Gather round, friends, and listen to a lunchtime story. Once upon a time, there was a person who wrote things on the computer by day, and she rarely left her desk for food. Once, while working on a very important (to that writer at that time) story, she found herself ravenous, having not eaten solid food in days. Quickly, she placed a meal order via Seamless Web. It was so easy, completed without even needing to move her fingers away from the keyboard which had become their home! But she made a mistake. In an ill-placed healthiness whim, she ordered salad. She kept working.
I am not the only one, though, who has made desk-lunch mistakes. Many of us are desk-eating experts, eating at our desks not once or twice or thrice a week, but every single day. Some of us even prefer it that way. Writer Katie Drummond admits, "I eat lunch at my desk as an absolute rule. There is no other way that I eat lunch. This applies to weekdays."
In the interest of service, I sought out a few of the best in the desk-lunching world, and asked them for help in compiling this definitive guide to desk-lunching, which may be applicable for dinner, too, depending on the extent of your workaholism.
Choose Your Food Wisely. Yes, we all know how we feel when someone heats up their broccoli casserole or brings in a tub of sprouts de Brussels and proceeds to consume them in the airless, windowless office in which we work. It's a long-held rule of thumb that one should only consume foods that do not smell like old sauerkraut or the subway in August when in close proximity to coworkers, and if you cannot adhere to this simple rule, you should probably start taking those meal-pills of the future that replace food entirely. Or—and this is crazy—you could take your Brussels sprouts outside, where at least in New York City, no one will give you a passing look, or whiff.
Consider Placement (Different Formations for Different Folks!). This is where you take a moment and look long and hard at the configuration of your desktop. I'm a two-screener, so I have a monitor, a keyboard, and a laptop attached to the monitor all sharing space in the increasingly deficient space of the table I work on. Around me, there are books, as I've mentioned. So there is little space to actually set, say, a plate of fresh-caught, grilled and de-boned branzino, in front of me and also have room to work. There are some options, though. One can put their lunch in front of their keyboard, if one has a separate keyboard, and then attempt to type while simultaneously reaching over the keyboard, wrists twisted in an unhealthily twisted carpal-type fashion, to eat (not ergonomic). One can put their lunch to one side or the other (choose the side that is closer to your dominant hand). One can put lunch on their lap, though that is dangerous. One can sit on an exercise ball and imagine food instead of consuming anything. And one can clear a space, move the keyboard aside, and spend that time watching YouTube videos rather than working, if one is brave (it's research!). All of this will depend on you, your audacity, your personal preference, and the footprint of your lunch.
Paper Towels Are Your Friend. One source admits, "My keyboard is DISGUSTING from spills." In fact, all of my experts were in agreement that eating at one's desk is an action prone to go awry, cleanliness-wise. My own keyboard has a strange sheen to it, and while I am loathe to consider it, when I do, I wonder how many forms of virulent infectious bacteria are currently plotting on my desktop to rise up and contain me in their clutches, someday. Yet, in the full awareness of this, none of my desk-lunchers told me they planned to stop eating at their desks. In fact, Gizmodo's Sam Biddle confessed he fears the behavior will continue so long as there is fear itself. "I only eat at my desk because I'm afraid to not eat at my desk," he says. "I'm pretty sure we're allowed to eat away from our desks, but we're all too worried to be the first one to make a move. So we eat at our desks for mutual protection. If one person ate out, we'd probably all start eating outside the next day. It'd change the entire order. I don't really want to imagine that." Indeed, lunches would be chaos! Order is a good thing, and there is a certain comfort in sitting at one's desk, chomping on things, thinking, holding one's mousepad in one's fingertips gently, like a baby hamster. It's like watching reruns of Beverly Hills 90210 while taking down an entire sheet cake on a Saturday afternoon. It's just, you know, human.
Thus, one must only consider what one can do to make one's desk-lunch better. The answer: Paper towels. If you have none handy, napkins may suffice, or perhaps a regularly laundered towel. "Put a paper towel between you and your computer," says Drummond. Take it from her, if not from me. Use more than one, even. Go paper-towel wild!
Eat in Joy, Not in Fear. There are going to be people who say, Oh, pshaw! You should get outside during lunch and take a 10-minute walk and breathe fresh air and feel the joy of life boiling within your veins, trying to get out! But I say that's bunk. Drummond confirms my view: "Seriously. I would PREFER to eat lunch at my desk and peruse the Internet than eat at a table either alone (boring) or with other people (awkward!)."
If you are content with your inner desk-luncher, don't be afraid to like to sit on your butt in front of your computer and get the business of food-intake over with. Not only should you not be afraid of it, you should, if you want, fully embrace and love it. A good desk-lunch can be a thing of beauty, just you and a slab of cheese and a loaf of sourdough, a ripe tomato (cut it in the kitchen) and a scattering of pure Himalayan sea salt, with a piece of the finest Mast Brothers chocolate (wipe your fingers on your jeans if it gets melty) to finish off a very solid meal. If people are looking at you, it's only because you're behaving in a highly aspirational lunch fashion.
There is, of course, a time to admit you've gone too far, this thing has gotten out of hand, there is a watermelon tree growing out of your keyboard from the juice you accidentally drooled there once while in hysterics over that video of goats screaming like humans. (There must have been a seed in that bodega-melon container, fertilized, perhaps, by the splashings of Kombucha you're always taking one sip of before tossing into the overflowing trashcan by your desk because is it supposed to taste like that?). Stay self-aware, encourages Biddle. "When all you're thinking about is RSS and jokes and traffic and Twitter burns, it's easy to ignore how vile you are. It's not just me—we're all disgusting. Not just at Gawker. Everywhere. I've been to other offices. Everyone is a pig-monkey-dinosaur," he says. "Writing this is making me feel disgusting and bad about myself, my parents raised me better than this."
Hey, it's not your fault, it's the world's fault. Wipe your hands, too, and pick up a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer the next time you leave the office, and use it, now and again. But eat your lunch first. The greatest shame of all is not eating lunch.
Images via Flickr/Alyson Hurt; Flickr/Daniel Nguyen; Flickr/John; Flickr/lgckgc; Flickr/Cliph; Flickr/K Latham.