Grand theft gastro
delicious. magazine’s deputy editor Helen Renshaw asks: ‘Is it ever acceptable to eat off other people’s plates?’
It’s the biggest love-hate food debate since Marmite.
Just how much force is justified to stave off food theft? A hasty jab with a fork, perhaps? Or is an indulgent smile the best response when your eating partner helps himself (or, more commonly, herself – but we’ll come to that later) to that tasty morsel you’ve been saving to relish at leisure?
Yes, the tricky business of stealing food from the plates of others is an issue that can provoke deep and seething resentment.
Picture the scene. You’re eating with a friend. There’s a plate of freshly grilled garlicky prawns before you. One prawn is just that bit plumper than its fellows. ‘I want you,’ you think, concealing a grin. But then your companion lunges – and the perfect prawn is gone from your plate.
How does that make you feel? Well, pretty damn bad if the experiences of bloggers are anything to go by. A quick Google of the subject reveals unforeseen depths of anguish. ‘Is there some sort of mental disorder that causes people to prefer eating off OTHER people’s plates?’ appeals one plaintive blogger, whose wife fixes his plate with a strange, weasel-like stare before being overcome by dinnertime kleptomania.
Others rail against the germy horrors of other people’s saliva-encrusted forks, or sneeringly describe dinner scavenging as ’an instant dumpable offence’. Yet more reveal the furtive guilt of the compulsive food snatcher, and even confess to swiping food from their own children.
So widespread is the problem that urbandictionary.com has two words relating to the act of stealing food from another’s plate – ‘dingo’ (as in ‘Oi, dingo, leave my food alone’) and ‘serial foodaphile’, which relates to ‘One who takes advantage of others for their food’
Helen, pictured with Marco Pierre White.
Meanwhile, the British Council’s Ten Commandments-style guide to table etiquette includes the immortal: ‘Never take food from your neighbour’s plate.’
And let’s face it, stealing food is plain wrong. Yet we all know someone who does it. But is it really such a big deal? Chances are you’ll fall into one of two camps when it comes to answering that question. And a straw poll among friends reveals deep divisions on the subject.
In the first camp, there is a tendency to grow quite puce and spittle-mouthed on the subject. Others, meanwhile, see mealtimes as touchy, feely affairs where bonds are strengthened by mutual grazing.
And the strange thing is (whisper the next part) most of the ‘steal-my-food-and-die’ brigade are men, while most of the happy-clappy food stealers are women.
One vehement anti-food-stealer says: “It might be OK if my wife does it, but even she’d get a cold-eyed stare. I particularly dislike women snatching food. It makes them look greedy and unfeminine. When men do it, they just look like slobs. Either way, it’s over-familiar and rude.” Blimey.
What then of the (mostly female) contingent who see no problem in a spot of mutual mastication? As one self-confessed food snatcher says: “If someone takes food from my plate, I see it as a sign of intimacy and that they see me as a close friend – I take it as a compliment.”
So, you see, it’s no simple issue. It’s safest to assume that foraging from a companion’s plate will be unwelcome, especially during a first date, meals with in-laws and any form of interview. Even when eating with your loved one, ask before digging in (unless you are in the first month of a love affair, in which case it may be considered foreplay). But, remember, you can forget the no scavenging rule when it comes to chips.
If you find yourself dealing with an incorrigible food snatcher, follow the advice of dog trainers by claiming your position as pack leader, instructing and correcting with firmness and consistency. Failing that, there’s always your fork.
Is food theft in respectable restaurants a common occurrence in your life?
We’d love to hear your comments…
Subscribe to our magazine
Food stories, skills and tested recipes, straight to your door... Enjoy 5 issues for just £5 with our special introductory offer.Subscribe
Unleash your inner chef
Looking for inspiration? Receive the latest recipes with our newsletter