Watch Your Mouth: Why Do We Shoplift Meat and Cheese? Meatlifting: The Economics of Shoplifting Meat and Cheese

Meat and cheese tops the charts of shoplifted items. Why do we purloin sirloin and cop Camembert?

This summer, a Pennsylvania man was caught stuffing a pork loin down his pants. Men have also recently slid sirloins into their shorts in South Carolina, Florida, and Australia. Two women rolled off with wheels of gouda from Whole Foods Market in June. An organized gang in Florida drove away with seven tractor-trailers worth of cucumbers, tomatoes, and frozen meat in March. A Texas sting, “Operation Meat Locker,” busted up a ring of modern cattle rustlers who had been shoplifting retail cuts of beef and selling them to local restaurants.

The five-finger discount isn't just showing up on the police beat—it's also reasserted itself more broadly in pop culture. In The New Yorker’s “Money Issue,” Miranda July writes that stealing requires a kind of Zen oneness akin to horse whispering or surfing (she ate through early adulthood by lifting soy products from the supermarket). Shoplifting from American Apparel is practically required reading for Generation Ambivalent. Wendy loses Lucy after unsuccessfully trying to steal dog food. Eater even has a column devoted to “Shit People Steal.”

For the most part, all this sly hunting and gathering is blamed on the economic downturn: The depressing logic of the American economy forces people to steal to put food on the table. Data tends to reinforce this idea. According to the UK’s Centre for Retail Research’s global survey on customer theft (or "shrinkage") released last week, shoplifting at grocery stores has risen over the last six months. This year, one of the world’s most stolen items is cheese—up there with alcohol, cosmetics, women's clothing, perfume, and razor blades. In the United States, purloined sirloin and Bogarted beef reign supreme, followed by stolen chocolates, infant formula, and more meat. (That means a little less than 4 percent of all meat offered for sale is stolen.

Meatlifting’s ascendancy on to the world’s “most shoplifted" lists stems in part from the crackdown on Sudafed and other cough medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in home-brewed methamphetamines. Now, these over-the-counter drugs are locked up with the razors, accessible only with the help of a clerk. Meat and cheese are still on display, ready to slip into your trousers or your purse.

Meat and cheese are also targeted due to the oddity of their economy: They’re expensive, but they're also destined for the trash bin. Richard Hollinger, a criminologist at the University of Florida and the author of an exceptionally-titled 1992 study “Deviance in the fast-food restaurant,” told me: “In general, people are more likely to steal things that have less perceived value.” Meat looks plentiful, and besides, its going to go bad. Others suggest that an increase in cheese theft merely reeks of middle-class entitlement. As Blur bassist and cheesemaker Alex James argues in The Times of London, “Stealing cheese is the worst kind of theft. It's like swearing in church or mugging a nun.”

The psychological motivation for pilfering food appears neither consistent nor entirely clear in the affluent Western world. In Rachel Shteir’s recent book The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, she writes that shoplifting may have more poetic than scientific explanations. Shoplifters who can afford food steal it for the thrill, or out of a sense that they’ve been wronged in some way. “Most shoplifting is not done out of need in the sense that it is not done solely out of hunger,” she told me. “I did not meet anyone researching my book who shoplifted a loaf of bread a la Jean Valjean.”

For the 99 Percent, the impulse to take may key into a wider cultural feeling of being cheated. Abbie Hoffman’s 1970 Steal This Book helped cemented shoplifting's outlaw status, and gave it an enthralling euphemism for the creative class: “liberate.” In the Western world, where even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can been patented, liberating ideas carries some vigilante merit. But liberating expensive cuts of meat won't feed the hungry or correct the injustices inflicted by large supermarket chains.

Lifting some gouda for personal use is not the same as occupying the grocery. But traditionally, embracing the idea of redistribution—sharing food—has offset food theft. Ellen Messer, an anthropologist at Brandeis, told me that we should all have access to healthy food in socially acceptable ways. That means you should neither have to have to resort to stealing nor charity to eat well. Whether everyone should be entitled to fancy cheese, though, is another question.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user specialkrb

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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