Does Eating In The Grocery Store Count As Stealing?

You've had enough time to consider whether it's wrong for a man to steal a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, and now there's a new question to ponder: Is it wrong for a tired and hungry pregnant lady to consume a chicken salad sandwich in the grocery store before she gets to the checkout? Though it was a Honolulu woman's failure to pay that led to her 2-year-old daughter being taken from her by the state, the misunderstanding over a sandwich has raised questions about whether or not it's acceptable to dig into groceries while you're still in the store.

Last week Marcin and Nicole Leszczynski were arrested and charged with fourth-degree theft after forgetting to pay for the aforementioned chicken salad sandwich at a Safeway. The Associated Press reports that the couple had saved the wrapper to have it scanned at the register, but they forgot to hand it over while they were checking out with $50 worth of groceries. They were stopped at the door and offered to pay, but instead the store called the police and had them arrested. Though the crime was only a misdemeanor and they each posted bail, their daughter was taken by Child Welfare Services, and it took them 18 hours to get her back.

Clearly stores will prosecute any sandwich mix-ups to the fullest extent of the law, but as for eating at sandwich you intend to pay for, Nicoel Leszczynski says, "I didn't know it was such a taboo thing ... Where I grew up in a small town it's not seen as stealing for sure."

While you might expect to be tackled by a security guard if you grab an offensive $5 Navajo accessory from Forever 21 and saunter out of the store, people see a difference between leaving with a sandwich concealed under your shirt and exiting with food you meant to pay for in your belly. Consumer behavior expert Debbie MacInnis explains that's because people are comfortable in groceries stores and see them as places where you can eat. She adds:

"That creates a certain sense of it's OK for me to do that because I'm hungry and I have every intention of paying for it .. From a psychology standpoint, it's mine even though the formal transaction hasn't transpired."

While some grocery stores have been known to harass people just for trying to pay in quarters, most stores have a reasonable policy on the issue. Sheryl Toda of the Hawaii's Foodland Super Market, says they want customers to keep food sealed until they've purchased it, however,

"We do understand that emergencies occur where a child or individual needs to consume a product immediately ... In those instances, we expect that wrappers or containers will be saved and presented to the cashier for payment before the customer leaves the store."

So rest assured that if you're having a hypoglycemic attack and rip open a bag of nuts, most stores (with the possible exception of Walgreens) aren't going to call in the cops to surround you in the dairy aisle.

Sandwich Arrest Stirs Debate Over Eating In Stores [AP]

Earlier: Grocery Store Refuses To Let Woman Pay In Quarters
Walgreens Employee Fired For ‘Stealing' Chips During Diabetic Attack