‘We creatures of the night in The Irish Times newsroom often have the good fortune to eat while we work’

David McKechnie, deputy chief sub-editor

Dave McKechnie prepares a ready meal with the help of a corkscrew. Photograph: Eric Luke

Dave McKechnie prepares a ready meal with the help of a corkscrew. Photograph: Eric Luke

Wed, Nov 5, 2014, 12:49

If you have felt a rumble lately, in your stomach or elsewhere, it may be because we’ve been celebrating Food Month here in The Irish Times. This adds a certain poignancy to the nightly chorus of forks shattering the innocence of plastic film atop the ready-meals of staff in the newsroom.

In some primitive cultures it is said you can read much into a person’s temperament, and even their prospects in the afterlife, by the way they undertake this task. For Food Month, I want to look beyond this grotesque mating call and offer a few practical tips to workers reliant on the beautiful dependability of the ready-meal.
1. If reading the heating instructions on the label, be sure not to let your eyes stray to the list of ingredients.
2. When piercing the film use sharp jabs rather than longer “pushes” with the fork. Otherwise you may punch a larger hole in the sheet than intended, and what you are about to heat will be laid horribly bare, like a corpse in a morgue.
3. If there is no fork available, a sharp knife is acceptable, or even the end of a corkscrew. The point of a woman’s shoe is also helpful. It is considerably tougher (some say impossible) with a spoon.
4. If you heat your meal for more than four minutes make sure to use a towel or cloth to remove it from the microwave. The temperature of the plastic at this point is roughly equivalent to that of the sun.
5. Many ready-meals come in two compartments. When dumping the meal on a plate make sure you peel back the film on the non-sauce based side (eg rice or potatoes) first and empty that compartment. This way you will be able to hold back the tide of the sauce (eg, jalfrezi, gravy) and prevent it from spilling on your shoes.

Those who work evening shifts, such as newsroom production staff, might find this advice especially useful. Free from the tyranny of 9-5 and the tedium of a lunch hour, we creatures of the night often have the good fortune to eat while we work.

The more efficient among us are rarely lumbered with ready-meals, instead ferrying in ourr own homemade food, full of pulses and grains and other good things that cause wind. This is far healthier, but more importantly it saves valuable minutes by us not having to leave their cage or building to go to the shop. We may save additional time by eating savagely at our desk.

Sadly, many people will have shrugged off the opportunities of Food Month and continue in the same dreary patterns of office-eating that have served them so ordinarily. At the very least at the end of this auspicious month, why not try out one of the following techniques for eating in the office:
Fish pie champions: Full of goodness, and alluring beneath a silvery sheen of plastic film or in a Tupperware box, a fish pie when heated can disperse a mushroom cloud of bad smell that causes such anger and resentment in fellow workers that they underperform for the next 30 minutes, making you look better.
Scoffers: Scoffing is best performed at a desk, but a kitchen will also suffice. Mathematicians have worked out a brilliant but difficult formula (related to the food concerned, the temperature, and the day of the week) to calculate how much time qualifies as “scoffing” dinner, but for the lay man it is roughly equivalent to how long it takes a right-thinking member of society to have a number two in the jacks.
Slow Food fans: This technique is more effective when the “break” is unofficial or has ill-defined parameters, or if you think nobody is watching. If you’d like to try it, first visualise how long it would take to order and eat four courses in a decent restaurant. Then take about the same amount of time to eat a sandwich. When you’ve finished, walk slowly back to your desk.
Keyboard fillers: For the full effect you need to eat something that crumbles, like a bread roll or a pastry, and it’s important to eat it as close to the computer screen as you can. When you have finished tip the keyboard upside down on to the desk, gather the crumbs and place them on a weighing scales. Incredibly you’ll find they usually weigh more than what you have eaten.
Spillers: A highly democratic community, spillers do not discriminate between sauces or hot and cold drinks, sandwich fillings, meat, salads or staple foods. They breezily drop all of these things on the front of their shirts or on freshly laundered slacks, and prefer if this happens before an important meeting or interview.
Biters: Quite straightforward, but must be performed at the desk. Take a bite of food, preferably a sandwich, wrap, or burrito. Three days later take another bite. Fellow workers are amazed by this, and may sometimes even ask if it’s the same sandwich.

This article first appeared on irishtimes.com in November 2013

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