The six rules of eating in the workplace
As skeletons in closets go, you could argue it’s not quite in the same league as Gary Hart’s extramarital affair before the 1988 presidential election, or Donald Trump’s entire life and career prior to 2016, or the awkward fact that, ahead of 2020, that Democratic hopeful Michael Bloomberg used to be a Republican.
But to say that is to minimise the grave depravity of the offences levelled at Ron DeSantis this week, and minimise them is the absolute last thing we should be doing. The Florida governor, seen as the only real contender to Donald Trump in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, is, according to multiple reports from those unfortunate enough to witness it… a disgusting work eater.
“He would sit in meetings and eat in front of people,” a courageous former DeSantis employee told The Daily Beast, “always like a starving animal who has never eaten before… getting s*** everywhere.”
We can all agree that image is abhorrent. But somehow it gets so much worse, and so much more graphic, with the uncovering of something we are doomed to call BrownFingerGate.
“Enshrined in DeSantis lore is an episode from four years ago,” The Beast went on to report. “During a private plane trip from Tallahassee to Washington DC in March 2019, DeSantis enjoyed a chocolate pudding dessert – by eating it with three of his fingers, according to two sources familiar with the incident.”
Across the pond, questions have rightly been asked. Such as “why”? And “is cutlery a tool of the woke liberal elite now”? And “so was it three fingers at once, forming a kind of trowel with which to deliver chocolate pudding to his gaping maw, like a sloth or large predatory insect (Ron DePrayingMantis? Trump, you can have that one), or was it one finger at a time, cycling between his favoured three, until no pud was left”? Mostly, though “why”?
These revelations are unlikely to land a killer blow on DeSantis, however much they should. But the wrinkled noses and reviled silence from election watchers in the US betrays the crime: DeSantis has broken several cardinal, but unwritten, rules of workplace eating. For those in doubt, here is a rough guide.
Keep things simple
If you must eat in a meeting – if you are too busy and important to eat anywhere else, or at any other time – then the least you can do is make it quick, and look as if you aren’t enjoying it. The simplest, swiftest, most basic sandwich is acceptable. So is the saddest salad, the smallest soup and the most solemn sushi. Pure energy, pure efficiency (though never Huel). Anything elaborate or actively enjoyable-looking, though, and you’ve lost the crowd. Not only will they be resentful of you eating in a meeting, but they’ll also be jealous of your lunch. Read the room.
A case in point: in 2015, local politicians in Camden, north London, were ordered to stop eating in the Town Hall chamber after a Tory councillor was reprimanded by the mayor for eating a duck roast dinner.
“It appears that one of our Tory colleagues is consuming a full Sunday roast dinner in the council chamber. Could I ask the borough solicitor to give us advice on eating a full roast dinner in the council chamber. It’s a little bit more than a cheeky Snickers,” a Labour rival and talented snitch announced to the room.
The mayor replied that he wanted to remind all councillors eating was banned, “no matter whether it is delicious or cr*p, sorry.”
Now, I do not believe the mayor there. If the Tory had quietly unsheathed an M&S ham and mustard mayo sandwich, consumed the lot in four furtive bites and mouthed “sorry” to those either side then carried on with his work, he’d have been given the benefit of the doubt. But he didn’t. He had a full duck roast. And that’s just a massive, waterfowl f*** you. Learn from him.
Nobody wants their roughly-assessed business plan returned to them with the shrapnel from a sriracha chicken salad wrap and dribbles of lentil soup now embossed on it. It should be pored over, not poured over. Eat classily, sweeping and wiping as you go, and not like an orphan child who’s just been released from a workhouse, taken in by a kindly benefactor and given the first square meal of their life. People will remember that, just like they remembered DeSantis doing it. In all things, but especially this, be less DeSantis.
Timing is everything
A politician’s job is to speak and present well, commanding meetings, inspiring those around them and appearing engaged in the going concerns brought to their attention. This is likely why DeSantis’s team found his eating in meetings so vile: he was talking with his mouth full.
Imagine if I wrote with my hands full? It would look like goabigorab fbai bv agvvab rabin?AR231 – and what a crying shame that’d be, for you to miss out on what I have to say about Ron DeSantis eating a pudding. If you’re leading things, put the food aside until you are merely listening. Nobody will be able to focus on anything other than your mastication, anyway.
Understand that people have olfactory nerves
What is that, reheated fish, which you plan on eating here, at your desk? Are you outside of your mind? You might as well have dragged a bin bag full of old hair in here and set it alight, it’s that bad. You might as well have called in a bomb scare, because everyone’s evacuating anyway. In fact, you might as well just resign right here, right now, before you’ve even touched your kedgeree. There’s no coming back from this.
Come prepared, but not too prepared
An example of being prepared: Having, or asking for, the right cutlery when eating a chocolate pudding on a private plane full of colleagues, rather than having to paw the thing, leaving your hand brown and sticky for the rest of the day, especially when your job largely involves shaking hands with people. (Besides, everybody knows that the best improvised cutlery, especially for hummus, is a Biro lid).
An example of being *too* prepared: Pulling out a luxury wicker hamper with in-built cheese board, full serving cutlery set, plates and fondue set. You could try and diffuse the tension with, “Cracker, anyone?” but it won’t work, no matter how good the crackers. The same goes for turning your mouse-infested desk into a miniature prep kitchen for a homemade Buddha bowl. Just get a meal deal like the rest of us.
Sharing’s caring, until it’s not
If you brought in a cake, by all means share it. If you accidentally have far too much quiche, offer a slice to somebody near and dear, or far and starved, for that is fine. If you have decided you don’t actually have room for your sealed bag of crisps, pass them on. If you’re la-dee-da and bought some brie, cherry tomatoes and a French stick to make your own sandwiches, but find you have no need for the other 32 portions, do please send an all-team email offering to transport any takers to Provence, one bite at a time.
But if you’re noshing a petrol station cheese and onion sandwich in a quarterly catch-up and can’t quite finish it due to indigestion, you do not need to give in to your urge to offer it to the rest around the room. Nor does Malcolm the data engineer need to sup your homemade soup to see what you mean about how well surprisingly balanced the seasoning is, before or, especially, after you’ve started it. He believes you. He can smell it from over there.
Learn these rules, and you may just make it to retirement without somebody ever saying that “enshrined in [your] lore” is a double-sourced incident about how revolting you are to work with. Bon appétit.