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© 2015 mo'adore | Content and design by Morag Lee | Powered by Blogger.

How to support colleagues and employees with dietary issues




Some of you may have caught my Twitter rant a while ago about office cake culture (I originally wrote this blog back then). If you don't have any dietary restrictions you might be rolling your eyes right now. But think: how many times has a colleague walked around the office and placed a slice of cake on everyone's desk or someone has brought in exactly the right amount of donuts for every person? Or booked the Christmas night out and not asked if anyone has dietary restrictions? 

If you don't have a diet that is restricted, these things have probably went over your head. But in every single office I have ever worked (yes, every god damn one) I've either been made to feel awkward when I received birthday cake I couldn't eat, sat hungry in business conferences or been asked by a manager why I wasn't more enthusiastic about the office version of the Great British Bake Off.

It's not just as simple as speaking up and plainly stating why you won't eat cake (or whatever food people are dishing up). I prefer to keep my veganism (and all other political and moral opinions) out the office. It's not just veganism though. The list of reasons why someone might omit certain foods is endless: religion, diabetes, IBS, eating disorder recovery, allergies, celiac disease, high cholesterol, kidney disease, gout, and heart disease are just a few. Some of these reasons are understandably not something someone would like to discuss in the office, and shouldn't be forced to.

So that's why I've compiled a list of thing you can do to 1) consider that some people do have a restricted diet and 2) to do so in a way that respects their privacy and doesn't force them to have a conversation they'd rather not have with their colleagues. 

1. Take a head count before you pop out for donuts
Or cupcakes. Or bacon rolls. Don't come into the office and get butthurt when you realise you spent excess money because you put the "Ass Out of You and Me" into assume.

If you want to buy your colleagues a mid-day snack, make sure they actually want it. 

2. No means no
If someone politely declines food don't say "are you sure?", "oh, are you being good?" or - the worst - "well, I'm cutting you a slice anyway". Be polite and move onto the next person. 

No means no in literally every situation on the planet. No is a good word. 

3. Don't buy a birthday cake unless you know what you're doing
That birthday cake I mentioned earlier? It was my 26th birthday and my colleagues had bought me a cake that was labelled as vegetarian. They told me they weren't 100% sure I could eat it but they had seen me eat cake before so assumed it was okay (they had in fact seen me eat vegan cake). I ended up giving the cake to the guy I was seeing at the time, and I have no idea if he even ate it.  

I appreciate that they did try, but I would have preferred to get a non-food related gift with the money they collected. I think most other people with dietary restrictions would as well. Only buy someone a cake if you are certain you can get it right. 

4. Ask for dietary requirements when booking team dinners
The Christmas dinner in my first graduate job was originally going to be at a seafood restaurant. I decided I'd let other people have fun and I'd sit it out...until I found out the owners considered it mandatory to attend (that's another wtf all in itself). I then sheepishly said that I didn't eat meat. Thankfully they changed it because no one wanted to go to a seafood restaurant anyway. But if you thought that was the end of the drama, it wasn't. I had to repeat myself every goddamn year. 

Before booking anything, e-mail round asking if anyone has any dietary requirements or preferences. If someone does, goddamn respect it. I also live in Glasgow, where there are plenty of restaurants that cater to both meat-eaters and vegans, so there are no excuses. 

5. Realise that allergies can actually be deadly
There's a persistent rumour that an allergic reaction involves nothing more than a bad stomach and that a day in bed will fix it.

*head desk*

Allergies can be lethal. If someone in your team has a severe allergy that means it might potentially be life threatening. Actually understand that, and understand it some more. Allergies can kill.

I don't have an allergy, so can't give much more insight. But don't be that person who eats peanut butter sandwiches at their desk when they know the person right beside them is deathly allergic.  

6. Consider social events that don't centre around food
Why does it have to be a team dinner? There are some dietary restrictions that prevent people from ever going near a restaurant. If someone in your team falls into this category be a star and think of something that doesn't involve food. Paintballing? Football trip? Marathon? Day at the fun fayre? Seaside day trip? Picnic? Pub Quiz? Roller skating disco?

7. Don't assume an employee is disengaged if they don't partake
Sometimes a dietary requirement does prevent someone from partaking in work events, whether it's a conference, social event or trip away. Myself and others with dietary requirements do worry that we might get passed up for promotions or horizontal development because we're assumed to be disengaged. When in reality it's our dietary requirements not being respected (either by the company or wider society).

8. Don't pry
I prefer not to talk about my reasons for being vegan in an office. I would just rather everyone left it as "Morag is vegan and doesn't eat cheese". I don't want to end up in an argument with someone about the ethics of the dairy industry, or explain how I get my protein.

Usually these conversations involve me responding with three word answers and squirming in my chair. I'm clearly uncomfortable discussing this. Please use some emotional intelligence and recognise my desire to change the subject.

If someone always turns down cake, it's not your business why.

If you're someone with dietary issues, what's something you wish your colleagues understood? 
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