"Beware the office feeder!" cautions the Daily Mail. "They tempt with sweets and treats, but never tuck in themselves - what are they up to?" Nothing sinister, I swear!
The figure the Daily Mail portrays is sinister indeed: "Part of a once-rare proclivity, they derive intense pleasure from over-feeding or intentionally trying to fatten up colleagues and friends. For those targeted, the temptations proffered by feeders can be difficult to resist." And there's more!
Although no statistics are available for this emerging phenomenon, it is thought that, like most disordered relationships with food, office feeders are mostly women. Driven by a desire to appear more attractive than her female colleagues to men in the office, a feeder sometimes uses food as a weapon to help her achieve the goal. 'There can often be some sexual jealousies, or other factors that might prompt someone to behave in this way,' says psychologist Dearbhla McCullough of Roehampton University.'Food is often used as a competitive tool and slimness seen as the ultimate sign of self-control and perfection.'
But...what if someone just really likes to bake?! One person in the piece does venture that view: "There are times when I think she really is out to get me fat, but then I wonder if she's just someone that likes to care for people, loves food and always has a full fridge at home. It does cross my mind that maybe she just likes me."
I got very paranoid reading this litany of complaints, because I'd be lying if I didn't say that, in the absense of an office, I force-feed my neighbors on a weekly basis. Indeed, one could argue that as recently as last night, I plied some neighbors, friends and a woman who works nearby with large hunks of peach upside-down cake. And that I had, until reading this, thought of trying a new brown-butter sandwich cookie tonight.
Ruth Reichl wrote, in her first memoir Tender at the Bone, about the power of learning how to bake: especially for someone shy or socially awkward, learning that you can do something that people enjoy and brings others pleasure is a revelation. People appreciate the effort, and they appreciate the sugar.
Maybe this association is part of what makes baking so therapeutic, but there's also the very real pleasure of sifting and measuring, the mix of precision and skill, and of course the alchemy that turns dough into bread, batter into cake. The rhythms are soothing, the smells wonderful, the sense of achievement satisfying.
But as with any kind of cooking, half the pleasure comes from sharing. Friends who appreciate the finer points of a recipe or gluttons who are just glad of the snacks, they're all fun to cook for. And then there's the practical rationale: one person can't eat an entire batch of cookies or a whole cake - or at any rate, probably shouldn't make a habit of it. For those people who see the "feeder's" abstention as a passive-aggressive salvo, consider this: most of us are already glutted on batter and scraps and broken cookies before they ever reach their destination and more is often the last thing we want.
None of this is to disparage very real issues of food-related disorders, and I can well believe that there are indeed some sinister types out there who live to fatten up their coworkers, if only because there are people out there who do lots of strange things and in the words of Woody Allen, the heart wants what the heart wants. But to tar all of us with that brush is scurrilous in the extreme, not to mention dangerous: thwarted, who knows what we might turn our considerable energies towards? And that does sound sinister.