I wonder if this is why I’ve always felt better after eating really salty things (especially ramen with as little water in it as I can get away with). I had assumed it was just that I really like salt, which is also a possibility. I am due for some blood work.

      3. Lucy Skywalker*

        I also went to camp at the JCC, and while we weren’t allowed to bring in meat for lunch (because the camp decided to have lunch be a dairy meal), it was okay if our food wasn’t strictly kosher. Since some of us didn’t keep kosher at home and therefore would be bringing in food prepared in an unkosher kitchen, the only rule was that we weren’t allowed to share food from home with out friends.

      4. Spero*

        I will note though, that I *WORKED* for the JCC and the employee policy differed. All food that was served at the building by the organization or someone renting a room had to be kosher or kosher style. However, the employee individual lunches were NOT required to be kosher. So if I hosted a program that included lunch, the lunch I served attendees was kosher style/meatless but then after I finished my program I could go back to my desk and eat pork bbq without issue. We were asked not to store any non-kosher food in the catering kitchen (so I had my own mini fridge) or eat it at the front desk/public areas (but there was a private breakroom with no fridge/storage capacities for that purpose). The only time I ever had a comment on non kosher food was when my grandboss smelled my lunch, came down apparently hoping to snag some/get a recipe, and made a laughing sarcastic remark about me bring in non kosher food just to torture him with delicious smells he couldn’t have.

    2. HS Teacher*

      This is one of the craziest questions I’ve seen asked. I mean, how can anyone think this is a good idea? That’s a job I wouldn’t make it through the first week at.

    3. Loredena Frisealach*

      And how would you possibly define healthy eating for everyone? I have a family member on the FOMOD diet, which eliminates a ton of options. I know someone allergic to fructose and sucrose, which eliminates most fruits and vegetables – she defines carnivore!

      1. Kat in Boots*

        Hilariously, alcohol consumption has far more hard data on its negative health implications than most other comestibles. That’s not to say that there are some foods that are probably less healthy (especially in excess). But as far as confirmed data? Nope nope nope.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Also you could make an extremely cogent argument that for most people banning cookies/cupcakes is way less healthy than eating cookies/cupcakes on special occasions (e.g. the extremely important holiday I Want Some Damn Cake Day).

          1. Tin Cormorant*

            Mental health is also important. Depriving me of cookies/cupcakes 100% of the time is not going to be very good for my mental health.

          2. Berkeleyfarm*

            I remember reading a review of a very-conscious-and-healthy restaurant in Paris (maybe on David Lebovitz’ blog?) that had a dessert menu that was straight up French comfort food (creme caramel, etc.). I believe this was classified under “mental health”.

      2. EmmaPoet*

        Right now I’m on a low residue diet and trying to avoid an internal meltdown with major surgery. All of my beloved fresh fruit and vegetable options are gone. I’m stuck with cooked fruit/veg, bananas, and lettuce. I also can’t have whole grain options other than white rice, and I have to be careful with that. If someone tried to police my lunch, I’d probably eat them.

    4. Momma Bear*

      I think the company can decide what they will buy for public-facing or sponsored events but someone telling me I can’t have a cookie or bring in a treat to my coworkers (presumably people who will eat the food by choice)…um, pass. People have so many diets and reasons for those diets. What I put in my face is at maximum between me and my doctor. Yikes.

      This is a can of worms that does not need to be opened. People who want to level up and do this should be empowered to do so, but don’t be the food police for people’s normal lunches and definitely not for volunteers – that’s a quick way to alienate your volunteers!

    5. Allegra*

      “they feel resentful for having to police people about food”
      They, uh, don’t actually have to! and it’s wild that they want to!

      1. B&R*

        The fact that they even called it “policing” shows that they know they are acting in a controlling manner.

    6. WoodswomanWrites*

      The program manager who brought this up in a staff meeting is way off base here. When the organization provides food for staff events, it makes sense to have it align with the organization’s mission and it’s no one else’s business what people bring to eat to the office individually. Employees who bring up the topic of what their colleagues can eat should be shut down.

  1. Beth*

    “they feel resentful for having to police people about food.”

    They should stop policing people about food. Problem solved. Their job responsibilities do not include policing their peers, and they’re way out of line for assuming they should.

      1. Koalafied*

        Same! There’s an easy solution to your problem, buddy.

        It’s also disappointing to hear of a healthy eating program that’s teaching some foods are “good” and some are “bad” instead of focusing on nutrition and balance. It’s OK to eat cookies, you just shouldn’t eat 6 cookies in a sitting, or nothing but cookies. The food people bring to work is just one part of their diet, and often budget or logistics limit the options people have for food at work more than when they’re at home with access to a kitchen and groceries.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          +1 million

          If you look at the food that we send to to school with one of my kids in isolation, the lunch itself or the snack itself often looks off. He was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and for now given the school schedule, he only gets insulin at lunch, and therefore snacks have to be ultra low carb. Which means he ends up with pretzels and popcorn and other “snack” food packed in his lunch and cheese sticks and beef salami for his snack some days.

          And, as you say, sweets are fine in moderation! Figuring out when and how to include treats that aren’t great for my son’s blood sugar but that are good for the emotional health of an elementary schooler is definitely a key part of adjusting to his diagnosis.

          If the school set a policy about what counted as “healthy” food for him, I’d be pretty angry. He’s eating a pretty good diet, overall, but someone seeing only one bit of it could easily jump to conclusions and get way too judgmental.

          1. JohannaCabal*

            Yeah, I’ve experienced too many situations where people get chastised for eating seemingly “unhealthy” foods that they need. I worked with someone who often experienced bouts of low blood pressure, so they noshed on potato chips because the salt kept them stable.

            I’ve also heard of kids undergoing chemo having to deal with well-meaning teachers for eating junk food during lunch. The problem is that chemo and other cancer treatments cause nausea and vomiting, so if all a kid can stomach is ice cream or other junk food, then that’s what they have to eat.

            1. turquoisecow*

              My cousin had cystic fibrosis which affected how his body processed food, and one of the things he had to do was eat a shit ton of salt. His mom sent him to school with lots of salty snacks and the teachers tried to take it from him and give like carrots or something, because of course that was healthier. She pitched a fit and the teacher stopped.

              The idea of doing that to grown adults is even more ridiculous.

          2. Beth*

            This is exactly why employers (and other organizations) need to stay out of people’s dietary choices. There is no one single ‘healthy’ diet. Different people have different needs, due to everything from medical conditions to lifestyle (a bodybuilder will need a different diet than a couch potato) to culture (so many ‘healthy diet’ programs are centered pretty much exclusively on white American food culture! all the salads, none of the curries or pickled veggies or anything else). There’s no way to create a policy that will allow for that variety of needs.

            If OP’s company wants to choose to spend company money in a way that promotes a certain diet, for example when catering an event, that’s a choice they can make. But they need to stay out of what people bring in and what people eat while working.

            1. Kat in Boots*

              Yes! This! Or what about kids with Cystic Fibrosis who HAVE to consume more calories and more fat to stay healthy? Just smh.

            2. Ex consultant*

              Years ago, I came across a thing someone wrote – I can’t remember whether it was a blog post or what – but it was essentially an explanation of how there is no Bad Food and how we need to stop judging what people eat. The part that really resonated with me was a reference to someone battling depression eating some sort of processed, convenient, comfort food because they simply hadn’t the energy to come up with a more complicated, thought-out meal. At that period in my life, my anxiety was so severe at times that I could barely eat anything for a week or more at a time. I can’t imagine how damaging it would have been if my workplace gave me a hard time about the pudding I was choking down, or the grilled cheese sandwiches with avocado that I craved when I started to feel better. People really have no clue what’s going on in someone’s life and as long as I’m not trying to make them eat it, what’s on my plate is nobody’s business but my own.

              1. Nobby Nobbs*

                When my depression and anxiety (fun combo!) were at their worst, food was the only thing that could both a. consistently bring me happiness b. without unnecessary guilt. I haven’t been in that dark place for years, but the thought of losing that lifeline gives me literal chills. The “no dieting, no food guilt” rule stays in place.

              2. Heather*

                This +1000. That description took me back to a very painful year of depression and anxiety where on the regular I had Starbucks lemon iced pound cake for lunch – before they supposedly removed the trans fats. Not what one would traditionally think of as healthy, but trust me when I say the caloric intake was needed. I would have been devastated if anyone had commented.

              3. Tin Cormorant*

                I still keep Costco chimichangas in my freezer because they take less than 2 minutes to heat up and they’re a basic food for when I just don’t have the energy to make something “healthy” (which often requires far more prep and/or time, fresh vegetables that require me to have been to a store recently, and then cleanup after). For some periods of my life, it was either some small food like that or not eating at all.

              4. DarnTheMan*

                I was always so impressed by one of my former co-worker’s forthrightness; she’d had an ED when she was younger and although she hadn’t relapsed in many years, it sometimes manifested in her eating certain things for a few days or weeks at a time (i.e. she went through a phase of not being able to eat lunch due to psychosomatic stomach complaints so she balanced it out by eating a mid-sized breakfast and a large dinner and snacked on things like nuts around the lunch hour) but she also had no problem telling people “I have an ED and people commenting on what I’m eating is triggering so please don’t talk to me about food unless a) you’re offering me something to share or b) you’re asking about my preferences”

          3. Bagpuss*

            YEs. I had a colleague who was a CF carrier and while he himself wasn’t affected, he did have the gene that meant he had to eat a lot more salt than would normally be seen as healthy (He had children with CF and the salt thing came up in conversation)

            I also once dealt in my professional capacity with a family where a child had some very complex medical history/issues and as a result they needed to have a very high fat diet (IIRC this included drinking cream rather than milk, and encouraging the child to literally eat blocks of butter, as well as snacking on ‘unhealthy’ snacks like crisps (chips) . And despite that was still very underweight and had had multiple occasions of needing to be admitted to hospital and tube fed . We still had a social worker trying to talk the carers into feeding the child a more ‘healthy’ diet and questioning the placement, despite the fact that the carers were doing exactly wat the child’s doctors were telling them to and that feeding the child a ‘healthy’ diet would literally have killed them. Imagine being that child, as an adult, having to negotiate your complex health and dietary needs AND being subjected to diet policing by coworkers!

            I am really struggling to think of any situation where it would be appropriate for an employer to police what their employees eat. I can see small number of cases where they could police whether / what foodstuffs go where (e.g. non-kosher food in a strictly kosher kitchen, not eating in ‘clean’ spaces or in front of clients/customers, a ban on durian fruit in the workplace etc) but beyond that it’s massive and inappropriate overstep.

        2. Dahlia*

          Or maybe you should eat 6 cookies in one sitting, because you want 6 cookies and you’re allowed to eat 6 cookies.

          1. Koalafied*

            Haha, fair point – I meant it in the sense that there’s room for all foods even when a healthy balanced diet is your explicit goal, because no foods are inherently bad.

            I also emphatically believe it’s OK to make food decisions that have nothing to do with health criteria, too. Sometimes you want 6 cookies and you deserve 6 cookies! Sometimes “healthy food choice?” is not the most important concern you’re dealing with.

    1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

      Yeah, this is what really stuck with me, too. They definitely do not “HAVE TO” police people about food. What the fudge.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          (Insert list of studies touting the health benefits of chocolate and dairy)

          Just kidding, I know enough to be a bit skeptical of those studies :p

    2. AnonEMoose*

      So much this. I resist getting involved with workplace health initiatives in general, because I think they are intrusive and an overreach. If they tried to dictate what I could or could not bring for lunch, I would quit. At least as soon as I could find another job (and I loathe job hunting with a white-hot passion), possibly without another job lined up.

      By all means, have healthy options available and choose healthy food for company-sponsored events. But I will not, absolutely NOT “live the brand.” If someone else chooses to, good for them, but I refuse, absolutely and categorically.

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        I’m shocked that people who work doing outreach are so judgmental about it, as well. If this is their job, they should know about all the harmful effects of a society of policing others’ food and diet, and how people in poverty struggle balancing a nutritious diet with costs. Do they think their coworkers are exempted from those problems because they work here?

        1. Berkeleyfarm*

          Well, it sounds like they haven’t, and their management hasn’t cracked down on them.

          I’m not surprised to hear of professionals being so judgemental – too many stories heard of dippy dieticians.

          I live in a city that passed a “soda tax” and hoo boy the judgement level was off the hook for it. Lots of amateurs but some pros. Cupcakes, pastries, and ice cream remain untaxed here for some mysterious reason (that’s sarcasm) and I usually buy my soda across the city limit without tax. The proceeds were supposed to be used for “education” but are probably mostly paying the new board.

          1. DarnTheMan*

            That sounds like when I was still in school and my school board went on a nutrition kick and replaced all the soda in the machines with juice; many of which were made by soda companies and contained just as much, if not more, sugar than the soda did (also a lot of those terrible ‘health waters’ like Vitamin Water than have equal amounts of sugar and carbs in them, despite claiming to be healthy.)

    3. Nanani*

      You don’t get to tell other adults what to eat!

      Put a stop to anyone who has taken upon themselves the title of food police, that is not okay.
      There’s just so many ways it can go wrong.
      What’s heatlhy for A isn’t always healthy for B – allergies leap to mind. As does medically-restricted eating.

      Just… come on.

      1. many bells down*

        Yeah my husband did Keto for a while and while I’m all about the protein I found the keto diet pretty gross myself. I’m not going to subject myself to “healthy” if it actually makes me feel terrible.

        1. bowl of petunias*

          While I feel a million bucks on keto, better than I ever thought was possible – but I cannot STAND keto evangelicals and only ever mention it if someone else has brought it up or if they’re actually offering to feed me something I can’t eat. Because it’s totally clear to me that this way of eating isn’t going to work for everyone!

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Like a friend of mine who developed an ulcerative wound that healed promptly after she stopped the keto diet.

      2. Annony*

        There is no one best diet. Even beyond actual medical conditions, people respond differently to fat, carbs and protein and a different balance works best for them. That isn’t even taking into account the mental component.

    4. Observer*

      “they feel resentful for having to police people about food.”“they feel resentful for having to police people about food.”

      They should stop policing people about food. Problem solved.

      So much this!

      If you ask me, this “resentment” is an excuse + resentment that people are not taking on THEIR vision of the One Right Way to eat.

      1. Orora*

        Ding ding ding! We have a winning comment.
        These employees are pretentious busybodies who feel the need to tell others how to live their lives. No one has asked for their assistance; what they resent is that their unsolicited advice is ignored.

    5. Amaranth*

      Are these the same people who get invited to a dinner party and lecture everyone on their food choices?

    6. Atalanta0jess*

      I’d bet my life savings that they are not the only parties in that relationship who are feeling resentful…

    7. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      I would start eating Twinkies AT anyone trying to police my lunches, and I don’t even like Twinkies.

    8. Elio*

      Seriously. If I was in charge I’d tell the food police people that commenting on their coworker’s food is grounds for disciplinary action. If they want to petition the company to include more healthy options for food the company buys for meetings then fine.

      I would definitely quit my job if my workplace suddenly became an environment that allowed food policing. I’m a grown adult and it’s no one’s business what I eat. It’s not possible to work from home with what I do but I can see why people would want to if some workplaces are like this.

  2. Charlotte*

    #1: I work at a health related organization that is often in the news regarding nutrition and we have rules on what we can and can’t do when planning/catering events with an external audience (dessert is dark chocolate/fruit/nuts, olive oil not butter on the table with bread, no red meat, etc). But we don’t have rules on internal office celebrations like staff holiday parties (though I heard something hilarious about a Very Senior Person complaining loudly about the presence of roast beef at a certain official internal event), and we definitely don’t have rules about what people can bring as lunch, or about putting out boxes of doughnuts to share, or anything!

    1. Charlotte*

      Oh, and staff have discretion as to what they eat for personal meals when travelling on business (health-wise), even if they’re spending company money.

      For the record, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to require official staff/internal events to follow the same nutritional rules as donor/external events, but I’m personally glad they don’t :). Love a mini white chocolate macadamia cookie!

      (Of course, for the last 20ish months the question of what to eat at events has been entirely moot…)

    2. Anon for this*

      I worked on a heart health study in the 1980s at a department of epidemiology. Our department meetings had margarine (not butter) for the bagels & muffins and skim milk only (no cream) for coffee. I didn’t like it but I understood.

        1. Cat Tree*

          I didn’t realize it was originally intended to be healthier. I always assumed margarine was cheaper than the real stuff.

          1. Le Sigh*

            My memory is a little hazy, but I feel like we went through a period in the U.S. when butter was bad, full stop, as were eggs at one point.

            1. CBB*

              I remember a time in the 80s when the widely accepted recommendation was to eat no more than two eggs per week.

              We used to joke the only time you could safely eat a 4-egg omelet was every other Saturday night between 11:59 pm and 12:01 am.

              1. Le Sigh*

                Yes! Okay now it’s all coming back to me. I would have failed at this so hard. I must eat at least six eggs a week, if not 10+. It’s a food so versatile I love it with everything.

                1. CommanderBanana*

                  Same! I don’t eat meat, and eggs are the one thing I always feel like eating. I usually eat 2x a day, sometimes as many as 4-5 if I have them for every meal.

            2. Koalafied*

              Yep. In the 90s there was a real demonization of fats, especially saturated fats, and a bunch of low fat imitations of high fat foods exploded on the market.

              1. Kevin Sours*

                While true, the margarine thing is about cholesterol not fat (it’s not any lower in fat than the alternative)

            3. Kevin Sours*

              After we realized that cholesterol was a major factor in heart disease there was a general freakout over it (butter and eggs are both high in cholesterol while margarine is not). However there is precious little evidence to connect blood cholesterol levels with dietary cholesterol.

            4. Xarcady*

              Yes. Back in the 1970’s, I remember reading an editorial in the Philadelphia Enquirer that flat out stated that any mother who fed her children butter should be sent to prison, or some other equally harsh punishment.

              Margarine was the only healthy thing to spread on your bread.

              I remember it because the writer was so strident about it and believed so strongly that a mother who fed her children butter was murdering them.

          2. Ray Gillette*

            I’m going from memory here but I think first it was cheaper (think wartime shortages and whatnot), then in the post-war period the industry was very happy to market it as a healthier alternative to butter.

          3. Lacey*

            My doctor told me originally it was just a butter substitute because Napoleon had a war to fight and you can’t fight wars without cigarettes and butter.

            But whenever people decided we needed to cut out fats they decided margarine was healthier than butter and we should have that instead. Until they realized hydrogenated oils aren’t actually great for you and switched it to we should all eat butter.

          4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I always assumed margarine was cheaper than the real stuff.

            I thought it was always meant to be more available than the real stuff. Didn’t it arise from solidified tallow when Napoleon couldn’t source enough French butter for his Grande Armée?

            1. Bagpuss*

              It did indeed.
              Then it was cheaper and easier to make than butter so for instance in the UK in WW2 your margarine ration was larger than your butter ration – I think the butter ration was 2oz per person per week and margarine was 4 oz per person per week (slightly more for people in the services) and also come off ration earlier at the end of the war.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              It may not have been invented to be healthier but it was definitely pushed hard as a healthier alternative for a period of time.

          5. The Past Is Weird*

            It wasn’t. Margarine was a replacement for butter during WWII. It used to come with a packet of yellow coloring to add to make it look like butter. My mom used to fight with her sister over who got to make the margarine yellow.

          6. Bagpuss*

            It was thought to be healthy when there was a perception that saturated fats were unhealthy, and amid concerns around cholesterol – but it was definitely also cheaper.

            Margarine was originally developed as a cheaper alternative to butter for the French Army, in the 1860’s (I think) – possibly also on the basis it wouldn’t go off quite so quickly.
            Originally it was made with beef tallow and/or lard, so wouldn’t be seen as healthier today!

        2. Another one rides the bus*

          Weird thing is, this was known to scientists in the late 70’s. It took nearly 40 years for it to get to the public. Someday they’ll tell everyone it isn’t red meat, it’s grain-fed meat, but by then they’ll have a new bs food bad guy.

          1. Pennyworth*

            I’ve been watching some talks by Robert Lustig 0n YouTube recently (he is the anti-sugar doctor) – so much politics comes into play with food policy.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          This does depend on the type of margarine. Like everything else in nutrition, it’s complex and nuanced.

        4. bishbah*

          My mom had an American Heart Association cookbook for families when I was growing up in the ’80s. Every recipe contained margarine. IIRC, the baked chicken parmesan used a full stick of the stuff.

      1. Thursdaysgeek*

        And now the health experts (or some of them) would recommend butter over margarine, and full fat is fine. Health advice is like the weather here: just stay still and in 20 minutes it will be something else.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          My parents remember getting white “olio”that came with yellow food coloring. Dad said it had to be squished to mix it, and it needed more salt or it tasted like boxed lard.
          For some reason, margarine couldn’t be sold with the yellow color already mixed in. Which is funny, because real butter is often white in the wintertime.

          1. ThatGirl*

            That was a rule in Wisconsin, I think, thanks to the dairy farmers there who didn’t want people confusing the two.

            1. nonegiven*

              Everyone in my family called it butter, anyway. I figured out it wasn’t real butter when my aunt sent her new SIL to the store for butter, then made fun of him because he bought real butter.

          2. Shad*

            I still have a family cookie recipe that calls for Oleo!
            In which I always substitute butter with no issues because of course.

            1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

              The texture of the cookies is slightly different depending on if you use butter or margarine, because of the difference in moisture content and dairy vs. no dairy. Gosh, I feel ancient reading that someone thinks having a recipe calling for oleo is an oddity! You’d probably get the vapors over one that uses Crisco.

              1. Siege*

                It seems SLIGHTLY more plausible that Shad is commenting on the fact we call it margarine and recipes that call it oleo are older than that they’re shocked that a recipe could have margarine in it. You don’t need to be rude about your own misunderstanding that you made up.

                1. Shad*

                  Honestly it was a bit of excitement, because the comment I responded to is the only time I’ve seen the name “oleo” outside of that recipe, and I find it cool to see less common terms out in the wild. Nothing to do with thinking the underlying ingredient is odd, just the name.
                  But I guess it could seem condescending that I said “of course” re: substituting butter–that bit was a bit insensitive. It was obvious to me, because I keep butter in stock and prefer to avoid hydrogenated fats, but others can cook however they prefer.

              2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                Um, no?

                I have crisco in my cupboard at this exact moment but I didn’t even know the term “oleo” until I started doing a lot of crossword puzzles in my late 20s. It’s not about the existence of margarine or its use in cooking/baking, it’s about the specific product name that’s become incredibly uncommon.

            2. generic_username*

              My sister once did a taste/preference test for a science fair in school where she made a bunch of cookies using butter, margarine, and other butter substitutes and gave blind taste tests to see if people could guess what was used and also to see which people preferred. It was great (as the person who not only participated, but also got to eat the leftovers). If I remember correctly, butter was the preferred ingredient, but people couldn’t really identify which cookie was made with what.

            3. Thursdaysgeek*

              Some recipes from my mum call for oleo. Butter was way too expensive back then. I too use butter.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I go with the old – moderation is your friend with regards to nutrition. If you don’t go crazy with an entire sleeve of Oreos or a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s in a sitting than you are good to have just one cookie or a bowl of ice cream.

          1. Sabina*

            And even if you did eat the whole sleeve of Oreos it would likely have little long term effect unless you were doing it every day (short term you might not feel great, but ill effects would be temporary). People need to calm down about “bad” food, it’s annoying and not based on science.

          2. JustaTech*

            Yup. The really basic science for nutrition recommendations hasn’t changed a lot: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, drink water, don’t smoke. (OK, that last one isn’t strictly food.)

            What changes all the time is how new nutrition research is explained to the public, and how *people who want to make money* twist and turn every little thing. Like superfoods, or anti-oxidents, or carbs, or fat, or pretty much everything. It’s very, very hard to really pin down small specific things in human nutrition because it would be utterly unethical to study because you’d have to control every single thing thousands of people eat for years. That’s just not going to happen.

            So yes, moderation in all things (including moderation!).

      2. Beth II*

        And now we know margarine is worse than butter for the heart and full fat or almost full fat dairy is healthier than skim. Well we “know” until we may have more advanced research on the subject in the future…

    3. Smithy*

      In general, I think all of this makes sense – but I do think that if an organization really wanted to go further around internal celebrations, I think that instead of policing food I wonder if there might be more support and uptake if the advice was more around alternative ways to celebrate beyond food. So instead of food as rewards, things like letting teams leave an hour early/arrive an hour late or small gift cards to non-food related businesses to acknowledge milestones.

      Policing food or celebration broccoli is likely going to remain fraught, but steering moments of celebration and bonding away from food and providing both ideas and support for what that can look like can be helpful.

      1. allathian*

        This wouldn’t work for me, at all. For me, socializing involves food and drink in some form, pretty much every time. I can’t imagine a celebration without something delicious to put in my mouth, even if it’s just a cup of coffee and a cookie. I don’t need much socializing to be happy, but if the only way to see people I care about is masked up and outdoors, I’d rather stick to phone calls/texts (my friend group’s never embraced video calls, for which I’m grateful).

        At work, I naturally don’t need food and drink when it’s something like brainstorming ideas, or collaborating on a project together. But if we’re celebrating someone’s birthday or retirement, it would feel like a significant part of the celebration was missing if we couldn’t have coffee and cake.

        I’m not religious at all, but the idea of breaking bread together to foster community spirit has merit.

        1. Smithy*

          I’ve worked for a number of organizations/teams (all at nonprofits) where birthday celebrations had to be phased from being cake-style celebrations to cards (physical and then digital). In all cases, none of this had anything to do policies around food but simply that the size of teams had grown so much that it wasn’t institutionally possible to acknowledge all birthdays with more. Both in terms of budget and administrative support .

          So an idea of how to acknowledge/celebrate staff’s life milestones – that on large teams may be rather numerous – taking something more common like birthdays or certain work milestones and encouraging managers to let staff arrive/leave a few hours early that day in lieu of food might be greatly appreciate by some staff and then make the dessert based celebrations (retirement, engagement, etc.) less common.

          Any comment list on AAM about team bonding or holiday parties will be full of mentions of people who like X and hate X. People who don’t understand why everyone doesn’t just do Y, and then 101 reasons why Y doesn’t actually work. That being said, offering other positive options (i.e. you can bring in cupcakes for your birthday or leave work early), it’s hard to see that not received more positively than heavier policing and policies on food.

        2. Yorick*

          If you were standing around as though at a reception but there wasn’t any coffee or cake, yes, it would feel like something’s missing.

          But if they planned a way to celebrate that didn’t require food, the food wouldn’t be missing. That doesn’t have to be a party or social event at all – Smithy gave several examples of rewarding people without a social event. But there are also social events with no food that are still really fun and nice, and the majority of people would enjoy them if they were tailored to that specific group.

    4. Anon for this*

      I worked at an org where “healthy living” was in our logo. (I’m sure some of you will figure it out.) There were all sorts of specific rules regarding what food was allowable at company events and what food you could bring onto company property because it “looked bad.” There were also rules about what food and drink you could purchase or consume in your logo attire off campus (no fast food, no junk food, no alcohol.) At one point we had a supervisor who tried to ban caffeine, but she lost that battle because the nearest restaurant to our building was a Starbucks.

      That said, it was almost impossible to enforce these rules and therefore they were more followed loosely (Hey we can’t have soda at the holiday party; eat the donuts in the back office where visitors can’t see them) than anything. You really can’t police the sort of food your employees buy, especially when some of them are low wage workers on 30 minute meal breaks. They need to get food that they can afford that’s close enough to buy and eat in 30 minutes, and if that’s junk food they’re going to buy junk food. Plus the org had no way to acknowledge or appreciate staff using company money, and when bosses are doing it with their own money, of course it will be with whatever food or snack they know the team will like. Cake for birthdays. Cookies for the holidays. Donuts for the morning crew. Pizza for the evening crew. Etc., etc.

    5. Stormy Weather*

      I worked for a city health department and we had catering guidelines for organization-sponsored events. That’s reasonable and sufficient for optics.

      My current job (big non-profit) makes fresh fruit available when we’re in the office, and they have seltzer available as well as coffee and tea, but that’s as far as they go.

      It is not the office’s place to dictate what people eat. Besides, someone’s beliefs or medically-recommended food need to be managed by the people who are eating it.

    6. tamarack & fireweed*

      Exactly this. I’m not sure why this is hard for some to discern where the boundaries should lie. Event branding / corporate image – fair enough, just like environmental constraints (whether you use disposables, plastics…) or labor constraints (whether you use in-house or outside caterers…). But what employees put in their mouths, how they choose to feed themselves, is wildly out of scope for an employer to police.

      And doing so opens a lot of risks of falling afoul of anti-discrimination or equity requirements as people frequently choose their food based on health considerations or cultural preference.

  3. Ground Control*

    NO. What’s determined to be “health” food is incredibly subjective and tied up in classism, racism, sexism, etc. Tell your colleagues to listen to the Maintenance Phase podcast and chill out.

      1. Methodology Queen*

        Thirding Maintenance Phase, big time. In particular, episodes on Moon Juice and Weight Watchers. And Angela Lansbury’s “Positive Moves” just for the sheer delight of it.

        1. Murfle*

          I have found my people!!!

          Yes, the Angela Lansbury one is wonderful. I was expecting to cringe throughout, but it it completely subverted that.

          1. Stay-at-Homesteader*

            Ahhh I want people to yell about Maintenance Phase with!! Maybe this weekend in the open thread? Their choice to tackle fat and health directly right before Thanksgiving was truly inspired.

            1. Robin Ellacott*

              I’m in!

              I started listening to MP a few months ago when a friend was treated terribly by a doctor and I realized how little I knew about this type of prejudice, other than that it was pervasive. How extremely pervasive, and massively ill informed, it is was a revelation. After binging through all the episodes I have a MUCH stronger reaction to this type of letter than I would have before.

              The podcast is surprisingly hilarious for something so enraging. Highly recommended.

        2. EmmaPoet*

          I think I have the Angela Lansbury book somewhere! I read it lo, these many years ago, and I agree with the MP folks that it’s really a sane book. Angela wants you to live your best life and keep on living it, and she’s not obsessed or doing three hour daily workouts. It’s all nice gentle exercises and walks and bike riding and not getting unglued if you have a big meal.

        3. Third or Nothing!*

          I loved the Angela Lansbury one! It was such a delightful breath off fresh air. I hope they start making it a regular thing to have some episodes that will make you feel warm and fuzzy instead of ragey.

        4. Archaeopteryx*

          Yes I now want to Move Freely (whenever I feel like it) just like Angela! So inspirational.

    1. CarrieT*

      100%. And as a nutritionist, I can say that any individual food can be part of a healthy diet. ANY food – cupcakes, candy, Cheetos, whatever. What’s important is looking at the whole, not policing individual meals or snacks. And it’s deeply personal.

      An obsession with eliminating junk food is itself unhealthy.

      1. Pippa K*

        THANK you. This kind of Food Virtue Policing is not only tiresome, intrusive, and usually poorly supported by evidence, it can also be counterproductive. I’m not above eating a cupcake just to make a point.

      2. many bells down*

        I put my cardiologist in the weird position of having to recommend, for the first time in his practice, that a heart patient INCREASE her sodium intake. My blood pressure kept going dangerously low – usually it’s the opposite problem. So the standard “healthy” advice is actually bad for me, specifically.

        1. OyHiOh*

          Similar blood pressure issue, and to compound matters, I naturally stray towards a semi-vegetarian + chicken and fish diet (quite a bit lower in sodium than the typical American diet, and also relatively high in potassium because Veggies). I pay attention to sodium levels to make sure I get enough. Dizziness and fainting upon standing aren’t really good for one’s health, either.

          1. Sorrischian*

            Hey same! I’ve had three different doctors look at my vitals, look at my medical history, heave a loooooooooong sigh, and then say “I don’t say this often but you should eat more salt and red meat.”

            This makes the diet survey portion of my job’s health risk assessment super annoying – on top of being something I object to on principle – because marking that you eat 2 salty snacks a day vs 1 can bump you from ‘good’ to ‘concern’, so every year I have to choose between explaining my specific medical situation or just lying through my teeth. (Thus far I’ve always gone with lying, but I keep considering telling the truth and then giving somebody a piece of my mind if they bother me about it.)

        2. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

          Yeah, I’m in a weird place where my health conditions – even ones seen by the same doctor – need actively contradictory, frequently ‘unhealthy’ sounding dietary recommendations. (Yes, I’m aware caffeine irritates my digestive system. Not to put too fine a point on it, some of it needs irritating to function properly. My GI knows and approves of me drinking soda. Yes, we tried that. That too.) Add in sensory issues and a food anxiety where I will in fact stare in terror at something I don’t recognize as a ‘safe’ food and just not eat at all, and this would probably get me either freezing up in terror (more likely) or really, really ANGRY and proceeding to explain precisely why I need to eat these foods you’re being so judgmental of in inappropriate detail.

          1. The Magpie*

            Oh gosh, I’m totally with you on the needing caffeine sometimes to get your digestive track to do its job. And having a cup of coffee is a lot easier and gentler on my system than taking any kind of medication meant to do the same job. If I can usually fix the problem with a cup of coffee, I’m trying that first.

        3. Littorally*

          Yep, and I had a doctor recommend that I increase my red meat intake. Healthy and unhealthy are hugely individual!

          1. Loredena Frisealach*

            My niece went vegetarian for a time as a teen – her doctor monitored her, and told her to add back animal proteins when they couldn’t get her nutritional balance correct for a growing teenager. It’s hard to get it right for everyone!

          2. JustaTech*

            I have a friend who had been a vegetarian for decades when she got pregnant and couldn’t get her iron levels up to a safe place. She even tried iron injections and turned out to be allergic to them. So the only way for her to get enough iron was to eat liver. So she did. (And it was a good thing as she had a rough delivery.)

            “Healthy” diets are incredibly variable.

        4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          My physician suspects that my preference for extremely salty foods and my consistently excellent blood pressure might actually be my body’s instinctive self-medicating for naturally low blood pressure.

        5. a heather*

          Right? What is healthy for you may not be healthy for me. You can’t create rules about what I can and cannot eat on my own dime. You can decide what food you provide, but not what food I eat.

      3. Atalanta0jess*

        YES!!! Health isn’t just physical…focusing too much on eating the “right” foods can cause major problems for your mental health (which of course then lead to problems with your physical health…)

      4. Liz*

        Absolutely. I lost weight when I did WW old points plus program. it worked for ME because i didn’t have to eliminate certain things. i could eat anything, WITHIN REASON. I don’t do well with cutting out certain things completely; i’ll binge and eat them ALL.

      5. Random Bystander*

        Exactly! I am currently on a diet to lose weight (and also working to reduce my fasting blood glucose levels due to a very strong type II diabetes family history). One of my treats is Ghirardelli squares (an individual square clocks in at 65-70 calories, depending on if it’s solid chocolate or has filling, I like both)–they’re very small in terms of overall impact, but pretty big in terms of my enjoyment. So, while the single square can easily fit into a healthy day’s food consumption, eating an entire bag (10-12 pieces) on a daily basis doesn’t, but knowing that I *can* have a piece reduces my uncontrollable cravings so that I can fully enjoy that one piece.

        The only thing I say about what other people are eating is to dispute with them when they are calling themselves “bad” for eating something: there are no bad foods, so no one is bad for eating a particular food.

    2. Antilles*

      Also, the fact that experts themselves seemingly can’t decide on what’s “healthy”.
      You can find certified dieticians and nutritionists who tell you firmly and unquestionably that meat is an important part of our diet and that short of a physical/moral reason to not eat it, it is an important part of a balanced and healthy diet.
      You can find other dieticians and nutritionists who will tell you just as firmly and unquestionably that cutting out meat entirely from your diet is a much healthier option.

      1. Antilles*

        Addendum (since I hit the wrong button before finishing the thought):
        Therefore, because there are experts who regularly disagree on this, good luck creating a healthy eating policy that people agree with, because the instant you try to control someone’s eating, they’re going to fire back with an argument as to why actually X is healthy and so I should be allowed to have this.

      2. Lacey*

        100% and what’s healthy for some people can be really bad for someone else. I have so many friends with various dietary needs because of health issues. You can’t have work getting in the middle of that.

    3. Anonys*

      Came here to says this. Some years I ago, right around the first major wave of instragram and “fitspo”, I went to dinner with a friend. She asked the waiter: “What is the healthiest salad on the menu”. He was absolutely baffled and didn’t know how to answer (partly because come on – we were already talking about the salad). I mean – is the healthiest the one with the lowest calories? In that case, it would probably be some tiny side salad which is not really a nutritious dinner. Is it the one with the most protein? the least fat? maybe even the most fat? Some people might say the item with the widest range of vitamins and other nutrients is healthiest, regardless of calories. Or is it the glycemic index which matters?

      I mean, obviously everyone can broadly agree that an apple is better for (physical) health than a donut. But beyond that things become much more controverial. And besides, mental health matters too and if someone needs a candy bar to get through a hard workday let them be!!!

      1. darcy*

        i don’t think you can even say an apple is healthier than a donut! i have digestive problems and have to limit the amount of fruit and veg i eat in a day to avoid… unpleasantness

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Yep. No one gets to lecture me about the virtues of broccoli (or the evils of sourdough) anymore. They’d think twice if they witnessed the results.

          1. Rebecca Stewart*

            Oh, you too?
            Yeah. Cannot eat a lot of things because they either contain broccoli and its relatives (and it is a widely varied tribe, too) or beans. And I have to limit nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) because they make my arthritis pain worse. And just to top it all off, I have a fructose intolerance. I am literally safer with a cookie than a nice piece of fruit; the cookie is probably sucrose, which is half fructose; the sugar in that lovely pear is all fructose, and I will be sick and hungover.

            I hate trying to talk diet with people. I can lose weight by calorie counting with portion control, but I have enough food restrictions already.

            1. Loredena Frisealach*

              I’m actively allergic to bell peppers, which means I need to be careful of nightshades in general. I am also allergic to cantaloupe, which knocked melons out of my diet (sob). I do need to lose weight and do a better job of keeping carbs down (yay type 2) but calorie counting just does not work for me. Honestly, unless one wishes to do it continuously for the rest of your life, I don’t think it works for anyone!

            2. Fresh Cut Grass*

              Same fructose problem! I always feel like I need to add a bunch of caveats when I check if a drink has high-fructose corn syrup in it– I didn’t fall victim to the b.s. scaremongering, I promise! Fruit’s just as miserable for my tummy as soda. (Although I’ll admit that sometimes, knowing the price I’ll pay later, I still eat some watermelon or other delicious delicious fructose-y fruits. Love is pain.)

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            They’d think twice if they witnessed the results.

            No, they wouldn’t. You’re giving them too much credit.

            1. somanyquestions*

              I have seen people like this try to explain horrible effects as “cleansing”. You have diarrhea for 3 weeks, it’s just your body getting rid of toxins!

              1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

                I realize I am talking to the choir, but for anyone else who doesn’t know: That’s not how your body cleanses itself of toxins. And prolonged diarrhea is dangerous (hello, dehydration).

                Also, as far as I know, there’s no data supporting the efficacy “cleanse diets”, since the human body is generally quite good at self-regulating, even if the set point is different than what any given individual wants.

        2. bluephone*

          I mean, I deal with that too which is frustrating because I do really love a fresh apple (by itself or with peanut butter or string cheese). And yeah, there are times when I’m like, “hmm better not” about the apple because my GI system is having a temper tantrum and I don’t want to make it worse. But I’m not fooling myself that, in a strictly nutritional sense, the donut is just as nutritionally sound as the apple. That will just never be the case. And over time, too many donuts can also play havoc with your GI system (you don’t have to be a GI specialist to know that fat, grease, and sugar can really piss off your digestive tract sometimes).
          Sure, take the donut over the apple if your IBS/Crohns/WhateverGIAilment is flaring up but like, let’s not kid ourselves that Dunkin’ Donuts’ christmas donut is a nutritionally sound choice for lunch.

      2. I need tea*

        Also, an apple may not be physically healthier than a donut in some situations! In some cases of recovering from a restrictive eating disorder, some doctors and nutritionists recommend minimising fruit and veg intake and focusing on eating high calorie foods (basically “junk food”) because you might need to consume a lot of calories so it makes sense to eat high calorie foods since you don’t need to eat as much of them – it’d be really difficult to consume enough calories on mostly fruit and veg. Even in situations that seem pretty easy to agree on there are always complications and exceptions and random coworkers who think they need to police other people’s diets likely don’t have the knowledge or experience to account for these, even if it was appropriate for them to do so.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          For sure. I remember at the height of my disordered eating, my little tracker app would yell at me that I wasn’t eating enough calories to sustain life, but since all the food I ate was pretty much just fruit and veg and lentils or quinoa or beans, it was almost impossible to eat enough. And then of course I started aiming for that message and feeling proud when I got it…

    4. Lucy Skywalker*

      I can understand how a healthy meal for a 43 year old overweight woman who sits at a computer 8 hours a day and who has high cholesterol would be an unhealthy meal for her 14 year old daughter who is still growing and does field hockey, volleyball, and gymnastics (and vice versa). I’m just curious how classism, racism, and sexism play into this.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Classism: working class people who cannot afford fresh fruit and vegetables also cannot afford 5 servings a day being judged by wealthier people: “you feed your child canned fruit? I would never feed my child canned anything!”
        Or sexism: “real men eat meat.”
        Racism: large parts of the world base their diets on beans and rice. There are a lot of negative stereotypes about these people.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Yes! Thank you!

          Also racism: the (finally-but-slowly fading) myth that dairy is an essential component of any healthy diet, despite the fact that white people are far likelier to carry the mutation that helps us digest lactose

          Also sexism: prescribing caloric and nutritional intake based on the needs of a theoretical 180-pound adult male, as if he were some sort of default

          Also classism: assuming everyone lives within safe walking distance of a decent grocery store, or has a reliable car to drive there

          1. allathian*

            Also classism: assuming everyone can afford to buy healthy food, even if they have a store within walking distance.

        2. JB*

          There’s also additional racism in the bizarre fetishization of certain ‘foreign’ foods, as well as how the health food industry impacts any country where a ‘super-food’ is produced – for an example, look at how Bolivia has been environmentally impacted by the huge demand for quinoa, all because quinoa is pushed as a ‘healthy’/morally acceptable food.

          1. Rafflesia Reaper*

            This! The gentrification of kale has been one of my favorite hills to yell on.

            The primary consumer of kale used to be Pizza Hut, because they used it as decor on their buffets. It was a really popular, cheap leaf for “ethnic” soups. Now, everybody is juicing it and my Caldo Gallego costs three times as much.

            1. bishbah*

              Kale is popular and “virtuous,” yet collard greens are not. I’d say “go figure,” but the answer is probably racism (and/or classism, take your pick).

            2. Third or Nothing!*

              I remember when my uncle used kale to cover up the ice on the salad bar at our family restaurant. He said it was the only thing he’d ever want to use it for because it was such a fibrous leaf!

            3. No Name Today*

              ex-Ponderosa server here. We used to wash it with dish soap so it would look pretty on the plate. “Customers aren’t going to EAT it!”

      2. Alienor*

        Classism – if you live in a food desert without a lot of access to grocery stores, or if your income doesn’t extend to certain foods, then it’s not fair to ask you to pack a particular type of lunch or not eat the options that are available to you. For example, avocados, blueberries and almond milk tend to be expensive (and also have some issues regarding how they’re sourced) but are regarded as healthy in a lot of circles. I eat all three frequently because I like them and can afford them, but it doesn’t make me a more virtuous person or a better employee than the guy in the next cubicle with a frozen burrito, it just makes me someone with more to spend on groceries.

        Re the other two, racism likely has to do with the fact that someone’s culture may include foods that aren’t currently regarded as healthy by the white mainstream, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to eat them. Sexism is probably tied to diet culture and the idea that women should always be eating the lowest-calorie options available to control their weight.

      3. Zephy*

        Classism: Can you afford “healthy” food? For whatever definition of “healthy” we’re operating on today? Maybe that means something about the ingredients (whole foods versus prepackaged) – do you have time to turn that pile of fresh food into a meal before it all spoils, or can you afford to pay someone else to do that for you? Maybe “healthy” is more about local/sustainable/ethical* sources versus commercial/industrial ones – are you able to get to where the local, sustainable, ethical food is being sold? If you’re in a position to be able to subsist entirely on food you raise yourself, first that’s awesome but then also consider, what other privileges do you have that allow you to own that much land and have enough time to run an entire farm? (*”ethical” is a whole other rant so I’ll leave that where it is right now, but it’s also worth considering.)

        Racism: Who generally belongs to the class of people who can afford to eat “healthy” as outlined above, regardless of what definition we’re using? Also, whose foodways are broadly considered “healthy” versus “unhealthy”?

        Sexism: How many stock photos have you seen of men laughing with salad? The discourse around “healthy eating” (as outlined above) also tends to focus on women, specifically, needing to eat as little as possible and have most of that be vegetables in order to be skinnier.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          Went to dinner with my dad a while back. The waiter handed me the grilled salmon salad and dad the steak.
          Guess who actually ordered the steak? It was not my dad.
          And the sad thing is, the waiter took our orders, but I guess he saw the food and just went on an automatic mental script.

      4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        ‘healthy’ food is often based on assumptions related to availability and cost that are fundamentally informed by the mindset of the person suggesting the diet. Avocados, as an example, are not actually ubiquituous, particularly in rural areas and urban food desserts. Similarly, seafood, vegetables, and fruit often have massive geographic and cultural restrictions on availability that can hugely impact the whole eat healthy mindset. In Japan, for example, 1000 yen (roughly $8-12 american, depending on current exchange rates), may be the price of a SINGLE apple, depending upon season.

        Additionally, personal history can have a huge impact on the gut biome of an individual – food is only healthy if it can be digested, and the necessary nutrients extracted. Telling someone who has never eaten a particular food stuff before (or not often), to eat that food stuff because it is ‘healthy’ may actually not be, especially if you tell them to eat it to the exclusion of all else, because their body may not be able to extract the necessary nutrients from that foodstuff.

      5. Daisy-dog*

        Building on this:
        Classism: Organic foods are more expensive. Lower income people also don’t have as much time to prepare foods and may select fast foods or processed foods which are considered unhealthy.
        Sexism: Women are expected to eat less than men when they should just be eating to fulfill their own personal energy needs.
        Racism: Staples of cultural diets (like white rice) are demonized and those individuals are encouraged to replace those foods with brown rice or quinoa *which changes the dish entirely*. There are a lot more complexities to this, so I definitely encourage you to check out @yourlatinanutritionist on Instagram.

      6. Aquawoman*

        There is more variety than that in what bodies need, also. My husband and I are in our mid-50s and reasonably healthy (eat fairly well, exercise regularly) and he’d be sick on my diet (paleo-ish) and I’d be sick on his (vegetarian-ish). Just because different people are different.

      7. EventPlannerGal*

        There are a ton of stereotypes about various “ethnic” foods being unhealthy/low quality/bad for you – eg a lot of people whose ideas of what Indian or Chinese food is like is based on 3am takeaways find it hard to accept that you can have a healthy diet eating food primarily from those traditions. IMO it’s a very heavily racialised thing, although there are similar stereotypes about a lot of traditional foods from white cultures as well.

      8. Oryx*

        In addition to what others have said, the very definition of “overweight” as being unhealthy is tied to the BMI which is a terrible metric with racist roots and never intended to be used on an individual level.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      Maintenance Phase is the best!

      And yes, my mind immediately went to classism. Unless the employer is just going to provide any and all food eaten on the premises, not everyone has the time or money to eat “healthy” according to the food police.

    6. mf*

      100% agree. There’s also the fact that not everyone can follow the same “healthy” diet. At a catered meal, a person with celiac might eat a lot of meat because they can’t have regular bread and pasta. At a restaurant, a person with IBS may have to avoid some “healthy” foods (apples or broccoli) and instead opt for “unhealthy” food, like french fries for example.

    7. Ellen*

      Hello to all my lovely methodology queens in the comments! :-) Maintenance Phase is excellent. I love how it teaches people to be aware of and constantly question our biases.

    8. Drtheliz*

      I found myself thinking about things like phenylketonuria (can’t-process-phenylalanine-disease). A “healthy diet” for someone like this involves very carefully measured amounts of fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, and cereals and deviating from it causes brain damage very quickly. Keto would probably kill them. There are similar allergies all over the place. I’ve got a colleague who eats a lot of fish and rice because she’s allergic to something like most nuts, some specific botanical family that’s a grab-bag of fruit and veg, and wheat. Food policing just adds an extra layer of shamey social awkwardness to an already un-fun and non-optional diet.

      1. TiffIf*

        And then there are the people for whom Keto was designed–children with specific seizure disorders for which keto has been proven to help reduce seizures.

        1. Drtheliz*

          Exactly! Unless you’re somebody’s doctor, you cannot correlate “diet” with “health” for an individual!

    9. GlowCloud*

      I literally discovered The Maintenance Phase podcast this very morning!

      Made me realise how much of what I understand about health and fitness is basically a weird legacy of third-hand Post-war political anxieties and really dubious data.

    10. Some dude*

      Oh man this. I worked at an organization where all the white upper middle class folks ate all vegan and vegetarian and clean, and the staff that came from different backgrounds would sometimes bust out some fast food or chips or soda or candy bars or Panda Express or other stuff that no self-respecting upper middle class white liberal would DREAM of eating, even on a cheat day. And while I personally limit how much soda or junk food I consume, I also came to understood how cultural a lot of this is and there was no way I was going to touch anyone’s dietary habits with a ten foot pole.

    11. Beth*

      THANK YOU for bringing up the classism etc. aspect!

      My current boss — company founder, his name is on the company letterhead, etc. — has a diet that requires incredibly complicated, specific, expensive ingredients and massive time and preparation. I think he must spend at least 2-3 hours out of every day just attending to it. It’s been great for him in terms of weight control and energyy — but if he weren’t a very wealthy, very very privileged man with enough money for the fancy groceries and hours of free time to spend every day on his food preparation, it would be impossible.

      (I will add that he’s a very nice wealthy man who puts a lot of his wealth to very positive use. But nobody who isn’t in his wealth class could afford his diet.)

  4. redheadk*

    They are worried about “healthy” eating but are mum on alcohol?

    I agree with Allison’s response but focusing on food while ignoring alcohol is really something.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      This shows how subjective “healthy” eating can be. I know people with high blood pressure whose doctors have suggested a small glass of red wine in the evening.

      I agree that the organization shouldn’t pay for food that goes against the mission. But let people eat what they want for lunch.

      1. The Magpie*

        So, this entire topic is a sore point for me, due to past experiences. I have health issues that make my ideal diet one that includes lean proteins – which *need* to come largely from fish and chicken, because I have *another* health issue that leaves me unable to eat eggs or vegetables like copious amounts of beans. I also have – wait for it – yet *another* health issue that means I need more iron in my diet than the average bear.

        This stuff is all so subjective, and it’s really best to just trust that the person in front of you knows best what works for their body. (And even if they’re wrong – it’s none of your business!)

        People have actually told me – to my face – that the only way to eat healthy/ethical is to eat vegan/vegetarian, and that there are no health problems that would eliminate my ability to do so. This simply isn’t true – it’s just not. I can’t eat a lot of foods – many of them common ones that make up vegetarian/vegan diets – and I have to work with what I can consume and digest.

        It’s hard enough going through life having to constantly eliminate, reevaluate, and trial and error what foods you can even put into your body without getting sick without having Backseat Barry try to lecture you over your shoulder about it.

        1. Artemesia*

          so this. I have conflicting medical issues too and a couple of allergies and it is so difficult to find a meal that works for everything (well it is impossible but I try to get close). Many things on ‘healthy’ diets make me sick. AN employer has no business micromanaging the diets of employees.

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          I had a boss a while back, before “gluten-free” was trendy or even well-known, who was diagnosed with celiac disease, as was his young daughter. Then she was diagnosed with type I diabetes. When she announced at age 12 that she wanted to try vegetarianism, he said NO, you cannot do that. (She would slip up often enough with not eating gluten-containing foods, like having a piece of pizza out with her friends, only to end up in agony later.) At least the gluten-free fad has helped people with celiac disease somewhat.

          Not everyone’s body can handle every method of eating, not everyone’s schedule can deal with certain meal plans. I think eating vegetarian is better for many reasons but I don’t think one person not eating that way is what is destroying our planet, and people need to stop being so judgey.

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            My friend is an amazing baker, and yet when all the men in her family were diagnosed with Celiac, there wasn’t anything good to use as ingredients.
            She and her sister went to every market they could find in search of ingredients.
            Even the yeast was grown on wheat, so they had to use field grapes for their yeast. They would also set out pans of rice flour to collect the local airborne yeast.

        3. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I’m right there with you. My insides are all messed up and depending on how my condition is doing eating any amount of raw vegetables or fruits can send me spiraling. I can eat cooked vegies and fruits, but have to be careful of what kind and what amount and when. Everything is a balancing act. When my condition flairs my diet probably looks fairly unhealthy, but it is better than internal bleeding, which is defiantly what would happen if I had a salad for lunch every day.

        4. Jean (just Jean)*

          Ditto. My digestive system has its own ideas about which foods to accept or reject. Fortunately, I have learned to signal happiness while dining on, say, rice and salad (without salad dressing). It’s not always fun but it silences the Backseat Barrys.

        5. Who Am I*

          This. My partner and I both have T2 diabetes (though they have, apparently no dawn phenomenon while mine is just evil). Additionally, they take blood thinners and I have IBS issues. Trying to find a healthy diet that we can both eat – and both like – is maddening. It’s funny – it’s not the “unhealthy” foods I miss most. Limiting cake, cookies, and potato chips to special occasions isn’t that bad. I really miss things like all the fruit I’d like, rice, potatoes, legumes, even oat meal and whole-grain bread – all “healthy” foods that I need to limit because of my blood sugar and bowel issues. Partner misses unlimited green vegetables, cherries, cranberry juice – all contraindicated because of their medication. I couldn’t work somewhere that policed my diet.

        6. Lacey*

          Yes, this kind of stuff is so rough. I have a friend who used to be a vegetarian, but she had to give it up because she had health issues that made it impossible for her to be a vegetarian and be healthy.
          She didn’t give it up lightly, she got horribly sick first. I know it would enrage her to be told she’s doing it wrong when she’s eating what will keep her alive!

        7. LizM*

          Yes, I was vegetarian/vegan for years, but have recently been diagnosed with a health condition where my doctor recommended that I introduce poultry and fish back into my diet. I feel 100% better.

          Yes, there can be general guidelines that doctors publish about what is generally a healthier diet for *most* people, but the ideal diet for any one individual depends so much on their individual genetics, lifestyle, even their mental health (I know so many women who developed eating disorders in high school and college, for whom restrictive diets put them in a really dangerous mental place).

          It’s fine for a company to base it’s spending policies on the general rules, but it should not make policies that police individuals’ diets.

        8. Aquawoman*

          Yepyepyep, I hate the “anyone can be a vegan” argument, it’s not true. I’m hypoglycemic and that means I need protein or my blood sugar crashes. My body interprets “complementary proteins” as carbs + additional carbs. I’m also allergic to almost all non-meat protein forms. So, yep, not for me. I tried for a week to do a vegetarian lunch of quinoa and nuts and veggies and it was ok for a day but after a week of, my blood sugar destabilized.

        9. LikesToSwear*

          This. So much this. What is healthy for me may not be healthy for you!

          I have a friend who is *allergic* to almost everything that is not meat. The very few non-meat items she’s not allergic to are also not in her diet because they cause blood sugar issues (she’s not diabetic – yet) or are migraine triggers. And the non-meat items she does eat are limited because she’s only mildly allergic instead of massively allergic. And she knows to watch out for increased reactions, in case the allergy gets worse. As she says, she’s an “obligate carnivore”.

        10. Alina*

          Same. I can’t eat certain vegetables, and I can’t eat most vegan protein sources. They’re really bad for me actually. So people try to push vegan food saying its healthier but honestly the one type of restaurant where I might not be able to find anything I could eat would be a vegan restaurant.

          Now, most people don’t know about these health issues or notice them, but its just an example of how the same thing is not healthy for everyone.

        11. Venus*

          I know someone with celiac who has elements of this too. They can’t eat soy, legumes, beans, and most other non-animal proteins. Or eggs.

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      Last December I stopped drinking just because it made me feel better not to drink. Since then, I’ve felt amazing! When I was talking it over with my doctor a few months back, my doctor kept saying that all the medical literature describes alcohol as a toxin, and no fringe benefits of alcohol outweigh the damage it does to our bodies.

      So it kills me when people say “I’m eating healthy” and then have 3-4 cocktails, glasses of wine, beer, etc. At that point, you’re better off having a fast food burger and then walking for 30-45 minutes.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I’m glad not drinking has helped you, but again, the idea is that nobody gets to police someone else’s food choices. Feel free to judge silently if you must.

      2. fposte*

        But that’s an example of something where your own lens has distorted the impact of somebody else’s behavior. That’s why we should leave others to their own decisions.

      3. Canadian Librarian #72*

        A gentle suggestion: it may make you “feel better” to stop concerning yourself with other people’s eating and drinking habits. It’s none of your business.

        (Unless it’s problematic drinking that actually affects your life in some material, immediate way. Doesn’t seem like this is the case, though.)

      4. MusicWithRocksIn*

        My husband’s Covid hobby is making his own hard cider. Since he’s been drinking that when drinking and not bought beers or liquor his gout has improved dramatically and he insists he feels better in general. The chemicals and preservatives in the alcohol could be doing as much to make you feel bad as the actual booze. Personally I would rather drink the occasional chemical and preservative filled store bought cider and take the consequences because his stuff tastes awful, but everyone is different.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          The chemicals and preservatives in the alcohol could be doing as much to make you feel bad as the actual booze.

          Which is ironic as alcohol is a natural preservative.

          Kudo’s to the home cidermaker. It’s crazy hard to find the right apples for it, but the results are so worth it (I settled for apfelwein instead).

        2. Gumby*

          I tried to start a COVID hobby of drinking daily (like, one drink at night). It lasted maybe two weeks. I am just not meant to be one of those people who has a bar cart and happily mixes a cocktail on a whim. It didn’t mess up my health or happiness, it just seemed like too much work and meh.

  5. Clefairy*

    Healthy eating should include the ability to enjoy treats and things that aren’t great for you in moderation anyways. I would be worried if your company pushed drinking wheatgrass and eating plain chicken breast with broccoli 100% of the time, so I feel like it would be a bit disingenuous to say, ban cupcakes, or tell Susan she can’t have an occasional coke.

    I liked Alison’s advice on providing healthy food- that draws a good balance, and doesn’t police people’s personal diets. Maybe also do something like a “healthy bakeoff” at your next staff meeting, where you encourage employees to make fun recipes that do things like substitute sugar for apple sauce (or whatever) and then vote on your favorites. Ask the bakers to share their recipes alongside their baked goods. This might, in the long term, encourage folks to err to the healthier side when bringing in cupcakes or cookies in the future

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I was once taught to use applesauce in place of oil in boxed cake recipes. Makes a nice, moist cake.

      1. Fresh Cut Grass*

        You can use pumpkin, too, in place of the oil and eggs! Does the same thing as the applesauce but is SO nice with a spice cake for fall.

      2. Lizcase*

        This is fine is you tell people. I had a bad reaction once because it never occurred to me that brownies would have avocado. (To be fair, I didn’t ask the ingredients so that’s on me.)

        1. Artemesia*

          I have a friend who is very allergic to eggplant and has once had a dish that no one would think had eggplant in it filled with it. Any time you put an unexpected ingredient in a dish you need to let people know: avocado in brownies, peanut butter in chili, eggplant in the cream soup.

          1. Former Young Lady*

            I knew a guy who was always, ALWAYS bringing the avocado-based brownies/applesauce-based muffins/agave-nectar-sweetened what-have-you to potlucks.

            Same guy constantly lectured people about eating the “unhealthy” sugars and fats he was replacing, and I’m like…dude. Your desserts are literally still…desserts.

            1. Hex Libris*

              Ann Reardon, a food scientist with a youtube channel, very recently posted a video about “healthy” desserts that does a great job of explaining the various dimensions of those claims. (Spoiler alert: a brownie with agave nectar is still a brownie.)

            1. Loredena Frisealach*

              Nightshade allergies are really common! My sister is seriously allergic to tomatoes, I to bell peppers – we both avoid the peppers and eggplant. I like tomatoes enough that I just try to eat in moderation (and heavily processed sauces eliminate most of the proteins I react to).

            2. allathian*

              I haven’t eaten eggplant in a while, although moussaka is among my favorite Greek dishes. I developed a tomato allergy in my late 30s, although tomato sauce and ketchup don’t cause problems for me. I can eat small amounts of yellow bell pepper in a salad, for example, but I can only eat the red ones cooked. I’ve never heard of anyone eating uncooked eggplant, so it may not be a problem.

              I do enjoy the taste of tomato, though, so occasionally I’ll indulge in a cherry tomato or two. But I can no longer eat a pound (450 grams) of cherry tomatoes at a sitting, like I did when I was pregnant with my son. It was about the only serious craving I had, and at least it was a reasonably healthy one. Luckily my symptoms aren’t very severe, just a slight burning/itching sensation in my mouth, and slightly itchy skin.

          2. louvella*

            This is important! I’m vegan and I love to bake, and back pre-COVID people were all over the baked goods I brought to the office (though I think using avocado is a little silly anyway, and I’m never trying to make the baked goods healthy, just taste good, but sometimes I might use something that people might not be used to). But if something has an unexpected ingredient, always good to mention it just in case!

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          One of my food things is an intolerance to the combination of mayo and tomatoes. I don’t eat much mayo anyway (and Greek yogurt with a little mustard is a great sub) so this is usually not a big deal.

          Until a coworker’s chocolate cake made me SO SICK, and she revealed that she put a cup of mayo in the batter to make it fudgier.

          1. Chauncy Gardener*

            Or how about that grilled cheese truck in Boston that uses MAYO instead of butter to grill their sandwiches??

            1. Clefairy*

              That’s actually a really normal way to make a grilled cheese! The mayo crisps up nicely and adds a more dimensional flavor to the bread than butter would :) BUT the food truck should be really explicit about using mayo, for all of the above mentioned reasons!!

        3. Jean (just Jean)*

          Unfortunately, the last line in defensive dining lies with the diner. Time and experience teach us which foods may conceal problematic ingredients; how to ask what’s in *anything and everything*; and/or how to gracefully hopscotch over a menu rather than risk ingesting trouble.

          1. Ro*

            Yes, the maker of any food can make a mistake (or not realize an ingredient they used contains an allergen, e.g a lot of sauces have celery in them and a large amount of sauces have soy in).

            It isn’t fair the diners with allergies have to go to so much extra work but I do think they need to check themselves.

            I once had two old friends and their partners round for dinner, one of the partners who I will call Sue, I had never met before. I had asked both friends about their partner’s allergies and both had said they didn’t have any and I accounted for the allergies of one of my friends which I knew about.

            I made Teriyaki chicken for the main course, which in addition to the standard recipe I add a few extras, including lime juice. Sue asked me what was in it and I told her. Turns out she’s allergic to citrus fruits and her gf (my friend) completely blanked on that.

            I don’t think it would have occured to me to mention “by the way I put lime in this” if Sue hadn’t been hyper vigiliant I would have served it to her because I genuinely believed I had done my due diligence (now I ask everyone individually before cooking for them or ask on the day if I couldn’t contact in advance). I was aware allergies could be an issue accomodated the ones I was aware of and I asked in advance (thought clearly the wrong person) and I still could have hurt her.

        4. KittyM*

          At our work potlucks (back when that was a thing), we would fill out little pre-printed cards that asked us for a description of the dish, including the ingredients. It was a really great way to let people know if they should avoid the dish for any number of reasons. I always really appreciated it even though I don’t have any dietary restrictions – just an incredibly intense dislike of a couple of common but not always obvious ingredients.

        5. Esmeralda*

          Right. When I bring in baked goods to share, I always put a card next to it stating whether there’s gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts… People with allergies generally know to ask. If I know about the allergy (or even just the preference), I include it on the card.

    2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      Preach! Extremism isn’t healthy. Diet culture isn’t healthy. Assigning value judgments to foods isn’t healthy (except for beets, which are clearly the fruit of the devil). There is ABSOLUTELY room for occasional treats within a healthy lifestyle.

      1. Xena*

        Clearly you have yet to have a good bowl of Borscht (unless you are allergic to beets, in which case please continue avoiding them). Beets on their own are sad pink things. Borscht is a deeply flavorful delicious soup whose only downside is that it should be eaten while wearing pale clothing.

        1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          I hear that, and yet…they just taste like dirt to me. I have tried borscht, and beets prepared in a couple of different bougie, fancy ways, but I remain convinced that beets are Simply Wrong.

          1. KittyCardigans*

            Same! I wonder if it’s like a cilantro thing, where some people taste soap and other people taste an herbal freshness? Beets = disgusting red dirt to me, but my mom loves them!

        2. UKDancer*

          Can’t stand beetroot pickled or cooked as beetroot but I love borscht. One of the major things I missed about lockdown was the cancellation of my semi-regular trips to Poland and Ukraine where I could eat borscht and dumplings etc. I’d ban beetroot served any other way than in borscht if I made the rules.

      2. LikesToSwear*

        I love beets, so more for me! On that note, have you tried pickled beets? That might help get rid of the dirt taste.

      3. generic_username*

        I love beets, but whenever I eat them I always eat too many at once (because I love them) and they turn my pee pink, which is alarming, to say the least. I literally have a mini freak-out every time and then have to remind myself that I ate beets that day

    3. Lucy Skywalker*

      To me “in moderation” can gradually turn into “every other day.” So the only times I indulge in sugary treats are on special occasions: i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, a vacation to the beach, etc.
      However, that is my decision to make, not my employer’s. And I also don’t have the right to make that decision for anyone else.

    4. nonegiven*

      Every time I see some actor or actress talking about the extreme diet and exercise program they were put on to get ready for a movie, they talk like it’s 100% plain chicken breast with broccoli, whether it’s a woman that needed to be really skinny or it’s a guy that needed to put on a lot of muscle.

  6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Thank you for that, Alison. No one should be shamed or punished or even noticed for what they do or do not eat. You are responsible for what’s on your plate and no one else’s. Any attempt by an employer to become the food police will not only backfire, but also exacerbate issues for anyone with an eating disorder.

    (The exception, of course, is that it is fine to ban cheap ass rolls.)

    1. Caliente*

      Ha ha haa! I really love when people work this in :)
      Cheap ass rolls would probably cause a coup in this place as I doubt they are healthy ass rolls.

      1. Elenna*

        The food police OP works with would probably consider them healthier than Hawaiian rolls, at least – less sugar :D

    2. Beth*

      DO NOT BAN THE CHEAP-ASS ROLLS. They are the ultimate food group for office potlucks! (Serve with a chocolate teapot for extra classiness.)

      1. Jaid*

        Paris Baguette literally sells a Cappuccino Cake that is in the form of a cup of coffee. Four layers of coffee flavored cake, coffee buttercream filling…

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      Yes! The only time someone should ever notice or comment on someone elses food is in appreciation like “OMG Where did you get that! That looks delicious can I get a recipe?” Type of comments.

  7. Presea*

    Especially since health needs are so individual, it’s really important to not police people’s overall food choices. It’s uncommon, but there really are circumstances where someone may genuinely benefit from drinking a soda or eating a cupcake for the sake of their mental or physical health, and a company could get into a lot of tangly situations trying to arbitrate what is and isn’t healthy for any individual person. (And, frankly, people should be allowed to eat unhealthily, even if they have whatever diet-related chronic disease your health charity is focused on. It’s not up to a workplace to police actual food choices; this should be about optics and optics alone.)

    1. a tester, not a developer*

      My doctor has me on a high fat/low fibre diet for legit medical reasons. So yeah, I won’t be annoyed if you say no cupcakes allowed – but if someone gets on my back about red meat and bacon, we’re all going to have a bad time.

      People shouldn’t be forced to justify why they’re eating what they’re eating.

    2. PostalMixup*

      Not to mention, rescue sugar for diabetics. I still remember sitting in my college physics class over a decade ago when the kid in front of me pricked his finger, left the lecture hall, and came back with a bottle of Mountain Dew. The dude had low blood sugar. A soda fixed it and let him carry on learning about acceleration or whatever the topic was that day.

      1. Guacamole Bob*


        I never thought I’d wake my kid up at night so he could eat some skittles… until he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Juice and candy are absolutely medications for him.

        1. EchoGirl*

          Yeah, everyone (who doesn’t know better) thinks the biggest concern for diabetics is avoiding too much sugar, but lows can actually be much more dangerous in the short term. I had a roommate who was a T1 and in the two years we lived together, she ended up in the ER three times for low blood sugar — and that doesn’t even count the close calls. She tended to use glucose gels and the like (I think because she wanted something she wouldn’t want to eat at any other time, rather than something she might eat on a whim and then not have it when she needed it), but candy works too.

          Incidentally, this particular friend is also allergic to pretty much all of the artificial sweeteners used in sugar-free products and diet soda, so even people who knew about her diabetes could be completely wrong about what was most healthy for her. You just really don’t know.

      2. Jaid*

        I actually started keeping hard candy by my bed for when my Dexcom6 sounds off about my sugar going below 80.

    3. Lea*

      Sometimes quick sugar of a coke is necessary, like after intense activities or to settle your stomach.

    4. Dancing Otter*

      Yes. Are they going to require ADA paperwork for a diabetic to carry glucose tablets?
      Oooh, sugar bad! Well, so is hypoglycemia and insulin shock.

      1. SW*

        Yeah, more than anything this seems like it would be an HR nightmare. Either you’d have HR letting lots of people know other people’s health information or they’d have to constantly be fielding, “why does X person get to eat that and not me?”

  8. Daffodilly*

    The self appointed food police do not get to be resentful about the duties they took upon themselves, ESPECIALLY when they are overreaching!

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Yup. (Starts scribbling down a *long* list of topics about which the self-appointed anything police should remain *completely* silent. Unless they are at home, alone with their judgy selves or friends.)

  9. MissBaudelaire*

    I don’t have problems with what Alison said… like, refusing to serve ‘junky’ foods at work events, or not having soda machines on site. But I don’t know how I would feel about a designated Lunch Cop. What are they going to do, frisk everyone down for muffins? Are they gonna open lunch bags and poke through? And if they did, are they gonna say that my carrots aren’t okay because I brought ranch dip, but Meg’s are fine because she brought hummus? Is she gonna say that Jo’s roast beef sandwich isn’t okay because the processed meat isn’t good, but that Beth’s tofu sandwich is fine? Like, what lines would be drawn?

    I understand the mission, and I understand not going out in public representing the company and horking down a big old back of Doritos while slurping on a Mountain Dew. But what I eat for lunch is between me, my doctor, and my grocery bill.

    1. OyHiOh*

      TL;DR – Nobody likes having their personal food policed. Set up a consistent, coherent policy for food purchased by the org, and leave the rest alone.

      Story to illustrate point, dealing with children: When the USDA rolled out the “new” school lunch provisions that Michelle Obama championed as First Lady, there were sporadic reports of teachers/other school staff poking through elementary student’s lunch bags (those who brought food from home) and telling quite young students that they couldn’t eat the cookie, or that they needed to pack more fruits/veggies. Parents did not handle it well. After a bit, the reports stopped (probably too many other demands on staff time, honestly). In some cases, parents explained that there were medical reasons why unusual and/or “unhealthy” foods were necessary for a particular child. I suspect that some schools involved may have realized rather quickly that they could run into federal rules around ESS/SPED students if they kept it up. Don’t police the food people bring from home or buy on their own time!

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        I have two school aged children. In the elementary schools here, they absolutely will and do confiscate food sent from home if they don’t deem it healthy enough. It really butters my biscuit because if I pack a healthy lunch and a fun size candy bar or muffin as a treat, that’s my choice. If my kid chooses not to eat any of their lunch other than the sweet, well, that’s their choice and they get to live through the consequences of that. I one hundred percent agree with no sending in allergens, and I’m super paranoid about that. My own kid pukes if she eats a banana, I wouldn’t want someone to just hand her a banana.

        They do, at the very least, provide free lunch in my district to every child. I am happy in that.

        I am not happy with the confiscating food. If little Johnny Sue keeps bringing in a sack of sugar water and candy and hot Cheetos or whatever, take that up with little Johnny Sue’s family. Maybe they need some extra support, maybe the kid has a sensory disorder and this is all they tolerate and the family is already working with a specialist, maybe they have other medical issues. But the whole blanket ‘no’ irritates me.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I received a note home once that politely inquired if child was getting enough milk/dairy at home, as it was never seen in said child’s lunch.

        I sent a note back stating “child is allergic to milk protein, anaphylactic”.

        Also, child has known the names of all her food allergens since she’s been able to pronounce them. She wears a medic alert bracelet (because adults don’t always believe kids when they say “I can’t have that I’m allergic” and their parent/adult isn’t around to confirm it).

        I’ll give the writer the grace that I’m assuming she was coming from a place of kindness and care, but STILL.

        1. mf*

          Some people still think that drinking lots of milk = healthy diet for kids, which is not necessarily true. That kind of outdated dietary advice is yet another reason why food policing is bad.

        2. Anononon*

          I mean, the writer literally wrote, “I personally don’t feel like we need a policy at all.” She doesn’t deserve the dislike directed at her.

        3. J*

          Ugh, why are people obsessed with milk drinking? There are other ways to get nutrients. When my youngest was in preschool I had to have a conference with the school because he wouldn’t drink his milk (no surprise, he doesn’t like milk!), and then I had to sign a special permission form allowing them to serve him water instead.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            Umm… You need water to survive, you don’t need milk. I would think it should be the other way around.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Likely the spirit of a mean/controlling/unhealthy parent or sibling or the like. Dead or alive.

    2. Clorinda*

      Every cake you bake
      Every chocolate shake
      Every fry or steak
      I’ll be watching youuuuuu…

  10. animaniactoo*

    Me: You try to institute anything like this and there will be a me-shaped hole in the wall.

    Sometimes people need their food that is not-good-for-them. Like any other thing, sometimes, it’s okay to take a break from it or not be in full compliance to the point that you would be considered extremist about it. Some people maybe don’t want to live the mission and lead by example because for them your mission is fine, and great for anyone who wants to live by it, but they just want the paycheck associated with being your bookkeeper.

    Teach people how to do it – great. Attempt to ENFORCE them doing it? Hells to the no.

    As we told our kids when they were teens: “You may never cook another thing outside of a microwave meal once you leave. But that will be because you CHOSE to, not because you didn’t know how to cook.”

    1. FrenchCusser*

      I have diabetes. Sometimes I eat some gummies or baklava. I’m careful that I don’t get my glucose out of range, but even my nutritionist says this is A-OK.

      If you tell me I shouldn’t be eating that oatmeal cookie, I will give you such a dirty look you will need a decontamination shower.

  11. Sleet Feet*

    I worked at a hospital who went through this phase. They got rid of all desserts and only stocked diet sodas. It lasted 2 years before enough nurses noted they were leaving because after exhausting themselves physically and emotionally on a code lue it was bullshit they couldn’t even grab a Pepsi or cookie on their break.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      ExJob did this nonsense too, also a hospital. They then put in ‘just a bite’ desserts. Which were tiny morsels of desserts, charged the same price as a full dessert, because the theory was ‘just a bite is enough to satisfy the craving!’ They also removed the good chips and candy from the machines and stocked it with baked chip and fruit’n’nut bars at higher prices.

      Thanks, I guess? They were right I couldn’t eat the junk, but I couldn’t afford the ‘good’ stuff from the machines either.

      Meanwhile, the hospital that I work for at CurrentJob does no such thing. They have a punch card and if you make healthy choices like a salad and water or baked chicken breast sandwich and what not, and after so many punches you got like three dollars off a meal.

      1. OyHiOh*

        There are times when I would pick a “just a bite” size, and others when I would absolutely go for a full size brownie! There should have been both choices. I do like the punch card idea though. If you want people to make generally-accepted-as-healthy choices, reward them for the choice.

        1. OhNo*

          Exactly. If the goal is to produce change, then it should always be based on a reward system rather than a punishment system. It works better probably 99.9% of the time, and without the side effect of making your employees feel like they’d be better off literally anywhere else.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Pre-covid, my cafeteria started offering free fruit on Fridays and later expanded that to Tuesdays. I definitely ate more fruit than I normally would have because it was convenient and free (and tasty). I might still eat chips from the vending machine, but at least I *also* got some fiber and vitamins from fruit.

            1. NotRealAnonForThis*

              I dearly miss the local grocery store’s free fruit punchcard for kids under 12. There was a new hand-held-fruit every month, and they were in baskets in the produce section. They punched your card there too.

              1. PostalMixup*

                Pre-COVID, our local grocery chain had a basket of bananas and apples specifically for kids to eat while in the store with their parents. I hope COVID didn’t kill that, because an apple will keep a toddler occupied for much of a grocery trip!

                1. MissBaudelaire*

                  This is still true at one of my local grocery chains! They do allow the free piece of fruit. A banana, apple, or clementine.

              2. OyHiOh*

                One of the local groceries did the same thing as PostalMixup – a basket of fruit that children could help themselves to. My children would literally beg to go grocery shopping, knowing that there was something in it for them.

        2. Your Local Password Resetter*

          If it costs the same, I would pick the full meal just on principle!
          I’m not letting them trick me into buying overpriced meals because they feel the need to morally judge me for my food.

    2. Marlon Brandname*

      My company (among other things) sells food in hospitals. Periodically we’ll get a c-suite person who doesn’t like the optics of selling Snickers and corned beef hash in hospitals, and we waste hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to switch to “health food” before we lose so many sales that they abandon the plan.

      Currently the person trying to implement the healthy eating is the person in charge of all the hospitals themselves, so this go-round is going to be even more painful and protracted than the others…

      1. Pippa K*

        There’s a place near me that makes a corned beef hash with local grass-fed beef, local potatoes, local onions. It is outstandingly delicious, and I’d be really tempted to instigate an “eating local is the most virtuous choice” campaign against the “doughnuts aren’t healthy” police.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Any time I’ve eaten in a hospital cafeteria, I’ve been in that state of such stress and exhaustion where no food sounds good to me, but I know I need to eat in order to have enough energy to get back to my loved one’s room and carry on with whatever support I was there to provide. I think the most recent time I managed to force down a grilled cheese sandwich?

        I know plenty of staff use the cafeteria on a daily basis, but at least some of the customers are in no state to be making optimal food choices.

    3. Artemesia*

      diet sodas are the worst — they literally make me sick and I think that is fairly common — those fake sugars do a real number on the digestive system. And they taste gross too.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        and I love them and you will pry my diet soda out of my cold, dead hands. We are fortunate to live in a world with many, many food and drink options. You drink what you like, and I’ll drink what I like.

        1. Alina*

          I feel the same as Artemesia, but I think we are all saying the same thing – don’t assume that diet sodas are healthier but provide options for everyone.

        2. Hex Libris*

          This is difficult to do if the vending machine only has diet, which is what Artemesia was responding to.

      2. MS*

        I agree. I hate the fake taste of diet sodas. Also, my aunt got tongue cancer from drinking too much diet coke. They can’t prove that is for sure what caused it, but dr’s said it is highly correlated with diet soda consumption and she drink an excessive amount of it, so it seems like a very plausible cause of the cancer. Regardless, I avoid them.

    4. RabbitRabbit*

      Ours just does the green/yellow/red light-style color coding on the vending machines, basically to point out the healthier/less-caloric/etc. choices. You can still have what you want but there’s a reminder that maybe you want to mix it up now and then.

    5. DJ*

      My grad school was associated with a hospital (it was a school of medicine). At some point the administration made the same decision. I recall joking: now instead of dying from diabetes, we will die from cancer (thanks to the artificial sweeteners, maybe). What was crazy is that there was a 7-11 one block from the hospital (that I could see from my lab space). So if anyone really wanted to be unhealthy: nothing was stopping them from going there.

      I also found it…awful because, frankly, food is a comfort. And sometimes, when you’re stuck in the hospital with a bad condition/disease/etc, something that helps is the food. Not just for the patients but for their support people.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        My mother had to take me out of state for major surgery twice as a teen. We were in a strange location, where we knew no one. The hospital coffee shop was where she ate most of her meals during that time, and there was a really yummy hot chicken sandwich that she ordered a lot. Mom needed the energy to cope with her very ill child who was in a lot of pain, and she needed some comfort, damn it, because she was thousands of miles from home and her support system, and she was scared, and having that sandwich was a little bit of ease in her very stressful day. Anyone telling her that she should have subsisted on raw veggies during that time would have likely been scorched by the fury emanating from her tiny self.

    6. I'm just here for the cats*

      Thats like one hospital/clinic I used to have to go to. Everything was fat free/ sugar free. I know now (not then) that my body DOES NOT LIKE SUCRALOSE (Splenda). It rejects it and I get so sick within an hour of eating it.

      1. YetAnotherKate*

        This to the Nth. I admit I consume both (real) sugar and alcohol, but “sugar alcohols” are the devil to my body. Anyone who says things like “I wish I could lose 10lbs instantly?” Uh, no, you don’t. Don’t ask me how I know.

  12. WomEngineer*

    I agree with Alison’s advice to not police individuals’ food choices but also make healthy snacks available. I think it’s okay if there’s a policy for company-funded events.

    Sometimes healthier food can be more expensive. Could the company consider partnering with health-conscious caterers/restaurants to get a discount? Or reimburse individuals?

  13. Fresh Cut Grass*

    If anyone tried to police my eating habits for not being “healthy” enough, they’d swiftly get a hefty dose of TMI. Many (most, frankly) “healthy” foods make me horribly ill, and if someone decides to pry, they’re going to get all the graphic details.

    1. Anonym*

      I have friends with Crohn’s. Do not come at them with your sanctimonious raw veggie and fruit platter. There will be words (best case) or pain and misery (worst case).

      1. Fresh Cut Grass*

        Yeah, I’ve got IBS, which has a lot of overlapping triggers, but not as miserable of symptoms, and I’ve got a friend with Crohn’s.

        Refined starches and meat are basically always safe for me. (I consider myself very fortunate in that the compound present in glutenous foods, garlic, and onions isn’t one of my big triggers.) Fresh fruit is a recipe for disaster– I might sometimes judge that I’m willing to pay the price for some watermelon, but having sad “health” food forced upon me because my office decided I should eat it? Nooooo. No thank you.

        1. The Magpie*

          Same here – IBS is one of my myriad of digestion-related problems, and SO many fruits and vegetables are simply out (or need to be cooked in a very specific way), because the resulting pain is enough to literally leave me curled up in a corner sobbing and unable to stand up fully straight, let alone function in any meaningful capacity.

        2. darcy*

          i also have IBS and one of my safest foods when i’m having a bad stomach day is a big pile of (UK) chips!

          1. louvella*

            As a vegan with IBS, yup! And often the only thing safe for me on a restaurant menu if I’m having a flare up.

    2. Saraquill*

      I’ve read proselytizing online how the One True Diet is amazing and will change the world for the better. Several of these One True Diets would leave me incoherent and/or in chronic pain.

  14. SLR*

    No. Just no. I sincerely hope that plan does not come to fruition. My heart breaks for anyone on your staff who may have an eating disorder. While I fully support educating people on healthy eating habits, at the end of the day, we are all adults and we all make our own choices and we live with the consequences of those choices. I understand the Optics & the image of your company’s Mission, however, I really believe that is just crossing a line. Also keep in mind, many people who eat unhealthy foods sometimes do so because that’s all they can afford. That 50 Cent can of Chef Boyardee can fit into someone’s budget a lot better than lean chicken and fish can. Obviously there are exceptions to this but keep in mind the financial disparities that are out there and not everyone has access to healthy food. I remember when I was really struggling financially and my cupboards were stocked with Chef Boyardee, canned vegetables, and cereal. I knew damn well that it was not healthy, but I had to keep a roof over my head. I feel this type of policy would be wrong on so many levels, please push back on it and do not allow those employees to continue bringing it up or harping on it because it will likely affect anyone on your staff who has an eating disorder, as well as anyone else who enjoys being an adult with all of the basic freedom that entails.

    1. cubone*

      This is all I could think about as well. Especially anyone with orthorexia, this sounds like the most unsafe environment for many many people (and a terrible one for everyone).

    2. Clisby*

      Chef Boyardee ravioli: the caviar of college students everywhere. It was one of my staples in college, and my 19-year-old son keeps it on hand as well.

    3. Butterfly Counter*

      Ironically, the only place I was thinking that this policy and food policing would even be a little appropriate would be an eating disorder rehabilitation clinic. For those clients who are doing their best to resist binging, it wouldn’t be great to know that cupcakes and cookies were just in the next room or available somewhere when they’re at a stage in their recovery that they need to be set up for success.

  15. mcfizzle*

    I work for a school district, and there was some rather intense drama a few years ago over admin’s decision to replace all vending machines / soda machines in teacher lounges with “healthy” snacks and overpriced bottled water. The pushback from teachers was immense and the old machines made a magical appearance after only a few weeks.
    In theory, I understand wanting to push healthier eating. I am overweight and absolutely *should* be better, so I get it. But in practice, it’s a disaster. Just… don’t.

  16. Combinatorialist*

    I would quit any job that tried to prescribe how healthy my food needed to be. I have a fairly recently discovered nightshade intolerance and can only put so much time and energy into finding new options now that all my favorite ingredients are off limits. While I want to eat healthily, it is not my only priority. It is super ableist to assume that everyone has the time and energy to meet whatever standards you decide are reasonable.

    Also, I also get joy from food. I really don’t need work stomping that out in my life. I have no issue with the organization buying food consistent with their goals.

    1. terrapin*

      “It is super ableist to assume that everyone has the time and energy to meet whatever standards you decide are reasonable.” AMEN and it comes from a place of privilege, too – not everyone has access to affordable options that others may deem “healthy”. I eat mostly whole, organic foods because of my own serious food sensitivities, and the cost is significant, but I don’t have a *choice*.

      I have severe RA and buy the pre-cut fruits and veg because I cannot manage chopping them myself at all times, due to pain and grip issues in my hands. The looks I get from people who assume I’m buying more expensive pre-packaged foods because I’m somehow ‘lazy’ or ‘wasteful’. Those people can f right off.

      1. banoffee pie*

        Why do people feel the need to comment anyway? It baffles me. Sorry you have to put up with that

      2. Cat Tree*

        Those pre-cut veggies are available because lots of people buy them! You get to decide what to spend your money on, and convenience is a perfectly legitimate priority even for someone without RA. Personally convenience is one of my biggest luxuries. I make good money and lots of people would rather have a big house or fancy car, but I purposely bought less than I could technically afford so I have money for convenience. I pay an extra $4 fee per month so my condo fee is automatically deducted. To me, I’m paying $4 to just never have to think about it. I pay $2.50 to pay my gas bill online instead of the hassle of mailing a check. I sometimes pay extra money to do grocery pick-up, and I often get restaurant food delivered. This reduces how much I have to shop and cook. That’s ultimately what I’m paying for and since it’s my money, I get to decide that it’s worth it.

      3. Anononon*

        It’s the same when people make fun of what they think are ridiculous kitchen gadgets. Like, those things are awesome for people with limited mobility/strength/whatever.

    2. Sivvy*

      I also have a nightshade intolerance!
      Explaining to people why I can’t have tomato, eggplant, or bell peppers – at all – gets old very quickly. I’m already salty that I can’t have my Veggie Lovers Pizza any longer; if I had work taking it upon themselves to tell me what I also couldn’t have…. I would have an epic I Quit story. Belladonna is called Deadly Nightshade for a reason, and the fruit looks like a wee tomato.

    3. Rainy*

      I have a lot of food allergies, and while I’ve arrived over time at a varied, delicious, and most of all safe diet, no one who isn’t me gets to judge how healthy my food is.

  17. Milnoc*

    If you want to encourage healthy eating and your company’s big enough to have a cafeteria with healthy choices, go that route. Otherwise, MYOB. Never dictate what people can eat or can not eat.

    Also, be very cautious with vegan dishes. Many of them use nuts as a protein substitute which could turn deadly for anyone with a nut allergy.

    1. Gracely*

      This! My father-in-law is deathly allergic to cashews. Which are a super common substitute for lots of stuff in low-carb diets.

      1. LikesToSwear*

        In case you didn’t already know, pink peppercorns are related to cashews. It’s such an odd thing, I had never heard of it until I read an article about a kid allergic to cashews who had a reaction to pink peppercorns.

    2. Stitch*

      Choosing to supply only healthy food isn’t in the same ballpark as policing employees’ own brought in lunches.

    3. Just Another Zebra*

      I have a coconut allergy. Vegan food can be downright deadly for me, because vegan food often uses coconut oil to cook/ bake with. Combine that with all my other issues, and all the food that you think is vegan, but isn’t… and I’m probably going hungry.

  18. terrapin*

    The main answer left out food allergies and sensitivities which often drive what people eat, and when you’re eating whatever you can safely tolerate, others may not necessarily think those are “healthy” choices. But if you were to feed “heart-healthy” nuts or fish to a person with allergies you’d send them to the ER. Because those aren’t healthy for those people. “Allergies” get a bad rap sometimes because for some reason there’s a portion of the population who seem to think others are making this stuff up just to get out of eating something they don’t like? But – they are real? And they can be life threatening. Don’t screw around with people’s food.

    1. Littorally*


      Healthy is highly individual, and is a very slippery concept. Very unsuited for any kind of workplace rule.

  19. Gracely*

    Just let people eat what they want. FFS.

    Healthy for some people is not healthy for others. Unhealthy for some people is healthy for others. And regardless, unless the job is providing the food, the job should have zero say in what people are eating, because maybe that $3 combo from McDonalds or Taco Bell is the only hot, filling meal that particular employee can afford at the moment.

    There are a lot of “healthy” foods I would love to eat but can’t because I am missing part of my digestive system and can’t digest them properly. It makes me want to slap people when they comment about my avoiding a veggie tray or whatever. Like, actually, I would love to have a handful of crunchy baby carrots, but I can’t have lots of raw veggies. I can have like, two before it becomes a problem. Which means yeah, I’m going to eat the more processed stuff instead.

    1. Anonymouse*

      A high-fiber diet is explicitly NOT recommended for me–I don’t have a colon, my body doesn’t handle high fiber well at all.

    2. Rebecca Stewart*

      Yeah, I can have ONE strawberry. Any more, and I get giggly and loopy for five minutes and then want to puke and have a wicked headache and light sensitivity for another thirty minutes. Roll the dice on whether or not that morphs into a proper migraine or not.

      I have made people at group potlucks very angry when I asked if they made it or assembled it. Cause I can probably eat a small piece of the cake, leaving the icing on the plate, if you made it at home from butter, sugar, flour, etc. If you bought a mix, dumped a can of “pie filling” into it, and then added another can of sugary stuff, then no, I will not eat your cake at all. It is full of high fructose corn syrup and I don’t want to be miserable all evening. But people think I’m being judgmental because I’m a good cook myself. (Of course I am; how else am I going to eat, with my issues, if I don’t learn to cook well?)

      1. Loredena Frisealach*

        gods I hate the ubiquity of HFCS! My mother is allergic to corn (no, not all fructose, just corn) and corn derivatives are in *everything*. HFCS is particularly bad, and now they are relabeling it to make it harder to realize you’re still getting corn…

  20. NerdyLibraryClerk*

    Nope. So much nope. Like, Alison suggests, you can make healthy food *available*, but you shouldn’t ever get into the habit of policing your employees’ diets. There’s no way to do so without wildly overstepping, and putting your employees in the position of having to divulge medical problems to you/your organization. Not only do all the questions about chosen diets apply (which Alison covers), but what’s “healthy” is not an absolute concrete thing for everyone. Athletes, people recovering from eating disorders, people with other chronic illnesses (perhaps even the one your charity aids), and people with various food allergies or intolerances are all going to have different dietary needs.

    Even when it comes to catering, be aware that what’s generally “healthy” isn’t always going to be actually healthy for all of your employees, all of the time. So even there, you want to be careful not to set up a situation in which people will be shamed or have to divulge health issues in order to be allowed to eat something different.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      On that note, you can provide ‘healthy’ choices all day long, but if no one wants them and they don’t taste very good, it’s still a waste of money. Sure, that granola bar might have lots of fiber and low sugar, but if it tastes like wood chips and sadness, I’m still not eating it.

      1. Tara*

        Indeed. I once worked for an office where they provided organic locally-produced milk very good organic fruit lot of little snacky things in an effort to encourage their stuff to eat better. It works with some folks but I wound up taking home a lot of very nice organic milk and fruits at the end of every week because otherwise I would have just gone bad and been thrown out. The three months I worked there as a temp I pretty much lived off of really nice smoothies and fruit breads and Crepes and it wasn’t really that healthy but I enjoyed it. Probably would have eating other Foods as well if they paid a little better

      2. UKDancer*

        My last company had a phase like that. They took the chocolate and crisps out of the vending machine and replaced it with healthy granola bars and baked rice cakes which tasted of sawdust and misery. Unsurprisingly this didn’t go down awfully well for the company’s vending machine supplier which apparently lost a lot of business. It was great for the newsagent over the road which apparently saw a massive increase in trade as people having bad days at work came in search of sustenance.

        Healthy options are great to have available but they do need to taste decent if you expect any uptake. Also some days only a mars bar will do.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      You and me both. This is my job, not my life. I highly doubt they’re paying people to “live the brand” 24/7.

      I am a super-healthy eater to the point that co-workers comment on it and I want to punch this office manager on behalf of every soda-drinker on the planet.

      1. banoffee pie*

        yeah I’m pretty healthy, I even make my own bread etc cos I don’t trust the shop stuff, but I would never expect anybody else to copy my eating habits. It isn’t really an issue of healthy eaters vs non-healthy eaters, more an issue of bossy people vs the rest of us. And I have a weakness for dessert. I guess this workplace would ban me because of my username anyway haha

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      My husband’s old job wanted him to “live the brand”. His reply was something like “not til my name is on the letterhead.”

    3. Amaranth*

      Hey, if they want to cater every lunch, provide free snack and drink options and hand out logo coffee mugs I’d definitely lean towards ‘living the brand’ at the office.

    4. Web of Pies*

      Been scrolling to try and find my people on this, loud for the people in the back, you do not have to live any brand! Your job doesn’t have to be your whole world! You don’t have to enjoy or endorse a product, service or idea to be able to effectively make or sell it! It’s honestly probably better to be able to have a healthy distance from the thing you’re working on! This attitude seems so rampant in the charity sphere and it’s incredibly unhealthy to me.

      1. The Magpie*

        It’s capitalism to an uncomfortably “close to the line of dystopia” degree. (And yeah, charities are a result of capitalism). “Live the brand” – aka your entire life is a marketing billboard designed to promote and sell. No. I’m not doing it. It’s unhealthy, inappropriate, and – to be honest – creepy as hell.

  21. Anon-mama*

    “They feel resentful for having to police people about food.” Um. Are they on site in front of clients while a coworker happily stuffs a super sized fried meal in their face on a break?

    Or are they in the office, taking it upon themselves to chide others who packed leftover pizza because that was all they had in the house that morning? Why would they think this is in their purview? It’s not.

    If you have any authority, I’d shut down the food police AND the insistence of creating an actual policy about employees’ private choices, especially within the confines of their breaks or being out of the public eye. “We cannot control what others eat.” You could gently remind people giving presentations/in public on official work duties to be aware of company messaging during their breaks (ie, maybe don’t wolf down a baguette in front of the class learning celiac friendly cooking). You can control what the charity does with the many good ideas Alison puts forth.

    But if someone wants to have a cupcake for their birthday or get rid of excess Halloween candy to willing takers (because everything in moderation), then it will be allowed.

    I type this having finished my chips (and apple) at lunch and am about to pick it which Ghirardelli square I want for dessert and which will be saved for my afternoon coffee.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      Is it bad that I’m petty enough I *would* cram a large french fry in my mouth while staring down the food police? At least if they’re focused on me then my coworkers could eat in peace.

      1. Anon-mama*

        Not bad at all. I was thinking if I worked with that loon I’d eat the whole bag slowly and nonchalantly right in front of them.

  22. Jean*

    All I can say is, any company who wants to mandate that I ‘live the brand” better be ponying up truckloads of cash for that privilege. TRUCK. LOADS.

    Serve low carb or low sodium whatever at your events, fine. But you don’t get to decide what I have for lunch on my own dime.

  23. Just Another Zebra*

    The policy should be “Coworkers are not permitted to comment or dictate another employee’s food choices”. I think the only conversation needed is for the pot-stirrers to be sat down and explain why this is a terrible, horrible, thoughtless idea.

    I have some weird food allergies, sensitivities, and requirements that would make a policy like this untenable. Some traditionally healthy foods are murder on my body (bell peppers, for example). How do you handle people with dietary needs that conflict with the organization’s mission? Not to mention people who may have issues with medications, or food aversion, or just don’t like XYZ healthy foods.

    And I’m usually not this person, but since you mention having volunteers, you need to be mindful that healthy eating is EXPENSIVE. Demanding your staff switch to something like an organic natural diet could be disastrous to some people’s budgets.

    I could keep going. But really, this is a terrible idea.

  24. Amethystmoon*

    Who gets to decide what diet everyone should go on? Even the CDC recently updated its policy to state that people should adopt a healthy eating pattern with foods they like. This means for example, people don’t need to be forced to eat kale if they don’t like kale, and so on. Also I’d love to hear the arguments between the vegans and the paleo/low-carb people. What about intermittent fasting? Technically there aren’t rules as to what you can eat during your eating times, as long as you follow the time pattern. Not to mention, how triggering such a policy would be to people with eating disorders.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Sorry that should be the govt… however there are links to the updated guidelines on the CDC website.

    2. Emily Charlton*

      I’m on this new diet. Well, I don’t eat anything and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese. I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.

    3. Lucy Skywalker*

      Intermittent fasting would be a disaster for me. I have low blood sugar, and if I skip even one meal, I get hazy and have a hard time focusing.

  25. Pikachu*

    If you want to ensure people only eat healthy food, you better be paying them enough to buy all organic veggies and grass-fed/pastured meats and all the other things. You better offer free cooking classes or resources for busy people to fit in from-scratch meals on a regular basis.

    If you aren’t going to pay people enough to afford to live your values, then you don’t get to police those values off the clock.

    1. Clorinda*

      Even if they DID pay enough for everyone to eat organically and do all the other things, still they have no right to police values off the clock, including lunch.

      1. pancakes*

        Yeah, not paying for healthier food wouldn’t be the only problem with the rules this workplace was contemplating. It would still be a massive, paternalistic, and misguided over-step even if they did.

  26. ENFP in Texas*

    If the company is buying the food (events, meetings, etc.) then the company gets to decide what is on the menu.

    They do not get to dictate what employees buy and prepare for their personal meals with their own time and money.

    1. JustaTech*

      I would say that the only (ONLY) exception to “what you’re allowed to bring to work to eat” is if there is a a really good, specific reason. For example, my friend works at a daycare that is 100% nut and peanut free, because little kids 1) aren’t good about announcing their allergies and 2) stick everything in their mouths. So no one (student or staff) is allowed to eat any kind of nut or peanut on campus. But it doesn’t matter if it’s a Snickers or an organic almond butter and celery stick, it’s all banned, and it’s banned for safety.
      (Sunflower seeds are allowed, and no one polices the “quality” of any other food.)

      But “healthy” is way, way, way too nebulous to be making rules about. “No nuts because Peter, Paul and Mary have life threatening allergies” is one thing. “No nuts because they’re too fatty” is something else entirely.

      1. Susan Ivanova*

        A previous company replaced all the breakroom snacks with “healthy” versions. Out went the plain M&Ms, in came the peanut version – or as several coworkers considered it, the deadly poison version.

        The end result: teams used their discretionary budgets to have their own unhealthy snack stashes.

  27. Essentially Cheesy*

    I read the headline and thought: only if people want to be monitored/restricted on their alcohol consumption. It’s an interesting thought. Where does the monitoring stop then?

    As a type 2 diabetic, I avoid alcohol and sugar in general but people are free to eat as they choose!

  28. DG*

    I wonder how this workplace views the “optics” of a fat employee, an employee with a visible disability, or anyone else who doesn’t fit the very narrow societal definition of what “healthy” looks like.

    1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

      Ooh, that’s a good (and horrifying) point. This is not sounding like an awesome place to work.

    2. another Hero*

      yeah, I was definitely reading like “so if you have diabetes you just can’t work there!” as well but all of this

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Probably the same way my boss from hell did: hound me so often about my weight (yeah I’m obese, no I’m not doing anything to change it) and analyse everything I eat to the point where I stopped eating entirely. Survived on cups of tea. That’s not great for your brain I can tell ya.

  29. banoffee pie*

    How would a policy even work? Just don’t allow any non-healthy food into the building? But how could they be sure to keep it out, check people’s bags like they used to do in school sometimes? It sounds like it would start a lot of unnecessary tension and offend people. I don’t like the sound of it.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Food-sniffing dogs.

      (A fruit-sniffing dog alerted on my daughter’s carseat when we went to Hawaii. We allowed that, yes, it almost certainly contained a lot of food crumbs.)

  30. Falling Diphthong*

    I think it would be okay to try to make any catering include options that would be considered healthy choices in a diet addressing this specific health issue. Food people brought from themselves: anyone who cares should be firmly redirected to a problem that could actually use their attention.

    I will offer that this is a golden opportunity to consider whether “living your brand” is easy to do, including when, say, getting takeout or celebrating a retirement. And how fun it is to live the brand at those times. If a lot of people say “I don’t want to live the brand right now, it’s my birthday party” or “I am having a week from hell; no I cannot live the brand when I order lunch” that could generate some self reflection.

  31. DarthVelma*

    I guess I want to know what exactly they think they could do if they institute a “healthy eating policy” and someone chooses to violate it. Repeatedly. With malice aforethought.

    Because I would do that. I would bring the most decadent dessert I could find to work… I’d eat Cheetos in every meeting. I gave up sodas over a decade ago, but I’d go back to drinking them at work. And not the sugar free diet ones either.

    I relish the newspaper headline when they try to fire me for slathering everything in butter.

  32. Bilateralrope*

    I think there are only two situations where I’d tolerate my employer telling me what I can and can’t eat at work:
    – what I eat is a health risk to a someone at the workplace. If that increases what I need to pay to feed myself, that extra money isn’t coming out of my pocket.
    – they are providing and paying for the food. The full cost of the food.

    1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

      Even then, the food has to not be dangerous to *you* either. So employers really should stay out of the business of telling their employees what to eat. Paying for it doesn’t automatically make it safe. Even if it’s supposedly “healthy.”

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Sure. But if it’s not healthy to me, laws around making the workplace safe let me demand for I can safely eat.

        Also, things change when the workplace is one where staff don’t get to go home at the end of the day.

        I have worked a few places where food was provided. No rules against bringing your own food if you didn’t want what they provided, but everyone ate it.

    2. CBB*

      – they are providing and paying for the food. The full cost of the food.

      Even then I wouldn’t want my employer telling me that I must eat the food they provided or that I’m not allowed to bring in my own food from home.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yeah, after today’s cooked bell pepper/cilantro/chili in the cookie extravaganza, I’d like at least a little input on what we eat at work.

        (I had a very “healthy” lunch of undressed salad and rice. Good thing I wasn’t hungry.)

  33. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Learning to make healthy food choices means learning to make choices, not banning things willy-nilly.

    Unless someone’s bringing in actual poison to the potluck, then part of the process is knowing when a choice for a “less healthy” option is actually ok for one’s own overall (and quite individual) “dietary choice budget” for the week. An occasional birthday cupcake for someone with fairly normal health will not bring down Health As We Know It.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        I seem to recall there were some…interesting food choices in the original Addams Family. But they had some kind of immunity.

      2. TiffIf*

        My standard response to people who hock “natural remedy” crap and say “it’s all natural!” is “So is arsenic.”

  34. Meghan*

    Pretty sure that if this was a personal relationship, everyone would be saying, “Get out of there, he’s abusing you!” So… you know, the fact that its happening at work with higher ups is… not great.

  35. Professional Shopper*

    Having worked for a crazy yoga studio/school/nonprofit, I promise you that policing people’s food choices will drive them out of the office and into the McDonald’s dollar menu. Or worse, straight to an eating disorder.

    That place got rid of the microwave to prevent me from eating Lean Cuisines in our break room (where students/clients walked through to get to a classroom).

    The only reasonable thing is to ask that food be stored out of sight unless you’re eating it.

        1. Professional Shopper*

          They are full of CHEMICALS!!!

          I should’ve found the time (with my $11/hr paychecks) to make my own meals of fresh salads and vegan cheese or something.

  36. Mbarr*

    My mother used to work at a provincial public health agency. They didn’t mandate the meals/drinks people brought in for themselves, but for other things:
    – All food catered by the agency was “healthy”
    – All vending machines were stocked with healthy foods/beverages (e.g. no pop/juices/chocolates)
    – No one was allowed to bring in homemade treats to leave in the kitchens – but this was because part of the agency’s tasks included commercial kitchen inspections. Because home kitchens aren’t inspected by a health authority, food from them wasn’t allowed to be shared. (I think people were still allowed to share from their desk?)

    I also think it’s important to define what “healthy” food is. What’s healthy for one person isn’t healthy for another.

    1. Littorally*

      See, I’d like that. Genuinely healthy/filling foods in the vending machine would be fantastic, and so would meal choices that aren’t lousy hamburgers, lousy cheeseburgers, or lousy pizza. But let me choose them!

      1. JustaTech*

        One of my friends had an apple vending machine in high school and what I wouldn’t give for a vending machine of good apples! (No Red Delicious, please, but a decent selection of fuji and gala and honeycrisp, yes please!)

  37. Nonke John*

    Tell that program manager not to stress out over other people’s diets all the time; it causes hypertension, which isn’t good for you and is presumably off-brand.

  38. Elvis's Deep Fried Peanutbutter Banana Sandwich*

    Someone needs to sit the self-appointed Food Police down and tell them to STOP. If I had someone harassing me about what I buy/bring in to eat and nobody did anything about it, I’d 100% feel like the organization was enabling bullying.

    The Food Police are busybody jerks who need to be shut. down. and told the mission of your org is not to manage or judge the food others buy/bring to eat. It’s gross that this person spoke up about *being tired of policing other adults’ food choices in a meeting,* and instead of giving them a talking to, you’re writing in about enabling their ridiculous crusade.

    Spend org money on “healthy” (that is a loaded, meaningless word thanks to people like the Food Police) food is reasonable policy. But it is seriously screwed up that the Food Police are allowed to harass people like they apparently do. Stop that nonsense now.

    1. Deborah*

      I eat pretty healthy but I’d be tempted to drink a Coke and eat Cheetos right in front of them.

  39. Falling Diphthong*

    Reminder: The most convincing advocacy for your lifestyle choices is that you seem really happy and like someone people would want to emulate.

  40. Tirv*

    Wow just wow. Someone would try to monitor what I brought to the office to eat just once . I’d have no trouble telling them exactly where their lane was and how to stay in it. Perhaps bringing a “can of whoop-ass” for the next pot luck lol.

  41. bee*

    lol I work at a Jewish university and am currently eating a leftover pork and apple sausage (and some roasted veggies!) for lunch— if my employer doesn’t dictate what I bring, this place has zero standing.

    My office does pretty much what Alison recommends, for the record. Catering and events are kosher, and we have a special kosher mini fridge in the break room during the high holidays but you’re perfectly fine to bring in whatever you’d like for yourself or to share.

    1. Moira Rose*

      Unless you’re outside the States, you’re at my beloved alma mater!! Hi to Waltham from the Class of *mumbled long-ago year*!

    2. PT*

      Some Jewish orgs do prohibit pork on their grounds, though. And they can do that as a religious organization, legally.

      1. SimplytheBest*

        Yep, I work for a temple and we are not allowed to have pork or shellfish, with more restrictions during Passover. Which definitely has changed my eating habits some. But I (as a non Jewish person) have never felt policed at all. It’s just me being respectful of the space I am occupying.

        But this feels like a totally different thing from what the OP describes.

      2. fueled by coffee*

        This usually has to do with preserving the kosher status of equipment/kitchens/shared utensils, though, which comes down to competing needs of staff/patrons, rather than vague institutional values.

        Someone eating non-kosher food at their personal desk – no big deal. But if there’s a shared kitchen that is designated kosher so that observant Jewish staff can eat there, and someone uses the communal microwave to heat up their leftover BBQ pork, that microwave is suddenly no longer kosher and the kosher-keeping staff can’t use it until it’s cleaned. At a non-Jewish organization, an employee would just bring meals that don’t need to be microwaved and use their own utensils, but at a Jewish organization, the higher-ups can make decisions about the norms expected on the premises based on the knowledge that some portion of their staff keep kosher, and this is usually a complex analysis of how observant the institution is, how observant its members/employees typically are, and what rules are reasonable to request for people who *don’t* keep kosher to follow.

        So, for example, an Orthodox synagogue might strictly require only certified kosher food on the premises, for the comfort of their (presumably) religious Orthodox staff/members. This is in line with the organization’s values and the values of most of its staff. A pluralistic JCC, school, or nonprofit might compromise and say ‘no non-kosher meat’ (or maybe just ‘no pork’), but be more lenient about not requiring strict certification of vegetarian products since they can’t reasonably expect a majority or even a plurality of their staff to keep kosher. Or they might have a separate kosher microwave for their staff who are observant, and let their non-observant staff eat ham sandwiches to their hearts’ content.

  42. Falling Diphthong*

    They feel resentful for having to police people about food.

    Are employees/volunteers barging into the healthy cooking demonstrations with a plate of poutine and then making cow/orgasm noises while sloppily devouring it?

    If yes: Talk to their manager, but you can certainly say in the moment “This isn’t the place for that; please leave.”
    If no: They are wrong about having to police people. They can just let people be!

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I know that there’s a slash there.


      Now I’m just picturing cow orgasm noises and I don’t know that I’m happy I thought about it.

  43. Kesnit*

    There is no way to look at something and determine if it is “healthy enough.”

    I have T2 diabetes. Thanks to lots of diabetes cookbooks, we’ve found a lot of recipes for things that don’t look low carb, but are.

    Our nieces (ages 9 and 6) came down for Thanksgiving. We made chicken nuggets for dinner one night. They were breaded in almond flour and fried in canola oil. Very low carb and very tasty. But if you saw me eating them, you would think I was eating run-of-the-mill chicken nuggets with all the “horrible” carbs.

    Also for Thanksgiving, my wife made a diabetic-friendly pumpkin cheesecake and a pie made with low-carb pumpkin spice pudding. I topped them with sugar-free whipped cream. At first glance, I looked like I was risking a hospital trip by eating all of that. The reality is they barely touched my sugar.

    I go to the gym sometimes at lunch. Working out lowers my sugar, and there are times when it gets so low I feel it. What fixes that? Something sweet. (I like dried cranberries or raisins.)

  44. No!*

    The only comments on food should be if it inappropriately stinks the office out or someone has a allergy (one office could have oranges due to a co-workers allergy.

    The rest of the time it should be a policy it’s “none of anyone elses business”. Yes, even in a “health” company.

    1. TiffIf*

      A previous job had restrictions on just 2 foods-popcorn and pizza, because the smells carried so effectively.

      The job was in a library so they were also fairly strict about where you could eat and the employee break room was on a floor patrons didn’t have access to, but the popcorn and pizza smells carried further than even the microwave fish.

  45. Nethwen*

    Employers have no business interfering with their employee’s food choices.

    I suffered so much physical pain because of “healthy eating” recommendations. The whole “if you feel hungry, drink water” and “eat mostly vegetables” education, especially, were problematic for me. So, so many days with headaches so bad I could barely keep my eyes open and if I went more than 10 minutes without eating after I felt hungry, I could be miserable and operating at half speed for a week afterwards. I decided that taking pain meds most days of the week was not acceptable and figured out by experimentation what my body needed to feel good. Later, a registered dietician told me I was doing everything right, but since I was gaining excess fat weight, then I needed to either exercise x hours a day (yeah, I can do that – if I spend every waking minute exercising when I’m not at work) or eat y calories. I told her that from experience eating that few calories gave me headaches. She shrugged and said that it’s either that or add more exercise. I ignored her and found my own solutions. I would be incensed if my job started policing my food. If an RD doesn’t even have enough education to be helpful, there’s no way I’m bowing to the food dictates of an employer, even a health-adjacent one.

  46. anonymous73*

    No company has the right to tell people what they can and can’t bring to work to eat. You can offer healthy options when catering or within vending machines/kitchens, but that’s it. PERIOD.

  47. LuckyClover*

    I worked for a nutrition-centered non-profit and we NEVER had any sort of desire to implement food rules. Heck – sometimes we would order greasy pizza as a department (the horror), and we would even host monthly potlucks that sometimes would be themed healthy (soups / salads etc) and sometimes wouldn’t (childhood nostalgia foods etc).

    We also went on group walks and had walking challenges! But never in a judgy way.

    Because HEALTH isn’t about never getting to eat indulgent foods. A healthy lifestyle is the sum of all of the choices we make in a day/week/month, not a one-off cupcake for someone’s birthday.

  48. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I have a parallel example I’d be interested to hear thoughts on. My husband works for a Jewish organization that is both kosher and nut free. They employ a variety of non-Jewish or non-observant people. My husband has a hard time finding food he can eat during his limited break time on the premises. Is this still overreach or is it different because it’s a religious organization?

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Sounds like over reach to me. I think that a better solution would be to have a separate refrig and/or storage area for non-kosher.

      Is the nut free due to someone have a serious allergy or not. My ideas depend up that and how serious is the allergy.

      As a Catholic, there are certain seasons when we go meatless on Fridays, and I appreciate organizations that make it easy to do so. But if someone brought in a meat sandwich for themselves, no problem.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’m not positive if the nut-free thing is allergy related – I feel like he would know that if it were that serious? But I mentioned it more because it’s an extra restriction that limits what he can snack on for energy.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Our corp safety manager informed me that my allergies were protected health information and that he couldn’t share them with anyone. I said that was just freaking silly as knowledge of my allergies and where I keep my epinephrine injector could keep me alive.

          So…maybe, maybe not?

          1. LikesToSwear*

            They can’t say *you* are allergic, but they should be able to say “there is a known allergy issue” to keep people from pushing the boundaries.

            1. I'm just here for the cats*

              yeah, I see the point but this is a tricky situation. on the other hand if NotRealAnon had an allergic reaction and the safety manager wasn’t there would someone know what to do or what was happening? I guess it would be up to the individual (in this case NotRealAnon) to let their co-workers know about the allergy and where the epipen is.

        2. Observer*

          I feel like he would know that if it were that serious?

          Not at all. Smart HR are NOT discussing people’s health challenges with anyone but the person who has a challenge and the people who need to figure out accommodations. And, to be honest, if the place is generally reasonable, I would be VERY surprised if it were not allergy related. Because rules of this sort just tend to be an extra burden for the organization.

    2. NeutralJanet*

      Yeah, I think that’s different because there are strict guidelines as to what is and isn’t kosher, as opposed to some nebulous idea of “healthy”, and it does seem reasonable for a religious organization to require certain tenets of the religion to be followed, as long as that doesn’t actively discriminate against a protected category, like if your husband has some kind of medical condition that meant he could not eat kosher food during the day. Also, from what I understand, a strict kosher diet means that you can’t even eat food that was stored in the same refrigerator as non-kosher food, so it isn’t just a matter of people who keep kosher eating kosher food and people who don’t keep kosher eating whatever they like.

    3. DarthVelma*

      Ok, I have a problem with this one. If they hire non-Jewish and non-observant employees then I don’t think they have standing to tell them they must follow a diet based on religious restrictions while at work. I don’t like people forcing their religious beliefs on others. If keeping kosher isn’t so important to their mission that they’re allowed to discriminate and only hire observant employees, then I don’t see how they have a leg to stand on here.

      1. fueled by coffee*

        It’s not discrimination to require employees to only consume kosher food at a religiously-Jewish workplace. People who don’t keep kosher are perfectly capable of eating kosher food.

        Is it *annoying* to non-kosher keeping employees to have to abide by this policy? Sure. But there’s nothing preventing them from abiding by these rules. (Also, unless there’s a requirement that they stay on the premises during their lunch breaks, there’s also no issue with them going off-premises to eat a bacon cheeseburger if they want; the organization isn’t forcing anyone to keep kosher in their personal lives).

    4. fposte*

      I’d say the kosher standard is different not just because it’s religious but also because it’s an objective standard (and that it’s appropriate for the mission). The nut-free is presumably an accommodation for an allergic employee rather than a religious stand. But do they not have anyplace for him to store/heat food if he brings in kosher food? It’s true that it requires him to put in more effort (I’d probably go veggie and rely a lot on kosher cheese), but it’s unlikely to be more effort than his Jewish co-workers, so it’s not likely to be discriminatory unless they forbid him to bring food in at all.

    5. Moira Rose*

      He might not be able to store non-kosher food with his colleagues’ kosher food, and he certainly can’t use communal dishes etc, but your husband should be allowed to bring in the food he wants to bring in and eat it on disposable plates. If he needs to microwave it, to my recollection it’s pretty easy to kasher a microwave on the fly (just microwave a bowl of water and wipe down, but don’t trust me on this one). If it’s just cold food, he should be able to eat it at his desk without bothering anyone.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        He just keeps food in his (private) desk but I guess he can’t be seen with non-kosher food at his desk either.

        1. pancakes*

          This seems like a really important distinction to check on rather than guess at. It would be uncommonly strict for them to prohibit people from bringing non-kosher food on the premises. My experience with spaces like this is that the rules are more like, no non-kosher food in the kosher microwave. And a lot of kosher food is visually indistinguishable from non-kosher food.

          1. Observer*

            Yes, I agree. Because it’s not just uncommonly strict, it’s also extremely difficult – even given that Kosher does have well defined rules.

        2. LizB*

          So when you say non-kosher, do you mean everything he has at his desk has to be kosher-certified? Or does it just have to be not obviously unkosher? Many Jewish institutions require that people only have “kosher-style” food (no pork or shellfish, no foods with both meat and dairy) onto the premises, but if someone is eating in their own space on their own dishes, I’d be surprised if they required the food to be hechshered (certified). I think bacon cheeseburgers and shrimp tacos will likely always be a no-no, but most reasonable places aren’t going to police a turkey sandwich or a vegetarian casserole.

          1. fueled by coffee*

            I’m curious about whether this is an Orthodox (or more traditionally-oriented Conservative) organization or just a generic Jewish org, because I feel very differently about these situations. It seems extremely reasonable to me that an Orthodox Jewish organization would require everyone to only bring in strictly kosher food to work, similar to the PETA example — it’s literally part of the organization’s values.

      2. Observer*

        If he needs to microwave it, to my recollection it’s pretty easy to kasher a microwave on the fly (just microwave a bowl of water and wipe down, but don’t trust me on this one)

        Yeah, that’s one I hear a lot, and no, this is generally NOT acceptable.

    6. Lady_Lessa*

      This may be pushing it, but you can buy beef jerky that is Kosher, Glatt and Star K certified. If he likes it, it is a fast, high protein snack. (also expensive, though)

    7. Clisby*

      I’m not sure what you’re saying. Is your husband required to bring in only kosher, nut-free foods to eat at his break? Or is the organization saying the only things it will provide are kosher and nut-free? If it’s the first, I think the kosher part is overreach; the nut-free part might be necessary due to allergies. If it’s the second, of course the organization can decide what kinds of food it will provide.

    8. RagingADHD*

      Well, there is kosher-style as in “no forbidden animals or food combinations”, and there’s full-on kosher as in “must be prepared in a kosher kitchen, with kosher implements, on kosher dishes, by someone who is properly trained.”

      I think it is too onerous to require the second type, because it would preclude non-observant employees from bringing anything cooked at home. That’s not reasonable. Get a second fridge and use paper plates, and let folks bring their lunch. Besides, on that level, you’re really on the honor system. People are observant in different ways and different degrees, and it’s not as if every single religious Jewish person keeps a kosher kitchen in the strictest sense.

      The first type, kosher-style, isn’t really onerous at all. I mean, you may prefer a cheeseburger over a plain burger, or you may prefer pork over turkey, but it’s going to be a really, really rare edge case if someone can’t possibly eat anything except pork, cheeseburgers, and shellfish.

      And I’m sure someone will now weigh in that they are allergic to absolutely every edible substance except shrimp. In which case they should try invoking ADA reasonable accommodations and see how far they get. Maybe a longer lunch break.

  49. Lucy Skywalker*

    Don’t serve certain foods at work events- fine
    Don’t bring in certain foods to share with the office-fine
    Don’t bring in certain foods for your own lunch- not okay (unless there’s someone in the office with a food allergy that’s triggered by the food simply being in the same room, or something like that)

  50. NeutralJanet*

    I’m curious as to what consequences this workplace would enforce on someone who didn’t follow the healthy eating policy, if one was put into place! Would they actually be willing to discipline a good employee for having a cupcake on their birthday?

  51. Middle Name Jane*

    NO, absolutely not. Even if the employer is a health charity and they want to promote healthy eating habits. You don’t get to police your employees.

    You don’t know, for example, who might be struggling with an eating disorder. Judgments about what they are or are not eating can be damaging. Even if someone doesn’t have an eating disorder, it’s incredibly obnoxious to judge someone’s food choices.

  52. littledoctor*

    I’m a real sanctimonious bitch about healthy eating and even I think this is deranged. Literally any food, in moderation, can fit into a healthful diet, just as an excess of almost any food can be a major part of a detrimental diet. Additionally, some people have health situations. When I received chemotherapy it was a strict diet of plain buttered noodles (maybe with pesto) and potato chips, because it was something I could occasionally keep down.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I suffered from hyperemesis with both my pregnancies.

      One of the few things I could keep down was a baked potato with chili and cheese from Wendy’s. I ate it a lot, because I could keep it down, and I was at a point where I had to eat. One of my coworkers went squawking around to everyone about how unhealthy I was eating and how that just HAD to be bad for the baby, and she was SO concerned for me.

      She never brought it up to me? Also… was… was starving better for the baby? Said baby will be eight tomorrow and is healthy.

      1. Nikki*

        Gawd, I can’t stand people who act concerned but are really just interested in gossiping behind your back.

        I have a food allergy and the dining halls at my college were terrible about accommodating it. I ended up eating crummy scavenged meals of the random things I could eat. But SO MANY PEOPLE spread rumors about how I had an eating disorder instead.

        just, gross.

      2. turquoisecow*

        When I was pregnant I had trouble eating almost anything for the first four months but I could manage chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, so I ate that a lot. The dietician I was working with was like “if you can keep it down, eat it,” and also recommended lots of small snacks throughout the day to prevent my stomach from being too empty.

        There were about two months where I felt okay and then I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which brings about a whole host of dietary restrictions, some of which might not objectively be considered “healthy.”

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Just the audacity of minding anyone’s diet, especially a pregnant person’s. I’m the first to go “What do ya want? I’ll get it for you.” It’s miserable enough, I’m not going to raise an eyebrow at what anyone eats, especially someone in that situation.

  53. A Simple Narwhal*

    What is “healthy” is sooooo subjective! Trust adults to make their own decisions when it comes to food.

  54. Rich*

    I worked for many years for a company that provided addiction treatment and recovery-related services. They had a very clear policy that if you were representing the company (e.g. at an event/conference/etc. you attended in a professional capacity OR wearing an employee badge or other branded gear), drinking was forbidden. This was super reasonable, as the PR issues associated with pictures of our logos on sloshed people were serious.

    But it clearly stopped there. Employees’ personal lives were their personal lives. Our company mission was literally recovery and sobriety — and so staff had to live up to that when they were representing the company to clients or to the public. But if they weren’t representing the company to clients or the public, this highly-mission-driven employer knew it was none of their business.

    Your employees’ role is to further the mission. It’s not necessary for them to also be ‘customers’ of it.

  55. Moi*

    NO NO NO NO NO. For some people, high sugar high calorie foods ARE what their body needs. For some people, Ice cream and French fries ARE a healthy food. In addition, naming food as “good” or “bad” versus “eat often” and “eat sometimes” will be very dangerous for anyone with disordered eating.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      “In addition, naming food as “good” or “bad” versus “eat often” and “eat sometimes” will be very dangerous for anyone with disordered eating.”

      And I am currently experiencing this issue in reverse. , I’ve reached a point where I need to lose weight for health reasons. The hardest part isn’t changing my diet or exercise habits, but “unlearning” everything that I’ve read over the years about “it’s okay to be fat” and “healthy at any size” and “you’re fine just the way you are.” It took me some time to recognize that the advice is geared towards people with a medical issue (eating disorders) that I do not have and I will never have. See, I love to eat, and I get really cranky and hazy if I skip even one meal. In other words, I couldn’t be anorexic even if I tried; which of course is a good thing. But the reality is that my weight is at a point where my body is no longer in good shape and I have a host of medical problems that could be easily resolved if I lost weight.

      TL;DR: What is healthy to one person is unhealthy to another, which is exactly why the office shouldn’t be policing people’s personal food choices.

      1. Aquawoman*

        Health at any size is not geared toward people with eating disorders. It’s recognizing that healthy habits are healthy regardless of their effect on a person’s weight. Focusing on “losing weight” rather than “improve these habits” is counterproductive. Exercise is considered the healthiest thing for people and exercise does not lead to weight loss. So, people don’t lose weight and feel like it’s not working and stop.

        There is no evidence that weight causes bad health, only that they’re correlated. Also, weight protects people with certain health conditions (google “obesity paradox). When you put those together, it seems obvious to me that health issues cause weight gain, not that weight gain causes health issues.

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          You seem to really have it out for me just because I want to lose weight. Everyone who commented here is 100% in agreement that it’s not okay for an organization to monitor or judge their employees’ diet and exercise choices. All I ask is that you do the same for me.

          1. Jean*

            They have it out for you? Where? Health at every size just means that anyone of any size can practice health-positive behaviors. It has nothing to do with ED therapy.

          2. pieces_of_flair*

            Why are you attacking the previous poster for correcting the misinformation you are spreading about the Health at Every Size movement? No one has it in for you for wanting to lose weight; your comment was just sizeist and, well, wrong. It’s bizarre to me that you had to “unlearn” that it’s ok to be fat when the dominant cultural message is exactly the opposite. I want to live in your world!

            1. Lucy Skywalker*

              Okay, so I was wrong about HAES. I stand corrected.
              However, “There is no evidence that weight causes bad health, only that they’re correlated. Also, weight protects people with certain health conditions (google “obesity paradox). When you put those together, it seems obvious to me that health issues cause weight gain, not that weight gain causes health issues” is borderline criticizing me for wanting to lose weight.

              1. yala*

                I…don’t see how?
                It’s not even remotely a statement about you. It’s just stating that the medical field often falls into the trap of correlation=causation, and it doesn’t.

                If you want to lose weight, no one here expressed any problem with that.

                It’s just that the tendency for *doctors* to assume correlation=causation with weight and health problems is something that literally gets people killed. I’ve lost count of the number of folks who have said that they had to go to multiple doctors to get treatment for an injury or health issue that their first doctor wrote off as being weight-related when it wasn’t.

                Weight gain may cause health issues, but it’s just as likely for health issues to cause weight gain, and it’s important for a person to know which is which for their own body, because if it’s the latter, then losing weight isn’t going to treat the underlying health issue.

                The idea of HAES and the overall discussion here is that no one should be commenting on anyone’s food choices, or on the shape of their body, or weight gain or loss, especially in a work setting.

                1. Lucy Skywalker*

                  “The idea of HAES and the overall discussion here is that no one should be commenting on anyone’s food choices, or on the shape of their body, or weight gain or loss, especially in a work setting.”

                  And clearly we’re all in agreement there.
                  I support everyone’s right to eat and/or manage their weight however they want. All I was saying is that programs that may be helpful to certain people are counterproductive to me. Nothing wrong with that.

      2. I need tea*

        I’m sure you don’t realise this, but “I couldn’t be anorexic even if I tried” is quite a dangerous statement! A lot of people have misconceptions about eating disorders, but these misconceptions can really make it harder for people who are suffering to access treatment and validation. Plenty of anorexics love to eat and get cranky and hazy really quickly – as one of the most famous authors of a book about eating disorders wrote, “some people who are obsessed with food become gourmet chefs. Others become eating disorders”. Anorexia is a mental illness that can happen to anyone, at any age and in any body (atypical anorexia, where the patient is not underweight and may be overweight, is actually more common than “typical” anorexia where the patient is underweight), regardless of how much they like food and regardless of things like weight. I’m not going to tell you not to try intentional weight loss, it’s your body and your choice, but if you think you’re immune to a restrictive eating disorder, you may well not pick up on the signs if your eating becomes more disordered, and you may not pick up on the signs if a loved one who enjoys food develops a restrictive eating disorder. 70% of women have disordered eating according to some statistics – I would really hate to see you or anyone else end up in a worse state of health especially through trying to make positive changes to their life.

      3. biobotb*

        Huh, it’s news to me that HAES is only geared toward people with eating disorders. The impression I got was that it means that whatever one’s weight, one can maximize one’s health (including mental health), even if the diet and behaviors that do so don’t lead to weight loss. Finding self-acceptance and self-esteem, and prioritizing healthy diet and behaviors (whatever that looks like for an individual) irrespective of weight loss seem like good goals. Not lessons I personally would want to unlearn.

          1. M*

            I think a lot of people with disordered eating patterns (current or formerly) are fans of HAES, because it separates health from weight, takes away the moral judgment of being fat, and can help people find peace and happiness with themselves. At least that’s a lot of what I see happening online, and I can see how you’d extrapolate from that that it’s aimed at ED recoverers..

            1. Lucy Skywalker*

              Thank you.
              As I have several issues that are a direct result of carrying around extra weight, HAES is not for me. So it makes sense for me to unlearn it.

  56. Jennifer*

    “They feel resentful for having to police people about food.”

    And yet…? No one asked them to? So they’re creating problems for themselves?

  57. x*

    Gross. So much of what society deems “healthy” is just perpetuating disordered eating. Not to mention it demonizes foods common in many cultures. Think about what this employee is suggesting. What would be the consequence of violating the policy? Would you fire someone because they brought food that they consider unhealthy? That’s ridiculous. I would start looking for a new job if my employer and coworkers were policing my personal diet. For what it’s worth, I also work for a health promoting organization and we would never force diet culture (and that is what you’re describing) on employees or the people we serve. If this employee is worried about optics because they are telling people to never eat certain foods or worse, shaming people for what they eat, your organization is part of a much bigger problem.

  58. CatCat*

    I worked at a place that coordinated with a local CSA to offer CSA box pick-ups at the office. The CSA also offered some basic prep/cooking classes at the office location. The CSA had a “snack box” as one option with fruits and nuts that could keep in an office. I always thought that was a cool offering.

    1. Daffodilly*

      It is a cool offering!
      I am 100% in favor of companies *offering* things like this.
      I am 100% against companies *enforcing* “healthy” anything on people.

  59. Ro*

    Aside from the obvious, adults should be allowed to make their own food choices good or bad, who gets to decide what is healthy? What about different food needs? E.g neurodivergent people who can only stand some textures, diets followed for religious regions (Kosher, Halal etc), or health needs and health needs can be more complex than caeliacs, allergies etc.

    Working on the extreme end I was once told by a doctor to drink half a pint of Guiness twice a day as the easiest way to fix an issue I was having (Guiness is a beer not sure if it exists in America), it was a genuine reccomendation due to my health issues at the time which I don’t want to go into here. Most people would consider having a beer with your lunch inappropriate but I had a doctors note (I was 18 and in school- though above the drinking age in the UK) and it was allowed (unrelated but having a signed doctors note allowing you to drink beer in school makes you seem really cool at 18).

    There are also health conditions which require caffeine to manage, (as well as ones which require the person to avoid caffeine), people are complicated and if you decide what is healthy for everyone when everyone has different needs you potentially open yourself up to legal issues from people forced to disclose medical issues.

    Plus even without the extreme cases (which you might not come across), an adult should be allowed to have unhealthy food in moderation (and even if it isn’t moderation it isn’t your buisness).

  60. Kay*

    Ugh, just leave people alone and let them eat in peace! I suffer from chronic migraines, and sometimes the only thing that dulls the pain is a cold can of Coke. (And before anyone says anything – no, cutting out caffeine does not help! I’ve done it! I promise, I have tried just about everything.) I used to have a coworker who liked to lecture me about how bad it was to drink pop, and it was so frustrating. Let people handle their own diets.

    1. Nikki*

      The worst!

      I have a genetic disorder that causes chronic pain and I also like to indulge in a can of soda. Whenever people give me a hard time about it, I point out that I have bigger fish to fry (10+ daily medications, 10+ specialists on my medical team) and that cutting out soda is highly unlikely to cure my genetic disorder, lol. It’s not that I feel the need to justify, I just like the look on people’s faces when they’re forced to consider that maybe Coke isn’t causing me to be a mutant. ;)

      Also: I’d love to see the sanctimonious people who preach about “healthy habits” try managing a chronic illness for a month. It’s a part-time job just living in this body.

  61. Quickbeam*

    I think any place that has booze related events (a leading cause of death, disability and accidents) has no room to critique the eating habits of others.

  62. It's Me*

    The company I work for implemented a healthy eating program about 3 years ago. We have 2 cafeterias and a c-store on site. They removed all the junk food (candy, chips, soda, etc) from purchase. Replaced white bread with wheat, reduced portion sizes (also reducing cost to match the portion size). We can still bring our own snacks/lunches.

    Some people liked this, some did not. Some people brought their own 24pack of soda to their desks (not drinking it all in a day but to have when they wanted).

    When I plan meetings and use catering, I no longer use the in-house caterer. Depending on who’s attending, I stop and pick up a 6pack of Diet Coke (I am familiar with some of our leadership and VP preferences) and add them to the ice bath. I sneak in afternoon snack with “contraband” (sweets and the like).

    They did this in hundreds of our offices around the US. No idea if they implemented this in our offices overseas.

    My take? Let us eat what we want to and chose for ourselves. If we had a really stressful day and need a Snickers and a Coke, let us go down to the c-store and get it. Instead, we now have to leave campus and drive to a pharmacy or other store to get it.

  63. Charlton Heston's Ghost*

    Wait until these loons find out that Soylent Green is people. IT’S PEEEEEEEOPLLLLLEEEEEEE

  64. Alice*

    I bet that that program manager is very effective at building relationships with the people/patients served by this organization /s

  65. Amtelope*

    Nope nope nope. Especially to “we should all be living our healthiest selves,” and therefore giving up birthday cupcakes. Sometimes health-focused organizations need to be reminded that optimizing nutrition is not the only goal of eating food. It’s okay to eat birthday cake because it tastes good. It doesn’t have to be the most nutritious food you could have put in your body at that moment.

    1. darcy*

      yeah, i recently quit being vegan because i realised i was following the rules in a very restrictive way and it was sucking the joy out of food for me. food is important to me and i want to eat food that makes me happy!

  66. Atalanta0jess*

    “how to institute a workplace healthy eating policy that is respectful and non-judgmental”

    The way is this: Don’t.

    There is no way to control what people eat that is respectful and non-judgemental. There is no way to control what people eat that isn’t ableist and classist.

  67. Arrrghh*

    This made me so mad as a person in recovery for an eating disorder. 1) it’s none of your effing business what I eat, 2) there is no such thing as a universal “good” diet, 3) why is healthiness a moral value? Why is a “healthy” person better as a human being than an “unhealthy” person? Oh right, classism and white supremacy.

    1. Sabina*

      Yeah, if you want the “healthiest ” work force possible just fire everyone who is over 35 or has a disability. Heck, why stop there. Fire anyone who has parents or grandparents with a health condition that runs in families. Also, no dangerous sports or hobbies allowed during non-working hours. It would be good too to inspect employees homes for health and safety concerns. OK, I’ll stop now…

    2. Betty Boop*

      I’ve never heard anyone say that healthiness is a moral value in the sense that unhealthy habits are evil or sins that will send you to hell or anything like that. I think the reason why companies want their employees to be healthy is so they’ll have to pay less in health insurance.
      Glad that you are in recovery.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      Me too! (Although I never got diagnosed, I definitely exhibited a lot of signs and definitely without a doubt had a disordered relationship with food and exercise for a long time.)

      If you need me, I’ll be eating a slice of homemade pumpkin bread. Not today, brain weasels. Not today.

  68. Sara without an H*

    I remember the first time this letter was posted. The comment thread was lengthy and a resounding NO. (Or F*** NO, if you want to get technical.)

    Did we ever hear back from the OP on this one? I’m curious to know how it turned out.

  69. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

    Literally said “Oh HELL no” when I saw this question. Other than the PETA example, and maybe the company bringing in healthy food for events/having healthy options in the vending machines or whatever, this is not their business. I’d probably go on an all cake and pie diet for lunch out of sheer spite if my company tried to tell me what I could and could not eat. F that noise!

  70. MistOrMister*

    My head would fall off if my workplace tried to dictate what food I could bring in. Just….bonkers

  71. MEH Squared*

    I remembered this from the first time it was printed and it hasn’t gotten better with time. I’m GF/DF and have sensitivities to several other foods. I’m a grown-ass person who has a firm grip on what I can and cannot eat. I don’t need anyone at my work to think they know better than I do what is good for me or ‘healthy’.

    In addition, never in the history of ever has someone’s mind been changed by being lectured and hectored as to what they *should* be eating.

    1. Nikki*

      There should be a karmic rule that anyone who lectures a chronically ill or disabled person about their eating habits should have to follow all of that person’s lifestyle restrictions for like… a month.

      Wanna judge me on what I eat? Cool, you have 1-hour medical appointments twice a week and also you need to take these 30 pills every day or you’ll feel like someone hit you with a brick. If you cry about it, your eyes will swell shut. Good luck!

      1. MEH Squared*

        I agree. One time, I bought a box of regular elbow macaroni instead of gluten-free and did not notice until I had to spend six hours on and off (mostly on) on the toilet. So when people ask me if I miss eating ‘normal’ foods (such as pasta and pastries), I say not one bit because I know what will happen later on!

    2. Betty Boop*

      “In addition, never in the history of ever has someone’s mind been changed by being lectured and hectored as to what they *should* be eating.”

      Unless the person lecturing them is a nutritionist who they’ve specifically paid to do just that.

  72. Dancing Otter*

    I once worked for a client in the food and beverage industry. They forbade their chief competitor’s brand of soda. Fair enough, I guess. (I just poured mine into a big insulated water bottle before getting there.)
    Then they decided anything from the fast food franchise across the street would be forbidden, because they only served the wrong brand.
    People who used to grab their lunch and bring it back to eat at their desks switched to taking their full lunch breaks in order to eat at the restaurant. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  73. Orora*

    Ironically, I just saw this after an appointment with my dietician.

    Abso-effing-lutely not. This good/bad food dichotomy is triggering AF for those of us who already have eating disorders. DO NOT DO THIS!

  74. Daisy-dog*

    I worked somewhere that banned energy drinks. Everyone suddenly invested in those extra tall, insulated tumblers. Yes, the director would make people pour it out if she smelled it.

    Skipping over the problematic parts of defining “healthy” and why it’s even necessary for people to be “healthy” – people will find ways around it. If it is strictly policed, morale will suffer.

    1. LikesToSwear*

      I’m petty enough I would ask my doctor to write a letter saying I needed energy drinks. I only drink one per day, but that’s not my employer’s business.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      mentioning the tumblers makes me think about one “policy” they MIGHT be able to get away with. If their health services is say, reducing sugar or something (IDK?) I could see not having soda bottles sitting where clients could see. Or not having big mack wrappers laying where clients would be able to see (Like at the front desk have a no food policy and drinks have to be in tumblers.)

  75. Kim S*

    Feels like if your coworkers can’t convince their own coworkers to eat healthier, maybe they need to work on their messaging XD

    Mostly joking. Sort of. But I don’t know any dietitian that would say that “eating healthy” means NEVER having cupcakes or cookies or whatever. So a prohibition on desserts for health reasons wouldn’t really be supportable by evidence either.

  76. El l*

    Tell them:

    “We don’t pay our people enough to police their diet. We can’t even afford to pay some of our people, period! Not only are we not a Peta, we’re not even Premier League soccer players or K-Pop stars here (where they agree to highly intrusive rules because it leads to better job performance in a highly competitive environment).

    If you choose to ‘live our brand’, and to do so all the time and without cheat days, that’s fine and your choice. But fundamentally we pay them to work, not to take vows.”

  77. Oh please don’t*

    Lots and lots and lots of people have complicated dietary restrictions that they have a right to keep private if they wish. Personally, I have a rare disease no one has ever heard of that means that most “healthy” foods are off limits to me except for fruits and veggies. You can’t live on fruits and veggies alone, so foods that your office would probably like to ban are sometimes the only way I can get through a day without starving. Food situations are stressful and isolating enough when you have dietary restrictions, especially restrictions you constantly have to explain because no one has ever heard of it, without having your personal packed lunch analyzed or banned. Could someone in my situation get a medical accommodation? Sure. But they absolutely shouldn’t have to, and I could tell you right now that I’d be immediately looking for a new job if my work implemented this.

    1. Oh please don’t*

      Also, dietary restrictions aside, as someone with an eating disorder this could cause my mental health to suffer immensely and make every work day incredibly distressing. I beg of you to let people live!

  78. FrivYeti*

    So, I have extremely strong feelings about this.

    I think there are several dozen very good entries for why it is bad for a company to police their employees’ food choices at the best of times, so I’m going to dive in on the second layer here that I feel may have been overlooked:

    If you are a health charity that focused on a chronic disease, it is WORSE to police eating habits than if you are somewhere else, because that means that you are displaying negative judgement of your clients based on choices that are tangentially related to their conditions and enforcing those negative judgements at an organizational level.

    There are certainly food choices that are better or worse for specific health conditions, but that varies a lot by person, there is no such thing as a 1 to 1 correlation, and a lot of people are going to come in who eat things that you’ve decided are “bad”. And you are going to be shaming those people for their diets, and they are the people that you should be helping. This isn’t a case of banning smoking at a lung cancer clinic. Food is not that direct. The absolute last thing that you should want is to be creating the impression that you think people have gotten sick because of their own bad choices.

  79. Faith the twilight slayer*

    I’ll be honest, the moment my workplace attempted to dictate my diet would trigger the most spectacular resignation in the history of jobs.

  80. Dogs rule Cats*

    First, it starts with monitoring their food. What’s next? Monitoring their weight? Not hiring overweight people? That’s a darn slippery slope. Alison is right in her response.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      I worked in one office that ran Weight Watchers. And they did group weigh-ins. I didn’t participate.

  81. I'm just here for the cats*

    these types of people make me so mad. Why do you think its ok to scrutinize what people are eating. I agree with all of alison’s suggestions (no soda machines, have healthy snacks available, healthy meals for catered events etc). However there should never be a lunch police. This is how people can start having disordered eating and negative food thoughts.

    This really ticks me off because I struggle with my weight (double whammy of needed medicine causes weight gain and hormonal issues). One time at a former job I had gone out to lunch and brought it back to finish at my desk. I treated myself to a Frappe from the coffee shop down the street. When I got to my desk by cubical partner looked over and said a very snarky “Thats really healthy” Like I was guzzling frapes with whipped cream 3 times a day or something. He was a big health nut (This also explains why some of the others would tease him at pot lucks about getting stuff at the local Food Co-Op.he only ate organic, no sugar, etc. and would make comments about food at pot lucks ) . I was relatively new and even though he was saying it in a joking manner I had never seen him act or say anything like that before. It really threw me for a loop and made me really self conscious about food at work.

  82. WFH with Cat*

    “They run a program that covers healthy eating and cooking … and they feel resentful for having to police people about food.”

    The short answer is they don’t have to police people about food.

    The longer answer is what Alison said.


  83. Jay*

    My father (b 1933) was a cardiologist and was very active in the American Heart Association at the local and state levels, so my mother followed along and became a local volunteer. Dad quit smoking in the early 1960s. Mom stuck with it until the mid-1980s. Well before she quit, Dad told her she absolutely could not smoke at Heart Association events and she agreed.

    Mom was a team player up to a point but she drew the line at “heart healthy” food for breakfast. For a few years they both had to attend regular breakfast meetings. The Heart Association always chose low-fat and low-salt food and since this was the 1980s there was a plethora of oat bran. The week before each meeting, Mom would call the venue and have a private chat with the coordinator or the chef. Sometimes a nice bottle of wine was involved. She then happily ate bacon and eggs while everyone else was eating grapefruit and bran muffins, and drank her regular coffee with cream while they had decaf with skim milk.

    I miss my mother.

  84. Teresa D*

    What’s next, not hiring anyone who isn’t a fitness guru? Fat people discrimination? Who’s to say healthy eating is the end-all of disease?

    I work for a health-care company that supports healthy lifestyles, but monitoring and dictating someone’s diet is wrong.

  85. Stormy Weather*

    This is a big eff no. I wouldn’t work at a place that had a policy regarding what I could eat on my own dime. It’s invasive, it’s classist, it’s racist, it’s sexist.

    I could rant, but I’m too furious to articulate my anger right now. Plus I’d have to cut out all the swearing.

  86. Pam Poovey*

    OMG. No. NO NO NO. What needs to happen is a stern conversation with those employees about how they have NO BUSINESS policing what anyone else eats, and that doing so repeatedly could be tantamount to harassment.

  87. Bethie*

    Here’s the thing about this that bothers me – I have some crazy food “allergies” (I wont die but my stomach will be in hella pain) to eggs, bananas, peanut butter, certain organic vegan protein shakes, etc. I work out 4 days a week and watch what I eat – but I take meds that make my life happier (and my waistline bigger). So, people who like to monitor food and others people weight can screw off. I dont look like I work out or eat right, but I do. I would be mad if someone saw me eating ice-cream (that I calculated the calories for in my daily intake) and judged me to be unhealthy.

  88. generic_username*

    I can’t with people who try to push “healthy” eating. What is healthy for one person isn’t healthy for everyone so there is no one type of healthy food. Yes, there are foods that are generally better for you (for example, no one would argue that Pop Tarts are healthier than an apple) but sometimes it’s a grey area (Is red meat good for you because it’s high in protein and Paleo? Or is it too high in cholesterol and fats? Is an apple healthy because it’s a natural fruit? Or is it too much sugar to be healthy? I could go on and on).

  89. zebra*

    I worked in consulting for a bit and one of our clients was a regional healthcare provider. They had rules about what kinds of foods could be included in company catering for events. People were mostly fine with sparkling waters instead of sodas and boring grilled chicken quinoa salads or whatever for lunch. But we did some events there when the powers that be had recently decided that cookies could not be purchased with company budget, and there was nearly a revolt. People put up SUCH a fuss about the cookies that the managers simply decided it was worth it to pay out of their own pockets for cookies at every event, rather than deal with 85% of their staff bitching about no cookies every single time. So the caterers had to prepare invoices and bill separately for cookies every time, and the managers all had to use their own money for it, rather than management simply allowing people to eat cookies with their quinoa salads. Let people eat what they want to eat!

    1. UKDancer*

      My previous company decided that they wouldn’t provide coffee and biscuits on training courses any more. Their in house training was not the most amazing ever but most people were happy to go if they got biscuits and coffee. Once the company decided to remove the inducement, people stopped going and the evaluations of the training absolutely tanked. The irony is these really weren’t expensive biscuits and the company was in no way in financial difficulties, they just decided that they could cut the costs. It cost them a lot more in goodwill than they made in savings.

  90. What She Said*

    I 100% get the idea but again it needs to be within reason. I used to work at a gym that had no break room. I was not a morning person and often ran to McDonalds for breakfast before my shift and would eat in the office while setting up. Yep, the smell lingered and I had a talking to. Either eat outside where they can’t see you or only eat healthier foods inside and definitely do not throw the bad away inside. Lesson learned.

  91. Sam*

    I have low blood pressure episodes that I usually manage with sports drinks or electrolyte powders. But some days I don’t have any with me, and the likelihood of this is compounded by the fact that low blood pressure causes brain fog, so I might forget my drink on the day that I need it most! My best solution on those days is to stuff my face with chips for salt and soft drinks for sugar. It’s far far healthier (both long and short term) than making my heart beat at 105 all day and depriving my brain of glucose. ‘Healthy’ food is very personal.

  92. Ori*

    Your employees don’t have to police people’s food. They are *choosing* to police other people’s food, and it’s a reportable overstep IMO. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that they are ‘resentful’ about the fact that that they ‘have’ to ‘police’ (bully people about) their food choices.

    1. RagingADHD*

      I agree that it’s an overstep, but reportable to whom? The question is about the organization itself setting policy (or not). If the leadership is indecisive — or still debating — about the possibility of setting such a policy, HR isn’t likely to take counter-complaints from people who want to eat chips or cupcakes very seriously.

      It also doesn’t sound like whatever policing or “bullying” might be going on now is particularly stringent or invasive, since apparently none of the line staff or volunteers are paying any attention to it, and continue bringing in whatever they want to eat (as they should do).

  93. RagingADHD*

    I can’t remember who said it (maybe Michael Pollan?) but the best adage I ever saw about “healthy” food was:

    Food can’t be healthy or unhealthy. Living things — plants, animals– can be healthy or unhealthy. When you eat something, it is dead. If something is food, it is by definition no longer “healthy.”

    Food can be more or less nutritious, or more or less wholesome, but those are sliding scales, and sometimes a decision matrix. It’s never a binary.

  94. Calamity Janine*

    it’s a very good thing Alison is answering these questions and not me. because if left to my own devices, i would have just said

    “wow, i thought only individuals got diagnosed with orthorexia, not entire offices or companies! this is a landmark case for corporate personhood!”

    seriously though, people having eating disorders – and not wanting to be forced to disclose that, or publicly seen as The Exception Who Eats Junk Food in the workplace – is immediately the top objection i thought of. if people at this non-profit were willing to gloss over not just this, but innumerable other reasons why this is a bad idea, let me be blunt: they’re not good at their jobs. if the letter writer swings by here and happens to read this… well, if y’all ever feel like your goals are stalling, you can’t simply reach the people you want for this charity work, and you don’t know how to get people to listen? yeah, you’ve got people who can’t run through some basic possibilities of Maybe People Aren’t All Exactly Like Me around, and they are spectacularly unwilling to consider how other people have different lives.

    there are many places this idea should have died. blowing past them gets you a different nasty -ism nearly every single time. no thought for those with restricted diets for medical reasons that may end up looking “junky”? that’s a paddlin’ i mean that’s some ableism (as is the rebuttal of “they can just tell us” – the person with the restricted diet does NOT need to do a song and dance for you, revealing medical details, just so YOU can judge them as valid as a coworker! you ain’t their doctor, and people with chronic illness deserve privacy too!). no thought for those who have a different diet for religious reasons? that’s some religious bigotry you got right there. no thought for those who have a different diet for cultural reasons? oh yeah babeyyyy, take a look at that big ol’ honkin’ spectre of racism rising off the horizon like it’s the end of evangelion!!!

    you can just keep going and going and going…

    i’ll be honest. it also shows that worrying too much about “optics” here is going to mean bad charity work. you know what’s a great way to get people to ignore your message? …if it’s done with a smug sneer. sanctimonious sermons from the holier-than-thou turn people off *fast*. and with good reason. it becomes deeply insincere. i realize that the other way it can also come off as insincere – not practicing what one preaches – but it is a balancing act of showing vulnerability and humanity. that’s what other people connect with and find meaningful! and this is a danger i would be especially keen to notice if i was doing any sort of client-facing work. making the daring assumption that this is in america – well, we have a cultural thing against charity. we focus on the individual, the american dream of working hard on one’s lonesome, and less about relying on that community. the clients coming to a charity for help are probably already dealing with quite a lot of shame. even simply putting that much effort into a polished and perfect appearance… well, that can be so intimidating that people won’t reach out for help. whatever help the charity can give has to now be measured against an even harsher blow of feeling completely inadequate. good charity work should not be co-conspirators with the voice in the heads of their clients, going “but they can do all this flawlessly – why can’t *i*? why am i broken? why am i defective?! if i’m innately wrong and bad, i don’t deserve this help…”

    this is aside from how the mind, like muscles, can be trained. the more you do something, the more likely you are to do it, as the more practice you get in. right now, these charity employees are using their club to strengthen those muscles that they use to… feel like they have the right and the duty to police everyone’s food intake, and to shame those that do not comply with their standards.

    …again, it’s a charity. this is not training the muscle of being charitable. this is getting into a habit that will firmly drive people away from said charity, and write it off as all sanctimony and no substance.

    jinkies, scoob!

    is your charity there to actually make things better, or just give you an excuse to judge others and gloat about what idiots your clients are? because these folks are wanting to tilt the scales one way, and i hope that it’s the opposite way of what was intended.

    dearest letter writer, the only response you should give to this insane request is to tell them firmly no, remind them that they should not bully or harass their coworkers and they are not entitled to the medical information from their coworkers to justify that snickers bar, and that this judgement of theirs – as they blow past several sensitive subjects you have taken pains to show are important to consider in this line of work – makes you concerned for their behavior as a worker in this charity; it is *so* blatantly irresponsible and out of line that they have lost some of your esteem.

    then print out several helpful little sheets about disordered eating and orthorexia, and put them in the break room as a little reminder about how the holidays are stressful for everyone so it’s a perfect time to stop and consider your mental health.

  95. Aeon*

    This brings back flashbacks about the Weight Watchers evangelist of a manager who used to inform me (unsolicited, of course) what the points counts on all of my lunches were. I didn’t ask, didn’t know which point count represented a “good” one, and honestly, didn’t much care. All it did make me resent and dislike them more than I already did. Which is a reaction that OP’s colleagues can expect in spades if this is not shut down.

    If the OP’s colleagues actually want to get into monitoring people’s diets, they’re opening up a bigger can of worms than they seem to be realizing. Like what the employees can afford to eat. Which may be less than what the sanctimonious colleagues expect. What kind of food access do those colleagues have? Because food deserts are a big thing that can affect someone’s ability to meet employer-approved diet plans. What kind of food they grew up eating and feel comfortable with also can play a role. And the health conditions that may be driving their nutritional choices are a factor, too. Like emotional eating, eating disorders and other chronic medical conditions which can affect people’s weight and appearance in unexpected ways. Speaking of weight, I’m also hoping that this initiative is not heading in a fat-shaming direction, but the entire thing is so tone deaf that I don’t think we can count that out as a motivation.

    And all of these are issues that a competent HR would frown on an employer trying to nose around in. Where is your HR in this? Because if they are not aware of this, they should be.

  96. Reluctant Manager*

    There is no such thing as healthy food–at least, not after it’s removed from wherever it grew. Animals, plants, rivers, ecosystems, appetites, self-esteem… All these things can be healthy. Food, diet, exercise, etc. cannot be healthy or unhealthy. They can contribute to or detract from the health of a person, but they cannot *be* healthy. Food can be nutritious, but that is not the same thing.

    This may sound like splitting hairs, but this idea that “health” is a property that can somehow be measured and assessed or somehow attributed to non-living things leads to the impression that it is the input rather than the outcome that is more or less healthy. When they start thinking that these inanimate things are healthy, people feel entitled or obligated to police them. What they’re not saying is that they actually want to police people’s bodies and their behavior.

    Every dietician I’ve ever worked with (and there have been lots) emphasizes adding more nutritionally rich foods, because starting with restriction is not a successful strategy.

    More carrot. No stick.

  97. pcake*

    The truth is that you can’t be the food police, because people have such different needs and heath issues. Before I go further into that, I want to mention that all the “healthy food police” I’ve met and dealt with follow fads and beliefs about food that aren’t actually healthy at all, and they tend to be the most vocal.

    Healthy eating for someone with diabetes or digestive issues (IBS and GERD, for example) will be radically different from a person who runs or bicycles a lot, someone who is sedentary; vegetarians and vegans have different diets, and then there’s people who need to eat or cut out certain foods for medical reasons. And let’s not forget about food allergies and sensitivities. A food that’s considered healthy by most might give someone a rash, terrible pain or put them in the hospital.

    Btw, as a vegetarian diabetic who is severely sensitive to wheat and eats a low salt diet, and has problems with acids in things like tomatoes that can cause serious pain, no one can or should tell me what to eat. My doctor and dietician have approved this diet. And several food police have tried to tell me what I should be eating.

    I would leave a job quickly that tried to tell me what I could and couldn’t eat, and I would have done so before I had these issues because it’s extremely intrusive. I get paid to work, and that’s what I do. I don’t work for a company that wants to pretend to be my lifestyle coach.

    1. raida7*

      I’ll add to this – if I didn’t get hired and sign something stating that the company’s persona is something I have to live and breathe at work, then I’m going to do my job, not try to look and sound like a mascot

  98. CommanderBanana*

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

    You can’t. There is no such policy.

  99. lilsheba*

    This is just a big giant NO. A workplace does not dictate what I eat, or lecture me about what I eat. nonononononono.

  100. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    It was people telling me what I should and shouldn’t eat that caused me to nearly expire from anorexia all those years ago. Limiting my food now tips me straight back into that mindset – yeah I’m fat, I’m of extremely limited mobility, but I’m gonna eat what my body needs or my mind needs.

    Which at the moment is red meat and a lot of salt. My iron and sodium levels are through the floor…

    1. lilsheba*

      Me too. I’m overweight and my mobility is terrible now, I’m officially disabled. I didn’t used to be like that but it’s gone downhill since a hernia surgery almost 4 years ago. I don’t know what the deal is but my dr only focuses on the fact that I’m overweight and doesn’t help me with the mobility issues and pain and fatigue I deal with every day.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh god yes, the old ‘we’re not gonna treat your pain until you go jogging and lose some weight’ when it’s literally impossible to do that. I had to switch a lot of doctors before I found one who’ll actually treat issues without bringing up my weight.

  101. A Kate*

    The very notion that being your “healthiest self” means never eating a cupcake or cookie is absurd on its face. If I had to look forward to the rest of my life only ever eating the perfect fuel for my physical cells at any given moment, to the exclusion of foods that bring joy/cultural significance/just plain taste good, I would NOT be my healthiest self, because I’d be depressed about treating myself as purely a body.

    There’s a reason we don’t just eat nutritionally perfect sludge like in the movie Brazil. We aren’t just machines that require specific fuel; it’s all a lot more complicated than that. It sounds like the people pushing for this company policy are less interested in “health” and more interested in diet culture. Hard pass.

  102. Luthage*

    Employers should never make medical decisions for their employees. Diet is a medical decision. Saying that everyone can or should eat only specific things is incredibly ableist.
    There are a number of health conditions that a standard “healthy diet” would actually be dangerous for. It would cause me a lot of pain and likely a trip to the ER.

  103. raida7*

    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.

    Yeah, no.
    It’s a job, and unless every person hired signed an agreement that the brand comes first in their personal choices – no.
    How about *actual* healthy approaches to food which is cupcakes shouldn’t be huge and shouldn’t be eaten everyday – not that cupcakes shouldn’t be enjoyed.
    Honestly if this place encourages an unhealthy relationship with food – where there are ‘bad’ foods and people eat ‘wrong’ then I’d be pushing back even harder to encourage management to foster a healthy, thoughtful and enjoyable environment. It is NONE of their business what someone else eats unless it is a) an allergen or b) stinks.

    I would, however, support a policy of “Chips, coke, cake, burgers at work are not to be visible from publicly accessible locations.” also I don’t mind “you can’t eat at your desk” policies where you want desks, keyboards, mice, etc to not have crumbs or grease on them – any shared spaces, for example, shouldn’t have people eating at them.

  104. Autumn*

    Please do NOT institute “healthy eating policies” it’s not appropriate and it will be resented by some of your employees.

    You can institute policies about what foods and drinks are served to clients and the public, you can ask that people in public/client facing roles do not eat in front of clients or public. You can put out healthy foods at celebrations.

    But telling people what they can and cannot eat is over reach and will annoy employees. I lived through that at a job and wound up wrapping my Diet Coke cans in aluminum foil to hide the branding. We worked with children and had cameras everywhere, that’s ok, but being called out for my Diet Coke when no children or parents were present was irritating to say the least.

  105. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    Tell me your organization is fatphobic without telling me your organization is fatphobic.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      There’s often racism/cultural chauvinism that goes along with it. White rice! Fried foods! Too many starches! You’d think entire continents were just dropping dead of unhealthy eating, the way some people (including registered dieticians and nutritionists) talk about people’s cultural foods.

  106. Anonymous Bosch*

    If I found out this was going on at a charity I supported I would stop supporting it and let them know why!

    The person who sees themselves as the food police sounds like they’d be comfortable working for an authoritarian regime.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      My friend works for a non-profit (funded largely by an incredibly wealthy donor) that wanted to encourage healthy eating, so they serve a few seasonal, vegan options for lunch every day. I’ve had them and they’re delicious. People can bring in whatever they want, but many opted for the convenience of these lunches. I totally get that this is not financially feasible for every organization, but I think it is the only reasponable way to achieve this goal.

  107. CoveredinBees*

    While I think “you don’t get to police colleagues/employee’s food” covers it as well as who gets to decide what’s healthy, I’d also throw out there that there are costs associated with this “healthy” eating. Both the cost of buying more fresh (and probably organic) produce and the time it takes to prepare it. I love cooking, have great knife skills to make quick work of prep, and all that. I still have limited amounts of time in my day and would be pissed if I was expected to spend my free time cooking food to fulfill someone else’s idea of healthy.

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