WASHINGTON (CAP) - A new study out of the Pew Research Center shows that the average American office worker will eat anything put in front of him or her, as long as it's free of charge.
The study, conducted surreptitiously at more than 100 offices across the country, presented office workers with such meals as haggis, tripe and soft-boiled fetal duck, which is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and the Philippines. In each case, the meal was left in a well-traveled area - lunchroom, conference room, on a file cabinet, etc. - along with a sign such as Tripe - Please Eat!
"The results were fascinating," said Dr. Francis Spitznagel of the Pew Center. "No matter what the time of day, in every case, the dish was clean in less than an hour." Spitznagel noted that typically it took no longer than 15 minutes, but that a small lag time on the fetal duck skewed the average slightly.
In the second phase of the study, food was left without any type of identifying sign. "And we made sure it was also completely unrecognizable as foodstuff," said Dr. Spitznagel, noting that in one case they left a metal pot full of the pink meat paste used to make chicken nuggets - also known as mechanically separated poultry - along with a spoon and a stack of Styrofoam bowls.
"It was gone in an hour and a half," said Spitznagel.
The Pew study showed that employees in all professions were prone to eating food found around the office, although some were especially susceptible. For instance, print journalists were the most likely to suffer trample injuries while trying to beat their fellow workers to the last slice of crumb cake.
"Let's face it, we never know where our next meal is going to come from," said Karl Fender, a sports reporter for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., where six employees have been hospitalized during free snack stampedes in the last year alone.
By contrast, when even very desirable food, like Godiva chocolates or filet mignon, was put out with a sign asking for a small donation - say, 50 cents or a dollar - the food was almost universally ignored, except by people who would take it without paying. Then, when the snacks had turned hard and grey, the donation sign would be removed and the food would be gone within hours.
Spitznagel said the study might help prevent further incidents like the highly publicized one in Eden Prairie, Minn., last April, when an employee of a small accounting firm turned her back on a personal plastic container filled with mescaline powder that she'd left briefly on a counter. Within seconds, employees had sprinkled it on a nearby tray of old brownies left over from someone's child's birthday party and ingested it.
"It was a horrible scene, all those accountants looking at their ledger books and suddenly seeing a series of kaleidoscopic gyrating cubes," recounted Sheriff Biff Markenson of the Eden Prairie Sheriff's Department. "It resulted in dozens of their clients defaulting wildly on their taxes.
"And the shame of it is, the container had been clearly labeled, Kathy's Mescaline - Do Not Use!" said Markenson.
- CAP News Staff