Sunday, March 30, 2014

Am I my coworker's pizza keeper?

If a colleague interprets rules differently from you, does that make her unethical? A reader from the Midwest seems to think so.

The reader has a colleague who works as a counselor for her church's youth group. Until some members of the youth group are baptized, the coworker said she had chosen to abstain from eating bread.

"In her mind, this is some sort of meaningful religious sacrifice," the reader writes, suggesting he's doubtful that the meaningfulness extends beyond his coworker's mind.

When a group of people at the reader's office, including his bread-abstaining coworker, were discussing where to go for lunch, they decided they'd go to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet.

Obviously, the reader believed this would cause some concern for his coworker. However, the woman readily agreed to the group's choice and said she'd just eat the cheese and toppings off of the pizza and leave the rest.

"I believe it is unethical for a person to do this," my reader writes.

He explains that he believes the all-you-can-eat deal works because "it assumes people will get full and stop eating." To go to an all-you-can-eat place with the intent of not eating half or more of the food, he writes, "is shady."

"In the same way that you can't share food with a non-paying tagalong at such a place, or take leftovers home, I don't think you can go to such a place with the intent of not consuming the food you are taking."

At the restaurant, the reader's colleague had the opportunity not to partake of the buffet and instead order her own pizza off the menu. If she had done that, my reader concludes, "she'd be free and clear to eat or not eat it in any way she saw fit." But the reader seems surprised that his coworker saw nothing wrong with ordering the buffet and then eating only the toppings from the pizza.

"Is her approach ethical?" he asks.

Years ago, my wife and I frequented a restaurant in Western Massachusetts that featured a salad buffet with printed signs that implored diners to: "Take as much as you want, but eat as much as you take."

The reader is likely right that restaurants would prefer buffet customers eat what they take from the buffet table. Clearly, he'd never go to a buffet and take food with the intent of not eating all that he took.

It is inappropriate for the reader to pass judgment on whether or not his coworker is making a religious sacrifice through her actions. That's between the coworker and her God.

Ideally, the coworker would eat what she takes from the buffet table to avoid being wasteful. But it's not convincing that the coworker's behavior would be any more shady than that of a customer who doesn't like pizza crusts and leaves them on her plate. It's unlikely the reader would pass similar judgment on the crust abstainer.

The right thing is for my reader not to let his judgment about whether his coworker's self-professed religious actions and decisions are legitimate to color his assessment of how she behaves at the buffet table. She'll be back to eating the whole slice soon enough. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 



Anonymous said...

The woman is trying to remain moral with her contract to God to abstain from bread but is failing to be moral in her contract to the buffet owner in eating what you take. She is eating the most expensive part of his offering and eliminating the most filling part.

William Jacobson said...


Eating just the toppings at a pizza buffet is unethical because it undermines the implied agreement that this customer has with the restaurant. A restaurant takes a calculated gamble when it offers all-you-can-eat buffets that the sale will remain profitable. It bases this gamble on the known costs of food and the physical limits someone can eat in one sitting and it prices its offerring accordingly. By eating only the toppings and forgoing the more filling bread, this customer radically increases the restaurant's risk of an unprofitable sale since they will naturally consume more pizza at a greater cost to the restaurant.

The restaurant would be within its rights to refuse to serve such a customer but it is the restaurant's and not the coworker's bone to pick over this behavior. Your reader's calling out his coworker, on a nationally published column no less, appears a bit self-righteous. Perhaps your reader would do well to follow the admonition of not worrying about the speck in his brother's eye while there remains a plank in his own...

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

PS. A similar issue arises with all-you-can-eat sushi:

Anonymous said...

This is a perfect example of people in groups who think they (can) (must) apply their own moral justifications to everyday situations. Much to-do about absolutely nothing.

Charlie Seng