Sunday, 27 July 2014


'Work' by Pierre Metivier
under a CC license
Last week I wrote on food consumption at school. Providing healthy food and in sufficient amounts there is something that few would object to. But what would people think on the need to provide healthy meal options at the workplace? Should be people be allowed, or even, encouraged to eat at work?

Yes, they should be allowed and actively encouraged to healthy (and balanced) nutrition options. Beyond the positive health effects, the associated break may help overall performance, promote the social environment at the workplace and, in brief, make things for employees and their employers better. It is a win-win case, really (although the exact practice to be adopted depends on the case and the economic environment)!

Practical experience, however, suggests that meal customs and provisions at the workplace vary considerably across businesses and regions to anything between no lunch at all and full, three-course meals. What makes it interesting is that scientific evidence has been in favour of lunch breaks for quite some time now, at least partly on the basis of forming healthy eating habits. Having access to (the right) food at work, within a break, also make employees more productive overall.

If it makes any difference, the International Labour Organisation has published a detailed study on the topic. Overall, it calls meals at work "a lost opportunity" since, often, they are either severely limited (or skipped, altogether) or do not encourage healthy/balanced nutrition. The study concludes on a wide set of recommendations for governments, employers, workers and trade unions.

On the other side of the argument, concerns exist regarding the cost - benefit ratio of providing healthy meals at work. A recent study by the Institute of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, looking canteen takeaway meals, suggests that the overall benefit is modest compared to the cost, although the practice might be sustainable.

For me, the bottom line is simple: Meals at work are a very good way to keep the adult working population healthy (physically and mentally), productive and happy. The economics of each possible approach are a limiting factor. But there is no need to reach Google's standards in workplace meals (and, yes, they've given some thought on their canteens). but even humble, low cost but carefully thought of meal provision solutions (e.g., access to local shops or canteens) may be adequate, provided the right framework is in place. Such regulations framework could, for example, establish the right of employees to meal breaks, ensure a minimum variety of food offered by workplace business operators, including low-fat, low-salt, fruit and vegetable options, etc.

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