Whenever possible, to avoid this dilemma, I spread a paper napkin under my plate, to create a safe spillage zone. This is particularly important when the plate is full, or has a cargo that is prone to escape, like peas. I'll happily do this in company, and even tell my dining companions why, rather than risk having to consume something incomplete. Even eating a sandwich at work necessitates a trail of protective napkins from my food to the table edge.
For many years, I bought a pot of fruit salad from the canteen to have after lunch. Usually, I would eat it at my desk, and, usually, at least one piece would end up on the floor. Rather than ruin my pudding by throwing that piece away, I would surreptitiously take it to the kitchen - some 30-40 feet away - wash it thoroughly and wolf it down at the sink. Many a time, a colleague would walk in on me while I was washing the fruit and I'd have to hide it in my fist.
Most people would recoil from doing this, whether they had OCD or not, but the compulsion to achieve wholeness was far stronger than any contamination fear and made this perfectly acceptable to me.
|Photo: Helen Barbour|
Dry products, which can't be washed, are another matter; I won't eat any that make contact with the table surface, let alone the floor.
There has, however, been one recent exception to this rule.
I'd bought my lunch sandwich early and asked for it to be wrapped in clingfilm, rather than greaseproof paper, to stop it drying out. There were layers and layers to unroll and my sandwich ended up atop a slippery slope of the stuff. No sooner had I started eating than I noticed one quarter had slid off the film, and the entire length of one crust, and a piece of chicken, were touching the table.
Now, I couldn't tear off the 'contaminated' bits, as that would have left two-thirds of the quarter - and a total consumption of an unsatisfactory 11/12ths of a sandwich. I toyed with the idea of abandoning the whole piece, but that would have made for an insubstantial lunch and, frankly, three-quarters of a sandwich is no better than 11/12ths when your goal is wholeness.
Instead, I picked it up and ate it, trying not to think whose dirty fingers might have touched the table, or whether the cloth that had last cleaned it was, well, clean. I felt as if I were gambling with my stomach and expected to be vomiting within 24 hours - needless to say, I wasn't.
Unfortunately, I don't think this victory will help me to win future contamination battles. My OCD brain tells it was just luck that I didn't get ill and that the more chances I take, the worse the odds.