Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency, has argued that bringing cake into the office should be seen as carrying the same level of risk as second-hand smoke, in an interview with British outlet The Times.
Jebb acknowledged the two issues weren’t identical, but said that the prevalence of junk food and its advertising made it difficult for people to exercise free will and practice a healthier lifestyle.
“We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time and we undervalue the impact of the environment,” Jebb told The Times.
“If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day, but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.”
Users on Twitter were quick to point out the false equivalency between making an active choice to eat and the passive act of inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke.
“Nobody’s force feeding anybody cake,” one user wrote.
Another user joked that not bringing cake into work was socially unacceptable.
Maybe, one person wondered, someone had simply forgotten Jebb’s birthday?
And someone quite literally imagined the act of passively eating cake in the office.
Room for Disagreement
There were some, however, who backed up Jebb's comments. Lou Walker, a registered health coach whose Twitter handle is @RethinkCake, shared peer-reviewed findings from a study into "office cake culture in the UK" in which
87% of respondents said cake was available to them at the office at least once or twice a week.
And 38% said the presence of cake at work made it difficult for them to eat healthily, while 31% said office cake had led them to gain weight. Meanwhile, 95% believed the ideal rate of office cakes each week should be once or less.
A food and drink writer, Signe Johansen, felt that the outrage over office cakes was ignoring an important part of the story apart from just personal responsibility. Citing a recent Guardian column, Johansen said that "creating a healthy *environment* with accessible and affordable facilities to stay active is a much-neglected part of the story."
The View From 10 Downing Street
A spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told The Guardian that there's “nothing stopping” people from bringing sweets into the office on occasion.
“The PM believes personal choice should be baked into our approach,“ the spokesperson said.