Having never lived in a university dorm (my commuter campus didn’t have them), it’s been a vicarious treat to watch the emerging adults in our household exit the nest with their worldly belongings in laundry baskets, after countless Target and Bed Bath & Beyond runs.
Growing pains are to be expected with college students, of course, from mastering time management and getting along with kids unlike oneself to deciding who will ultimately break down and scrub the toilet.
But food theft by roommates?
With 73 food plans offered to the young scholars, meal delivery by UberEats and fast-food options lining the streets of any school worth its weight in Goldfish, who could possibly feel the need to filch the Oreos?
But there it was, staring back at me, from a local office products store:
The Fridge Locker. “Perfect for Dorm!”
The tempting contraption features a “well-ventilated container to keep your snacks and beverages safe and secure” with a combo lock.
And what would modern millennial life be without choices? I soon discovered a similar product called the Easy-Lock Fridge Lock.
“Tired of your roommates or your roommates’ friends stealing all of your soda? Does your food keep going missing or claim to have been ‘borrowed?’ If you’ve answered yes to either of those questions, then you must realize that food theft can be a huge problem in college, especially if you have a bad roommate.”
I found YouTube videos, such as one titled, “How to Catch Your Roommate Stealing.”
And the College Confidential website (collegeconfidential.com), an anonymous online community created for safe spilling of frustrations, has its own share of pretzel plunderers.
“So, someone keeps stealing my food from the communal fridge/freezer,” wrote one student. “It’s labeled and everything, and I want it to stop. I don’t know who it is, but I thought I would just spike some food with laxatives and see what happens.
“Does anyone have a better idea?”
Paige Krug knows all about it. The 21-year-old early-education major at the University of Kansas has lived in a dorm “suite,” and an apartment and has many tales of food theft in both locations.
Big bags of pretzels, Gatorade, “stuff we’d eat at home,” Krug said, “I’d have it over my bed in a shelf. It was visible, but on my side of the room. One day, I came home and, yeah, all the pretzels were gone. What the heck?”
Things didn’t improve when she moved her sophomore year to an apartment with two roommates. Pop, juice, cinnamon bread. Poof! Gone.
“I know it sounds petty,” Krug said, “but I’m on a very specific budget.”
She “let it roll” for a while, then talked politely with her roommates. They understood. But they kept taking her food, and mostly her ginger ale “for chasers.” (They’re all of legal age.)
“Finally, I got a mini-fridge in my room,” she said. “It’s been bliss ever since.”
College Confidential’s Sally Rubenstone wasn’t surprised to hear it. She’s seen everything in the 15 years she’s worked as a senior adviser.
“There probably are situations of college students who are truly hungry,” she said, “where financial aid doesn’t provide an adequate meal plan.”
“But, frankly, I don’t think those are the kids who are doing the lion’s share of stealing. They’re largely middle- or upper-class kids who are stoned and they’re starved, or they’re drunk.
“Many students would never touch a big-ticket item like a laptop. But at 3 a.m. when they’ve had too many beers, that goes out the window and they would take a Snickers bar.”
Rubenstone is happy to see a growing number of colleges and universities requiring “roommate contracts,” that clearly spell out the dos and don’ts of peaceful coexistence.
And while resident advisers (RAs) are at the ready, it’s preferable for students to nip potential problems in the bud themselves by talking about food-sharing expectations and clearly labeling what is mine, yours and ours.
“Frankly,” Rubenstone said, “pilfering food in dorms is as old as ivy on brick walls and it’s largely a First World problem.
“In most cases, food lockers are excessive, but I’ve also heard of students leaving notes in the common-room or apartment fridge along the lines of, ‘Can you be sure that I didn’t pee in this poundcake?’
“So, by comparison, maybe the lockers seem saner.”
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Avoiding a food fight
If your munchies are missing, don’t duke it out. Take these steps instead:
Be certain. Did someone else eat it? Or did you just forget that you chowed those Thin Mints before your econ final?
Assume the best. Ask your roommate if he or she might have “accidentally” eaten your pizza. If the answer is yes, let it go — the first time.
Label items that you really care about, especially if you have dietary restrictions. Explain this to your roommate(s).
Talk to your RA. If food-stealing continues, it’s fine to check in with your resident adviser for guidance.
Avoid punitive solutions like adding Ex-Lax to those brownies. You’ll have bigger problems if your roommate gets sick.
Be proactive. The best approach is to talk to your roommate before you move in together. Figure out the best way to handle food that’s to be shared and food that is yours alone. Maybe each of you takes a shelf in the cabinet and a shelf in the mini-fridge.