This one takes the cake

Dr James Kierstead
Insights Newsletter
27 January, 2023

Going public with a complaint against your employer is always difficult. But enough is enough. And what better place to do it than in the always-serious Insights 3 column?

Susan Jebb, the head of the UK’s Food Standards Agency, has spoken out against that gravest of office dangers: colleagues who bring cake in to share. ‘If nobody brought cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day,’ Jebb said, ‘but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them.’

I am sorry to declare, in the light of Jebb’s comments, that the New Zealand Initiative is an unsafe work environment. On several occasions, I have been offered croissants, muffins, and even pains au chocolat. A few times I was even openly offered slices of cake – and by colleagues who must have been aware of my inability to say no to a gateau.

As Jebb has pointed out, this is comparable to being forced to go into a smoke-filled pub. As she told The Times, passive smoking inflicts harm on others, ‘and exactly the same is true of food.’

Luckily, Jebb’s comments didn’t stop there. Because cake-filled environments like the New Zealand Initiative’s offices are implicated in wider systems of oppression.

As Jebb said, ‘at the moment we allow advertising for commercial gain, with no health controls on it whatsoever.’ Because of this ‘we’ve ended up with a complete market failure because what you get advertised is chocolate and not cauliflower.’

She’s right. I can’t remember a single advert for cauliflower. Nor, in our society, do we give boxes of individually-wrapped cauliflower to our Valentines. But why not?

It can’t, obviously, be that people get more enjoyment about some things than others, and that making your own mind up about what you’re going to enjoy, and in what measure, is part of the joy of being part of a free society.

The last thing we would want to do, of course, is to organize a whole economic system around that idea.

The advertising of junk food is, to quote Jebb one final time, ‘undermining people’s free will.’ What we need to do, and fast, is to crack down on the office profiterole-profferers and Schwarzwaldkuchen-suppliers and put an immediate ban on all advertising of nice, tempting things.

Only then will be truly free of the scourge of office cake.

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