Why I Stole food

If stealing food is a crime, whose crime is it anyway?

(We are grateful to Alok Singh for sharing this experience in response to the flood of insensitive and elitist comments on social media about the Madurai Zomato employee caught on camera eating food out of delivery packages.)

I belong to the middle class (read upper caste), am educated enough to claim a class 1 prison if I ever go to jail, and live rent-free today in a house that my parents built. I am privileged. And I stole food. Why? I was hungry and I thought I could not afford to buy it. Nobody has known about it till today so I have not heard any moral sermons about it.

That food delivery guy also stole food. And he got caught. Ergo: How immoral is he? What horrible work ethic? He is a reflection of our fall in values and we should set it right is by making an example out of him. The questions and statements may be valid.

But why was he was hungry while on duty? What kind of managers expect hungry people to deliver food, let alone work hungry? In other food-handling scenarios (hotels and restaurants) , employees are given free or heavily subsidised food. That is the norm, even in a dhaba. Zomato and Swiggy managers may not have come from food-related businesses. But have they never felt hunger? The Zomato delivery guy was doing what any living being would have done.

Back to me: I did not do it in India. It was in the US, where food is famously cheap and freely available. This was before Trump. Racism was there but not too rabid. And I was told I was over-qualified for any job I applied to. Nobody would give me a desk job, even at minimum wage. So, from working behind a desk I moved straight to a grocery store, stocking shelves in the night so customers could shop the next day and throw away half of their purchase the next week. In the store, torn packets of packaged food were disposed daily, according to the law, so that their consumption did not make anyone ill. I was making minimum wage here. Payment was made after deducting income tax and other levies. Let me assure you, minimum wage in the US is not funny. Even if it doubles, it will continue to be an abomination.

Back to my heist: I did not steal from the food aisles. I took a break when all others were on the floor, and I stole from the dinner packets of fellow workers. I took a break when no one was around and ate whatever was in the fridge. I wanted to finish a whole packet and throw away the evidence. But then I felt that the other guy may also be hungry and left it half-eaten. It was not a burger or sandwich. It was some soup. I did not care what meat was in it.

I should have got food from home like the others, but I was too embarrassed. I was jobless and that is the reason I chose to do that job. I don't know why I was embarrassed to take food from the house. I felt like I had not bought it so I had no right to it.

Am I making excuses? No. I am only trying to remember what the Zomato man was feeling.

Liberation Archive