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Is it rude to comment on other people's food?

I bring my meals to campus every day, and I usually pack the same things: oatmeal for breakfast and some combination of grains and legumes (like barley and black beans) with vegetables for lunch. Without fail, someone will comment on what I'm eating. Usually people ask what it is, which seems strange to me, since I'd say it was fairly obvious. At first it didn't bother me, but when it started happening pretty much every day, it didn't seem like polite interest anymore.

I guess it makes me feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable when people do this. No one comments on the bagels and pastries other people bring in, but will gawk at oatmeal and watch me eat it. It just seems rude! Am I just overreacting?

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  1. I have no idea what lies in the hearts of those who are asking you about your food, but I am most inclined to ask people about what they're eating when it looks interesting to me, i.e., when I'm thinking, "I wish I'd brought that instead of buying this."

    1. Yes, people will be people...not a common sight to see someone eating beans and veggies, whereas someone munching a sandwich or a bagel is old hat. I'd ask too, wondering if a diet like that keeps you satisfied, is it really healthy, etc. They're just curious. They do the same thing in my break room if a lunch doesn't come from a box, can, or takeout

      1. I'm not saying you shouldn't feel the way you do. I haven't witnessed the way these people behave, but I do have a question... Have you thought about taking along some plastic spoons and offering people a bite? You could end up making some great friends. '-)

        1. I only find it rude when people make actual rude comments. Oh, and they do!

          "What's that?"
          "Tofu parmesan and pasta"
          "TOFU PARMESAN? EW"

          This was an exchange I had with a mid-level manager at my last job.

          1. It doesn't sound rude, they are just curious. Gawking or making derogatory remarks no doubt is rude.

            1. Hi... i think you may be inadvertantly giving joe sixpack/jane lunchbox too much credit, i.e., their knowing what cooked barley even looks like. While not at all rare or unusual per se, things like barley, israeli couscous, forbidden rice, etc. might not be in the experiential 'wheelhouse' of many a campus denizen (yet). Also, pardon my own presumption, but many people pose questions about food as a way to make one's acquaintence, ie., they would like to get to know one better and/or find one attractive and otherwise toothsome. "What's your sign" has thankfully been replaced by "Is that satsuma organic?"....

              1 Reply
              1. re: silence9

                +1 on both counts. I knew what barley was long before I actually cooked it and knew what it looked like. I'd venture to say most people are familiar with white rice, and could probably identify brown rice, but beyond that most grains are unfamiliar in their whole steamed/boiled form. As for romantic interests, the bulk bins at the local co-op are a great meeting place...

              2. Not rude if they are just curious. When I'm organised I cook in bulk and take individually packaged up meals to the office and it usually sparks up a friendly conversation, like "oh, what's that, it looks great?" Me: "er, vege lasagne" Them "oh cool - how do you get it to stay together? My lasagne is always so runny!"
                When I go through my attempts at eating for better health (I think most people call it 'Monday') there's also the "oh, you're so good! I just had a BK Whopper."
                Never had anything rude. I think they know that when I'm waiting for food to heat up I'm in the very delicate 'must eat now' phase and that rudeness can result in being prodded with a plastic fork.

                1. I really don't know what possesses people at times....I'm always interested in what others are having if it looks/smells good or is interesting to give me ideas and I don't mind the same in return.

                  However, when others ask what I'm having then make a face or say "gross!" or "ew!", it gets somewhat annoying. I eat very healthfully most of the time and I certainly don't degrade others' choice of junk food.

                  1 Reply
                  1. A co-worker of mine makes rude faces and comments anytime she sees or sniffs something from the microwave she finds even slightly off-putting. Meanwhile, her buttered popcorn makes me want to jump out the window, and I usually say nothing. (Except when she and others start complaining about other "offending" smells).
                    I actually do get lots of questions about what I'm easting, and generally they're good natured and born of curiosity. I'll often ask them if they want a bite but more often than not I'll be turned down. (Either not curious enough to try something new or fear of cooties!)

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                      That is soooo annoying! I also cannot stand the popcorn smell....

                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                        I am so with you on this one. I work in an office with a wide range of nationalities--Indian, Chinese, Korean, various European, various South American, Americans of all regions. Needless to say, there is quite a variety of aromas emanating from the kitchen area. I generally don't notice, unless I'm hungry and something smells especially delicious. But the woman in the office next to mine carries on a daily diatribe of the "godawful smells." And then, most afternoons, she puts her microwave popcorn in, which is so much stronger smelling and more noxious than any lunch prepared that day.

                        As far as commenting on some of those kitchen area foods? If something smells especially amazing or looks like something I am unfamiliar with, I ask (but obviously, never in a "yuck" way). Sometimes it pays off, and I even get a taste and\or recipe ;)

                        As far as the OP, it depends on a few factors. You mention a campus: Is this a corporate campus or a university? If a university, are these people students or faculty\staff?

                        I'd venture if they are typical US college students, they probably don't recognize what you're eating the way they do bagels and pastries. And since this is probably their first extended stay away from their comfort zone, they are looking to educate themselves about foods outside that comfort zone.

                        1. re: gaffk

                          gafk: normally I feel the same way, except for the worker who often re-heated fermented fish in there. the person was polite enough to wait until after most others had used it, but it was an 'open' office and my desk was in a mezzanine directly above the kitchen.

                          I'd never dream of saying anything though. I'm pretty self-conscious of what I eat in public and if I get a compliment I feel obligated to offer to share some (and I have food possession aggression in dog-talk) closest I've ever come was at one place a co-worker always assembled her lunch and after about a year I remarked "y'know, 'E' you make the most interesting salads" and scooted away. (usu. just variations on a nicoise, but still, always made think 'wish I'd thought of that')

                          1. re: hill food

                            Thank God no fermented fish! Lots of curries, *fresh* seafood, lots of beef, pork, chicken, veggies, etc.

                            But we did all band together to make "Mr. Sardine in a Can with Mustard" move out of range when eating.

                            I'm passive\aggresive too, but not with food, so I thank you for sharing :)

                        2. re: NicoleFriedman

                          Anybody making rude faces at or over other people's food should be summarily executed.

                          1. re: buttertart

                            Better is the curse: "50 pounds! Mine to give, yours to receive..."

                        3. I totally understand and agree that it's uncomfortable...like you need to justify why you chose to eat healthfully. I don't comment on the salty, carby, fatty, sugary things I see other people eat, and I don't really have a desire to answer questions about the healthy choices I make. And there's a big difference between someone who is genuinely interested and someone who is being nosy or obnoxious--it's very easy to detect the difference.

                          1. I am someone who doesn't like being put at the centre of attention, and with a mouthful, I can understand how that would be off-putting to some. But good-natured curiosity I can usually handle, not everything is necessarily obvious to people who know nothing more than white rice, potatoes or pasta. To me, quinoa, barley, bulgur, beans etc etc etc, ARE normal, so I don't always get it either.

                            But, I'm not always in the mood to educate others on what I'm eating, sometimes I just want to eat.

                            btw, I got this a lot at my workplace, where most seemed to be a meat and potatoes crowd, and as someone who doesn't eat meat and embraces just about every other ingredient and cuisine out there, I got a lot of "what the hell is that?!" when I opened my lunch. I don't mind being a bit weird, and a lot of it was from people just poking fun and they were folks I knew well, but there were times when I just took off to my office to eat my lunch.

                            Casual interest is one thing, if people are literally watching you eat your meals, well that's another.

                            1. Co worker who drives a Prius and spouts on about his commitment to sophisticated cuisine and local food...you know the type...feels obligated to comment on my Fage or Liberte yogurt because he thinks it costs too much.

                              Turns up his nose at fast food, except when it's FREE.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: coney with everything

                                ugh, I went on a date with one of those once, except it was pretty much more of a cost of everything deal. Kindly don't lecture me on the cost of my coffee, particularly as it's been purchased with my own money.

                                We also had a coworker who opted out of every potluck, but sure didn't mind sneaking back into the kitchen after to help himself to all the leftovers.

                                Liberte is SO worth it, I don't care what anyone says.

                                1. re: im_nomad

                                  "Liberte is SO worth it, I don't care what anyone says."

                                  But you can buy Yoplait for 50 cents on sale...don't you like HFCS and gelatin?

                                  Funny, I just finished a Liberte apple crumble...so good

                                2. re: coney with everything

                                  With illogical people like that I don't even bother trying to reason with them. I usually just give them a raised eyebrow and a smirk. It drives them crazy and they leave me alone.

                                  1. re: coney with everything

                                    Ha ha ha. I have just started eating Greek yogurt for about two weeks and my coworker told me about Fage two days ago, so I bought a few just hours ago. It tastes great. It is expensive though.

                                  2. I often get asked at work what I'm eating - and it is always as the result of them smelling the food I've just nuked. I've never had an 'ew, what's that smell' - always a 'yum, what's that I can smell' - so I never object to being asked. No-one has ever said 'yuk' when I've replied I'm eating seaweed or tofu or whatever.
                                    I don't like it when people nuke meat, because to me it smells vile - but I don't complain about it because what other people choose to eat is none of my business.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Peg

                                      I think I read it here, so I can't claim credit, but "don't yuk my yum."

                                      I was taught to not comment on what others are eating, but I am 55 and things were different when I was a kid. If I had kids I would have taught them the same thing.

                                      I do make one exception to this rule. When my husband eats Bovril, I feel I have a perfect right to comment on the smell and appearance!

                                        1. re: Just Visiting

                                          I might be wrong, but I think that was one of the "rules" Michael Pollan collected from readers.

                                          I'm 28, and my mom taught me the same.

                                      1. I agree with BiscuitBoy. People will be people. You are not going to change them, certainly not the whole campus of them. As much as you may not like their questions, there is really not much you can do to stop them from asking. Personally, I don't think it is rude. Maybe annoying to you because you have to keep answering the same question. For them though, they are only asking the first time.

                                        You just have to live with the fact that people will ask you about your foods, or eat your foods out of sight.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          I agree with 'Not rude, but annoying'. At work, I have a person who almost drools on my lunch (mostly just leftovers). Yes, it's flattering that she thinks it looks so good, but there's this longing in her voice, while she eats exactly the same thing every day for the entire week. I've tried to give some tips, etc, but she says she is happy eating the same thing every day. I feel like saying, well, if you're happy, stop hanging over my lunch with sad eyes.

                                          I enjoy her company otherwise, so I smile and say thank you. And leave it at that.

                                          1. re: Sooeygun

                                            We have a co-worker who is inquisitive about everyone else's food too because she doesn't bring lunch. She works 2 days a week and is quite happy to ask for a 'taste' of whatever we brought so that she doesn't have to buy herself anything. She'll eat anything that's not pinned down and has gained tons of weight. It's very annoying having to hide your food from her because invariably somebody will split their lunch with her while she drools over it.

                                            1. re: smartie

                                              the only person more annoying than that was the VP from whom I had to hide meeting lunches until the last possible minute because he had the impulse control of a toddler, I swear I'd be setting up a lunch for 20 and he'd march in and ravage through half of it and not even be tidy or discreet about it. finally when a critic from the local paper was coming 'cause we were trying to impress the guy and get PR opinion on our side, he started diving in one of the architects pointed out maybe we ought to wait until our guest was here.

                                              I mean the guy was richer than god and didn't need to be snarfing other people's food.

                                              1. re: hill food

                                                my coworker earns 3 times the wages we do which makes it all the more annoying.

                                                1. re: smartie

                                                  agreed, this I've learned, never trust people who make more than I with any sum of cash (esp. small ones), and don't be ashamed to snub their interest in my food unless to take the time to explain how surprisingly simple it is to make.

                                                  someone of more or less the same status, well that's a different kettle of fish.

                                        2. ah, the pleasure of being a chowhound-the world questions your every mouthful. so embrace your diverse food-love and smile. don't let an uninformed individual spoil your lunch!

                                          1. College campus? If you're a female and guys are commenting, maybe it's their awkward way of trying to chat with you. Just a thought.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: dave_c

                                              :) High-five. She is probably a very attractive lady too.

                                            2. "Am I just overreacting?"

                                              Almost certainly.

                                              1. Siciliana, my only comment would be that is might be interesting to add other cereals to your porridge, besides oatmeal!

                                                1. Polite curiosity, as in, "do you mind if I ask what that is that you ordered?" seems fine to me, as long as it's not intrusive in the circumstances.

                                                  Commentary? ("Why do you add salt?" "You know that stuff's not good for you, don't you?" "That stuff will kill you." "I don't know how you can stand to eat/drink that..." etc.) No. It is always impolite to comment on the eating and drinking habits of others. I'm confident that Miss Manners is with me on this, since I'm pretty sure I learned it from her.

                                                  1. It is rude manners, but manners are commonly sorely tested on this point. Ideally, one is supposed to at least pretend not to notice what someone else is or is not eating.

                                                    1. If I see something on someone else's plate that looks interesting at lunch I'll say something like, "oh, that looks good" and that usually prompts the person to say "oh, it's ---". And then the conversation continues about the dish, how you make it, how another person makes it, etc etc. My former co-workers (software company) were all foodies. I did have one colleague however who would always say things like, "ewww, that looks disgusting!" or "eww, I hate bananas; they're awful and they smell disgusting". I would always make it a point to eat that particular thing in front of that person just for spite - and possibly more immature than their original comment! Muahahaahaha.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: ladooShoppe

                                                        this is why I often brought Fritos or Corn Nuts to mandatory "brown bag" lunches, sitting right by whoever called it. I don't even like the things and the smell/sound is annoying.

                                                      2. My daughter says that people do this to her all the time, and frequently ask for bites. But in her case, it's her fault because she eats during class. One of her friends actually asked if she'd bring in a lunch one day for her. I think many people probably like interesting food, but don't know how to make it or aren't interested enough in cooking to give it a try.

                                                        I feel the same way about gardening. I greatly admire other people's flowers and often comment on them, but there's no way I'm going to bother.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Isolda

                                                          She eats during class? Things have changed a lot since I was in school, if this is acceptable behavior.

                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                            I think we need to work on the "no gun allowed" rule first.

                                                        2. I've learned not to "make a name for myself" by bringing an overly-fragrant lunch into work, especially when it needs to be heated in a communal microwave. No fish, little garlic, and few spices. (Sigh.) Yet when others heat their Lean Cuisine it smells horrible to me, and that seems to be the brand of choice in our kitchenette. (Must LC put crappy-quality parm in nearly every dish? Stink-o! ) Plus, I've worked there nine years and no Lean Cuisine partaker is all that thin as yet. Years ago I ate it but it fell out of my favor in flavor a long while back, to the point where I can't take it anymore. Stouffer's quality went south. Once it wasn't too bad. Too bad.

                                                          Anywho ... it would be rude of me to point out my opinions to my strapped-for-time coworkers who try to do their bodies good by eating lunch lightly. They are kind enough not to point out that my homemade lunch is, in their opinion, icky. I often appropriate the kitchen and toast bread for breakfast or a sandwich. Nearly everybody seems to like the smell of toast. And on treat days I bring in things I feel will be universally acceptable, which is often really easy to predict because we know each others' tastes.

                                                          I work in the office of a diverse manufacuturing environment with loads of different nationalities, and out in the plant bridges were made by asking people to put together an international cookbook based on the employees' recipes. That led to people not only submitting recipes, but to bring in samples of their own specialties when the cookbook was published. And then their coworkers understood the tastes associated with the smells, and oftentimes -- an appreciation for different cuisine! Or not. One person's kimchi is not necessarily another person's sauerkraut.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: Vitameatavegamin Girl

                                                            "asking people to put together an international cookbook based on the employees' recipes"

                                                            what a cool idea. in a couple of offices, due to budget crunch, in lieu of a party we'd have a potluck asking people to bring food of their heritage or childhood for a similar result.

                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                              That must have been so-very-good pot-luck! Everybody's best-favorites. It's blizzarding in Wisconsin at the moment and I'd so much love to have that "similar result" going on, right now. Comfort food from all corners of the earth. Gotta say we're lucky to be safe, warm, and well-fed.

                                                              1. re: Vitameatavegamin Girl

                                                                We used to do the "International Day" thing when I worked in SF (lots of Filipino people, lumpia Shanghai the size of my little finger by the hundreds, yum yum) and did it at my last company a couple of times. It really gets people to understand each other better.

                                                                1. re: Vitameatavegamin Girl

                                                                  oh yeah beer'n'brats, samosas and pakoras, jerk chicken, borscht, bulgogi and heck of a lot more. made a lot of sense, we all just sort of took the afternoon off so all mgmt had to pay was our wages, no hall or caterer (one office had a lot of common/meeting spaces and 3 mini kitchens) of course there were always a few that'd just pick up a bucket of chicken or (better) a bunch of liquers, which was cool in my book, not everybody cooks. if there were enough leftovers, we'd run them over to a nearby soup kitchen and I'd wonder aloud "gee we sent the food, but not the liquer, don't homeless people enjoy a nice aperitif?"

                                                            2. I'd be flattered that my food looks interesting enough to warrant other people's curiosity. I agree with others on this - it's only rude if they make rude comments about it.

                                                              1. I work in a small red neck community in canada out of 50 employees there is 3 of us(british,german decent,and a vietnemese lady) that bring "strange" food to work while curried goat and lamb vindaloo and eel are normal to us we may as well be eating dog sh@% to the rest of them and none of them will hold back their comments of disgust and outright hostility towards ethnic cusine, it's pretty sad but all you can do is laugh it off

                                                                1. OK, I have a reputation at work for having an "issue" with peoples' interest in other peoples' food. Walking down the hall with a salad on a plate, people will say "hi" to you without even looking at your face because they're staring at your plate.

                                                                  I get salads from the salad bar at work, and 99% of the time, the person saying "That looks good!" is the same person who weighs 300 pounds and just ate a dinner-sized portion of pasta and grease for lunch. My salad, I figure, is the one thing in the universe they HAVEN'T eaten.

                                                                  Only in America do people do this. In Arabic countries, for instance, if someone comments on your food you have to GIVE it to them because it then has the "jealous eye" and you will choke on it.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: jimmyfresno

                                                                    It's easy to understand why you have that reputation. Would you be offended if a slim person said the same thing?

                                                                    1. re: jimmyfresno

                                                                      Nothing like being proud of being known as a d-bag in the office. Has to do wonders come review time.