On Office Lunches & Eating At Your Desk

Erin’s uncle got us a big-ass country ham as a Christmas gift last year. After presenting the receipt at the local deli, the ham was sliced for free into large 1/4″ slices that were at least 12″ wide. We received our sliced ham in two packages that we immediately froze. Some time later, we ate one of the packages (the smaller one) and earlier this week decided to bust out the other pack. On Tuesday night I fried up two slices – one for each of us – and served alongside some fluffy scrambled eggs and some biscuits. We chewed until we just couldn’t chew anymore – it was really a lot of ham.

I also fried an extra piece for us to split for breakfast the next day and another piece for us to split for lunch the next day. My intention was to use all of the ham, but I used a total of four slices, leaving 8 to go back into the freezer. After lunch the next day we both decided neither of us wanted ham for a long time – it really was a lot of fucking ham.

That was two days ago, hardly enough time for me to get over the porky ham hangover I had, yet something unexplainable happened at the office this afternoon when someone heated up what smelled an awful lot like ham in the nearby break room. The smell that erupted from the tiny little microwave in the break room barely big enough for two people to stand in together comfortably – but just barely – came an odor that can only be described as utterly breathtaking. It floated through the air like an angelic cloud of rainbows, puppies and your favorite pornography and hit the nostrils in a way that was both tender and obliterating. Yes, two days after eating more ham than I could stand, my keyboard laid beneath me covered in an uneven layer of slobber fresh from my hungry lips.

Why do we do this to our colleagues?

When I worked at the Baby Farm, eating at your desk was expressly forbidden (unless you were a grants manager, apparently) so if bagged lunches required re-heating, the smell started in the microwave and ended in the same break room. There’d be the occasional burnt popcorn smell that would inevitably fill the entire office, but for the most part, lunch smells – good or bad – remained in that cramped break room, shared by 12-15 people.

When I got my current job one of the things that really jumped out at me was the ability to eat at one’s desk. I don’t always have a lunch date and I do often feel silly sitting by myself in a break room eating leftovers while scouring my iPhone for the recent happenings on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook – especially when there’s a perfectly good computer with two monitors sitting, unused, on my desk.

For the most part, leftovers I bring in – usually something like chicken & rice, a hamburger, bbq brisket or hash – are, while not odorless, not that noticeable that I can tell. The occasional leftover pizza or almost anything else strongly Italian, on the other hand, is a different story. I can easily imagine my coworkers nearby reacting to it in a way not unlike the way I reacted to today’s ham. When the ham smell wafted through my cube, my weekday thoughts of streaming Flash videos, adaptive bit rate videos for iOS devices, video scheduling & publishing, preroll creation and asset creation and ingest just went out the door and all I could think about was ham and how close to lunch time it was. I certainly don’t want to say I was nonproductive or useless but for the most part I was both.

And then there’s the infamous not-so-good smell that so often comes from that same microwave – the smells of burnt popcorn, Healthy Choice microwavable dinners and everyone’s least favorite: fish. These smells seem to overtake an entire office building much like the plague only more fast-spreading and even more deadly. I heated up some scallops for a salad once and felt like I owed the entire office an apology – even the people in the building next door – and I even microwaved it less than they required with hopes of the smell not fighting its way out.

Unfortunately, it seems as though until the day we’re all eating tasteless, scentless 3-D printed foods we’ll continue to deal with the aroma of watery beef stew, garlic-y leftover mushroom pizza from Marco’s, leftover broiled tilapia, burnt toast and the remaining butter drippings from the nearly-exploded popcorn bag…

…All for the sake of eating at our desks – a privilege I’ve wanted for a long time.

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