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At my workplace there are a few microwaves placed in the cafeteria for people to use.

Proper signage asking people to cover their food has been placed in the microwave area as well as on individual microwaves. But, most people at my work don't follow this. They don't cover their food. As a result, the smell of meat and fish sets inside.

Being a vegetarian, I generally don't have issues with the smell of non-veg food out in the open, but the intensity of smell inside the microwave makes me not want to heat up my food in there.

How can I deal with this problem?

Is it okay to request that one of the microwaves be only used for vegetarian food, and, if yes, who can I address this request to?

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    I think you can win the fight but will lose the war. are there other vegetarians around you? or is this microwave going to be "yours"? – Green Baloon Oct 11 at 17:26
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    Covering the food wouldn't help much anyway. It keeps the microwave clean, but the covers have to be vented and the smell still gets out. Leaving the door open has more of an effect – Chris H Oct 12 at 21:31
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    @Dukeling - the new title doesn't match the original (and I believe current) intent of the OP. Whether you agree with their worldview or not they don't want to cope with the smell, they want to never smell the smell. – P. Hopkinson Oct 12 at 21:34
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    @P.Hopkinson How does it not match the original intent? The original title asked about one possible way to deal with smelly microwaves, the new title asks how to deal with smelly microwaves. If your issue is the use of "deal with": while "deal with it" might be a common dismissive saying, to "deal with" a problem is not dismissive and includes the possibility of any and all solutions. – Dukeling Oct 12 at 22:49
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    Is there a cover readily available? Some places have similar signs, but when you look for the cover it is hidden so it will take at least five minutes to track it down. – 9Rune5 Oct 13 at 5:23
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I think the problem you may well encounter is that if people are already ignoring the "cover your food" rule I'm not sure you'll have any more success with a "This microwave is vegetarian only".

What might be more successful is to push for stricter enforcement on following the existing rules as well as addressing the general cleanliness of the microwave(s).

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    I would even add that there may be some people who would deliberately use the vegetarian only one to heat meat/fish uncovered. – Aaron Oct 12 at 7:37
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    @Aaron : especially as probably less people will use the vegetarian one, if there is a long queue in front of the others, some impatient co-worker might use the "vegetarian-only" oven to heat some meat or fish. – Val Oct 12 at 16:24
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    I think this answer sounds very logical while missing insights into human behavior. "Cover your food" is not as binary as "this is a vegetarian microwave". People have problems with rules that aren't binary. I'm sure a lot of people thought they covered their food well. People are also lazy. It's easier for them to follow a rule like "use this one not that one" than "prepare your food properly before using the microwave". – Chan-Ho Suh Oct 13 at 2:49
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    Its totally rude to cook fish in the office microwave, vegetarian or not. So to your point, its going to be an uphill battle getting them to agree to new rules when their microwave etiquette is already not great. assets.amuniversal.com/39ee8c706cc701301d50001dd8b71c47 – chiliNUT Oct 13 at 21:21
  • @val it would probably get the same respect as the disabled toilet – Mawg says reinstate Monica Oct 14 at 12:43
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No, it's not appropriate.

This isn't a dietary issue, or a health/allergy issue, or anything like that. It's literally the same thing as me requesting a "non-chinese-food" microwave because I can't stand the smell of sweet & sour.

But I think there's another problem - one with the approach you're using here. Instead of asking yourself, "how can I adapt to this situation with minimal personal cost?", you instead immediately leaped to "how can I force change?" Sometimes, trying to effect change is good - but more often, the better solution is to figure out a way to live harmoniously. Trying to wage a war on microwave-meat-smell is probably not the way you want your coworkers to think of you.

In this case, there are all sorts of things you can do. An easy four that come to mind:

  • Ask if microwave cleaning/scrubbing can be part of the building maintenance. Or even just give it a wipedown once a week on your own.
  • Heavily wrap (or use ziploc bags) your own food when it's in the microwave. Sure, it might smell when you open/close the microwave door, but if you keep your food bundled up, it won't smell when you get it back to your desk (smell is just particles of food wafting around; keep any meat particles off your food, and it won't smell like meat.)
  • Breathe through your mouth when opening/closing the microwave.
  • Learn to tolerate the smell. (Don't dismiss this. I used to be queasy at the thought of touching other people's half-eaten food; working as a waiter managed to slowly cure me of that problem.)
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    I mean, the OP didn't say why they eat vegetarian – Azor Ahai Oct 12 at 2:10
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    @AzorAhai - the reason I say it's not a dietary/health/allergy/etc issue is because OP's fear isn't food contamination or anything like that. They simply don't want to smell it when they use the microwave. – Kevin Oct 12 at 2:34
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    @Vaelus I've reread the question several times and there is no indication of the person being mentally impaired by the smell of meat. – Clay07g Oct 13 at 2:34
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    @Vaelus - OP explicitly says they don't have a problem with the smell of meat - that it's just the intensity of the smell in the microwave. That's the half the problem - people see "vegetarian" and they instantly form mental connections (good or bad) that don't really apply to this situation. – Kevin Oct 13 at 15:51
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    With your second point I think you should mention two things; 1. air tight containers in microwaves tend to open forcefully on their own (depending on how several factors). and 2. plastic should not touch hot food – Aequitas Oct 13 at 23:10
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It's wholly appropriate in India.

Seeing that you're in India (from your name and because you use the term "non-veg" which is a peculiarly Indian idiom), let me assure you there is already huge local context and sensitivity to vegetarianism.

At most mature workplaces (organizations that have been in existence for more than 3 years, with more than 1000 personnel using the cafeteria) there will already be "vegetarian-only" microwaves. This is more common than you think, and is not a weird request in an Indian setting.

Someone in HR, if you have a HR department, is the right person to direct this request to. The actual implementation might be done by the Admin team if you have one. What I have seen is they keep some microwaves labelled "veg only". Of course this is on an honour system; no one will get punished if they reheat fish in that microwave, but generally people have enough sensitivity to how some vegetarians see the world.

I suggest before dropping an email, you first corner an HR person in the corridor informally, and ask her (note my gender bias) something on the lines of - "Hi _, do you have a moment? I was thinking of this for a while (or other filler sentence); is it possible to have one microwave in the cafeteria labelled as VEG ONLY? Some of my friends at company X said that it is a common practice, so I thought I'd check with you and see if we could do something similar?"

Don't mention the "smell of fish" etc. Such things might be perceived as offensive, like you're looking to rake up trouble, playing the Jain card or whatever. Best to keep it neutral.

This will give you sufficient feedback to how things are perceived at your workplace; do they have history with this topic, has it been tried or discussed before, etc.

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    I agree with this. If the OP is India, then two microwaves is a common solution seen in every big and small office. – PagMax Oct 13 at 9:58
  • Agreed especially with "smell of fish" etc. It's a dietary requirement and HR need to respect it. – Bee Oct 14 at 11:20
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The best advice for this is: pick your battles carefully.

If you make a big crusade about a vegetarian-only microwave, even if you win (which is uncertain at best), you will have spent a lot of goodwill of your colleagues and of the company you work for.

Save that for more important issues. There will certainly be bigger issues and of greater impact at your work, than this one, sooner or later. Use what reputation and influence you have for those issues.

Buy and bring your own microwave if you can, it will be a better solution overall.

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    Depending on company policy, the OP might not be allowed to bring his own appliances. – user24582 Oct 12 at 7:59
  • There may also be an electrical service issue, depending on the equipment already in the cubicle and how the circuits are wired. Microwaves are very big draws that dominate the circuit they are on, e.g. If sharing with 3-4 PCs, those PCs will probably lose their work and facilities called in to reset a breaker... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 12 at 13:19
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    And then there will be requests for a Chinese-only microwave, a halal-microwave to be used only by Muslims, a kosher microwave, a vegan-only microwave, and so on... – Val Oct 12 at 16:26
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    I'd be extremely surprised if the asker were allowed to bring their own microwave to work, because of safety issues: it's a high-powered electrical device and a malfunctioning microwave is dangerous. Electrical safety regulations likely require them to be inspected. They might have more success offering to pay for the company to buy an extra microwave. – David Richerby Oct 12 at 20:01
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    @Val kosher food is not that simple... because they usually have two separate kitchens and two separate sets of dishes, one for meat & one for milk. And there are actually people, who never use a microwave oven. – Martin Zeitler Oct 13 at 9:33
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Honestly, I would say there isn't much you can do. Consider this; if people are already ignoring the signage about covering food, do you really think they are going to be any better about respecting an additional sign directing them to use the microwave only for vegetarian food?

There's no way to enforce the rules and I doubt management would be willing to enforce consequences for violations. Your only alternative, if you feel that strongly about it, would be to bring your own personal microwave to work. I don't know if that is a practical suggestion, but I think that's the only way you are going to have a meat-free microwave to warm your lunches.

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    Given that you can get a very good new microwave for about $30, or a decent used one for about $1, "bring your own microwave" is a perfectly good solution. – R.. Oct 12 at 3:35
  • They could get a microwave with a "lock" function and hide the manual. Then the microwave could only be used by someone who was very determined to break the policy; products.geappliances.com/appliance/… – Richard Oct 12 at 6:40
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    Depending on company policy, the OP might not be allowed to bring his own appliances. – user24582 Oct 12 at 7:58
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    @Richard The rest of the co-workers will love OP for a microwave that is locked against them and unusable for all but OP or all the people some authority considers "worthy" of it. That's a perfect start for a nice little office war - unless it were OP's personal microwave, which could open another can of worms ("why can we not all have personal microwaves/fridges/toasters?"). – Frank Hopkins Oct 12 at 13:18
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    @FrankHopkins - Meh. I'd care so little that it would barely register on my list. – Richard Oct 12 at 13:36
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Yes, it’s OK, but it won’t help. Some percentage of those that don’t cover their food will only notice that there are now two microwaves they can use. Example: While eating in a hostel in Ireland, I notice a rack of cutting boards, with a sign saying which color was for fish, which vegetables, which raw chicken, raw other meats, bread cooked meat etc. I pointed and commented, “I doubt that sign is followed.” Another person said, “I never even saw it.”

One thing I learned as an instructor and technical writer is that people don’t read. How often have you seen a frustrated person shoving harder on a handle right below a “PULL” sign?

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    Sheepishly noting that this is redundant. Makes me an example of my own complaint! – WGroleau Oct 12 at 14:49
  • Six-plus chopping boards is ludicrous. Nobody has time for that. Raw meat, cooked meat, everything else, if you must. But there is no reason whatsoever for separating bread from vegetables. – David Richerby Oct 12 at 20:04
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    @David Richerby gluten contamination, perhaps? – Carcer Oct 12 at 20:37
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    @Carcer If you're so sensitive to something that the residue on a washed chopping board will cause you problems then, sorry, but it's just not safe to use chopping boards that are shared with people you don't know. – David Richerby Oct 12 at 20:58
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    Whether it’s silly is irrelevant to its value as an example that people don’t read signs and sometimes don’t see them. Nor do they read e-mailed instructions about the microwave. – WGroleau Oct 12 at 22:14
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How about covering your own food, just like the rule demands? It will limit the smell going in both directions.

You can use a tight microwave-safe container to heat your food. Most food-grade containers don't absorb much smell on the outside for a minute or two, and if you still have issues you can even use two containers one inside another (two ziplock bags or a covered plastic container plus a ziplock bag around it). The outside container will generally not get contaminated with food so it will require less often maintenance or change.

Your issue is not limited to vegetarians. A common issue is the smell of pork to someone who is banned from eating pork. I myself don't like most spices people put in their foodh and so on.

  • That was my thought, too, but OP says they don't want to use the MWs because of the smell, not that their food smells after heating up in said MWs. I can see how this can spoil the whole eating experience, and eating with disgust may have nutritional and other consequences. – Pavel Oct 14 at 8:22
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Consult with management to buy your own microwave. A cheap one, preferably, with a sign saying "Vegetarian food only". Place it, with permission from management, away from the normal microwaves.

We had a similar situation with the coffee machine. Eventually a few people pitched in to buy a second machine, and everyone was happy.

  • They had a dispute over beans, cleaning, milk and grind size.. and other things. A second machine for the 'purists' leaving the first machine for the slobs solved the issues. – Underverse Oct 15 at 10:32

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