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The ethics of stealing bags (and containers)


Fat Guy
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I stopped by the store this morning to ask if they pay for the bags. I didn't speak to an owner or authorized corporate representative -- just one of the section managers -- but what I was told is that they don't pay for bags. There's a company in Brooklyn, apparently, that sells bags to product manufacturers and prints advertisements on the bags. The product manufacturers offer these bags for free to the stores as a way to get their logos out there. The company is called Mediacy if anyone wants to do more research.

Well, in that case, the unethical act was quietly stuffing them into your pockets. You should have tucked the tops of the bags into your shirt collar and wore them like bibs for all to see. Then the question turns on how long you would have to keep them there until Mediacy owes you money.

I just checked a couple of produce bags in my kitchen (while wondering if I should start a "Silly stuff eGullet posts have caused you to do" topic :raz:). No advertising. Well, unless "Fruits & Veggies - More Matters" is some sort of industry association ad.

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Regarding plastic containers... my local independent grocer clearly posts at the self service peanut butter machine that additional deli containers cost 10c for small and 15c for large. So that is clearly an expense of the business.

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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Is providing stimulating topics somehow sleazy? Is maintaining interest in the site underhanded?

I think not. In fact I'd go so far as to say its their responsibility

I didn't say or imply that it was sleazy. And if his intent was to drive website traffic, I'd say he succeeded. However, I feel that this topic has nothing to do with food or cooking, so what is the purpose in posting it?

We can let Fat Guy answer that one. But, along the same lines: when I break off the stems of shiitake mushrooms and put just the caps in the bag, leaving the stems behind: no big deal or evil incarnate?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris, I find the mushroom move shocking. Just sayin'. Makes Steven's produce bag pilfering look small time. (We Canadians of Scots descent parse these decisions like Maxwell Perkins editing Hemingway.)

And, to go back to SS's situation: I have more plastic bags from simple shopping than I can deal with. They hold grapes just fine.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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... along the same lines: when I break off the stems of shiitake mushrooms and put just the caps in the bag, leaving the stems behind: no big deal or evil incarnate?

Unfair and in a way stealing (trying to come up with a softer word). The mushrooms are sold "as is." The supermarket paid for whole mushrooms, not caps, and based their pricing on customers purchasing whole mushrooms. By leaving the relatively unsellable stems, the market will either lose money or build it into everyone's pricing.

I'd also say unfair to the customers later that day, hoping for shiitake mushrooms and finding mostly stems.

Finally, the action potentially leads to the produce department electing to prepackage mushrooms meaning not only will you not be able to break off the stems, you can not select the mushrooms that appeal to you.

Ethically, would you do the same in front of the farmer at a farmer's market?

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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Chris, I find the mushroom move shocking. Just sayin'.

I know! I can't believe I do it.

Unfair and in a way stealing (trying to come up with a softer word). The mushrooms are sold "as is." The supermarket paid for whole mushrooms, not caps, and based their pricing on customers purchasing whole mushrooms. By leaving the relatively unsellable stems, the market will either lose money or build it into everyone's pricing.

I know. See above.

Ethically, would you do the same in front of the farmer at a farmer's market?

Probably not. You think I should stop teaching my kids to do it?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Not even sure the original question has anything to do with the stated purpose of this website in the first place.

We discuss human behavior in the grocery store, among other things.

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)

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I'm inclined to believe that the purpose of the original post was to drive website traffic. Maybe Steven will clarify.

My posts tend to have several purposes: I want to know something, I want to encourage discussion, etc.

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)

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I didn't say or imply that it was sleazy. And if his intent was to drive website traffic, I'd say he succeeded. However, I feel that this topic has nothing to do with food or cooking, so what is the purpose in posting it?

What?! It has to do with what you do in a grocery store...that has plenty to do with food or cooking. It's just the philosophical side of it all.

Now, I never do any of the above listed practices. I don't stem shitake mushrooms; actually, some places here sell them both ways, and if you were to take to the register shitake mushrooms without stems, they would charge you accordingly.

I don't take plastic bags. See my hoarding disorder topic. Of course, I'm dog free. And those bags are useless.

But, and this is the first time I have let this happen...last week I was at that store that a lot of people think charges a lot of money. I had some cherries in my cart. I was charged for grapes. I said nothing. The week before, I was charged twice for brussels sprouts that I bought. I figured in this case, it all works out in the end. Was I unethical with that? Do I have to write the ethicist, or can we discuss that here?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Mitch, where is a better place to discuss this?

When did you find out that you were overcharged for the sprouts? Maybe when you read the receipt when you got home? Like me, you probably offered it up and cooked the sprouts, perhaps, as I am, too lazy to go back to the store and get your refund?

Yes, although you had been ripped off, I think, if you'd seen the cherries charged up wrong you should have mentioned it. Little stuff like this is writing a line in the sand for honesty and morality, even though you (or I) can rationalize our decisions.

Edited to add: My father, when reading the receipt the morning after, discovered he'd been undercharged at a high end restaurant in Toronto. He showed up at opening time, insisted on paying the difference, and I saw a restaurant staff halt in its tracks and gape.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I have to agree with Rico - is it possible to steal something that is already free?

Also just some other items that are commonly taken:

1- napkins (if I take 20 instead of 2 am I stealing?)

2- condiments (same question)

3- pens at hotels

4- straws for drinks

There are tons of items in our culture that are available for us to use/acquire/take as we please/at our leisure. Generally most people don't abuse this... I think the bags fall into this category and a couple of extra is not a big deal.

Just my 2 cents.

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I think it's also a sign of a culture of wealth and abundance. You don't see this stuff for free everywhere in the world.

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)

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We seem to be stuck on the fact that "the bags are *free*"....

I doubt that they actually are. SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE is paying Mediacy for their production. Maybe the local branch that FG shops at isn't paying for their supply, but you can bet the ranch the Corporate overlords are. Mediacy ain't printin' those things for gratis, and then supplying them to the MegaMart out of the goodness of their hearts.

So, while, they may not be directly contributory to the cost of produce at said branch of the MegaMart, you can again bet the ranch that their cost does factor in to the overall prices charged by that chain.

Again, there is no way Mediacy is NOT making money off those bags.

That said, my city just passed a ludicrous civic ordinance that will outlaw the large, plastic grocery sacks (mercifully, NOT the veggie bags). I use those for my kitchen garbage can liners, they're just the perfect size for me, since I dump the trash to the outside receptacle every night. Starting in Augusst, if you don't bring reusables to the MegaMarts with you, you get to pay $0.10 for a paper bag. I'm p*ssed. Big time, because now I'm going to have to purchase something for the express purpose of throwing it out.

When I swooped into Albertson's to get a baguette today, and went through the self check-out, did I snake a couple of extra bags into the one with the bread? You betcha. Did I feel bad about it.....a little, but I feel more like taking a picture of the stash of plastic grocery bags I'm accumulating and sending it to the City Council with a header "To The Barricades, Muthas !"

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

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I doubt that Manichean pronouncements work in this situation. I'd bet a pound of bacon that that most of us nibble a cherry, grab an extra produce bag, or somesuch now and then in grocery stores.

At least for me, it's also pretty illogical. I bring my own grocery bags and rarely use produce bags, and I only nibble if I want to find out whether something is worth buying -- green beans, usually. But, for whatever reason, I'll often pop those damned stems off of shiitake mushrooms. I don't even do it for any other mushrooms. I can't figure it out, honestly.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Mitch, where is a better place to discuss this?

When did you find out that you were overcharged for the sprouts? Maybe when you read the receipt when you got home? Like me, you probably offered it up and cooked the sprouts, perhaps, as I am, too lazy to go back to the store and get your refund?

Yes, although you had been ripped off, I think, if you'd seen the cherries charged up wrong you should have mentioned it. Little stuff like this is writing a line in the sand for honesty and morality, even though you (or I) can rationalize our decisions.

Edited to add: My father, when reading the receipt the morning after, discovered he'd been undercharged at a high end restaurant in Toronto. He showed up at opening time, insisted on paying the difference, and I saw a restaurant staff halt in its tracks and gape.

Yes, I found out when I got home. Well, when I got on the subway and looked at the receipt, actually. Normally, I'm busy helping with the bagging and putting dairy into my cooler that I don't look at items as they're being rung up. As I've posted before, checkout people usually mischarge for an item or two of produce; they just don't know their stuff. But 90% of the time, it's in their favor, and by the time I get home, it's just not worth the trouble any more.

So, on this rare occasion, I let the mistake in the buyer's favor slide.

By the way, I'm an inveterate non-nibbler. Probably because I'm also an inveterate germaphobe, I just can't see eating something like a cherry without first washing it. And I feel I can tell if most produce is good by the look, smell and feel of it.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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...when I break off the stems of shiitake mushrooms and put just the caps in the bag, leaving the stems behind: no big deal or evil incarnate?

I'll weigh in as another Canadian of Scots extraction. This is reprehensible, as you're leaving the store with something that they can't really sell. It's akin to going into a bakery and popping just the crowns off the muffins and leaving the stumps behind.

Also, what do you have against Shiitake stems?

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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You're completely right. I have no justification for it whatsoever, and like to think I'm a pretty ethical fellow. There's just something about those big fat stems that bugs me.

Perhaps I need some retail therapy of a different sort!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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You're completely right. I have no justification for it whatsoever, and like to think I'm a pretty ethical fellow. There's just something about those big fat stems that bugs me.

Then pay for the whole mushroom, go to the nearest trash can and throw the stems away there. This way, you are not only stealing, you are making a mess for the next person.

This makes the original question seem incredibly subtle by comparison.

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I am pondering the little ethical lacunae so many of us have. They aren't consistent with what we generally believe to be correct behavior, but they are so attractive (or perhaps habituated) that we defend them with righteous vigor.

What's mine? I may occasionally park in spots designated for "pregnant women or those with small children". They are usually empty, close to the store and are frankly discriminatory. I resent them. They aren't part of the law like handicap parking is; they are discriminating against me in order to pander to a certain group of customers. Might as well have a sign saying "No Men"! Grrrr.

I think we all need to go on a retreat.

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I am single-handedly responsible for the fact that they no longer put a plastic pour bottle full of pine nuts next to the croutons and bacon bits at the Price Chopper salad bar. The salad bar is $4.99/lb.....pine nuts on their own are very expensive BUT they don't weigh very much. I guess I could have been more subtle with those plastic clamshells full of pine nuts.....

Jerry

Kansas City, Mo.

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