Lee Cataluna: Goodbye Forever To Salad Bars, Sweaty Gyms And Office Popcorn - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


Opinion article badgeAs summer was starting and people were daring to believe that the pandemic was coming to an end, there was temptation to look back and evaluate all the things this horrible time has taught us. Before we could sum up the lessons, though, the delta variant showed up and destroyed the introspective mood.

Now we’re at a hopeful though cautious spot where case numbers are declining and more facets of everyday life can proceed with relatively minor restrictions.

Amid the rush to get back to the way things used to be, it may be worth acknowledging that some things the pandemic killed should never be brought back.

They should stay gone, left back in a bygone era before we learned all these hard lessons about how to take care of ourselves and what really matters.

Start with salad bars. We should have left these behind in the ’80s anyway. Who decided that letting random strangers serve themselves from the same vat of three-bean salad and bowl of bacon bits was a good idea? The concept was supposedly made more sanitary by the introduction of “sneeze guards,” but now that we’ve had almost two years of virus education, we know that a little overhang of plastic is no way to stop a pathogen. Just the term “sneeze guard” is so unappetizing. And BTW, anything suspended in a clot of mayonnaise doesn’t really count as a salad. Salad bars are part of our unconsciously unhealthy past.

Another example of a bygone era: the pathogen petri dish known as “office popcorn.” A likely scenario: It’s 3 p.m., your stomach is rumbling, and from the lunch room, the unmistakable scent of synthetic butter and slightly-charred bag wafts to your cubicle. Everyone knows the rules. If someone made popcorn in the office, they must share, or at least make an obligatory gesture: “You want?”

Just say no. Think of all the hands that have been in that bag already. If the popcorn is dumped from the bag out into a big bowl with furikake and arare and maybe some off-brand M&Ms in the mix, it’s just a wider bowl for more hands. Some of those hands went from the bowl, directly to the mouth, then back in the bowl again.

We know better now. For crying out loud, it wasn’t that long ago we were wiping down canned goods purchased with gloved hands at Safeway. Don’t throw caution to the wind. Office food should be single-serving, individually wrapped from now until forever. Just bring your own from home. Or just work from home.

Another outdated concept is packed gyms and fitness centers. Even if the other patrons dutifully wiped their sweat off the equipment and sprayed the hand grips with whatever is in the unlabeled plastic bottles of watered-down cleaner that gym management helpfully provides, the fact is that you could walk out of a workout carrying all manner of bugs and essences of other random people who were sweating, panting and spitting in that enclosed space.

How illogical to expose oneself to illness in the pursuit of health. That can’t possibly look the same after what we’ve been through. Gyms need not only better procedures, but totally different designs and concepts.

And here’s a blast from the past that we don’t need to repeat in the future: Going to work visibly sick. Yeah, that used to be a mark of heroism, not wanting someone to have to cover for you. Now we know better. When you do that, you’re not a trooper, you’re a spreader.

A sanitized table beats a communal bowl of popcorn or a salad bar any day. Danny de Gracia/Civil Beat/2021

This last one isn’t so much a suggestion but a wish: Oh, please, can we stop all the hotel ballroom conference luncheons and Waikiki awards dinners? Can those please be permanently replaced by Zoom meetings where nobody has to turn on their camera and everyone can stay home and get work done while sort of listening to the speeches?

If there must be luncheons and award banquets for awards people already know they’re getting, can the whole thing be focused down to 50 minutes online? Everyone can stay home, wear what feels good, eat what they want out of their own kitchen.

Those events are always long moments of awkward conversation while poking a fork at those miserable teri chicken thighs flanked by a lump of watery vegetables and an ice-cream scoop of rice with three sesame seeds on top for garnish.

Some people must love these events, or otherwise why are they such a staple of the white-collar working world? There are probably people who enjoy navigating the Waikiki traffic and the awkward conversation. There are possibly people who like the miserable teri chicken thighs or the mahi mahi fillets and who look forward to the rectangular cube of guava chiffon cake for dessert.

This is an opportunity to keep hard-won healthy habits, and this is an opportunity to dump the social gatherings we didn’t miss even when we desperately missed social gatherings.


Read this next:

John Pritchett: Garden Variety


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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


Latest Comments (0)

having sanitation is good, but salad bar(s) and office popcorn are not the source of the spread of COVID.

rebgagne · 1 month ago

Salad bar/buffet ... Eating establishments & dept of health should have huge signs "teaching" patrons not to leave the serving utensil in the dish but to place it in the container next to the respective dish. People, often well meaning, place the serving utensil, handle and all into the e.g. bowl of lettuce greens.  A place I worked at was warned by DOH that each item of the salad bar in our employee cafe needed a container to place the serving utensil despite an already crowded salad bar; otherwise the employer was going to be cited. O.k. employer compiled but didn't explain to employees so many were noticed simply leaving the serving utensil, handle and all in the food item.  People just do not have "common sense" (I know, I know ... common sense is not common anymore) I have seen this very gross example happen at "high end" restaurants.

AuntyBoomer · 1 month ago

Can't wait for the dinner/lunch/party buffets regardless of the germs passed.  Can't get so paranoid that we lose our happiness for the sake of "social correctness."  

pcman · 1 month ago

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