Sandra Benedetto: Hands Off My Pad See Ew . . . Or Else!

You look forward to eating it all morning, but when you open the fridge it’s not where you’d left it. You wonder if maybe someone moved it, but a quick scan of the other shelves reveals that it’s gone. Your initial panic gives way to anger. Who the fuck took my lunch? I think most of us can agree that eating another person’s yogurt/Lean Cuisine/leftover ribs from the communal workplace fridge is a serious violation of moral code. I don’t know if the code is some vestige of the cavemen credo, “Me hunt, me eat” or if property rights are inherent to the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson must have foreseen that someday, after proudly introducing European deep-fried potatoes at a White House dinner, he would go to the kitchen for a late-night snack only to find that someone had eaten the leftovers, blatantly ignoring the bold ‘TJ’ in masking tape on the side of the dish.

I’ve been interested in this phenomenon ever since my sister told me about the co-worker that unabashedly ate my sister’s frozen meals in front of her in the employee cafeteria. In sharing the story with friends, I found that similar incidents are shockingly commonplace. It was fun to speculate and shoot down reasons for this workplace behavior. You thought it was yours? Oh, you also ordered pad see ew last night and have a collapsible orange Tupperware container? Forgot your lunch? Get some Baked Lays from the vending machine and remember how sad of a meal that was when you leave the house tomorrow. Have no cash and none of the food vendors within a mile radius accept credit? Panhandling has to be at least slightly more socially acceptable than stealing. Can’t bear to eat your own lame peanut butter sandwich for the fourth day in a row? Be a little more creative from now on; in the meantime you won’t starve. You’re a Communist? In this case the wronged party should initiate a gentle confrontation – good luck.

My friends and I finally agreed that the only irrefutable explanation is a complete disregard for other people’s property and/or the thrill of violating social norms and getting away with it. This kind of person, like the still-unidentified woman who smeared feces on the wall of the faculty bathroom at my school a few years ago, plays by their own rules. This kind of a person is not going to have a change of heart but will continue to scavenge until they’re called out. So, what should our victim, suffering from low blood sugar and feeling personally affronted by someone they KNOW (the horror!), do to prevent this from happening again? I decided to look into some options; based on what I’ve seen so far I’m beginning to wonder who is more troubled, the food thieves or those who would thwart them.

Now, when someone ate my lunch once I came to work the next day with my meal wrapped in a Russian doll-like set of containers and an angry ‘Hands off, or else!’ sticky note in each layer. But it turns out my response, while sufficiently petty, lacks imagination. I spent some time today reading a message board thread entitled “best ways to get revenge on a food thief?” and learned of some creative ways to follow through on the ‘or else’ part of my message. While I would consider smearing hot sauce all over the food container so that the thief gets a burn-y surprise when they touch their eyes, it sounds like too much work to replace guacamole with wasabi, as someone suggested. And who wants to share the office bathroom with someone who has been dosed with laxatives or Visine drops? Not me.

One of the most aggressive ideas was proposed by the aptly named drastic_quench: “Do something horrible that puts him or her on edge without them actually having to eat the food. For example, take a nice big shit in a hotdog bun . . . Clearly, the shit will not be mistaken for food, so you’ve no worries on that front. Instead, what will likely happen is the culprit will sneak the Styrofoam container back to their hidey-hole before opening it. Or better yet, they open it at the ‘fridge. Either way you win.” That last sentence is the best part (other than the use of ‘hidey-hole’). You’re going to render the workplace fridge a biohazard zone with your own excrement, alienating your colleagues, probably getting fired and maybe arrested, but you will at least have avenged the heinous hot dog theft. You win!

Something that I didn’t see mentioned in the 200+ posts on the thread but that I learned about recently is the Personal Food Security System, which is basically a locking cage that protects your tuna melt from getting into the wrong hands. What does that say about you, though? Who’s more small-minded, the refrigerator raider or the person who buys a cage to protect their meal? You have to wonder what would make someone say, “Enough is enough! I’m getting the cage!”. My lunches are usually not so amazing that they require a security system. But if, say, a repeat offender finally took the delicious angel hair pasta from my favorite restaurant, that might put me over the edge. For you, like one of my friends, the last straw might be pizza.

Until that happens, let’s try not to be so cynical. Let’s keep on bringing our Tupperware, takeout containers, and paper bags and have some faith that they will still be there on the shelf where we left them come lunchtime. That said, if one of you motherfuckers takes my lunch, you’ve been warned.

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