At the end of every day these items can be found on my desk at work: a large cardboard cup containing a residue of cold, brownish milk; a bag with grease marks and Danish pastry crumbs stuck to it; at least one empty can of Diet Coke; a wrapper that once contained an egg and cress sandwich; a banana skin and an empty Maltesers packet.
For more than a decade I have been a devotee of dining al desko and have defended the practice to anyone who attacks it. I enjoy eating at my desk. Frequent visits to the vending machine punctuate the day and serve equally well for reward, for consolation and for an energy boost.
Last week I gave it all up. A visitor to the office would now find no trace of food on my desk, only a bone china cup, washed up and left neatly by my keyboard.
This radical transformation has come as a result of reading a column by the restaurant reviewer AA Gill, in which he expounds a new sort of diet. You can eat whatever you like in whatever quantity but must obey the following rules on how you do it. 1. Don’t eat anything that can’t be eaten with a knife and fork. 2. Eat at a table with a place set, preferably facing someone else who is also eating. 3. Never eat because you are hungry: always eat because it is lunchtime. 4. Never eat standing up. 5. Never eat anything with, or off, plastic or cardboard. 6. Never eat with a screen on in the same room. 7. All meals must have at least two courses, except breakfast.
发生这一根本变化的原因是，我阅读了餐厅评论家阿德里安•A•吉尔(AA Gill)的一篇专栏文章。他推崇一种新的饮食方式。你可以想吃什么吃什么、爱吃多少吃多少，但必须遵守怎么吃的规则：1. 不要吃任何不能用刀叉吃的食物；2. 在指定场所的桌边吃东西，最好是面对其他同样在吃东西的人；3. 永远不要出于饥饿吃东西，而是到午餐时间再吃东西；4. 永远不要站着吃东西；5. 永远不要用塑料或纸板餐具吃东西，也不要吃这类餐具中盛着的食物；6. 永远不要在有显示屏的房间吃东西；7. 除了早餐以外，每次用餐至少须有两道菜。
At home, I have always more or less followed this diet. There are not many things left in life that I unambiguously believe in, but the family mealtime – with everyone sitting round a table, which has been laid in advance – is one of them.
Yet if this diet comes so naturally at home, why do I abandon it the minute I get to work? The detritus on my desk shows that every day I break all the rules. I even flout rule #4 and eat the first couple of Maltesers on the journey from vending machine to desk.
You could say the fault isn’t mine, it is that offices invite uncivilised eating. My mother – a great believer in putting milk in jugs – is not there to advise and I am surrounded by colleagues, slurping and munching their way through the day.
I set out to see what office life would be like following Gill’s rules. The first change is that you have to have breakfast at home – which turns out to be an instant improvement as your own kitchen is the ideal place for breakfast and a belly full of porridge and toast is a better start to the day than a greasy Danish.
Mid-morning I made a jug of coffee in the office, offered it round and drank mine from a china cup. This was so agreeable – better coffee, cheaper and more sociable – it made me wonder what I’ve been doing all these years sucking lattes out of a hole in a plastic lid like a baby drinking from a beaker.
At lunchtime on Day One, I went out with a colleague to buy a sandwich and some fruit, which we ate at a small table in his office. It was OK but the wrapping was non-compliant and I was eating with my hands. So on Day Two, I broached the office canteen, where I haven’t eaten in years. There I ate hot food on crockery with a knife and fork that I also used for my banana, which oddly tasted better as a result. The food wasn’t great, but the break in the day, the enforced conversation with colleagues and the superior feeling that comes from being civilised more than made up for it.
Mid-afternoon I went without Maltesers but didn’t miss them. Nor did I miss the Diet Coke. Instead I made a pot of tea for everyone and, thinking of my mum, even put the milk in a jug.
The reason it was so easy is that food itself is curiously forgettable; what is not forgettable is the anticipation and the ritual. The knowledge that I was going to eat properly at lunchtime made the anticipation sweeter. Equally, the ritual of warming the teapot does the soul good.
Set against the benefits of this new diet – which is convivial, civilised, healthy, cheap, tidy and creates little rubbish – the only disadvantage is that it makes you disagreeably smug. With all the intolerance of a brand new convert, I have been giving filthy looks to the man who sits next to me as he stuffs a cheese croissant into his mouth while gawping at the screen.
So far my disapproval hasn’t created many disciples. However, the diet is so good, I think coercion might be called for. Companies should get rid of all their vending machines and make the canteen the heart of office life, just as the kitchen is the centre at home.