Cooking Connection: Agitators

Goodlifer: Cooking Connection: Agitators

His biggest sin, was not eating the cold cuts. After that Patricia wanted nothing to do with him. She didn’t simply avoid socializing with him. She took it further, ignoring him at office meetings and even ignoring his comments on those rare occasions when their offices had to collaborate.

“Just eat the damn cold cut,” I would say whenever the topic came up.

But Robert would always respond, sometimes yelling, “Why should I have to eat her god damn cold cuts just to work together? NO! Besides you don’t understand, it’s every other god damn day.”

The truth was, I didn’t understand. Back then I was still working my way through graduate school and had no idea what an office environment was like. I got my first taste later that year when I took a job at a research institute.

At first, it all started off innocently enough. My colleagues threw a small party to welcome me after my first week. A kind act to be sure, it was catered by a local sandwich shop that used fresh veggies and high quality deli meats. No doubt a pricey affair.

The next week, Dianne, the woman who had organized the party started bringing in homemade desserts—everyday! Mondays were usually some sort of chocolate, muffins dominated the mid-week and red velvet somehow appeared every Friday. So what? Just ignore the food.

Sadly, it was never that simple.

“Don’t you want a little dessert with your lunch?”

“No, no, thank you though.” that’s how it started. Polite.

Unbelievably, most of my co-workers broke down and had dessert every day. Over the months, the buffet grew as several of my colleagues with ever increasing waistlines began bringing in additional food. A full fledged daily potluck had developed complete with peer pressure.

“Don’t you like pringles?”

“I’m not much of a chip eater.” I would respond with a forced smile.

“Oh don’t mind him, he doesn’t like anything.” Dianne would turn and make a strange face at me and then say, “party pooper.”

When had my job become a party? When had uncontrolled weight gain, the consumption of chemically processed foods, and a dedication to developing diabetes become part of the job description? Or at least the office culture? By the end of my first six months at the job, I was regularly derided for the Whole Foods bag that I carried back and forth as a tote, isolated from most office functions, and generally considered to be an “unpleasant man” — which as near as I can tell is the bureaucrat’s euphemism for asshole.

I had to endure comments like, “Oh whole foods, yeah I heard that’s whole paycheck,” followed by cackling. Or the ever popular, “How do you afford your apartment when you throw all that money away on food?” And my favorite concerned advice from an older colleague in the office when I gave her organic chocolates for christmas, “Sweetheart, my mother always used to say, if you eat all your money, you’ll never have nothin’”

Yet other people at work, would take the tact that my food selections indicated that I was spoiled and wealthy. The simple suggestion of this was beyond ridiculous. This was an entry level job and the majority of my co-workers made far more than I did at that point. The issue wasn’t class — however much an organic apple may have become a strange symbol of elitism for my colleagues. It wasn’t even an issue of education, most of the people in the office had the same level of education.

Pure and simple, it’s a philosophy of the body. It’s an example of cultural priorities. Embracing the good life takes us back to a culture of respecting our bodies and by extension being careful about the things we put in them. As much as pundits and other media agitators may want to link this to race, class, or political party membership it’s both more inclusive and yet equally as contentious as all of those other categories. I never came up with answer for how to bridge these gaps, I encounter similar office politics surrounding food even today. But I wonder if it has much to do with a confusion over what the real issue is.

About author
Alexander Hogan occupies his days teaching and conducting research as a professor of political science. Like many of us, he searches for the balance and peace in a hectic, materialistic world. He is a passionate home chef and foodie who resides with his wife and impressive house plant collection in Houston, Texas.
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