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The question

Our office has a food thief. While this was humorous at first, it’s gotten serious and out of control. Yesterday my breakfast was taken brazenly from our cafe after I stepped away for five minutes! Several others have complained about their food going missing from the fridge. We have raised the issue with HR but nothing gets accomplished apart from some brief posts on the company intranet. The management team has also declined installing security cameras in the office. Do we have any options to address this food thievery?

The answer

It’s been a while since I’ve worked in an office but I do remember distinctly opening the office refrigerator door and coveting someone else’s delightfully flavoured (mmm, vanilla) yogurt or whatever.

I’m proud to say I was able to restrain my urge quietly to slip whatever treats happened to be chilling in the communal fridge into my pocket and then stealthily scarfing them down at my desk, eyes darting around to make sure no one detected my malfeasance.

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But not everyone is capable of exercising such restraint. Would security cameras, trained on the refrigerator door (or even more cleverly, I suppose, installed inside the fridge – in, say, a fake milk carton) make any difference to the typical office food thief? I doubt it.

(They’d just figure out a way to foil the surveillance system: e.g. like criminals you see on TV doing a “perp walk” pulling their hoodie close over their head).

Same with the naive little notes people leave on their unprotected food in office fridges: “Announcement! This is MY organic cherry-vanilla probiotic yogourt. Office food thieves: No touchy!”

“Huh,” office food thief thinks. “Sounds delightful. Both delicious and nutritious. And I’ve read a lot about probiotics lately. Everyone, including us office food thieves, needs more of that type of stuff in our diets. Promotes, like…gut health or whatnot.”

Office food thief grabs yogurt. Crumples up note and sticks inside butter compartment or tosses into recycling receptacle. Scarfs yogurt at desk, thinking: “Hmm, delicious. Hope whoever it is brings same flavour tomorrow. Or maybe…raspberry. Mmm, yeah, I love raspberry.”

Anyway what would you even do if a camera caught a colleague gobbling down a snack you had secretly been looking forward to having for yourself? Go into a kung-fu stance and perform a spinning-roundhouse-type-kick on the perpetrator?

There are grey areas: milk, for example (of course one hopes the milk itself isn’t grey: I’m speaking morally/metaphorically). Is it so bad to slip a little splash of your colleague’s milk in your coffee? Then buy some yourself and they can help themselves to that?

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(Last office I worked in though had those little single-serving milk-thingies, which while perhaps not so environmentally wonderful, were probably best for inter-colleague harmony.)

An underestimated aspect, I feel, of what is colloquially called “office food culture” is the fact that, wherever people gather, especially if there is a refrigerator and especially if there is a stove or any sort of heating device in the vicinity (single-serve coffee devices excepted), it is a form of cohabitation.

And cohabitation is a tremendously ticklish/difficult feat to pull off. Many marriages, whole families, founder on issues having to do with cohabitation. My oldest child has embarked on a three-roommate situation and is having to navigate these waters. “Hey who took my yogurt?” and so on.

When I first started out my renting life, with two roommates, a dispute over peanut butter caused one of us (not me) to have to leave.

With your Hamburglar (sorry, that reference dates me: a 70s-era McDonald’s villain) of a food-thief colleague, I wouldn’t bother to try to do too much sleuthing, though. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” as the famous saying from The Godfather goes – and might I add (a line which would obviously be a real clunker in a movie) keep your snacks close to your desk.

There are such things as insulated bags, which are as close to refrigeration as you will probably need for a typical working day.

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So just keep your snacks and your lunch or whatever you bring to nosh on at work under your chair or under your desk and it’ll be all the more delicious – well, a) for the fact you’re having it at all, and b) the relaxation of knowing it’s not going to be Hamburgled by one of your office mates.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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