Wednesday, March 16, 2016

No pasta salad for you, Reebok employees

Reebok has been on a fitness tear for a while. And why not? Their business is aimed at getting all of us out there running, walking, cross-fitting – and getting the couch potatoes among us lounging around in fitness gear, pretending that reaching that chip into the dip bowl and power-lifting that soda from a barca-lounger cup holder is exercise enough.

An early foray occurred a few years back, when Reebok began aggressively offering fitness classes (CrossFit) at their Canton, Massachusetts, headquarters. And now they’re making their move on what’s served in the company cafeteria. To this end:

Reebok International Ltd. announced it has banned a litany of bad-for-you food, including white breads, pastas, fried foods, and large candy bars at its global headquarters….Since earlier this year, it has slowly been replacing junk food in its cafeterias and vending machines with nuts, fruits, and vegetables. (Source: Boston Globe)

Not quite sure how vending machines full of veggies are going to work. Press A4 for raw broccoli? Press C8 for kale? Nuts and an apple, sure. Even a baby bag of baby carrots. But I wouldn’t want to be the vending machine guy cleaning out the rotting produce.

But the idea of putting better food on offer is not a bad one. Most of my corporate cafeteria-eating over the years has been of the salad bar variety – truly, who wants a steady diet of cafeteria glop – but when you’re taking your lunch break at work, it’s easy enough to push your tray through the line and grab something that’s not so great for you. Substituting healthier items for fried shrimp wiggle (which was actually a choice way back in the day when I lunched at the cafeteria at the First National Bank of Boston) is all for the good.

And, let’s face it, most white bread – except, of course, for Nashoba Farms French and Thomas’s English Muffins; and for white bread permissible when you’re ordering a BLT, club, or grilled cheese  – is execrable.

Getting rid of it will be no great loss, even if the alternatives won’t be all that much healthier – just a little darker.

Actually, one of the worst things I ever saw offered wasn’t in a corporate caf, but was in a coffee shop at Mass General Hospital.

When my husband was in his final hospitalization at MGH, I stopped there for a cup of tea one morning. Exhausted, stressed out of my gourd, agonizing over what Jim was going through, I reached for a double (or was it triple) chocolate muffin. And then I saw the calorie count: 780 calories. Even in this low moment of my life, even a chocolate maniac like myself was able to just say no.

So I’m all for cafeterias (and hospitals) putting more healthy stuff out there and getting rid of some of the worst caloric, sugary, and fatty offenders.

But pasta? Pasta?

Didn’t carbo-loading used to be a good thing for strenuous exercisers? Didn’t they used to have a big spaghetti supper for the runners the night before the Boston Marathon?

Oh, cafeteria pasta – soggy, sitting around in vats of luke-warm water – wouldn’t be something that I’d be drawn to. But a forkful or two on the side with a cafeteria sandwich (mostly on non-white bread, of course, unless it’s a BLT or a grilled cheese)? Come on.


Employees who bring leftover pasta or white-bread sandwiches from home will not be met with judgment.

Phew. That’s a relief. Can you think of a worse job than checking employees on the way in to see what they had in their brown-bag, or going from cubicle to cubicle to police what people are eating.

It almost goes without saying that there’s a fatwa on soda.

I don’t drink a ton of soda, and what I do consume is of the diet variety (not, I’ll admit, that this makes it healthful). I do, on rare occasion, have a “real” soda – a coke, a ginger ale – and enjoy it. But as a regular dietary item, it’s hard to think of anything that’s more useless and potentially harmful to your health than a big old sugary soda.

The decision to remove it was spurred by the company’s national survey on soda consumption. Reebok’s survey found that 4 in 10 Americans cannot name three of the ingredients in soda, including water.

Not able to identify water as an ingredient of soda? Say what?

Maybe the question had tricky wording. Maybe folks didn’t understand that water can be an ingredient.

Even though, as H.L. Mencken told us years ago, ‘nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,’ it’s hard to believe that most people don’t realize that there’s water in them thar bottles and cans. Wow. Just wow.

Nothing wrong with trying to help your employees get a little healthier. So good for Reebok. I suspect that other corporations will be doing the same.

Wonder if State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois, will get the word.

Years ago, I had a business trip there to meet with a client, and we all had lunch in the company caf. Amazingly, the cafeteria offered several varieties of dessert Jello molds. Maybe not as bad as a two-liter soda, maybe not as bad as a double-wide chocolate muffin, but surely not good for you. Bet you won’t find any Jello molds at Reebok.

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