Last year we were told that sitting down in office chairs was the biggest health risk to employees. Not anymore.
As another year gets underway and employees stumble into 2017, there’s a new occupational health and safety hazard that we’re being warned about.
The technical name for this lurking health threat is “cake”, although it also travels under the names “slice”, “biscuits” and “sweets”.
Yes, that’s right people, our waistlines and teeth are at risk from “cake culture”. The Faculty of Dental Surgery at Britain’s Royal College of Surgeons is so concerned about “cake culture” it has devoted time and resources to making public warnings and writing position papers.
As Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the faculty of dental surgery, makes clear in an article on the college’s website: “While these sweet treats might be well meaning, they are also contributing to the current obesity epidemic and poor oral health.”
Professor Hunt has a resolution for us all: “Make combating cake culture in your workplace one of your new year’s resolutions for a healthier 2017.”
To which, the proper response should be, “Oh, puh-leeze.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Royal College of Surgeons has all kinds of resources and data at its disposal about the causes of ill health. But the best it could come up with is “cake culture”?
How about we focus on the health risks of smartphones and a work culture that carries expectations that we respond to email 24/7, even when we’re officially on annual leave? Or poor health induced by workplace stress and eroding employment conditions?
Perhaps we could consider what treating people like battery hens – cramming them into windowless cubicles for eight to 10 – sometimes more – hours a day does to people’s health.
If we must reduce this conversation to snack food, then let’s talk about all those offices located in soulless business parks where about the only access to food is a soft drink and snack vending machine. Even when there are healthy eating options available employees end up snacking from vending machines because they don’t have time to leave their desks to get a proper lunch.
And what about the highly-processed take-away dinner employees pick up on the way home from work because, after slaving away at their desk all day, they don’t have the time or the energy to prepare home cooked meals. And then there’s the cost. Many poorer workers struggle to afford high-quality fresh food.
As any serious obesity researcher knows, the causes of obesity are far more complex than a cream sponge. Among other things, obesity is a result of poverty, a food industry that is permitted to pack our food with sugar and other processed crap and market it as “healthy”, and a bums-on-seats work culture that is continually expecting a greater slice of employees’ lives.
Yet we’re now to blame obesity on Margaret from accounts who was kind enough to bring in a cake for her colleague’s birthday.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, has gone one step further and is suggesting that poor Margaret is an evil scheming fat feeder.
“You may not know who in the office is secretly dieting in which case they won’t appreciate your gesture: if you do know, you’re plainly malicious,” Fry told The Telegraph.
Given the pronouncements on the Royal College of Surgeons’ website, you’d be forgiven for thinking that “cake culture” is some new and dastardly phenomena seeping through our workplaces that has only just been discovered by dentists.
But the only thing new about “cake culture” is its ridiculous name. Sharing food with your colleagues to mark special occasions and rituals is as old as Jesus’ first start-up workshop with his disciple marketing team.
What seems to be missing here is the understanding that food is more than “fuel”. While it might come as a surprise to Professor Hunt, food is part of social and cultural life. While health is one consideration, it is but one.
Celebrating birthdays with a customary birthday cake in a workplace is often a great opportunity for building professional and social relationships, creating shared experiences and having fun. Not only is the social side of work great for business – companies spend big dollars on team building – it’s also extremely important for employee happiness and mental health.
And let’s not forget that it’s often women who bring such snacks into professional environments, an extension of their “caring” role in the home. It’s also sometimes an unspoken expectation that women provide this service.
Rather than attacking the women who often give up their time and their food for free to add a little more joy and sense of community in a workplace, how about we get serious and talk about the real workplace cultural issues and the genuine causes of employees’ poor health.
This article first appeared in Daily Life