(Adapted from P D Holt, 2000)

Company canteen food is like geology - it comes in strata. This is known as the "food chain". At work the canteen has a captive audience ever since the smell of food in your office area was deemed "unprofessional" and you were banned from bringing packed lunches into work. The company pays your wages. In return, they want some of that money back. Hence you are forced to eat at the company canteen or not eat at all. The top end of the food chain comprises anything chucked out of the back door of any restaurant you'd pay to eat in. From thereon, it's all downhill.

If it actually resembles food it will usually be listed under "Chefs Special" or "Dish of the Day" and will cost 1.95 without vegetables, potatoes or rice. The meat content might even have come from an identified animal, thought probably the parts that aren't mentioned in polite company and which usually end up in cans of dog food.

On the next level down the food chain you find the stuff that might actually have come from a can labelled dog food, or possibly from the dog itself. It resembles food that has been eaten once and promptly regurgitated. This is usually the popular stuff like curry, spag bol, lasagne, chilli-con-carne, cottage pie or anything with ground meat in it. Well, meat that once had four legs anyway and didn't fall out of a packet labelled Burger-Stretcher. It'll cost you 1.08 without vegetables, potatoes or rice. If you boil leather boots for long enough you can eat them. Order the beef platter and you'll find out that fact first hand.

On the next layer down you are into the dodgy areas of the "2nd Choice" at 0.71 without vegetables, potatoes or rice. This is a cooking conundrum that has ethical undertones: Should I be eating this? Does it know it's dead? "Meat Mix Number 1" ends up in livid yellow cheap curry, bright red chilli, pies, pasties and anything called "Savoury". "Meat Mix Number 2" ends up in soup or anything "Mexican" or containing red kidney beans. The canteen works on the basis that you'll eat anything if it has an ethnic name, is served with rice or kidney beans and is dyed red, orange or yellow. It will be labelled as "Thai-style" or "Malaysian-style" because anyone working for your firm can't afford to go to Thailand or Malaysia.

Even lower into the food chain we have the chicken pieces at 50p a throw. I use the term "throw" advisedly. They look like they were caught with the use of land-mines and the parts that should be thrown away are still attached. Look closely and you'll find valves, intestines, feathers and unidentifiable bits that might have been chicken parasites before their host ended up in "Multi-Purpose Chicken Mix". Look even closer and you might see tabby fur - the company cat wasn't meeting its rat quota. It wasn't meeting its rat quota because the rats were served to you in last week's spag bol.

Vegetables? Whatever color they were originally they will now be khaki. Vegetarians confronted with the "mixed vegetables" have actually been known to eat identifiable meat rather than unidentifiable khaki mush. All vitamin content has been cooked out of the vegetables. The canteen recognises only two ways of serving vegetables - preferably boil them into submission and if they still look too much like vegetables, mash them as well. You could concrete your driveway with the mashed potato and mulch the flower-beds with the carrot, corn and pea mix. The other permissible vegetable option is deep-fried. Only the Brits have mastered the art of making fried food soggy - we're talking about that staple of the British diet: the Great British Soggy Chip.

So much for the Hot Food Counter. You could of course choose the open salad bar. Take a look at your colleagues sticking their hands in, overhanging the food with their dandruffy scalps and dribbly noses. The canteen staff have to wear hats, gloves and overalls. Your colleagues don't. The open salad will contain nail clippings, nose pickings, dandruff, hair and urine from those that don't wash hands after using the washroom. Not to mention other stuff that we won't mention in polite company. Oh okay, we will - an estimated 25% of men masturbate at work and I bet they don't wash their hands afterwards either. That should put you off of anything with mayonnaise in.

The pies look like varnished castles and have pastry which could withstand a nuclear blast. The Tuna fish salad looks like a dolphin has been sick on the plate. Still, there's always the pizza. You could be safe with that, except the cooks have pampered to those at the bottom of the bell curve and now believe that a Pizza tastes better with a WHOLEMEAL base the consistency of cardboard.

Gone off the idea of canteen food from the servery area? How about one of their wrapped sandwiches instead? That dolphin also puked into some baguettes so they've labelled them "Tuna Mayonnaise" and it's all yours for 1.40. The Ocean Flakes sandwiches have never been near an ocean in their life and if you want to find the ham in the Ham Salad Po'Boy you'll have to look underneath the lettuce leaf.

This leads to the question of why staff actually eat in company canteens. Personally I only eat in there because I need food and they serve something that falls very loosely into that category. The need for sustenance is a biological fault of mine. However, I might change my mind after I get the results of forensic analysis on yesterday's "meat pie" - especially after the scandal of missing body parts at a local hospital laboratory. Anyone for grilled kidneys?



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