At work, the ample free snacks of the modern office kitchens now serve as the basis for a scrappy new cuisine. White-collar workers attempt to make square meals from free Chobani yogurt cups.
Some of the most compelling meals are born of strange constraints. The rationing of World War I gave us the eggless, butterless, milkless cake. Later, during the Great Depression, housewives poured sugary syrup over Ritz crackers to create the filling for a back-of-the-box recipe called Mock Apple Pie. Today’s MacGyverish food and drink derives not from scarcity but rather abundance. Oat milk lattes, cauliflower-crust pizza, Soylent and veggie burgers that “bleed” all suggest a surplus of options and a new anxiety over what our choices mean.
At work, the ample free snacks of the modern office kitchens now serve as the basis for a scrappy new cuisine. White-collar workers attempt to make square meals from free Chobani yogurt cups. Kind bars are treated as a kind of bumper crop, and the most sought-after luxury is bread, prized for its role as a base for different toppings.
“I literally never go out and buy lunch,” said Rebecca Jennings, a culture reporter at Vox Media. We first met sharing a desk pod last year, during my temporary employment with the company.
Jennings is known around the office for her kitchenette cooking. Her signature dish? The personal “work pizza,” which makes use of complimentary bread, sriracha and Babybel. Jennings bakes these ingredients in the toaster oven for about four and a half minutes, until the cheese begins to brown. After that, she adds a special touch. “We have this drawer that I don’t think a lot of the people at the office know about, with leftover Parmesan cheese packets from when big teams order pizza,” she said. “I’ll sprinkle that on top.”
Kira Fisher, who has worked for several social media companies, including Tumblr, makes use of her own free office cheese, sometimes with a Mediterranean twist. “One thing I really like to do is make a cheese plate,” she said. “Getting all the fruit we have in the office and cutting it — cutting the apples, having grapes, finding whatever cheese they have — and making a little spread, a little office mezze platter.”
From 2012 to 2015, Fisher ran the food blog Sad Desk Lunch, where she cataloged user-submitted photos of bleak workday meals. Elsewhere online, lists of “DIY office snacks” and “office snack hacks” recommend unofficial uses of office kitchen appliances, such as using a Keurig coffee maker to cook ramen. (Representatives from Keurig declined to comment on this use of their product.)
The phenomenon is hardly confined to workplaces in the United States. Ms. Yeah, a Chinese YouTuber whose offline name is Zhou Xiaohui, has gained more than five million followers for her elaborate workplace lunches, prepared using supplies from her Chengdu office building. In one video, she cooks hot pot in the water cooler. In another, she makes crepes on the hot side of a modified computer modem.