Please don't eat in the bathroom.
July 21st, 2011
09:00 AM ET
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The intern with the shaved head was on her phone in the bathroom again. She seemed to regard the third floor ladies room at our office as her personal rec room which was...fine, if somewhat unnervingly intimate on occasion. I realized, though, that I'd severely, thoroughly, grossly underestimated her level of one-ness with these particular environment on the day several years ago when I saw her emerge from a stall, eating cereal. From a bowl. With milk.

I get it - we're all busy people, caught up in this topsy-turvy, whiz-bang work world where news breaks in 140 character bites and we can gulp down songs, books, TV shows and films the second they burble to mind. It's a miracle that any of us can find a spare five minutes to brush our teeth, apply footwear and haul our info-riddled carcasses to our desks, but still, one should always find time to eat somewhere other than a public toilet. That's my wide, solid stance and I'm sticking to it.

People eat in really gross places. It's a free country, we all need food to live, we're busy, and so long as none of it splashes on me, it's really none of my business how other folks get their grub on. But really, can't we as a society set the bar higher than eating in the can?

It is true that I did not know her life - aside from the fact that she was indeed in possession of a habitable work desk of her own, and that she spoke with a noticeable German accent. (My travels have as yet not led me to Deutschland, but presumably, their commodes do not double as breakfast nooks.) Nor can I begin to know the first thing about the culinary circumstances of the gentleman I recently spied eating boiled eggs from a Tupperware tub in the waiting area of a bustling Brooklyn emergency room seated in close proximity to an elderly woman with a seeping foot ailment, or the young couple a few rows away noshing on a (apparently home-packed) bagel, lox and schmear setup as a man bled from a facial laceration nearby.

I'm clearly imposing my own bourgeois hang-ups about "hygiene" and "personal boundaries" here, but I can't help but think if you've sufficient time to locate a matching container and lid or the foresight to pack metal cutlery, you can eke out a second to gobble your snack from a perch that is somewhat less than 100% likely to have come into contact with someone's blood, lymph or feces.

And perhaps the fellow subway rider I spied tucking into a deep-fried chicken sandwich while he leaned back against a trash can on the platform was oblivious to the gala performance of a rat ballet mere yards away. It's a shame he missed the chance at a show with his dinner; it was a doozy.

In his case, the meal's locale was seemingly a matter of convenience. This was clearly a fast-food sandwich, still steaming hot, and he wolfed it down, brushing the crumbs from his chalk-striped suit jacket once he'd crumpled the wrapper and bag into the trash can/impromptu dining room furniture. He'd been hungry, probably woozy from lowered blood sugar, and dreaming of the moment he could break free of his corporate bonds and fill his mouth with crispy, salty, fatty dripping chicken. He enjoyed it, too, as evidenced by his closed eyes, deep, contented breathing and complete non-reaction to the guttural rasps of the man hawking phlegm onto the subway tracks behind him.

I am glad that he enjoyed his sandwich - and the intern her stall cereal. It just disheartens me greatly that our culture has deprioritized mealtime to the point that it seems perfectly acceptable to picnic where rodents gambol and humans poop. I'm not suggesting that a Martha or Ina level dining pathology is in order, feasible, or the least bit sane, but there's got to be a middle ground between food fetishism and straight-up foulness.

Perhaps this calls for some discussion - maybe even over dinner. Whaddaya say? Your stall or mine?

Previously - Eating on the subway: yea or nay?
and Hell is other people's chicken

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Filed under: Culture • Dining • Favorites • Hot Messes • Rituals

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  8. sld

    A lot of the time, the reason people get e coli is because they dont wash their hands after they go to the bathroom- yeah, they eat their own feces and infect themselves. clearly people eating in the bathroom feel the need to make this process much easier.

    August 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Marine

      Marines don't need to wash their hands after hitting the head.
      Know why?
      Because Marines are trained not to get sh!t on their hands in the first place.

      August 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
      • satan

        hey man, sometimes shit happens, and you gotta deal with it.

        February 10, 2013 at 4:58 am |
  9. IguanaGal

    One of my coworkers eats in the bathroom everyday at 830 am like clockwork. While I think it's beyond disgusting and we have multiple breakrooms to eat in, she's not hurting anyone but herself. What REALLY bothers me is when she eats things like tuna or hotdogs, I really don't want to smell that in the bathroom. Many people have complained to management and it has been brought up in meetings but she still does it. Someone needs to take her aside and tell her it's not appropriate. I don't know her well enough to do it myself.

    August 1, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  10. Fabio

    As long as the food items dont become projectile i dont see the need for the hang up of others to interfere with anyones dining choice. Quit judging

    July 31, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  11. blessedgeek

    It's alright to eat in the bathroom because that's where you take a bath.
    It's alright to eat in the toilet because toilet in French means a dressing room – hence eau de toilet.

    The toilet, the British borrowed as an euphemism for the stinky room, was misunderstood by non-English non-French speaking immigrants as the stinky room.

    Yes, I eat in the bathroom and in the toilet but not the stinky room. After all, you cannot call a bathroom a bathroom unless there is a bathtub I could sit in to enjoy my falafel or lox in bagel.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  12. Johnny

    "It's a free country, we all need food to live, we're busy, and so long as none of it splashes on me, it's really none of my business how other folks get their grub..."

    Yet you still felt the need to go forth and write one long, useless article about it. I thank you for that.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  13. quietkid

    Hey, in high school I ate in the bathroom most days. It was one of the only places I was safe from bullies.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  14. rei_girl

    For a more thorough examination on germs, check out Dr. Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:42 am |
  15. rei_girl

    I have never considered eating while in a bathroom- in my home or in public.

    Here's a fun addition to this vehement discussion on germs: read excerpts from Dr. Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:37 am |
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