Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

The ethics of stealing bags (and containers)


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

I was in the supermarket the other day and, as I put oranges in a plastic produce bag, I grabbed a couple of extra bags off the roll and stuffed them in my pocket. Later at home I added those bags to my collection of produce bags -- I must have a hundred or so.

Is this taking of bags within the normal bounds of ethical behavior, or is it theft? Ditto for other store packaging, like deli containers at the olive bar.

Do you do it? Think about it? Care about it?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do you do it? Think about it? Care about it?

I don't do it and I don't think I've ever thought about it but I don't have a need for the bags so my ethics on the subject have never been tested. Strictly speaking, it probably is theft... but so is that cherry or grape or pod of peas I did the "try before I buy" on while in the produce area. The chances that a customer spending money will be approached over these types of things is pretty low so it really comes down to how much it bothers you on a personal level rather than a legal level.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think the plastic bags qualify as theft, but I'm not sure about the plastic containers.

Neither of them are as bad as taking a handful of nuts from the bulk nut bins and eating them as you shop. That's definitely theft.

"A fool", he said, "would have swallowed it". Samuel Johnson

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First off, congratulations on moving beyond denial and acknowledging that one may have a problem. That is a significant first step.

Beyond that, I would say that as long as one doesn't ritualistically count the plastic bags every night, sorting first by size, then graphics and then clarity, it is not an insurmountable obsession.

I am confident that in a court of law it would be viewed more as an eccentric quirk than an ethical transgression. State of mind is probably the self-determining factor. If one worries an act may be unethical, it likely is - at least in the mind's eye.

When buying iceberg lettuce, even though it is already wrapped, I will place the lettuce in a second bag for refrigerator storage. Hence, upon further consideration, I should not cast the first stone from my glass house.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think the plastic bags qualify as theft, but I'm not sure about the plastic containers.

Neither of them are as bad as taking a handful of nuts from the bulk nut bins and eating them as you shop. That's definitely theft.

I have to disagree. The store buys the bags the same way it buys the containers and nuts. Taking it without asking removes the option of them saying "we have to pay for those so we prefer you didn't". I sometimes taste things in the produce department before buying and it is what it is. I don't think you can divide it into "it's okay to take this but not okay to take that". Either it's okay or it isn't. I don't make judgements on those who do it but I don't kid myself when I do it either.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do not find a use for the plastic bags and have never considered the olive sort of plastic containers as something I would take without a product. I do ask for more of the regular plastic handled bags (dog). Often the store policy is not to bag a single item. I say that I use the bags for dogs and they usually throw in a few extra. As to those thin plastic ones for produce- perhaps someone taking a few more versus the person who puts unbagged stuff on the checkout belt balances? I was raised with Catholic nuns so I am a guilt ridden wienie about such things.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course it is theft. Trivial and inconsequential, but still theft. No amount of argumentation can change it from being so.

This is what I spent two fairly long posts trying to say... now I know why I'm not a writer.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From a legal standpoint I don't think "stealing is stealing" quite cuts it. The law certainly recognizes degrees of theft. I don't think it's a rationalization to say that taking a plastic bag from a grocery store is not the same as taking a million dollars from a bank. From a moral, legal and common-sense standpoint those things are different. But there are also situations where taking property is not theft, for example where there is implied permission such as when you take the toiletries home from your hotel room.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd be more worried about the hundred or so produce bags you're hoarding than the five-and-a-half cents* that it cost the stores when you took them. Pair it down or you'll end up like my grandmother -- with a basement full of plastic bags and lidded coffee tins. The tins were full of bags. And the tins were stored in bags. All told, I'm guessing there were a few thousand bags in a couple hundred tins. That's beyond hoarding and into the realm of "seek therapy."

And yes, I think taking extra bags qualifies as theft. But I also think if you ask a clerk first, it isn't theft anymore.

* Number pulled directly out of my posterior.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Or if I make six separate trips to the store and buy one orange in a bag each time.

I'd love to hear from someone in the business how stores account for and view this stuff.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Come on now. If you take bags that aren't being used to carry produce it is stealing. You can set up situations where the store loses bags at the same produce:bag ratio but that's just sophistry and not addressing the real issue

Link to comment
Share on other sites

all one has to do is ask for the extra bags. i've never had a store not extend the courtesy, when i've asked and if i ever wanted more than what asane person could reasonably ask for, i'd just buy them.

whole foods even keeps extra paper shopping bags in three sizes at the information desk just for those honest enough to ask.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a different issue than the one initially proposed.

I suppose it would be theft of some sort if the cashier intended it to be. But brainless inefficiency isn't theft.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I ask them to double bag some things...but you're talking the thin produce bags, yes? I'll hold some of them out of the recycling bin because they're easily tied and useful for controlling odors from things like dirty diapers and cigarette butts, so I really see the uses, but how many do you really use? Thats the trick, don't start trying to pad your stash to have for the rapture or we'll see you on t.v.!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a different issue than the one initially proposed.

I suppose it would be theft of some sort if the cashier intended it to be. But brainless inefficiency isn't theft.

I know that but I think the distinction illustrates that it isn't sophistry to talk about a spectrum of culpability.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I once worked as the deli and prepared foods mercahdiser for a regional supermarket chain / distributor, meaning I was responsible for those departments in the stores. It also meant that I sat in on the weekly meetings of all departmental merchandisers, giving me a good understanding of the supermarket business.

Along with the vast quantities of products a supermarket inventories and sells - I paid less for ingredients than McDonald's stores - one of the most impacting factors in the business is the minimal profit margin. When a distributor pays cash in anticipation of delivery, they receive a one to two percent discount off the manufacturer's invoice. In the chain I worked for, our pretax profits were limited to those cash discounts. The margins are very slim.

Even so, a few extra bags a day is not going to have a significant effect on profits, mainly because it is not all that common an occurrence. If every customer took five bags, a few plastic containers or a handful of grapes it would be a meaningful cost.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a different issue than the one initially proposed.

I suppose it would be theft of some sort if the cashier intended it to be. But brainless inefficiency isn't theft.

I know that but I think the distinction illustrates that it isn't sophistry to talk about a spectrum of culpability.

The question that started all this was "is this within the spectrum of normal behavior or is it theft? "

I think this question set up a false dichotomy and it is tangling up the duscussion. Some argue that it is theft and others that it is trivial. I'd say both are right.

Edited by gfweb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just out of sheer curiosity....what are you DOING with those produce bags? I always keep a handful of the plastic checkout bags in my car's console for trash bags, but the produce bags are too small and flimsy. They're convenient when I take the dog to the botanical gardens or somewhere else she needs to be cleaned up after, and if I think of it, I'll put one in my pocket before we head out. And I've used them to bag messy trash when it was going in the bin and not outside for a while, or until the next day. But checkout-sized bags work for that, too.

Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...