by Tarah Hodgkinson
A few years ago, I was at a conference listening to a colleague of mine talk about theft in Australia. They noted that most of what was being stolen was food. I raised my hand. “Wait. People are stealing food? WHY are people stealing food?”
I received the standard opportunity theory answer. The academic crowd around me clucked about the lack of guardianship and easy targets. Fine, fine, I’ve written about all of that. But this is food.
Food isn’t a CRAVED item. (CRAVED is a theoretical list of characteristics that make items vulnerable to theft - consider the sad irony of that acronym in this context!) Some food items are easy to steal but not easy to resell, and not particularly valuable. Unless they are!
When I was conducting research in the Canadian prairies about 5 years ago, small shop owners there also told me that their most common stolen item was food. They told me that they rarely confronted those stealing food or reported it to the police. They claimed it wasn’t worth it for them and assumed that, if they were stealing food, they probably needed it.
THEY PROBABLY NEEDED IT
I think food theft is indicative of something bigger. For as much as certain criminologists don’t want to talk about offender motivation, how can we not talk about it what is being stolen is a basic human need.
Covid-19 has changed the game for many people around the world. Jobs have been lost and neighbourhoods are struggling. Add to that, the many recent crises making the problem worse:
I’m seeing my own students struggling to feed themselves and their families.
We need to do better. People shouldn’t need to steal food to feed themselves or their families.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
First, demand a living wage (or provide one if you own a business). $15 an hour is not a living wage in North America. Multiply that by a full-time work week (37 hours) and 2 weeks of vacation and that’s $27,750 BEFORE taxes - barely over the poverty line in Canada ($25,153 in 2021) for one person. What if you are providing for your family?
Second, if you are able to contribute to food banks, be sure to give the right things. Remember that most non-perishable food items require can openers and other items to make them (like butter and milk). So think about pop-top cans and staple items. Your local food bank will have a list.
Third, support and grow community gardens. These not only grow food locally, but they help make fresh produce accessible to everyone. We have blogged about the power of community gardens all over the world, from Indianapolis to Brisbane.
Fourth, buy local. Support organizations that support your community back and help provide a living wage to your neighbours.
All of these are small ways we can address the actual underlying issue that the opportunity theorists miss: food insecurity. But there are others as well. Food theft shouldn’t be a discussion of crime opportunities or guardianship and security. It should make us ask ourselves: what kind of neighbourhood do we want to live in? If you ask me – one where people have their basic human needs met.