If you have ever asked what species of person would steal a ham and cheese sandwich out of the common refrigerator at work, I have your answer. I am that species. I am the lowlife cretin who stole your lunch. Or your Stouffer’s. Or that Weight Watchers. And though you probably imagine me as an evil man with no soul and less than half a brain, you’d be surprised to witness my normalcy at work and shocked to know how often you laugh at my jokes and enjoy my company. In other words, I’m complicated—a well-paid young associate in a mid-size law firm who takes food out of the lunchroom fridge. That’s all I’ll say about myself. But, to be fair, I’ll reveal a bit more of my work ethic.
First, I have three rules that I live by:
I have deviated from these rules twice in three years. Once, I swiped a piece of birthday cake clearly marked by one of the firm’s paralegals. That’s been my only real transgression, and I actually felt slightly conflicted by it. Slightly. The cake was superb. The other involved a small plate of deviled eggs that an associate had brought from home and marked inexplicably with her name and “Celebration!” But the eggs had too much paprika for my tastes and I put six of them back in the fridge, less one with my bite out of it. Other than those two breaches of protocol, I have stuck by my rules and have only swiped the lunches of partners or more senior associates. It seems the honorable way to steal.
Stealing lunch is easy and I’m pathologically good at it. I’ve actually become so calmly skilled at stealing that four times in the last year I’ve been eating a partner’s lunch while casually talking with him or her in the lunchroom. Two were sandwiches, one was a pepperoni flatbread pizza, and one was leftover coconut-based green curry. I’m that good. Calmness under pressure is the key to making the thefts work. I eat your lunch like it is mine. And you believe that as well.
There are three general ways that I steal your lunch: simple theft, the swap, and the half-chow (also called the big nibble).
This is just as it sounds. I take the lunch out of the refrigerator and either head to my office to eat it or, if I’m feeling particularly brazen, eat it standing up at the kitchen counter or sitting down at one of the lunch room tables. Granted, though, I either do this early in the lunch period (around 11:00) or after lunch is over (about 1:30). There are generally too many eyes on the fridge during the core office lunch time, though I suspect if I want to increase my challenge I’ll start fiddling with my preferred times.
I use the swap less so than I did at the beginning. While it is somewhat ironically humorous, depending on the swap—it is not terribly challenging. It generally goes like this. In my desk I have two different packs of ZipLoc bags, each pack a different color or size. They are also premarked initials using a Sharpie—e.g., “EDR,” even though my initials are not EDR. I often use the initials of paralegals or other people I read off the office directory. Or I just make them up. I also have a small stack of fairly well-preserved but empty frozen or refrigerated food containers, such as an empty package for a Healthy Choice Lemon Pepper Fish. I scope out what’s in the fridge, make a choice, then come back later with an appropriate container and make the swap—switching out, say, Marie Callender’s Country Fried Pork Chop and Gravy with Weight Watcher’s Santa Fe Rice and Beans. Or a regular Glad bag containing a ham sandwich with a purple Ziplock bag with a SmartZip seal (I know my bags). I typically do this in the morning, then come back later at lunch to heat up my swapped product, the empty package conspicuously near to me as I wait by the microwave. Sounds complicated and excessive but, again, it really is not that challenging.
The half-chow involves tagging a meal or sandwich and essentially stealing it psychologically. It involves searching through the fridge for what looks good, taking it out, and lunching on it instantly—but only one or two bites. Then you put it back. If it’s left there the next day and you actually liked it, I figure it’s up for grabs, as it will just be thrown away. The half-chow becomes the big nibble simply if you pick a smaller item of food and essentially leave what amounts to a single bite or even a largish pile of crumbs. Thus, a big nibble.
In more than three years I have not come close to being caught. Certainly, the messages that my victims have left on food in the fridge have become bolder and more strident, as in a recently large message that said “THIS IS MY CUPCAKE, ASSHOLE.” One person now has a “locking lunchbox,” which presents its own challenge that I have not yet tested. I suspect someone may soon, if they have not already, put ExLax in a decoy lunch. And the firm has sent out two we’re-half-embarrassed-that-we’re-writing-this memos addressed to “All Staff,” reminding us of our duties to respect each other’s food and written in the stilted language associated with lawyers and office memos. The latest one that I have on my bulletin board in my office says:
In the last 90 days various personal food items have been reported missing from the firm’s lunchroom refrigerator, including, but not limited to, meatloaf, two frozen food entrees, pita bread and “humus” dip, a jar of grape jelly, a small dessert serving of Tiramisu, several sandwiches, and most recently, “buffalo” chicken wings that had been partially eaten and returned to the refrigerator. This is a reminder that theft and conversion of personal employee property at [my law firm name] is a serious matter. Any employee who is determined to have converted personal property of another may face disciplinary action, up to and including immediate termination from employment. Please respect employee property and take or handle only those food items that you own.
I generally had two responses to this latest memo: 1) I’ll quit when they install a camera in the kitchen; and 2) I didn’t take the grape jelly. That goes against one of my three principles.