eating · fitness · overeating

Is second-hand cake as bad for you as second-hand smoke? On sweets in the workplace

On January 18, The Washington Post was either having a very slow news day or engaging in a hazing ritual for new editors. Why do I think this? Because of this article that somehow got published about how Dr. Susan, Jebb, chair of the UK Food Standards Agency personally doesn’t like it when people bring cakes into the office:

“If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day, but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them,” professor Susan Jebb, chairwoman of the Food Standards Agency, told Britain’s Times newspaper. “We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time, and we undervalue the impact of the environment.”

Hmm. I see. Did a new study come out about workplace treat consumption and health outcomes? A randomized controlled trial to measure employee BMI before and after the experimental group had a slew of employee birthday parties? A literature review on the state of employee workplace nutritional intake?

Nope. Courtesy of Daniel Herron, on Unsplash. I don't know if the writing is edible or not.
Nope. Courtesy of Daniel Herron, on Unsplash. I don’t know if the writing is edible or not.

Someone just asked Jebb what she personally thought about workplace cakes. She added:

“As The Times article points out I made the comments in a personal capacity and any representation of them as the current position or policy of the FSA is misleading and inaccurate.”

But then she went on (fair enough– some reporter kept asking her questions, which she kept answering).

“With smoking, after a very long time, we have got to a place where we understand that individuals have to make some effort, but that we can make their efforts more successful by having a supportive environment,” she said. “But we still don’t feel like that about food.”

Right. Public health nutrition professor doesn’t want cake in the workplace, and suggests that we are now in a position with respect to cake in the workplace that we used to be with respect to smoking in the workplace.

As you would imagine, Washington Post subscribers had much to say in the comments. For ease of digesting them, I’ll put them into manageable bites:

Clever frontal assaults:

  • Oh, please. I’ve never been afflicted by second hand cake because it isn’t possible, unless perhaps you slip on someone’s cake and fall down the stairs.
  • Is it possible to actually inhale cake involuntarily now?
  • Some of the foods in our environment are designed to kill.

Crabby and ungrateful co-workers

  •  I didn’t like the cake for my birthday at work from co-workers, even if they were excellent. I also didn’t like it when sweets or cakes were brought in for everyone to enjoy.
  • … while the person bringing cake to the office is trying to be kind, they’re poisoning their colleagues.

No more workplace cake because no more workplace!

  • Maybe it’s not the cake but the workplace that’s killing us.
  • Maybe working in an office is the real health risk, not the cake. Sitting at a desk and working on a computer for 8 or more hours a day is way worse than cake. 

Pro-cake partisans

  • I love office cakes. I love office snacks. I love goodies that distract from the daily grind.
  • How often do these coworkers bring cake to the office? They can come work with me.

My favorite is below– I wish I had written it myself, but I’m doing the next best thing by sharing it with all of you here:

The underlying assumption here is that gaining weight is just as unhealthy as smoking. Believe it or not, responsible science doesn’t actually support a clear and direct connection between weight and health outcomes. Food can be a social catalyst and cultural touchstone. Eat the damn cake if you want to; don’t if you don’t.

So, readers, what do you think? When it’s someone’s birthday in your office, should you let them eat cake? Let us know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Is second-hand cake as bad for you as second-hand smoke? On sweets in the workplace

  1. When I first saw the headlines I assumed something more sensible in the content. I thought it was going to be about diverse workforces and inclusivity. Like making sure workplace celebrations included those with gluten intolerances or who were vegan. I thought they might have a good point. But no. It’s calories and fat phobia all the way down. Ugh. Thanks for making me laugh. You can just decline cake unlike second hand smoke.

  2. As much as I like to bake and have been known to bring baked goods into the office, I have found some office cultures uncomfortable around cake celebrations and potlucks (I hate potlucks at the office for many reasons). However, I have also learned how to politely decline when I am not interested. The rationale/suggestion put forth by the Jebb is irrational. Many people enjoy “second hand cake” and there are much worse things to rail against in office culture.

  3. How backwards to think that bringing a birthday cake for a colleague is somehow creating an *unsupportive* environment. Fatphobia makes people so joyless and weird, holy cow. Also since when is it your colleagues’ job to manage your eating habits, or even to know about them? I dunno, somehow I find myself not eating things I don’t want to eat quite regularly without it requiring anyone else to change their behaviour at all.

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