Ask the Critics: Is It OK to Eat My Stinky Food in the Office?


For this week’s Ask the Critic, the Fork in the Road staff tries to answer a nagging, stinking question of our own: What’s the proper etiquette for eating super-smelly food in an office?

Rebecca Marx: If you’re going to eat it, eat it quickly — don’t let it sit on your desk for hours, gassing everyone around you. And when you’ve finished, dispose of the waste outside — as in, go outside of the building and find a trash can. Do not try to hide it in the bathroom trash can, because its odor will just mingle with all of the other questionable bathroom odors and grow into a Threat Level Red stench bomb. Just get it outside, period. Also, consider bringing a toothbrush. Eating stinky food in an office is like hiking: Leave nothing behind.

Robert Sietsema: I guess it really depends on whether you love or hate your fellow office workers — and what kind of food you’re eating. A meatball hero has a definite odor, but is it offensive? I’d be inclined to say it’s not, and you should go ahead and eat it, even if it makes everybody around you drool. Something mega-garlicky? Why not? At worst, they’ll just think you’re someone of low breeding. But I’d probably have to draw the line at durian or stinky tofu, things that I’d eat that also make me retch. In other words, don’t hesitate to make your companions envious, but stop short of making them vomit.

Chantal Martineau: Well, considering I’ve been a freelancer for the past 10 years and only ever shared an office with Boris the cat (whose food is much stinkier than mine, might I add), not sure I’m the best person to ask. But I’d say, if it’s really rank, give yourself an outdoor lunch break. Or in the wintertime, grab a seat in a break room or near a window. It’s not just out of respect for your fellow office-mates, but for your own sanity. Eating at one’s desk might be something we all do, but it’s sad and uncivilized. Not to mention unhealthy. Of course, if you work in an office full of foodies, your stinky food is probably something everyone will want to get in on. (I’m picturing gooey cheese, smoked fish, something with hard-boiled egg). So, kick back at your desk and let your co-workers smolder. You don’t have to share with those jerks and their odorless food.

Lauren Shockey: I’m opposed to it if it’s a regular thing. If you eat smelly kimchi every day at 1 p.m., people will invariably hate you and call you “gross kimchi girl” behind your back. That said, if it’s an occasional thing, eat what you want. But if it’s really smelly, maybe you can bring your office-mates cookies or some other sort of tasty treat to compensate for the smell. Or eat it outside — break free from the clutches of the cubicle and get some fresh air!

Victoria Bekiempis: Funny that you should mention kimchi. I usually eat lunch in my cubicle, and it often happens to be Korean or Japanese takeout. Of course, kimchi — salty, fermented cabbage — is a staple of Korean fare, and raw fish plays a heavy hand in Japanese food. For obvious reasons, both of these mainstays can be a little pungent. Since nobody has complained about the odor, though, it seems that the best policy — both at FITR headquarters and elsewhere — might be to ignore the stench and keep eatin’. If your saucy vindaloo or anchovy pizza ain’t distracting anyone from doing their work, why mention it? And hey, trash talkers will totally eat their words when they see how tasty your seafood udon looks.