‘Desk-fasting’ has become a way of life for office workers. Joanna Blythman explains why it's time to ditch this habit and make time for a home breakfast.
Since when did it become acceptable to eat breakfast at your desk? It even has a name – ‘desk-fasting’. Do you do it? Or do you have to put up with the munch and slurp of colleagues ploughing through bowls of cereal, or the stink of tepid all-day breakfast buns in takeaway cardboard cartons, which then get stuffed in the office bin? Perhaps you’ve learned to ignore the unwashed bowl of microwave porridge that festers on the desk opposite for most of the day, the spoon that’s been licked ‘clean’, not washed?
I find this modern British habit pretty disgusting. For starters, desk-fasting is dirty. Computer keyboards and phones are germ warfare writ large. If I were an employer I’d call it slobbish, disorganised and unprofessional.
People should turn up awake and ready to work. What would we think of someone who brushed their teeth in the office loo before starting work? We’d probably guess that they’d had a rough night and predict that they’d have an unproductive day, work-wise. I’m not sure that desk-fasters are much better. Routine desk-fasting is a sure sign of people who are ever so slightly out of control of their lives.
Call me old school, but I enjoy breakfast at home – I even get up early to have a leisurely one. It’s important to eat breakfast at home. It allows you total control over what you eat, saves money and is more likely to be healthy and sustaining than something bought on the hoof. This calm daily ritual grounds and steadies me, preparing me psychologically for the day. It’s my personal time before any claims are made on me by work.
On the odd occasions I leave the house unfed, I’m rattled for the day. I wonder how much commuter irritability and aggression may be due to similar ‘hangriness’. Many people’s journey to work is already a struggle. Add hunger and a long queue at the breakfast takeaway into the mix, and you’re not looking at a recipe for civil harmony or personal serenity.
Yes, I hear loud protests from the ‘I don’t feel like breakfast early’ brigade, which includes several friends who’ve tried to convince me that a later breakfast suits them best. I think they’re deluding themselves, or at least not facing up to the consequences of this attitude. More often than not, they end up eating nutrient-challenged, carb-heavy pastries and drinking overpriced coffees at their computers. Where’s the sustenance in that?
Ultimately, what bothers me most about desk-fasting is not that it’s an environmental nuisance, or that it’s unhealthy, unhygenic and wallet-mugging. It’s that it normalises the intrusion of the workplace into our personal time, allowing it to shape and define our daily rituals.
Of course, some other countries bypass home breakfast. Italians will stand to down an espresso en route to work, and that’s as far as breakfast goes. But they’ll clock off at midday or so to eat a proper meal at home or in a restaurant. In the UK, on the other hand, many office workers are back in the takeaway queue for lunch, for a double dose of expensive snack food. What a miserable existence. It’s time to get a life.
Easy home breakfasts
- Yogurt or labneh with fresh fruit, nuts or cacao nibs
- Porridge, from overnight-soaked oatmeal, millet or sprouted grains, or instant rolled oats
- Chia seed pudding soaked in coconut milk and cocoa powder
- Rye bread with butter, cheese, cured ham and radishes
- Eggs: poached, fried, scrambled, omelettes
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Good Food contributing editor Joanna is an award-winning journalist who has written about food for 25 years. She is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4