Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe offers advice to a woman who is at her wits end with a hungry housemate.
I don’t know what to do. This might not seem like much of a problem but it’s driving me insane. I share a flat with two other girls. We all have different schedules – one works in the evenings, I’m nine to five but am often out and about at work events or gym classes so often not home until after nine and the other does shift work, with hours changing every week.
I’m telling you this because we never eat together, we don’t share our food as we rarely even bump into each other in the kitchen. The issue is, my food keeps going missing. I know this is an age-old frustration of students sharing a fridge but we’re way past that now. I love my food and I spend on quality, local produce. I make my lunch every morning before I go to work and recently key ingredients like fish, chicken, mozzarella, avocados, houmous etc will be missing, completely gone, not a trace left (even in the bin).
I confronted the flatmate I suspected (I know it’s not the other one) and she flatly denied it but my lunch bits were untouched for about ten days afterwards. Now she’s started taking stuff again and as well as costing me money, it means I can’t make the lunches I’d planned each day. What do you think I should do here? A confrontation hasn’t worked and I really don’t want to have to lock my food in a box, I’m 32 years old! I know it’s her 100% but she’s not going to own up to it.
Food Rage, Galway.
Christ! The only reason my fists aren’t balled in white-knuckled fury at the moment is because I’m pounding the keyboard. How you’ve held it together this long I do not know.
Yes, it could be considered a petty issue when held against global hunger statistics – over 795 million people and counting – but allowing for our shameful first world privilege, this is a bona fide deal. And do you know what? It ends today!
I don’t think I know a single person who isn’t irrational about food, especially ‘their’ food. Are you a sharer? Do you give little tastes of your food to any random circling buzzards? Or do you submit to ‘tastes’ only with very close friends, partners or family? Are you an enthusiastic non-sharer?
We all have a policy. I’m happy to offer a fork-full or two to a select few but do wriggle in my seat if someone lingers with my plate at the other end of a restaurant table, enjoying a bit of chat, fork poised as my din dins goes cold. I have one friend who does that and I’m certain it’s to wind us all up. It works.
As well as being simply sustenance, preparing and eating food is a joyful event for most. It might represent a break in the day, a morning ritual or a delicious evening wind-down. We are always looking forward to and planning our next meal. When we shop, we squeeze and weigh food in the aisles, looking for the freshest head of broccoli or not-too-ripe avocado. So that by the time we have bought and bagged our goods they are ours and we feel a strong bond and sense of ownership with said groceries.
This is proven by the Endowment Effect theory, which has long hypothesised that people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them. With food, as well as proprietorial instincts, you also have the fantasy build-up. That last creamy vanilla yoghurt, languishing on the top shelf of the fridge, which you are planning to inhale on contact; the Ottolenghi recipe you’re going to attempt, having had to source the ingredients in three specialist delis. The tongue-hanging anticipation is almost sweeter than the event. Until your supplies have been filched and there is no event.
The curious thing in your case is that your thief is not just skimming a spoonful of artisan pesto or a stray biscuit here and there. She’s lifting luxury items and disposing of all evidence, which possibly means she’s not even eating them? Or she’s bringing them somewhere else to cook? This may mean that the kick for her is in the thieving and the buzz of getting away with it. We could speculate on why she might be thieving – is she broke? Does she compulsively eat (luxury items only)? Is she a sleep-eater? Does she have deep-seated and unresolved issues with you? – but until we have solid proof, the ‘whys’ are pointless. So let’s pursue the ‘who.’
You’ve already confronted her and she’s denied it. In my view, and this is not necessarily legal, your only way forward is a surveillance camera to catch her in the act. I’m not going to incriminate a brand here by tagging a product but there are lots of decent motion-sensitive, affordable cameras on the market. By law, and so that you don’t violate any privacy codes, you are not allowed to film people in private spaces – bathrooms, bedrooms etc – but you can potentially film in communal spaces. This is a fairly grey area and to cover yourself you should ideally advertise your plan to monitor the fridge 24/7.
But why would you even consider doing that, right? You are then giving the suspect an opportunity to sabotage the hardware and/or refrain from reoffending. Which might be enough for some, to know that at least your stash is safe, even if you never identify the snake; but not for me. I’d be willing to swallow the potential consequences in pursuit of justice.
Your next best option is to carefully train your secret cam on the fridge door only. That way, if it turns out that either of your roomies have a penchant for kitchen counter sex or mounting the corner of the washing machine mid spin cycle, you’re unlikely to capture it. If their kink is fridge-oriented, you’re out of luck. Though that is unlikely.
Once you catch the thief in action, you can then proceed with confidence. Don’t produce the video evidence, people (she’ll tell everyone) will think you’re a creep. Just let her know that you know and tell her that you have had to resort to this genius, and stylish, secure storage to keep your food safe. I know that’s what you wanted to avoid but your delectables are obviously too much for her to resist. You’re also quashing the possibility of revenge contamination, like the ever-circulating urban myth of the burglars with the toothbrush?
Good luck, soldier. Please report back!