my lying coworker claimed someone said I couldn’t eat at my desk

A reader writes:

I have a very low-stakes question that I’ve been wondering about since I left my last job a few years ago.

In my previous role, I shared a four-person office with two junior employees and one other senior employee. The other senior employee, Sam, had 20 years more experience than I did, but we had the same job title and were equals hierarchically. He often tried to act like he was my superior, but I mainly ignored his provocations and just took care of my tasks while minimizing interactions with him. We did not have client-facing roles and our office didn’t have a lot of foot traffic or visitors, but we were near the main entrance, so very occasionally a visitor who got lost would come by our office and ask for directions.

At some point I got on a bit of a health kick and started making myself healthy breakfasts — things like acai bowls or overnight oats in a mason jar — and bringing them to the office to eat first thing in the morning. I would occasionally add spinach or spirulina, so sometimes these breakfasts were green-colored. I tried to be conscientious about noise and never made anything crunchy that my office mates would have to listen to me chewing. Other than the noise, I didn’t worry much about it because we often had food or snacks in the office: someone would bring cookies back after lunch, or pastries in the morning, or candy around Easter, etc., so I thought it wasn’t a problem to eat in the office.

One morning I was called out of our office for a meeting and I left my green overnight oats on my desk. When I came back, Sam said to me, “Hey, someone came by and said that you need to stop eating at your desk because it’s not professional.” I knew everyone in our 60-person company, so I asked him who had said it. He was evasive — “Oh, it’s not important who said it”; “The person said not to tell you who they were”; “A few people have commented on it now” — but I kept pressing, and finally he said, “It was someone in HR.” Our HR department at the time was only one person, and I happened to know that she was out that day.

So I knew Sam was lying to me, but I thought that maybe my eating was bothering him and he just didn’t want to tell me. I decided to stop bringing in my healthy breakfasts, even though they brought me joy in a fairly joyless job, in order to keep the peace in our shared office. The VERY NEXT DAY, though, Sam brought in a tray of croissants, one of which he was eating while leaning over my desk and leaving croissant flakes all over my work surface. I (rather snarkily) said to him, “Oh, I thought eating in the office was unprofessional?” and he innocently replied, “I never said that, it was HR!”

I never brought it up again — and also never brought breakfast in again — and thankfully left that job for a much better opportunity just a few months later. But in that context, what is etiquette for eating at your desk? And is there an actual difference between eating something like overnight oats, or pastries that everyone can share?

Sam was just a liar, and a particularly bad liar too. He thought he could tell you that some anonymous person ordered you to stop eating at your desk and you would just comply without asking any questions? Or that you would accept “it’s not important who said it”? (It is!) Or “the person said not to tell you who they were”? (No one with the authority to issue that edict would refuse to let you know it came from them, since that would take away the edict’s power.) And it didn’t occur to him that when he finally blamed HR, you might decide to verify that with them?

Anyway, no, eating in your office is not unprofessional.

There are some offices where it’s not done because of the norms of that particular office — but you already knew that you weren’t in one of them, because people brought in food all the time. Sometimes there are sub-norms in a particular workplace too, like that it’s not done by people without their own offices, or by people whose desks are in areas that visitors see when they walk in. But again, that doesn’t sound like the case for you.

And there isn’t typically a “shared food only” rule; if it’s an office where people eat shared food at their desks, you’re likely to see people bring in their own food too.

My guess is that Sam was grossed out by your green overnight oats (they’re not particularly visually appealing if you’re unfamiliar with them — they do look like green mush, although that’s none of his business) and decided he was entitled to try to get you to stop (he wasn’t).

The etiquette for eating at your desk is simply to be thoughtful about the impact on others — which means things like strong smells or loud noises, not that someone might have to see a jar of green mush.

Read an update to this letter

{ 360 comments… read them below }

  1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I hope Sam is an AAM reader and recognizes himself in this letter and feels like an ass.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I got the impression he had forgotten about his lie as soon as he told it. In his mind, it didn’t apply to his delicious-looking croissant.

        1. ferrina*

          Yep, I suspect that’s what happened. I know someone like this- if the truth won’t get them what they want or will lead to an uncomfortable conversation, it’s okay to lie. The important thing is that they are comfortable (insert eye roll here).

          Then as soon as the immediate need is met, they go on to the next thing and promptly forget about the lie, since it wasn’t that important to them to begin with.

          These people are so awful to be around. The gaslighting is strong with these ones.

    1. Yes And*

      I’ve sometimes wondered that in general – if an AAM reader has ever recognized themselves as the villain of someone else’s story.

      1. BatManDan*

        I think (THINK) it has happened here, or at least the update speculated that the offender read AAM because of the events that transpired ( change of behavior? Apology? I can’t remember) immediately after the letter was published. I know it happened in Dan Savage’s sex advice column; the two parties used his column as a he-said, she-said debate to hilarious results.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I found one update where the LW speculated that the boss perhaps read Ask a Manager: #2 from “update: the anti-Semitic comment, the “calm down” boss, and more” from December 17, 2020.

          I also remember a letter (“my boss is being a jerk about my gym time” from May 7, 2018) where a coworker (but not the villain!) read Ask a Manager and was active in the comments section (under the username ‘ThisIsRemus’ to match the pseudonym used in the letter).

      2. Team Eve: Parkour Enthusiast*

        I think it happened to me, once. If it was me, the interaction did not go like it was characterized. There’s always more to the story, as the kids say.

    2. Hannah Lee*


      I also hope Sam someday applies to work at a company that LW works at, and they get one of those “you may know this applicant. Would your recommend we hire them?” emails

      Responding 0/10 would not recommend, with the reason being “Lies about workplace policies and falsely attributes things to company/HR management.”

    3. MicroManagered*

      I hope Sam leaves a comment the next time AAM calls for stories of dumb blunders we made early in our careers.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        That would be nice, but something tells me Sam may be too much of a pompous ass to ever admit making a blunder of any kind, dumb or otherwise!

  2. pretty purple platypus*

    Reading this while eating a fresh green crunchy salad at my desk in an open office…

    1. Lady CFO*

      See .. that would make me nuts and be very distracting. I think it’s important to be conscientious of others sharing the space.

        1. Feckless Rando*

          I think it can also depend on timing. Crunchy salad for lunch at your desk during the generally accepted lunch time? No problem. Crunch salad as a 4pm snack in the otherwise quiet office? Much more disruptive

        2. Nina*

          No! None of those things! If I can hear the food in your mouth from my desk, it’s too loud.
          Sandwiches, oatmeal, ‘quiet’ granola bars (I’m thinking of clif bars because the go-to granola bar in my country is bound with a very soft honey toffee and is not toasted, so more of a cakey level of softness, is not available in the US and my officemate when I worked in the US ate clif bars in the office and I never ever heard him chewing), chocolate, cake, pre-cut fruit salad, cheese… there are options that aren’t fckn loud.

          1. boof*

            I think this is where headphones come in to play, rather than dictating the exact amount of crunch allowed…

          2. Fishsticks*

            Yeah, that sounds like a good sign to have some headphones and a playlist really to go whenever your coworkers dare to eat lunch nearby.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Yeah, in an open office, there will be non-work conversations, stapling/collating, loud typing, phone calls, the load “error” sound your computer makes when you try to send an email with an open attachment. Sometimes it isn’t distracting, sometimes, it really is. Crunching is barely on the radar, so if it is causing an issue, you need headphones or workspace not located in an open office.

          3. demzzz*

            I think some people are just loud chewers and there is nothing they can do and people just refuse to recognize that. I am probably one of those people, people have commented that I’m a loud eater, but I do all the same things other people do. I chew with my mouth closed, I drink water with my food. What the hell am I supposed to do? Not eat lunch? Eat in a supply closet? I don’t always have time to figure out a noise ordinance preapproved lunch. I’ll grab what I can and eat that. There is a thing called headphones.

      1. pretty purple platypus*

        My office encourages eating at your desk and they provide the lunches, with no real other lunch space to speak of. I don’t think that being conscientious of others and eating at your desk are mutually exclusive.

        1. Panicked*

          We had a person heat up fish in the microwave in my office yesterday. He walked away, not realizing that he put 60 minutes instead of 60 seconds on the timer. Did you know that the only thing worse than the normal fish smell is burnt fish smell?

          1. Random Biter*

            Erm….I will admit being the person who thought they’d set the microwave timer for PopTarts at 20 seconds and walked away only to discover I set it for 2 minutes when the smoke alarm went off. Yeah. Actually had to clean the microwave with vinegar to get rid of the smell and residue. Charcoal Pop Tarts.

            1. Le Sigh*

              I know someone who did this with popcorn. I dunno if it’s worse than fish but I can tell you the smell lingers for weeks — even if you clean the microwave, it clings to the furniture.

              1. KayDeeAye*

                I know somebody who loves burnt popcorn. We managed to get her to stop burning it in the office microwave, but it took a lot of words and sustained effort. She’s a lovely person, but she honestly didn’t understand why anybody found it offensive.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                Exjob had a popcorn burner. I never knew who it was, but they would put a bag of it in there, hit the button, and walk away. Thank dawg there was a door on the third-floor break room. >_<

              3. Vio*

                Egg. Yes there are ways to safely boil an egg in a microwave. But not by just putting in in there for ten (!) minutes with no bowl, cup or anything else. Not only did the staff room stink of burnt egg for weeks afterwards, we also had to get a new microwave. Again. He’d put a metal tray in the last one and instead of being alarmed by the sounds and lights he decided to record the sound on his phone (this was before smartphones were common).

            2. Mrs. Hawiggins*

              At least you’re not the person here at my office who put Cup O’Noodles in the microwave not knowing they had to put water in it too. Smoke billowed out into the hallway while I was escorting visitors from the lobby to our CFO’s office. I saw it and excused myself politely when they said, “Is that smoke,” and ran to the kitchen where a half dozen people were fanning, unplugging, gagging, coughing, cursing… I started fanning the air right as the perpetrator came in to the breakroom, turned around and walked hunched over hands in pockets back to their desk. Cup o’Burnt.

              1. Le Sigh*

                “At least you’re not the person here at my office who put Cup O’Noodles in the microwave not knowing they had to put water in it too.”

                How did they think Cup O’Noodles worked?

            3. Anon for this*

              I was the person who put bread into the toaster oven, “quickly” went back to my office and forgot it was in there until the smoke detector went off. The entire building (including other businesses) had to be evacuated and we couldn’t go back inside until the fire department came. Although the toaster oven wasn’t damaged (just smoke, no fire), that incident caused management to get rid of the toaster oven.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                I was the person who burned her bacon rolls DURING A FINAL COOKERY EXAM so the entire school, including several rooms full of pupils taking exams, had to be evacuated.
                That kind of sealed my reputation LOL.

            1. JustaTech*

              When I worked at a place with very small desks I always asked before eating tuna salad at my desk (and did go elsewhere if someone asked). Now that I’m in an open office with many feet between me and the next (empty) desk I don’t worry about it.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                The office I started in is bigger than the one I’m going to. You could roast a pig in there and not bother someone on the other side. There’s rarely anyone on that floor anyway; it’s all hoteling desks.

              2. Fishsticks*

                I cook a LOT of Korean food, which often has a strong smell thanks to kimchi and various other banchans that may be fermented. I will eat out in the part of the breakroom kitchen where nobody else ever eats when I have my Korean food, and my officemate has mentioned she appreciated that I automatically eat out there when I have food with a smell that lingers without her having to ask.
                I wouldn’t worry about it if I had the office to myself, but I don’t want to be inconsiderate when I share it with someone.

            2. Roland*

              Lots of things have a smell. Fish really isn’t special and I’m always surprised to see it held up as “the one thing you obviously shouldn’t eat”. I’ve never been bothered by the smell of someone’s fish, and have been bothered by the smells of other foods. As long as people do their best to keep strong odors and loud noises of all kinds in the lunchroom when possible, we should let people eat their food without judgment.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                Yeah, a colleague complained about another heating up a cheese dish (using a notoriously smelly cheese – we’re in France here) but I shut him down because his kebabs and chips smelt far worse in my view.
                He was French and the cheese-eater was British, I told him he should be delighted to see how well integrated the cheese-eater was.

            3. Vio*

              It depends. Tuna mayonnaise usually has much less of a smell than tuna alone. It still smells stronger than say a cheese sandwich but it’s not potent enough that anyone is likely to notice unless you’re very close.

          1. metadata minion*

            I actually quite like the smell of fish under most circumstances, but I haaaaate the smell of tuna salad. I put up with it, because I like my own weird-smelling foods, but it is definitely a penetrating scent.

      2. ferrina*

        Really? A salad? That’s a staple at my office. And even more prevalent at the job before that.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          our job has a little lunch area. almost no one uses it but I sometimes do because I feel awkward eating my lunch at a desk others use

      3. Be Gneiss*

        Lady CFO, I hear you. I work in a cube farm with lots of salad/nuts/chips eaters. I wear earplugs during lunch. I can keep from going nuts for about an hour… when it turns into all day snacking, I have to take a walk.
        I recognize this is a me problem and not a them problem, and when I get agitated it’s on me to deal with it. But you’re allowed to find it annoying.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I had one coworker who spent a literal hour eating her morning snack, which was nuts, and would slowly, open-mouth chew them. And another who would eat a whole apple every day at 3:30 — it was my one true wish to require that people cut up an apple into slices.

          I know it’s my issue and it’s part of why WFH is a huge blessing for me.

          1. Petty Betty*

            I had a co-irker who decided she was a nutritionist and put herself on a diet that required many broths and soups. She was a slurper.
            Microwaved scrambled eggs for her at-work breakfast? Much blowing on eggs and then slurping them from the spork she brought with her.
            90 minutes later – first broth of the day. Much blowing and slurping (and gulping once the broth was cool enough).
            Lunchtime! Oh, another soup! With noodles! And sliced veggies! Blow, slurp, blow slurp, blow, slurp. Then yogurt. Scrape, slurp, scrape, slurp, scrape, slurp. Than a hot coffee – sluuuuuuurp. Lip smack and self-satisfied “ah”. Rinse. Repeat.
            90 minutes later, second yogurt. Maybe a cheese stick or meat, depending on her after work schedule. 30 minutes later, another broth. Plus all of the water she drank. All slurps and gulps.

            My misophonia was going crazy and she kept trying to micromanage me for our absentee boss.
            I was so glad to put in my notice (and she got mad I didn’t tell her I was looking for another job, and didn’t tell her I was leaving before putting in my notice).

            1. allathian*

              Did you tell her that she was a major reason why you started looking in the first place? For me, the temptation would’ve been strong.

      4. ErinWV*

        I eat both chips and apples at my desk all the time, and I think I am still a conscientious person and sharer of public space.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I agree. I put barley in my split pea soup and some of the linked images look very similar.

    2. Rainy*

      I googled and had exactly the opposite reaction to them, although Sam is still an unpleasant ass. :)

      I also literally don’t care what other people eat in the office as long as they’re not microwaving fish or judging my food choices, and I certainly wouldn’t tell someone what their green overnight oats (or green smoothie) remind me of, or tell them they couldn’t eat them!

    3. Sylvan*

      I Googled “green overnight oats” and expected a jump scare, but you know… They’re not that different from a green smoothie or maybe some unusually light-colored pesto.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I hesitantly clicked the link Alison kindly provided and the only “unpleasant” thing about it is that it’s completely at odds with how I imagine a breakfast because it looks like pesto, which is pretty unbreakfast-y.

      2. Curious*

        Green overnight oats may be OK, but green Soylent scares me — because we know what Soylent Green is…

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          So do they… the movie reference is why they made that version. I’m not known for dark humor but that one got me.

  3. butthehashbrowns*

    I worked for a famous London fashion house and was told off for “always eating” at my desk. They especially disliked my McDonald’s breakfasts, but in general eating in public was not the vibe.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      McDonald’s breakfasts are definitely fragrant and I would probably not love smelling them every morning – but I don’t love smelling the subway every morning either. Sometimes you just deal because the humans around you need to do things like eat breakfast.

      1. Flowers*

        Same – I hate the smell of bacon, but I won’t begrudge anyone who eats it.

        In my current office, I sit right in front of the kitchen. The only breakfast foods I ever smell are a cinnamon raisin bagel. The only really “offensive” foods (and others have shared this sentiment) is broccoli in the microwave. Otherwise, it’s either something that smells good or no smell.

        My old office was more diverse, so there was more variety of foods (Indian, Korean, homemade Chinese etc), and some of those things didn’t smell pleasant to me – but again, I’m not in the habit of “yuk”-ing someone else’s “yum.”

        I 99% of the time eat at my desk and I do try to be super conscious of what I eat smell/”mess” wise. If it’s particularly messy or fragrant, I’ll move to one of the lunch tables.

        1. zinzarin*

          I have vegan friends who still like the *smell* of bacon. Not intending to shame or anything like that, I’m just a little shook. You’re literally the first person I’ve ever encountered who’s expressed a dislike of bacon’s smell.

          1. Chocoholic*

            I can’t stand the way bacon smells either. I never cook it at home because it stinks up my house. I will eat it if I’m out somewhere, but if I make it at home, I do it outside on my grill.

            1. Chirpy*

              I’ve found that baking it in the oven also cuts down on the smell quite a bit. (I like the smell of bacon…but not when it’s lingering for days in a small apartment…)

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                I exclusively bake bacon now–so much easier to get it crisp and faster since you can fill a whole baking sheet at once! (I do this for my curried/chutney chicken salad sandwiches.)

                Pro Tip: Line the baking sheet with foil, enough to come up over the rim! When the sheet cools, roll inwards and toss–cuts way down on messy grease cleanup.

                1. Sorrischian*

                  Definitely line with foil – but save that grease! Pour it off into a jar, stick it in the fridge, and use it for frying eggs or sauteeing veggies, it adds huge amounts of flavor.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  I’m with Sorrischian – the best part of cooking bacon on the sheet pan is being able to dump the flavorful bacon grease it right into the mason jar for future use. Everyone in my family has a bacon grease jar.

          2. What She Said*

            Another one here. Can’t stand the smell of bacon but I won’t run from it. What I will run from is fresh cooked ham (not the deli sliced ones in a sandwich). Potlucks where someone insisted on making a ham. I hid in my office and covered my nose when I had to walk down the hall to the bathroom. The smell gives me a horrible headache.

            1. Festively Dressed Earl*

              Same here. I was meh on bacon as a child, but ham was right out. If possible, I got out of the house Easter Sunday so I wouldn’t have to smell it cooking. Like, I’d go hide in my grandpa’s garage in unseasonably cool spring weather. Nope!

          3. MigraineMonth*

            Ironically, I’m eating more bacon-y things now than when I ate meat. I never really liked bacon as a child (it was just too fatty, I preferred turkey “bacon”). Now I put Bacon Bits on salads and eat bacon-flavored chips, since they’re both vegan.

            Whether I like or am nauseated by the smell of fresh-cooked bacon depends on the day.

          4. Rubber Ducky*

            Guilty. Vegan who loves the smell of bacon and grilled hamburgers. The thought of actually consuming either makes me sick but I still enjoy the smell.

            1. Mr. Shark*

              Haha, that’s sort of funny that you enjoy the smell of those two things. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I know some vegetarians that eat a lot of hamburger/bacon vegetarian substitutes. And it’s not necessarily about being meat, but the health affects of the meat vs vegetarian, or in some cases, just the moral thought of eating animals.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                My teenager likes coffee flavor but not coffee grounds — too strong a reminder of the coffee can I kept in the car for toddler carsickness!

            1. anon for this*

              So glad to see in these comments that I’m not alone!

              The smell of bacon is unpleasant for me; the smell of it actually being cooked can make me, er, lose my own breakfast.

              (Another positive thing about wearing masks – it is a LOT easier to deal with trigger odors!)

          5. Sasha*

            It smells like burning flesh. If you have ever encountered that smell, even in a non-traumatic situation, it is hard to shake off. I know surgeons who have been put off because it smells like diathermy.

            1. Roland*

              Lol, disliking the *smell* of bacon is not a requirement of being Jewish (and I highly suspect the same is true for Islam).

              1. Jessica Ganschen*

                Definitely not a requirement, but I think people are more likely to dislike the smell if they’re accustomed to not eating it. I used to be fine with it, but I gave it up early on in my conversion about five or six years ago, and now the smell even makes me a little nauseated if it’s strong enough.

            2. PoolLounger*

              I’m Jewish and love the smell of bacon! One of my old Reform rabbis ate pork and also loved that bacon!

            3. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Just want to point out that, at least per a survey from 2015, a majority of US Jews eat pork (and a large majority do not keep kosher).

              As a Jewish person, it just bugs me when it’s assumed that all Jews keep kosher/don’t eat pork.

              1. Random Dice*

                I worked with my rabbi on making my kosher rules authentic to my faith, and she enthusiastically endorsed humanely raised pork for me.

                Shalom bacon! (But not cruelly raised or slaughtered bacon, because Torah)

            4. Flowers*

              I am Muslim and ate halal only as a kid. so bacon wasn’t a staple in my diet growing up. There is halal “bacon” (made out of beef or turkey) available in grocery stores and I’ve made them occasionally and didn’t really enjoy the lingering smell. I don’t mind it in a sandwich though from a deli.

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                Is there something similar using lamb? I was trying to modify my spaghetti sauce recipe, which involves bacon, for someone who didn’t eat pork, and I need something that can fry up into crispy bits and produce enough grease to cook onion/garlic in.

                1. Just me*

                  Try looking for duck bacon. I don’t know how it stacks up against real bacon, but I had duck bacon once and it seemed to check those boxes.

                2. Plock*

                  Not lamb but mutton! Our local pizza place uses macon instead of bacon. It’s a bit saltier and so needs a bit of balancing (I’m a pineapple on pizza eater so that works fine, but sweet BBQ sauce would work too). I can’t seem to find it near me in any of the delis but has to be out there somewhere.

                3. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Yes– look up Lebanese awarma and kibbe (the fried version). you may be able to borrow ideas from there. And if you find a smokehouse you can always ask if they do lamb.

                4. metadata minion*

                  @just me – I haven’t had duck bacon, but having had duck sausage, a bacon version sounds amazing. I wish duck and goose pork-substitutes were more common; waterfowl tends to be very fatty, so it has a very similar mouthfeel and richness to pork sausage, and not all of us are trying to avoid fat when we avoid bacon!

          6. Clisby*

            Reading AAM was the first time I ever heard of people disliking the smell of microwaved fish. I still don’t get it – but if I were at work, microwaving my fish, and it *really* bothered people, they’d better speak up because I’m not a mind-reader.

            1. Really*

              it bothers a lot of people. also remember that people don’t want to have to confront you about. many people are also remarkably conflict avoidant.

            2. GiantKitty*

              Microwaved fish doesn’t smell any worse than any other kind of meat being microwaved. I don’t get the special aversion to it either.

          7. DataSci*

            My vegetarian wife doesn’t like the smell of bacon – because it’s so delicious that it tempts her, and she hates that!

          8. Emilia Bedelia*

            Bacon smells nice for a few minutes, if you’re only smelling the cooked bacon in something (eg, a bacon breakfast sandwich). The issue is that the smell from cooking bacon lingers… and as it matures, it just smells heavy and greasy. Bacon 4 hours later is not pleasant at all.

            I think smell permeance should be a consideration in any conversation about appropriate foods to eat in the office. Microwaving fish or bacon? You ruin everyone’s afternoon. Not okay. Eating celery? Annoying, but only for 10 min – allowable.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              Same thing for fried chicken for me–heaven when actually cooking but two days later your house still smells like fat.

            2. Emmy Noether*

              Same for garlic and raclette cheese – smell like heaven at dinner, not so much the next morning.

          9. Violet Rutherford*

            The lingering smell of cooked bacon literally ruins my day. My husband knows to use the exhaust fan because otherwise I’ll be complaining for hours. Ugh. I’m so glad that “bacon on everything LOL” trend is over.

            1. SlingsAndArrows*

              Agree with you on the lingering smell of bacon. I have cooked Benton’s bacon in my house twice. Turns out it’s my favorite bacon well ahead of any other bacon. As far as I’m concerned, it’s what all other bacon should aspire to. Also turns out that after cooking it, my house smells just like a smokehouse for the rest of the week. Bleh.

          10. Just me*

            I dislike the smell of bacon too! Maybe that’s because I’ve never eaten bacon, so I don’t have any good associations with the smell.

      2. The Original K.*

        An ex of mine lived two doors down from a McDonald’s for years and as a result the smell of it makes him gag. He’d still probably just deal if someone brought it to work (“just deal” would likely mean “leave the room”).

          1. baby twack*

            My first pregnancy, the only thing I could eat was Subway.

            Second pregnancy, the smell of Subway made me gag and I had to leave a training that was in the same building as a Subway.

            Still not a big Subway fan.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            I’d rather smell McDonald’s (or grilled or fried food in general) than Subway the location. I don’t find subs smelly when others eat them, and can even eat a Subway sandwich fine (Say, if someone brings them in catered, or picks up the order for me). But I can’t get past the smell of the PLACE anymore. Something about how the food smells combine is just wrong.

            1. Francie Foxglove*

              I know, right? I go to Coldstones a lot, but I always leave gulping the fresh air outside. The combined fragrance of *all* those toppings (chocolate, vanilla, fruit, caramel), is a miasma. I asked a worker once if it bothered him, and he said, “You spend a few days feeling sick to your stomach; then you either get used to it or move on.”

              1. Aggretsuko*

                This is how I feel about Togo’s sandwiches. The food is good, the smell in the building is overwhelming and too much.

            2. A person in retail*

              I suspect they use a cleaning product with a strong odor, or something of that kind. I love Subway and I’m 100% in favor of proper cleaning, but the bread baking plus other food plus disinfectant (or whatever that is) is certainly a distinctive odor.

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                I’d bet money it’s some combo of the cleaning products and preservatives in the bread.

          3. Chirpy*

            I once worked at both Subway and a burger place. I’d leave Subway smelling like fresh bread…and the burger place smelling like old fryer grease, and I never even once worked that fryer. Ugh.

        1. Rainy*

          I lived in an apartment that was across the alley from the back of a souvlaki place for a while, and it was a minute before I could handle the smell of souvlaki again after I moved. The worst part was that it was SUCH a popular restaurant, so for a couple of years after that I had to fend off attempts to take me there on dates, suggest other places for group friend dinners etc.

        2. Francie Foxglove*

          I worked for a year or so at a place that was almost next door to a Hostess bakery. It was a satellite bakery that only. made. Twinkies. So some days, we’d spend all morning breathing in the fragrance of sponge cake. And! The bakery had a walk-up window, where people could purchase freshly made/wrapped Twinkies, at a deep discount! So my co-workers were divided between the people who never wanted to see a Twinkie again, and the ones who were hooked on Twinkies and nearly cried if they were told, “Sorry, we sold out already.”

          Except me. I don’t like the filling in classic Twinkies: too banana-y. I’ll pounce on any special filling (Tropical Blast, Cotton Candy), but the regular ones? Hard pass. But I did buy occasional Twinkies to take home to Mr. Foxglove.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            I used to live about two miles from an Oscar Mayer plant and can confirm that you have not smelled Lingering Bacon Smell until you have smelled it in an entire neighborhood.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I believe you. Now imagine me moving to a lovely inlaw apartment in an old neighborhood up hill from Victorian factories, throwing open the window on a warm spring night…and learning that there’s a smokehouse upwind. A FISH smokehouse. I was suddenly very glad it was a month to month rental.

      3. Dahlia*

        I think the “fashion house” element of the story is probably the more prominent part than the “McDonalds” part. I would suspect the eating norms around a place like that are perhaps a little messed up.

          1. Bob-White of the Glen*

            What’s wrong with no eating until you’re about to pass out, and eating a cube of cheese? Sounds sustainable to me! :D

    2. Hannah Lee*

      “but in general eating in public was not the vibe.”

      I’m wondering if there was a bit of “in general eating in general was not the vibe” thing going on as well, since it was a fashion house.

      Then again, there is a particular odor that comes with McDonald’s breakfast sometimes.

      1. butthehashbrowns*

        There was definitely a bit of nastiness about eating in general, although the company did provide free lunches and snacks for us (which I enthusiastically enjoyed even if my colleagues did not)! It’s worth noting that my boss’s assistant broke her arm while running to a McDonalds to get there before breakfast stopped being served. So although there were plenty of catty comments about eating *in general* there was a strong underground McDonalds-to-desk pipeline in that place. I still think of McDonalds breakfasts when I see Kate Moss in our clothes, gives me a little subversive thrill.

  4. Sloanicota*

    Oh, office food wars. I do not miss that element of working in a nasty cube farm (I don’t miss any elements of that reality, in fact). I had to hear coworkers passionately explain that it was very rude for colleagues to eat anything crunchy, smelly, messy etc etc ad nauseam, while meanwhile other colleagues were complaining about what *they* ate. Sam definitely sounds like a jerk but most of the time I blame the environment itself.

    1. Fikly*

      If it’s the environment, how do you explain all the people who are in that environment, but aren’t jerks?

      Attitudes like this are why behavior like that continues, because if it’s due to the environment, then it can’t be changed.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Environments can absolutely be changed! The jerks know that, that’s how they succeed at being jerks.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I think I’m influenced by coworkers who I know were *not* jerks usually, but became increasingly infuriated by the sound of someone chewing a whole apple or carrot sticks or whatever every day, and slowly lost their danged minds. No it doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to plenty of people.

        1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

          I work in an open office/cube farm where one of the desks has a specialty coffee maker on it, that only a few people (including my boss) ever use. It’s obnoxiously loud, and the coffee it makes smells like a dirty diaper, and I hate it. I also suck it up and don’t complain, at least not out loud, because no one is going to care how I feel about a minor periodic annoyance. It’s the nature of a shared environment. If people don’t like the sound of food being eaten, that’s their own problem.

      3. Chutney Jitney*

        I assumed they meant the environment of everyone being thrown together without walls or doors to act as smell/sound barriers. Some people handle shared spaces badly (see: Tragedy of the Commons).

      4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        The whole US capitalist mythology is that only individual actions matter, so companies can make the environment a hellscape, but it’s the worker’s fault that they can’t stay positive. They can pay nothing and it’s the workers’ fault they’re poor.

  5. Jane Bingley*

    And even things like smells are so subjective! I worked for a development organization for a while that had a very diverse team from around the world. It was impossible to set a “normal” when everything from fermented duck eggs to cabbage rolls to spicy curries were part of someone’s everyday diet. We had a pretty generous live and let live policy and left the microwave doors open to vent between dishes.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I’m fine with fish, chorizo, and “fart-y” vegetables but one of my friends went through a phase of candles scented like banana bread and cinnamon rolls and they were absolutely stomach-churning. And I’m not all that smell-reactive. They did smell like baked goods but I guess they were extra strong? It wasn’t good.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Oh gosh, yes! So many people love vanilla and other sugary scented candles and they’re just off the true scent enough that my brain fully rejects the smell. It’s an uncanny valley of smells for me.

        I’m pretty okay with a lot of food smells as long as they’re “real.”

        Except burnt popcorn. Made that mistake a couple of months ago and may never try to pop popcorn again.

        1. Random Dice*

          Do you know about the HotPop?

          It’s a silicone collapsible popcorn microwave popper that makes the most divine popcorn. (I especially love Anthony’s popcorn in it.)

          You just use the microwave “popcorn” setting and it’s perfect.

        2. Chirpy*

          I found that bulk kernel popcorn popped in a glass microwave popper (mine looks like a big round jug) doesn’t give off the terrible “bagged popcorn” smell. Still not great if you burn it, but it seems like something about the bags themselves is what triggers my smell aversion/mild breathing issues.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Things like candles and air fresheners use artificial scents, which can affect some people pretty strongly. I love the smell of baked goods, but the faintest whiff from a candle that’s supposed to smell like bread makes me feel sick.

      3. Not Australian*

        A dear friend gave me a pumpkin spice candle recently, on the basis that she *loves* pumpkin spice. I found out the hard way that I can’t be in the same room with it: it was donated the same day!

      4. Sylvan*

        Ohh, I love those. I don’t have a strong sense of smell, so the few scented products I pick are ~*powerful*~. And for use at home only.

    2. Manders*

      Someone in my office put fish in the microwave the other day, set it for 10 minutes, and walked away. It was… not pleasant.

        1. Lady CFO*

          Honest question – why don’t people show up ready to work? I understand a lunch at your desk, not wanting to disrupt your work, etc. But in the morning? Why not arrive ready and prepared (and fed!) for the day?

          Here, Sam was lying and obviously annoyed. Lying just ain’t cool. Lying to manipulate is worse.

          1. Justme, The OG*

            For one, I can’t eat within the first few hours when I get up. I get up at 5:30 and coffee is the only thing I can consume. I get hungry at about 9:00 when I’ve been in for an hour.

            1. Timothy (TRiG)*

              When I was getting up at that hour, I avoided coffee because I wanted to sleep on the two-hour bus. (The bus stop was a three-minute walk from my door. I’d usually get up, get dressed, and get there without ever really waking up.)

            2. Zee*

              I also can’t eat first thing in the morning, and I’m not about to get up several hours early and be an unproductive zombie all day just so I can eat my protein bar at home instead of at my desk.

          2. londonedit*

            I eat breakfast at work (or, when working from home, while working). Living in London, my commute to the office is around 45 minutes, and if I ate breakfast before I left the house in the morning I’d a) need to get up half an hour earlier and b) be hungry again by about 10am. Same with WFH – if I ate breakfast at 8am before I started work, I’d be hungry way before lunchtime. So what I do is have a coffee on the way to work, and then eat breakfast (something non-offensive and non-smelly and non-crunchy) at about 9.30/10am, while I’m also working. That way, I don’t get hungry again before lunch. I ‘show up ready for work’ but I take a small break (it’s not even really a break, I’m eating at my desk) to have breakfast at a time that suits me. It’s no different from people making tea during the morning.

          3. Nobby Nobbs*

            People’s appetites can be really weird about breakfast- some can’t handle strong flavors, I can’t handle bland foods, some have to eat before they take meds or take meds before they eat. I suspect the breakfast-at-work crowd leans heavily towards the stomach needs time to wake up before it can handle food side of things, with a side of accustomed to workplaces where every second doesn’t have to be accounted for.

            1. Rainy*

              I walk to work. It’s about a mile and a half with about 100ft of rise, and if I eat before I leave, I feel sick halfway up the hill. My stomach doesn’t like food first thing in the morning, so the only time I really reliably eat breakfast is on the weekends, and I eat it around 10. Most of the time during the week I don’t bother.

              1. AngryOctopus*

                Same! My stomach rejects food and food elements for like 30′ after I get up. And I’m a “get up and go” kind of person, so I don’t like to wait around waiting for my breakfast rejection window to pass. So I’ll get up and get ready and head into work, and have my coffee and something for breakfast (if I eat breakfast, which I don’t always) at work.

          4. Rainy*

            If eating lunch while working is still working, why isn’t eating breakfast while working still working?

            1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

              Right? What an odd, hostile question. How is showing up before you eat not being “ready to work?” Ridiculous.

              1. Random Dice*

                The only way it makes sense is if they also worked for my former boss, a military veteran who made a BIG deal about getting to the office at 5, as a virtue… but then went downstairs to the café for a long leisurely coffee and breakfast.

                I would never have cared if he hadn’t been so judgy / sanctimonious about people who got to work “so late” (8:30 or 9), if not for the extended work breakfast.

            2. Hannah Lee*

              I know some one who sometimes voices opinions like that, and they’ve got a strong vein of “early birds are superior to night owls” in their world view. Maybe something like that is going on.

              As far as timing of eating stuff at work, I’ve known people who for health/medical reasons needed to eat outside of the 3 meals a day “breakfast – lunch – dinner” routine – so, for example, one of them ate a small breakfast at home before work, had another snack/small meal around 10 am, another snack/small meal around 12:30-1 pm, and another around 3-3:30 pm and who knows what they did after work They could easily eat a yogurt or a cup of soup or veggies and hummus (or green oatmeal) at their desk while reading reports or working on whatever. That didn’t mean they were bad employees or had some giant character flaw. It just meant that their bodies needed small frequent meals to function. (No idea what the medical/health reasons were – it didn’t matter and was none of my beeswax)

              1. AngryOctopus*

                My old boss was like that. She much preferred to graze through the day than eat a full meal (and if we went out and had full meals at a restaurant, she always got her second half to go). But she was never not ready to work! We’d often meet while she had a small meal (and she did ask if that was OK with me, and I told her only if she shared her popcorn when she brought it).

          5. Local Garbage Committee*

            There are all sorts of reason: medication, time constraints, not being hungry when you first wake up, ate breakfast at home but still hungry, preference – not sure what the difference is between eating one meal at your desk vs another.

            1. Jelizabug*

              I was going to say “medication” for myself… I’m not supposed to eat for an hour after taking it, and I am NOT getting up another hour early just so I can eat before work. And let me say again “yay that I am still able to work from home.”

          6. anne of mean gables*

            Have you tried to leave the house with, for example, a toddler? Having a quick breakfast at work (I keep a canister of quick oats) is far more efficient than trying to eat my breakfast while simultaneously trying to keep my child from finger painting with his breakfast and/or peeing his pants and/or torturing the dogs and/or drawing on the wall. Plus I really don’t feel hungry or in the mood to eat for the first hour or two of the day.

            On top of that – I’m a big eater. I need 2-3 (small) meals during the work day or my blood sugar goes to hell. There’s just no way around the fact that I’m going to be eating a couple meals at work.

            Basically, people have lots of good reasons for eating breakfast at work, and in general people’s diets are idiosyncratic and if they’re doing something that seems weird to you, it’s probably because they have found it works best for them.

          7. MassChick*

            Because it’s more than two hours after I wake up (and have coffee) that I feel like facing food. So I carried my oatmeal or bagel to work and had it once I got in while I read/answered emails. I wasn’t the only one who did that.

          8. Dust Bunny*

            I leave for work around 6:00 to beat traffic (because I have a long commute, because housing near my job is prohibitively expensive) and I’m not hungry that early. By the time I get to work I’m more awake. If I ate before I left a) nothing would taste good and b) it would be an ETERNITY between breakfast and lunch, and I’d end up overeating snacks to fill the gap.

            I don’t actually need to clock in until 7:30-ish. There is zero reason for me to eat at home before I leave.

          9. Plock*

            Because it works for them and it doesn’t mean they’re not showing up ready to work. What an odd assumption.

          10. Cyndi*

            I eat my lunch pretty late, both out of personal preference and just because the biggest gap in my daily schedule is around 2pm, so the workday is a lot more pleasant if I eat breakfast later too. Usually I come in, do the things I need to do first thing in the morning, and then eat breakfast an hour or two after I get there.

          11. ThatGirl*

            Because no matter how “ready to work” you are most of us need a few minutes to log in, read emails, get situated for the day, and who cares if I’m also sipping coffee or eating some oatmeal or whatever in that time?

            1. anon for this*

              My office even provides free oatmeal every morning, plus toppings. It’s meant to be a perk of working here. They’ve been doing it for a good ten years that I know of.

          12. Selina Luna*

            I have to be at work at 7:30. I have a pill that doesn’t allow me to eat for an hour after taking it (I’ve ignored that before, but it rarely feels great) and I’m not supposed to take it if I’ve eaten anything 4 hours before. I also am terrible at waking myself up early just to take a pill, wait for a while, and then eat. I am definitely not putting myself to bed at 7:30 PM in order to do so. So, I eat my first meal at work.

          13. Thegreatprevaricator*

            Because we have a condition that affects our ability to perceive time, to order and prioritise actions and consequently end up being late for stuff. Yes even with accommodations.

          14. *kalypso*

            I used to have to have so much work done before my boss got in that the only way I could get it done was to be in the office as soon as security opened the door. Then the only food I would get all day was a breakfast sandwich from the café downstairs; they’d have it ready for me at 8:40am; Id run down, grab it, eat it at my desk by 9am, and then I wouldn’t get to stop until after the mail went out and my boss went home. Then I could work in peace, finish up work for my other boss and maybe get home in time to pick up a pizza on the way home or just fall asleep on the floor ready t o do it all again from 4:30 the next morning.

            If only we all had workplaces that honoured the promised time:work ratio.

          15. House On The Rock*

            What an odd take on this. Obviously there are lots of reasons for why someone would prefer to eat after they get to work, but it’s also not something that one needs to justify, nor does it mean a person isn’t “ready” to work. If someone needed to use the restroom after they got to the office, would you inquire why they didn’t do that before they left home and consider them “not ready” for their day? Or if they got a glass of water? People are human with human needs, policing them taking care of those needs isn’t a great look.

          16. Nina*

            If I start work at 8 am in a place that is 1-1.5 hours from home (traffic), I can either:
            – get up at 6 am, shower, put coffee in a to-go cup to drink on the way, leave the house at 6:15 am, and definitely make it to work in time to either spend up to 15 minutes preparing/reheating a breakfast I can eat while I catch up on emails and do morning tasks, and do dishes on my morning coffee break, or up to 45 minutes preparing/reheating and eating a breakfast and doing the dishes before starting work.
            – get up at 5:15 am, spend up to 15 minutes wanting to die and feeling nauseated from lack of sleep, spend 15 minutes preparing/reheating a breakfast, spend 30 minutes eating breakfast and doing dishes, shower, put coffee in to-go cup, leave the house at 6:30 am, get to work either with 30 minutes to spare and nothing to do in them, or slightly frazzled and very nearly late which looks bad and will throw me off my stride for a good chunk of the morning.

            Losing the extra sleep affects my productivity way more than ‘maybe half the time Nina is eating breakfast while checking email in the morning’.

          17. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            I can’t handle food until I’ve been up for a couple of hours, which means I’m at work by the time I can actually eat. I’m not getting up at 4am just so I can sit around my house until my stomach agrees that food is acceptable just so I don’t eat blueberries at work.

      1. Yvette*

        10 minutes!!?? In a microwave!!?? Was it 10 pounds of raw mackerel? They must have meant to do 1 minute. How long did it take for the smell to go away?

        1. Manders*

          I did not use that door for the rest of the day – it’s an area outside of the lab I work in, like a little mini break room right across from the conference room. I really hope that nobody had a conference scheduled that day in there!

  6. Polar Vortex*

    The only time I have complaints about people eating food at their desks is when it’s warmed fish. (You wanna eat a cold tuna salad, I’m not jazzed but the smell doesn’t carry as much.) Given someone ate warm fish in the office yesterday for lunch, I feel like I can confidently say that I would not give a hoot about people eating anything that was weirdly green as long as it’s not fish.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      WHY do people do this? Cold fish is just fine, plus if you microwave already cooked fish, you overcook the fish. I mean, I suppose fish in a stew can be heated up but then you’d smell the stew rather than the fish.

      I’m biased, though. I don’t mind my leftovers at room temperature and I don’t like to use communal microwaves.

      1. Em*

        As for why, I really like a tuna melt- hot tuna salad with melted cheese is delish, and I do it in the microwave sometimes when I want the bread to be all squashy and not toasted.

        That said — I work from home, and wouldn’t do it in a microwave that didn’t belong to me.

      2. metadata minion*

        I generally don’t like cold fish, and I adore hot fish dishes. I am resigned to the fact that it will overcook the fish. I don’t bring fish to work because I’m aware that microwaving fish is A Thing but I actively enjoy the smell and so would not have realized that it was so universally loathed if it weren’t for AAM comment threads.

    2. Random Dice*

      The way to have warm fish at the office without microwaving it in the office is to:

      1) Use a thermos

      2) Fill up the thermos with hot water, tap is fine, for several minutes beforehand

      3) Microwave fish at home

      4) Put hot fish in the pre-warmed thermos


      This also works for grilled cheese (dry the thermos first), mac n cheese, soup…

  7. grubsinmygarden*

    I understand being bothered by how an office neighbor’s food smells.

    But I can’t say I’ve ever once paid attention to how someone’s food looks.

    Green oats shouldn’t be controversial. Stuff like green smoothies have been popular for years.

    1. londonedit*

      Same, but some people are really weird about food. In one office several years ago, I used to frequently have porridge for breakfast, made with one of the handy porridge sachets that are popular here (no idea if they’re available in other countries, but it’s a portion of dry oats and flavourings like dried apple and cinnamon, or golden syrup or whatever, in a little sachet, and you put the oats etc into a bowl and then use the sachet to measure the right amount of milk or water before microwaving it). And there was one person who’d usually be making a cup of tea around the time I’d be microwaving my bowl of porridge, and every time they’d make some comment like ‘Oh my goodness I don’t know how you can eat that, those porridge sachets have so much sugar, I couldn’t eat it, it’s so sweet, far too sweet for me, it even SMELLS sweet, so much SUGAR…’ etc etc. I mean…it was a small portion of porridge? It might have had a sweet flavour but I was hardly munching Mars bars for breakfast every morning. I figured it was just her particular hobby horse and ignored it (or said something breezy like ‘Well, I like it!’) but it irritated the heck out of me. People need to stay out of other people’s food choices in general, I think.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Frankly, if you ate mars bars for breakfast, it still wouldn’t warrant the constant comments.

      2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        Instant oatmeal packets are pretty common in the US, too. (I think they’re often too sweet, but that’s personal preference; I wouldn’t dream of commenting on a coworker eating one.)

        1. londonedit*

          I thought they would be, but didn’t want to run the risk of people derailing on ‘what on earth is instant porridge’ :D

        2. Peanut Hamper*

          They’re too sweet for me, so I usually a little bit of old-fashioned oats to it, which not only cuts the sweetness, but also adds a little bit of texture.

        3. ThatGirl*

          you can get plain ones too – I’ve done that and added my own brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans, for instance.

          1. metadata minion*

            I tend to find that one packet isn’t enough oatmeal for me, so I combine one plain and one flavored, which is then a reasonably good amount of both sugar and food.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          The most common brand is a bit too sweet for me (I sometimes “solved” that by adding the equivalent of half a packet of instant oats – my husband, Diabetic, took a sieve and shook out the flavour powder and sugar into a large container, leaving the oats dried apples and a hint of the sweet and cinnamon. I think the container was eventually used for some baked good in place of sugar and cinnamon.)

          He’s found another brand that’s a LOT less sugar, even the flavoured variants. I like them better, too.

          1. Lana Kane*

            Can you share the name brand? I’m diabetic too and always looking for stuff like this.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Yes, those are very popular in the United States especially during cold weather, but we call it oatmeal. They are extremely convenient and shelf stable so you can buy in bulk.

      4. Hannah Lee*

        “Same, but some people are really weird about food.”

        I get it, but you’re absolutely right. While it’s okay to be really weird and have specific preferences about your OWN food and what you eat, extending that to try to control what your co-workers eat, even if only to make frequent comments about it, is obnoxious and over the line. It’s like people’s bodies … keep your comments to yourself.

      5. Flowers*

        I had a coworker a long time ago constantly comment on how much Diet pepsi I drank. Annoying AF.

    2. Sylvan*

      There’s some food I don’t even want to look at, but this problem has a simple solution: Don’t look at it.

      1. JustaTech*

        The only time I’ve had an issue with the visual appearance of a coworker’s food was the time that Annoying Guy microwaved his fish and then when he sat down at the communal table to eat it, wiggled the fins at everyone and claimed that they were a delicacy.
        (This led to an very animated discussion in a language I don’t speak that came to the conclusion, no, they’re not a delicacy, and stop playing with your food to freak out your coworkers.)

    3. Flowers*

      It’s why I’ll never eat nihari or lentils at my desk or even in the office. While it’s tasty, it’s not visually appealing.

      1. metadata minion*

        Do you have really judgy coworkers? Lentils aren’t what I’d pick if I were trying to show off artistic food-presentation skills, but I also don’t think of them as a remarkably unattractive food either.

    4. JustaTech*

      I had a coworker who regularly rubbed folks the wrong way who also liked to bring fish for lunch. Which he microwaved.
      But the thing that caused a real commotion was the time his microwaved fish still had the fins on, and he tried to claim that they were a delicacy, which resulted in a *very* animated conversation in a language I don’t speak about if this was true (it wasn’t).
      That was a case of a combination of smelly food, a communal lunch table (so if you were eating you pretty much had to see it) *and* being BS’d by an annoying person.
      (We all had to eat at that table because our desks were inside the lab and therefore food was banned on safety grounds.)

  8. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

    Maybe because I have reached a stage of (a) not caring if I ruffle feathers and (b) having enough political capital to be able to do this, I would 100% have emailed HR, copying Sam, my boss, and Sam’s boss and said, ‘Hi, HR, Sam told me you stopped by and said we were no longer allowed to eat at our desks! Since that policy isn’t in the handbook I received at orientation, I’m assuming it’s a new policy, and perhaps it should be communicated more widely to the staff. Thanks so much!’

    So then when HR says, ‘WTAF, I didn’t say that?!’ then EVERYONE knows that Sam is a pot-stirrer who is trying to police other people’s behavior rather than staying in his own lane. It has the benefit of eroding Sam’s credibility within the office, based solely on his own actions.

    1. irene adler*

      I like you.

      Yeah, calling them out in public might be the only thing that stops the liars from continuing to lie. If nothing else, everyone now knows Sam’s true character.

      I had a boss who lied – a lot-usually on behalf of some authority. His lies were easily proven false. Yet he continued. It was almost comical.

      1. Anon for this*

        If your boss had been female, I would think we had the same one. If that woman had told me that the sky was blue, I would have gone to the window to check.

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      “Since you came in on your day off to pass along that message to him, I figured it must have been really important. Do you think we should hold an emergency town hall to put it out, or can we wait till the next scheduled one?”

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        But then he’d have no standing to criticize you for eating breakfast and you could carry on without issue.

        1. Roland*

          OP already knew he was lying, so it wouldn’t really change things on that front. If he starts again you can always innocently say “oh, let’s go talk to HR together” knowing he won’t. Of course it’s easier to monday-morning QB than to live things, but I wish OP hadn’t stopped bringing in breakfast due to his lies.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes, I would do this myself now that I’ve reached the IDGAF stage of my life. But 15 years ago I might not have done so, though I’d like to think I would have because I have always been one to clarify when something seems off to me. In any case, I don’t fault this LW for not doing this but I sure wish they had.

    4. beanie gee*

      Yep, I was sad that the OP stopped eating at work just because of Sam. If a policy is important enough to come from HR, it should come directly from HR and not through middle people, so always worth confirming from someone with authority.

    5. Buffy Rosenberg*

      This doesn’t even have to be done in bad faith. If you believed Sam, this would be a perfectly reasonable response. Perhaps not copying everyone in, but checking with HR in an email with both HR and Sam in the chain.

      HR might even want to know that Sam is running around giving directions to staff on their behalf. That seems like a potential liability!

      It might warn Sam to knock it off and not tell any future lies, too.

  9. Observer*

    Sam was a lying liar, and a bad one at that. I’m sad that you felt the need to stop bringing in your breakfasts.

    1. I am Emily's failing memory*

      The best part is that he would hedge with the phrase “someone in HR” when there’s only one HR person.

        1. ferrina*

          I suspect he was reaching for whatever handy phrase would lend him credence without him having to name someone. I know people who do this- they will lie through their teeth, and usually it’s a word salad and shifting statements until they hit on the combination that makes you accept what they are saying.
          They can actually be quite pleasant for a bit, but once you get to know them, they are a mask of pleasantness over a steaming pile of horrible.

  10. A Simple Narwhal*

    LW is a nicer person than I, I wouldn’t have just stopped eating breakfast because screw his cowardly lying @ss. I feel at the very least that reaching out to the HR person would have been warranted, because even in the very unlikely chance he wasn’t lying, the second someone other than my manager said HR had specific instructions for me, I’d want to talk to HR myself to make sure we were all on the same page.

    But I trust that LW knew their situation and made the best/wisest decision they could over something relatively low-stakes. The “in order to keep peace in our shared office” makes me think Sam would have not responded well to being proven to be a liar. Either way I’m glad LW is no longer there!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I wish OP had taken it one step further, “Oh, I talked to HR rep when she came back to work after being out yesterday and she said it not a problem.”
      But then again, I am very sincerely yours, signed ^

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I would add…

        “She did say that croissants are no longer allowed, though. They leave crumbs all over the place.”

        Which has the advantage of being semi-true, because crumbs and keyboards are a bad combination.

  11. I should really pick a name*

    I think you would have been perfectly okay to just keep bringing in your oats.

    If Sam said “would you mind not bringing in the oats? They bother me because of X”, you could have had a discussion and maybe sorted out something that worked for both of you.

    Instead, he lied, and doubled down on it. I’d see no reason to try to be accommodating in that situation.

  12. Correlation is not causation*

    To be fair, Sam made a ridiculous ‘anonymous’ complaint and got exactly what he wanted, because OP decided to stop bringing in breakfast.

    Sam is clearly a jerk, but he’s a jerk that got what he wanted in this instance.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      Yeah, I would have reached out to HR asking for clarity, but breakfast would have continued.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah, I would not have changed my behavior without a written policy update, but I’m nasty like that. Don’t try to get between me and my food. Especially by obviously lying about it.

  13. Peanut Hamper*

    Sam tells the kind of lies that four-year-olds tell. That says a lot about him in my mind.

    1. BubbleTea*

      There was an amazing documentary called The Secret Life of Five Year Olds, all about child development, and they did an experiment where they left a large chocolate cake unattended with a group of small children who were instructed not to touch it. Of course, the cake got sampled. When the children were questioned about it, they explained that a stranger had come along and eaten some cake. A small boy helpfully explained that “It was someone MYSTERIOUS!” I adore that as an explanation for any and all scenarios.

      1. Eulerian*

        I remember a similar experiment involving three and four year olds, sweets, and an instruction not to eat the sweets. Of course they all ate the sweets.

        When asked, the three year olds all confessed immediately to eating the sweets. The four year olds all lied.

        1. Too Many Tabs Open*

          When one of my kids was around four and we could tell they were lying about having done something, we’d say “oh, KidsName, did emaNsdiK do it?” They’d immediately say “yes.” (And yes, kid understood that we knew they’d done it, and almost always admitted that backwards-name was them a minute later.)

        2. constant_craving*

          Theory of Mind. There’s an age where kids haven’t yet developed the cognition to understand that you don’t automatically know everything they know (so there’ no point in lying about it).

      2. kitryan*

        My sister knocked over a lamp when she was 2 or 3 and my mother asked ‘who broke the lamp?’
        First try, she says: ‘Daddy?’
        Mom says ‘Daddy’s at work!’
        Second try, she says ‘Kit did it?’
        Mom says ‘Kit’s at school!’
        So now, ‘Kit did it!’ is a bit of a family catch phrase (except it’s a nickname for my actual name instead of Kit).

    2. ferrina*

      I once read a study that said that children who are good liars actually have high social intelligence, because in order to tell a good lie, you need to see the other person’s perspective and know what is believable to them. Unfortunately can’t remember what the article was :(

      Sam was not a good liar. Totally agree with Peanut Hamper- this says a lot about Sam.

  14. LG*

    I’m just sorry the LW stopped eating at their desk. I would have told Sam that I had checked with HR and they said it was okay with them. How could he push back against that without admitting he lied?

  15. Hiring Mgr*

    If HR wants to make a rule to single out one person they should at least tell you directly, not have Sam do their dirty work. But that doesn’t excuse Sam acting so smug about it and bringing in his own food.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The HR person wasn’t even in the office when Sam said they talked to someone, Sam is just a lying liar who lies.

        1. Snell*

          There’s absolutely nothing in the letter that indicates that HR was using Sam for plausible deniability, and everything to indicate that Sam is just out of line. I don’t see why you’re trying to make out that HR was pushing this. It’s possible that something was going on that we don’t know, but we the readers can’t know that just from the information in the letter.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I’m not sure where you’re getting this. It’s pretty clear that Sam was the one who is at fault here for lying multiple times, not HR.

    3. Observer*

      Of course HR shouldn’t have someone else do their dirty work. And it’s pretty obvious that they did NOT in fact do that.

      Sam was clearly lying.

  16. onetimethishappened*

    I have held many an office job over the years. I have never worked anywhere that frowned upon eating at your desk ever. People have eaten all kinds of things at their desk, like crunchy veggies/crackers/popcorn, to salads or pasta. The only thing i think bothers me are particularly fragrant foods like fish, Brussel sprouts or fast food. But I grin and bear it, bc its typically temporary and humans need to eat.

    1. londonedit*

      The only time I’ve ever stopped eating something at work was when I went through a phase of buying these amazing egg white omelettes from Pret A Manger on the way to work, with spinach, red peppers and feta. I thought they were amazing, they kept me full for hours, and I got to the office before most other people, so I’d enjoy my breakfast omelette and my coffee and didn’t think much of it. But then people started arriving at work and making comments like ‘What IS that smell? Why does it always smell eggy in here?’ and I thought hmm, OK, seems not everyone is a fan of the egg white omelette. So I stopped buying them, because it wasn’t just one person and let’s face it, egg white with spinach and cheese probably isn’t the most fragrant thing one can eat. But green overnight oats shouldn’t cause any issues at all, and in this case I think it was definitely just Sam being an arse.

    2. The Original K.*

      The last office I worked in didn’t have trash cans in cubes because they didn’t want you eating at your desk. They said they wanted to encourage people to take a lunch. People didn’t have time to take lunch because of chronic understaffing, so everybody ignored it and just threw their trash out in another trash can.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Early in my work life I had a manager who ate a banana every day at 9:30. Also every day, he had something he just had to come into my office for at 9:35 … just as he finished his banana. And he would throw out the peel in MY trash bin.

        I was young and insecure and never called him on it.

        But that did not change the fact that I noticed, and thought he was an ass for doing it and an idiot for thinking I didn’t realize what he was doing. Here I am, decades later and the 2 main things I remember when I think about him are the stupid banana peel nonsense and the fact he used to mock me for not being able to instantaneously do math in my head. (He was not a bad guy in other ways, but those two things … giant eye roll.)

      2. kitryan*

        Yeah, we’re not supposed to take lunch at our desks both for actual having of a break and not working through lunch or risking working through lunch (primarily for hourly folks) and for pest discouragement. However it’s probably the most broken rule at the office.

    3. Cyndi*

      I used to work in an office that was so protective of the keyboards that we could eat nothing but hard or chewy candy at our desks, and drink nothing that wasn’t in a reusable spillproof bottle. If you wanted an outside drink from Starbucks or Dunkin or wherever you had to pour it into your reusable bottle and immediately chuck the cup, so most people just stuck with the awful break room coffee. I once had to buy an entirely new company-approved water bottle, because my usual one had a flip-up straw, but I’d had a molar pulled and I wasn’t allowed to use straws for a couple weeks, so it was that or never drink anything at my desk at all.

      It was a pretty grim place and it ruined Starbursts for me for life.

    4. ferrina*

      Yes! I eat like a hobbit and I’ve never been reprimanded for my eating. I try to be considerate, but I’m also ADHD and move around a lot and forget things. I know I’m probably a really annoying office mate (I make up for it by being a great coworker in a lot of other ways). At least now that I work from home, no one will be bothered by my constant snacking!

  17. MoinMoin*

    “He thought he could tell you that some anonymous person ordered you to stop eating at your desk and you would just comply without asking any questions?”

    But OP did comply, so he was correct, and I’m unreasonably furious about it.

    1. Cruciatus*

      This same thing crossed my mind as well! I would have continued to eat since I didn’t know who said I should stop or why, especially when the next day there was food for everyone to eat. It shouldn’t bother me that OP complied anyway, and yet it does!

  18. Dust Bunny*

    Start bringing your breakfasts again.

    The only time I’ve cared about a coworker eating in the office was when I had a supervisor who chewed like a literal cow, so that you could hear her across the room. I am not particularly sensitive to eating noises but this was just over-the-top. I couldn’t even see her from where I was sitting but I could hear her clear as day and I have to assume that she chewed with her mouth open.

  19. Telephone*

    I’m reminded of the time when we all sat in an open office that a supervisor (not my supervisor) told me that he didn’t want me eating lunch at my desk because it smelled. I said that it didn’t smell any worse than anyone else’s lunch. He promptly got up and walked to the office manager and came back smirking triumphantly. The office manager promptly called me in and told me that I was no longer allowed to eat lunch at my desk. So I didn’t, but I found ways to get even with that supervisor, and he never could figure out that I was the guilty culprit. I kept it up every day I was in the office, and he never figured out that his torment occurred only on the days that I was in the office. If he suspected me, he never complained to either the office manager or my supervisor, because neither one ever talked to me about it. And I never saw the office manager trying to discreetly spy on me to see if I was the guilty culprit.

    The office manager eventually left and was replaced by a new one. I doubted very much if the former one told her replacement, “By the way, Telephone isn’t allowed to eat lunch at her desk.” That supervisor eventually left, too, and I started eating lunch at my desk again, and no one cared.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I’m curious as to some of the ways you got back at him if you’re willing to share.

      1. Telephone*

        We all sat in an open office in rows of two. I was seated in front of my department, and this supervisor was seated next to me, and everyone in his department was seated in front of us. We didn’t have direct phone numbers. All calls came through the receptionist, who transferred them to the appropriate extension.

        We were supposed to have line buttons on our phones that corresponded to all of the extensions of everyone in our department (so that everyone could answer all calls that came into his/her own department if that person was away from their desk), but I noticed that this supervisor did not a button on his phone for Susie, his report who sat two rows ahead of us. So I would regularly pretend to make a call but actually call Susie’s extension when she was away from her desk. The supervisor would hear her phone ring, glance down at his own phone, and then see that he wasn’t able to answer her call from his phone. He would then get up and walk over to her desk. Just before he could pick up the receiver, I would disconnect the call. I didn’t hang up my phone. That would have been too obvious. I just depressed the button that cuts off a call and immediately called someone else.

        I did this over and over and over. The receptionist had no way of knowing which extension internal calls came from. If he had ever asked her, she would have told him that they weren’t outside calls that were cut off (ostensibly by the caller), but I doubt if he ever asked her. I doubt if he talked to my supervisor about it. And I really don’t think that he talked to the office manager about it, because I never saw her hanging around, trying to spy on me without it being obvious. There was nowhere for her to hide. And she never called me in to tell me that this started right after I was forbidden to eat lunch at my desk, and did I know anything about it.

        I kept it up for years, until he retired. After all, he could have changed his mind and allowed me to eat lunch at my desk, the same privilege allowed to Susie and his other reports, who sat right in front of him. I bought my lunch at the same fast food place that almost everyone else who worked there patronized. I don’t know why my lunch was smellier than theirs. He just liked being mean.

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      was there a place you could go to eat lunch? Like a break room? at my job it is written in the employee handbook that hourly employees must take their lunch break and they cannot be at their work station. But that doesnt mean you can’t eat at your desk, just that you cant take your break at your station.

      1. Telephone*

        I could have eaten my lunch at the fast food place or the break room, but the reason that I wanted to eat at my desk on occasion was that the errand I had to run during my lunch time took longer than expected, so I wound up eating at my desk. Just like other employees did. And I ate the same food that they did.

    1. Mrs. Badcrumble*

      Yes, but only because baby carrots are just an abomination of slimy chunks lathed off of real carrots and sprayed with chlorine. Upgrade to real carrots and eat them in full Bugs Bunny style.

    2. Lana Kane*

      As someone who is super irritated by crunching noises, I’d say that when it’s a small amount and it takes just a few minutes to eat them, I grin and bear it. But if, say, someone is eating them from the bag throughout the day, I’d be out of my mind. So do with that what you will!

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Oh no! Not Popcorn!

        Hopefully it’s not the microwave popcorn that gives off waves of that fake buttery combined with burning paper smell that’s left hanging in the air for hours after the popcorn is gone.

        If it’s regular popcorn or Smart Food, have at it :)

      2. I like hound dogs*

        I appreciate the perspectives. We work hybrid, so I’m only in the office twice a week with my annoying crunching noises.

    3. baby twack*

      One of the most humbling moments of my life came when I ate a pound of baby carrots during a meeting. I tried to be quiet, so I ate them slowly. Just as I was finishing up, the woman next to me hissed, “Are you nearly done? It’s been AN HOUR.” I was mortified.

      Over time, I came to see it from her point of view. She apologized like two years later for making me feel bad.

      1. I like hound dogs*

        Haha!!! That’s … a lot of fiber. I’m impressed you were able to eat that many in one sitting.

      2. Gladys Kravitz*

        I was in a meeting once where someone ate a bag of raw okra, which is INCREDIBLY loud (there are videos online if you’d like to hear it for yourself). It was all I could do to keep my attention on the meeting and not smack the bag out of the person’s hand.

    4. JustaTech*

      My spouse had a coworker who’s favorite snack was baby carrots with a line of siracha on each one.
      This was astonishing because it was at a tech startup where any kind of vegetable was a real rarity.

  20. Rocket Raccoon*

    My vote is that Sam didn’t like “health food” because he had some sort of hangup about his own food.

  21. Kelly*

    I’m at the point that I just ignore people like that. At my last toxic job my coworker screamed at me because her dog ate a food wrapper off my desk when I stepped away and I “could have killed him.” I asked her why her dog was in my private office in the first place and she just kept repeating how dangerous it was. Another coworker tried to throw away my fresh flowers from my husband because she said they brought ants into the building (it was the recent construction and there were no ants in my office; she was just jealous her husband had the romance of a potato). That incident led to me having to physically take the vase out of her hands.

    1. onetimethishappened*

      Same, maybe its a late 30s thing. As I have progressed thru my 30s, I am starting care less and less about trivial stuff like scenarios in this letter.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, me too. Thankfully I work with reasonable and professional people, so any of the things that have been described here are totally unfamiliar to me. Thank goodness.

  22. The Eye of Argon*

    I’d gladly take the OP and her green overnight oats as an office mate, provided her workplace takes my coworker who microwaves stinky riced cauliflower or egg whites for lunch every day and tries to cover up the smell with a vanilla cupcake candle.

    One time she nuked a concoction of garlic, garlic, imitation crab, garlic, garlic, and garlic. I seriously thought we were going to have to evacuate the building.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Microwaved cauliflower smell – gag
      Vanilla cupcake candle – *runs to the bathroom*

      Sometimes I think I’m the only one who finds vanilla-scented candles stomach-turning. So of course I got a huuuuge one for an office Secret Santa a few years ago.

      1. KatEnigma*

        No. You are not alone. Because “vanilla scented” anything does not actually contain vanilla.

        I also apparently am allergic to lavender? I only discovered that the first time I tried to bathe my newborn… He was fine, my hands and arms were on fire.

      2. The Eye of Argon*

        I can’t stand fake vanilla scent either. The combination of the two is like in Pepe le Pew cartoons where his smell is a green miasm that withers flowers, knocks birds out of the sky, and makes people gag before they run away holding their noses.

        Cauliflower, garlic, and vanilla candle today, plus air freshener that someone sprayed in the hallway :X On the positive side, we’re well protected from vampires.

    2. SMH*

      We had someone burning popcorn at least once a week until finally our director said microwave your popcorn for 2 min only or I will ban it completely. It helped but we still had a few people who burned it.

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        My sister’s workplace did completely ban microwave popcorn after three separate fire alarms that required evacuation of the building in one week.

      2. Random Dice*

        My company removed all microwaves except in the cafeteria. Burnt popcorn was ever culprit.

    3. The Eye of Argon*

      And the police department, who is also in our building, made a drug bust this afternoon so the whole place stinks like skunky pot. I need one of those nose clips I had during my childhood swimming lessons.

  23. Guest*

    Sam is an ass. If he and I shared an office, I’d be sorely tempted to start microwaving fish at work.

  24. Falling Diphthong*

    Sketching out a vigilante scenario in which I gain access to workplaces across the nation (I am a small, harmless looking woman) and then wander around giving people orders that they must relay to their coworkers. “You can’t tell them who issued the order!” I will insist, glaring over the top of my glasses. “I must remain anonymous!”

    1. Lana Kane*

      “Thank you, Office Vigilante, for being my excuse to tell people their food is gross!”

    2. Hannah Lee*

      I’d kick $10 into a GoFundMe for your travels.

      $20 if you include “co-worker in cube who insists on using the speaker phone for every phone call” in your rounds

      And also another $20 if you track down my co-worker who always barks “Is that my phone??!?!?!” any time any one of the 20 phones in our workspace rings when he’s not sitting at his desk. For example, just now when my phone was ringing.

  25. Tiny clay insects*

    I petition we figure out who Sam is, and all go eat aggressively at him. I HATE that he got away with this.

    1. KatEnigma*

      Meh. LW knew he was lying, and still stopped. That was their choice. Even in my first job, I’d have ignored him. So he “got away with it” only because LW allowed him to. I mean, he’s still a lying jerk, but hopefully LW has learned to better advocate for themselves in this kind of circumstance.

  26. KatEnigma*

    That’s like elementary school level stuff.

    I learned at a very young age to say “Well okay, you tell whoever it was to come to me hizzerself and I’ll be sure to stop”

  27. lilsheba*

    I have eaten at my desk most of the time during my whole adult working life, and never thought twice about it. And now I work from home and of course eat at my desk all the time. I never cared about what other people did at their desk either.

  28. Local Garbage Committee*

    Maybe off topic but I’ve been looking for a better desk breakfast option and now I’m excited to try green overnight oats!

      1. allathian*

        Depends on the employer. In my organization managers have very limited authority to prohibit their reports from doing something that the organization in general either approves of or is indifferent to. “Because I said so” wouldn’t fly.

  29. Jenga*

    I would have popped into the boss’s office or HR’s office and say something like, “Hey, I’ve been bringing my breakfast in and eating it at my desk for the last few weeks. Sam just told me that’s against our office policy, I’m really sorry if I violated it, I had no idea.”

    If Sam isn’t lying, you’ve apologized.

    If Sam is lying as suspected, you’ve just “accidentally ” let management know about the situation.

  30. English Rose*

    Wow in one week we’ve had bananapants, no contact mandates, hickeys, and green mush. And it’s only Wednesday! I love this site.

  31. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Food always makes me so nervous because I was born without a sense of smell. I know a couple things that have strong smells because people constantly talk about them (fish and coffee), but these are invisible rules I have so much trouble navigating and everyone seems to hate different odors.

  32. Reality.Bites*

    “He thought he could tell you that some anonymous person ordered you to stop eating at your desk and you would just comply without asking any questions?”

    Well that’s pretty much exactly what the OP did. They asked a couple of questions but did stop eating at their desk despite their workmate eating at his.

  33. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I no longer eat at work, but when I did there were people who would complain about anything!

    Bring in something deemed ‘unhealthy’? “That stuff is bad for you/will make you fat/I’m concerned about your health/don’t eat that in front of me I’m on a diet”

    Bring in fruit/vegetables? Get comments about diets, how ‘concerned’ they are to see you eating so little, assuming you’re going to start diet evangelising at them.

    Basically there’s always going to be somebody, somewhere who’s got negative feelings about anything you eat! So, unless the smell is causing them to barf or they are so severely allergic that they cannot be in the room with it just ignore them.

    (Currently typing this while one of my staff eats kimchi)

  34. Chrisssss*

    Sam sound very immature. If you are genuinely annoyed by what someone else eats at their desk, you can always ask your colleague nicely to stop it.

    I’m myself not especially mature, but that is exactly what I did with a colleague who liked to eat carrots at his desk. After a while I changed the office, so he accommodated my sensitivity me only for a few weeks :)

    I honestly don’t think it was about the green overnight oats, but about one of his power trips.

  35. Bad Wolf*

    I used to work with a woman who practiced the roll-out-of-bed-into-work lifestyle. I mean hair un-brushed, make-up not yet done, half her outfit in a bag. She volunteered info that she showers in the evenings BTW. It typically took her a couple hours of the work day to put herself together. But lunchtime, she looked perfectly presentable. Not sure why she though it was acceptable to subject us to her morning toilette.
    We were a pretty relaxed creative office. Not client facing. Lots of eccentric personalities, which is probably why her behavior wasn’t flagged. But I’m sorry to say, she induced my gag reflex on more than one occasion. I reached my limit when she spit her granola yogurt breakfast onto a set of architectural plans we were discussing. I snapped. In not so kind words, I told her to finish her breakfast in the break room and return when she’s ready to work. I know I embarrassed her. But it was just too much.

    Sam is a passive-aggressive coward. If he had a problem with OP’s breakfast, he should have said something. But people have a really wide range acceptable norms. I’m not sure I could stomach someone eating oats out of a jar every morning in front of me. They’re not exactly appetizing, even if they aren’t green.

    1. Cyndi*

      Look, I confess I do my (minimal) makeup and eat breakfast at my desk and I’m not proud, per se, but at least I’m not spitting my food out onto other people’s work???????

      (I used to be a train makeup-doer, but masking on transit nixed that.)

    2. Lenora Rose*

      As someone who is as close to roll-out-of-bed-and-into-work as I can be with kids and a commute (albeit someone who still prefers to shower in the morning), and someone who very much understands eating after you arrive (at your own desk, as discreetly as is reasonable, and setting it aside while meeting) I do not understand arriving at work without your work clothes ON or your hair brushed. (my solution to make-up is that I don’t. On the rare occasion I have done some powder etc., I make it a bare minimum that takes 2-5 minutes depending how awake I am.)

      1. Bad Wolf*

        Yeah… I’m not a heavy make-up person either. None is preferable on many days. But let me tell you about this woman’s morning eye crusties…

      2. Flowers*

        I used to do this. When I was taking public transit I would wear leggings/sneakers/comfortable shoes and change in to nice shoes/skirts when I got to the office. Esp when it was nasty weather outside.

        Now that I live in the suburbs and drive to work, I still occasionally do this. Last time my daughter was getting over being sick and going back to daycare and she was in a super bad mood that morning – crying, clingy, wouldn’t let me put her down (she refused to go to Dad). I got frustrated and just threw my clothes in the bag and took her to daycare while wearing my pajamas and hair in a bun. I went to the Target near work and got dressed in the fitting room (had to stop there b/c I forgot to pack something I needed and had to buy a new one).

        BUT I change my clothes in a bathroom or something before I enter into the office. Once I’m in the office, the most that’s acceptable to me is changing shoes or putting on/taking off a cardigan.

        1. Bad Wolf*

          Look. I understand comfort. Sometimes our work clothes are really not appropriate for outside weather conditions. So yeah – change of shoes, leggings, warm sweaters, etc – I get that. But this woman would consistently show up in stuff that (though not confirmed) she’d slept in.
          We were a very relaxed office. There was no dress code, per say. I think most people went for an “understated cool” rather than “business casual.” One petite co-worker liked to wear Keds and graphic tees from Gap Kids.
          But the woman in question brought a change of clothes. This was entirely her decision. No one was pressuring her. So she clearly thought whatever she arrived in, was not appropriate attire for our workplace. The baffling thing was, she wasn’t going anywhere outside the office. No client meetings, or site visits, or anything like that. So why was she getting dressed if we’ve all already seen her in her pajamas?

          1. allathian*

            Probably because she could do it at that office. I bet that if she ever works for a more conservative office, she’ll adapt quickly or get fired.

    3. Observer*

      I’m not sure I could stomach someone eating oats out of a jar every morning in front of me. They’re not exactly appetizing, even if they aren’t green.

      So what? It’s one thing if you are in a meeting. But otherwise? To really see the “unappetizing” green oats, you have to LOOK. So, just don’t look at the food the person is eating.

      Smells are different – they travel and you generally can’t control that.

      1. Bad Wolf*

        It all depends on the office set-up and lines of sight, doesn’t it.
        Sam chewing his croissant in my ear, flaking pieces onto my desk, would be equally unnerving.
        Maybe I just have a food thing.

    4. Flowers*

      Not sure why she though it was acceptable to subject us to her morning toilette.

      The spitting i understand is gross but I’m not sure what you mean by “subject us to her morning toilette.” Was she brushing her hair or doing her make up in the shared space or in various states of undress?

  36. MicroManagered*

    “Oh Sam, I’m sorry someone put you in that embarrassing position. I won’t worry about it unless whoever it was comes forward again in the future.” and continue eating your gross-looking green oats.

  37. Brain the Brian*

    One time years ago when I, too, ate breakfast at work every day, I was making heating myself a bowl of pre-prepared savory hot oatmeal, and I managed to drop the entire bowl on the carpet and shatter the bowl (somehow on carpeted floor!) into a thousand pieces. Cleaning up that mess while starving was… not fun. I swore, loudly and multiple times, in the middle of an open-plan office. I was very glad for kind coworkers that day; one of them actually went and bought me some food from across the street since I had no other breakfast alternatives (and yes, I did pay her back).

    Sam is the opposite of my then-coworkers. Sam is an ass.

  38. Lenora Rose*

    I Have worked an office job with no food as a rule; because it was a closed file room, and it was specific to that room.

    Factory floor etc, of course, this is much more typical. I used to work in a bakery; people sometimes ate something also from the building while slicing bread. This was not really allowed, but it was kind of ignored assuming a basic level of hygiene (step away, gloves off, take a bite, gloves on). Until a young woman’s muffin got knocked onto the slicer and she reached after it.

  39. Pip*

    I used to work with someone who, if she had a problem with something I was doing, would say, “People are saying you shouldn’t …” without telling me who “people” were, or she’d say that our supervisor didn’t like something I was doing. I finally checked with our supervisor about a particular thing, and she said she’d never complained about it. She then took my coworker to task for attributing sonething to her that she’d never complained about. Sam was just too insecure to own up to his opinion, and then manipulative on top of that to claim it was someone from HR. Good grief.

  40. Elsa*

    I’m confused about this story. In an office environment where you don’t eat at your desk, wouldn’t there need to be some other eating space? There can’t actually be an office where people are expected to be there for 8-plus hours without eating anything, can there? Why couldn’t the letter writer just eat her breakfast in that other spot?

    1. Another Librarian*

      At this moment, I am eating my lunch at my desk because we have no breakroom or lunchroom in our building. This is a temporary accommodation (3 years during a renovation) and I guess they didn’t think we’d be eating during that time.

  41. MillennialHR*

    I don’t usually eat breakfast until about 10-10:30am and work starts a few hours earlier, so I often eat breakfast at my desk. I’ve had people apologize to me because they thought they were disturbing me (which has since led me to stop eating breakfast at my desk) but I snack at least once during the day. I couldn’t imagine being told I need to go elsewhere to eat my snack…this guy is a Looney Toon.

  42. JustMe*

    haaaaa I had a coworker just like this once. OP, you literally did nothing wrong and I think you should have stood your ground and continued to bring in your breakfast until an actual person in charge told you otherwise.

  43. Bookmark*

    In this situation, I’d be tempted to say something like, “Hm, well as far as I’m aware, eating at my desk isn’t against company policy, and eating breakfast at this time is what works best for me. Please let whoever raised this concern *significant look at Sam* know that they can come to me directly and I’d be happy to work with them on addressing the issue.” Puts Sam on notice that you’re not fooled by pretending this is someone else’s issue, but leaves the door open if there’s some kind of legitimate issue he (or someone else) might have. Because someone saying, “hey, I know this is a me problem, but I’m finding the sight of your breakfast really distracting. Could you put it in an opaque container?” would get a much more sympathetic response.

  44. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    If Sam doesn’t like the food look or smell, I have no objection to him talking to OP about it. But that whole I’m-too-spineless-to-use-my-words-like-a-grownup-so-I’m-going-to-lie thing is just plain jackassery.

  45. dwilsonpa*

    We had rules about not throwing food trash out our desk since that could attract mice and to use trashcan’s in the pantry area. But I often ate at my desk or even at certain times in meetings, if I’ve got meetings scheduled all day, I have no choice.
    We did have microwave popcorn banned after too many fire alarms were set off. Though once a week, our supply store in the building use to make “real” popcorn. It was the best.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This reminds me of a funny memory. I worked at a toxic place and I had hit BEC with the boss and the office favorite. Office Favorite was allowed to bring her dog to work for some reason, and one day found an individually wrapped dog treat that had gone moldy. It was sort of like a big stick of beef jerky, but meant for dogs. It was about the size of a banana. Boss’s trashcan was near his office door. Office Favorite just put the funky jerky in that as she walked past, thinking it would get emptied. Oh, right, and around this time, Boss thought he’d save money by only having the cleaner come every other week (normally we all emptied our own trash but if the cleaner saw full trash she’d empty it). Boss was in and out over the course of 2 weeks and never emptied his trash, and then all of a sudden smelled a horrible smell. Turned his office upside down trying to figure it out, and it was the dog treat. Despite the fact it was in obvious dog treat packaging, he fired off an invective-filled email about how we all need to respect the office and not throw away food garbage in our respective offices, etc. Office Favorite skated by while the rest of us got obliquely yelled at. Good times.

  46. Registrars like to snack too*

    Honestly, the only places I’ve worked where we weren’t allowed to eat at our desks outlined that on Day One at the job. That includes my time working in a library (no-brainer, though we had a small break room for meal times), reception at a mental health facility, and a restaurant (and that was more “eat in the back while customers are here” than “don’t eat at all”).
    My current job, we all eat in our offices unless we leave for lunch, and even then we know to keep rude opinions to ourselves.
    Sam sounds like a dip and a jerk.

  47. upipaniot*

    I’m confused by the emphasis on how “healthy” the breakfasts were. Are croissants a particularly unhealthy food in contrast? I don’t know, I guess I’m distracted by my aversion to black and white labeling of foods as healthy or unhealthy with no nuance. But I’m wondering if there was supposed to be some implication that that was what Sam took issue with.

    1. Sneaky Squirrel*

      Agreed that healthy/unhealthy are problematic food labels; I think OP was trying to paint a picture of what foods would normally look like (e.g. they’re not bringing in flaky pastries, they’re bringing in sopping moist soaked oats, soupy green appearances). I suspect it was the appearance of the foods that was triggering Sam (or this anonymous complainer in HR).

  48. Raida*

    for me, the best response is “Sam, does my eating at my desk bother you? The sound, the green goo foods? You can tell me, I’m happy to eat goopy things in the kitchen.”
    and nod at him encouragingly.

    If he’s still evasive, “Okay, well then I’ll go ask HR Person That Isn’t Here Today if there’s been a complaint or pissy comments or if it’s a policy I am unaware of.”

    raise eyebrows – hey Sam now’s your chance to say you don’t like it.

    and the croissants? “Mate. You gonna clean that up? Could you have found a messier food to eat over someone else’s desk? Move.”

  49. NeutralJanet*

    I mean, on the one hand, Sam was very obviously lying and it was very much not a believable lie, but on the other, he did get the result he wanted, so…well done to him, I suppose.

  50. Sleeve McQueen*

    I’m not saying that the OP would have been right to tell Sam “the policy says it’s still ok for you to feel free to eat my farts (at your desk)”. But it would have felt good.

  51. VaguelySpecific*

    I, too, have a coworker who will say that someone anonymously told him that “they didn’t like” something that happened in a meeting (sorry, keeping things vague) when it’s really just him not liking something that happened and he wants to make it look like he isn’t alone in his (usually off base, unreasonable) opinions.

  52. Dr Sarah*

    I recognise this is a total tangent, but… overnight oats are a thing that exist? I had never previously heard of them and I am very satisfied that I finally have a headcanon for why on earth the rabbit in ‘Goodnight Moon’ had a bowl of mush left next to his bed overnight. (Of course, it was still a terrible decision to leave it out uncovered when they had mice, but at least I now know they weren’t just expecting him to eat cold day-old mush the next day.)

    1. JustaTech*

      Overnight oats are more like muslei – processed but not cooked oatmeal (instant or old fashioned rolled oats, not steel-cut oats) that’s soaked in a liquid, usually some kind of milk in the fridge overnight so they’re soft in the morning.
      They were huge on the internet back 5-8 years ago as a trendy thing to put in a Mason jar (back when everything went in a Mason jar), but I still eat them for breakfast every day.

      I don’t know what’s up with the mush in Goodnight Moon – reading it as an adult to a baby it’s just as weird as when I was a kid.

    2. Sleeve McQueen*

      I make up a batch on Sundays and eat them on work days. I change up the fruits week to week so I don’t get bored (and will make a compote for it instead of fresh fruit if I have a bunch of fruit that passed its prime). They genuinely make my life easier

  53. Jess*

    I once had a supervisor walk over to me at the end of a long row of field agents at 3 foldable tables to tell me that eating was unprofessional. We had no clients, everyone had eaten at the tables for months, except for me bc i am vegetarian and am so, so used to comments about my food.

    Anyways, she was standing next to my seatmate who had a can of pop and a half an open bag of chips sitting right in front of her as she quite seriously and loudly delivered this edict.

    I had eaten my last bite of something (hand held i don’t recall) from earlier out of my bag. I looked at my seatmate and she silently looked back at me. I just said “understood”. because i did, in fact, understand now where I ranked in the pecking order where prior I had only suspected.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  54. Jenn*

    I don’t think the cost is as much of an issue as the implication that everyone needs to have lunch together. At my last job (which I left) the upper management were expected to eat together in the conference room, while the admin staff had to eat in the kitchen. No co-mingling.

    I found it horrifying and wouldn’t participate.

    A lunch break is meant to be that – a break.

Comments are closed.