Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I do, however, hate forced socializing.

I am on occasion an office feeder myself (via). Usually for the sorts of non-nefarious reasons that the Jezebel post describes. Maybe this is a real social phenomenon elsewhere, n=1, etc., but I've also never encountered the sort of co-worker who vigorously pushes sweets on me or anyone else. In most offices where I've worked, would-be feeders typically send out mass e-mails to the effect of "Peach cake in the kitchen" and let others take or leave as they choose. (And yes, mostly, people take.)

Also, I'm hard pressed to think of a time when offering a non-body-image-related reason to decline -- such as "Thank you, that looks lovely, but I'm just not hungry right now" or "That looks delightful, but I ate just a little while ago"-- has not been sufficient. I do find it in better taste to avoid mentioning one's diet or weight issues, as all too often, this sort of thing comes off as sanctimonious. It's also difficult for the feeder to back off gracefully, as assenting can signal "Yes, I do think you are actually fat, never mind," which is not really so gracious, either.

Relevant Seinfeld video below also, because nobody's brought it up so far...


  1. Thanks for that clip - I so wanted to do that but need to self-censor when it comes to Seinfeld references. But now that the cat's out of the bag, this scene also came to mind.

    The offices you've worked in sound especially civilized. If cake is simply there for the taking, that's the best of all possible worlds, but it's often either being brought around from office to office or, as in the clip, consumed in one central location, and in either of those cases (and apparently in the experience of the Daily Mail commenters) pressuring can occur. As can implicit pressure - it looks odd to be the one person refusing cake. (Can't find the Seinfeld clip where George is supposed to drink to fit in on an interview or something like that, but I vaguely remember this happening.) Particularly in an all-female environment, and particularly if the workplace isn't so, I don't know, intellectual (and I'm thinking of places I've worked, not just speculating), it's not unheard-of for weight issues (which all women are expected to have) to be the implied undercurrent to all food consumption. It's a statement to refuse cake. It shouldn't be, but it often is.

    Anyway, I agree that the right approach to rejecting unsolicited cake is the no-thanks-I'm-not-hungry route, but I do understand that people who, say, can't consume gluten, lactose, or anything that may have touched something that may have touched pork would want to make it clear that as a general rule, they're not going to eat the cake people bring in. How this works in my experience is that people then end up bringing in cakes free of all possible offending ingredients, making it so that all but the foodies suspicious of dairy- and wheat-free cake dig in, which works out well enough. But I think that's a bit specific to NY or grad school or both, so I could see that in a "regular" office (if such a thing exists) making known any non-weight-related dietary constraints could save, if nothing else, some cake that would have otherwise been surreptitiously thrown in the trash.

  2. Okay, so forgive the long absence from the Internet...

    It's amusing to read the workplaces I've been in described as "civilized." There's no reason that you or anyone else who reads this would have reason to know this -- indeed, I try to keep this stuff off blog as much as possible -- but the government agency where I work now is really anything but. Paradoxically, that may actually make us less inclined to sweat the small stuff. "So-and-so brought muffins in again today" really seems like far less of a big deal when the members of one's commission are sniping at each other on national television and in the press.

    I suspect the real reason why e-mail is so popular in many offices in which I've worked is that it's a better way to reach a large and diffuse group. That was certainly true of the large social science research firm where I worked after college. We had dozens, possibly hundreds, of underpaid twenty something research assistants, and it seemed some project group always had leftover sandwiches or cookies from a big meeting. Mass e-mails to DC-All were the best way to communicate that leftovers were ripe for the taking.