Rental Raters Blog

16th May 2014

Food Sharing

Written by
Rhodri Marsden
Rhodri Marsden
Follow author @rhodri

Rhodri Marsden is a columnist for The Independent, and has written about technology, social media, dating, music, food, anxiety, relationships and various other ephemera for many publications including The Guardian, The Observer, Shortlist and Time Out.

Food Sharing

It was only a Dairylea triangle. (Geometrically speaking it wasn’t even a triangle, it was a sector, but if you say “Dairylea sector” people think you’re weird.) Anyway, today you can buy eight triangles for a quid; back in 1992 when this incident occurred they would have been even cheaper. But the cost wasn’t the issue, apparently. “It’s the principle,” said Claire, her cheeks flushed red with annoyance, furious that I’d helped myself to the third of her eight triangles that morning. “But I’ve replaced it,” I said, pointing at a second box of eight triangles that I’d gone out and bought pretty much immediately because I could see this coming. “That’s not the point,” she said. We were at an impasse. The question of ownership of the thirteen remaining Dairylea triangles had become an almost philosophical one.

Whether you think I deserved a beating for succumbing to cheesy temptation or that Claire needed to get a life, life in rented accommodation is blighted by these kind of confrontations. Helping ourselves to housemates’ clothing or opening their post is comparatively rare, but the swiping of food, thanks to its colossal appeal to rumbling stomachs and the sheer ease of nicking it, is endemic. Good friends, friends who have sought out a property together, found one, put down a deposit together, moved in together and watched films on a threadbare sofa together can find their camaraderie shattered by something as inconsequential as gherkin theft. Because attitudes towards ownership of purchased food differ wildly.

There’s the communal, easygoing “what’s mine is yours” approach, or the passive aggressive “what’s yours is yours”, the subtext being “get your hands off my Marmite”. Measures to ward off food theft range from the casual kitchen murmur “I’m planning to eat that leftover curry for my dinner, alright?”, to locking food away behind metres of barbed wire and snarling dogs held back by stern looking security personnel. Between those two extremes lies the faintly preposterous but sadly necessary world of food labelling; these neatly labelled Tupperware boxes are designed to provoke guilt as someone sneakily pops one open – but of course many people experience no guilt whatsoever; they help themselves to ham without a care in the world, their sense of entitlement matched perfectly by the sense of injustice felt by the owner of said ham.

The consequences of these psychological mismatches can reach surreal levels that ought to be immortalised in a screenplay. The man who brands his initials on tomatoes with a knife held in a gas flame. The woman who weighs her butter every morning, noting down the mass in grams in a small notebook lest someone dare scrape off a small amount in the dead of night. The open-mouthed disbelief when you’re told off by a housemate for not leaving any of your own bread for them to snack on. Adding unmentionable substances to your own food to ward off the temptation of others or, worse, other people adding unmentionable substances to your food to stop themselves from eating it. And the sorry spectacle of someone getting up in your face and hissing: “You owe me an onion.” Because you can’t say “It’s only an onion”. It’s not an onion. It’s the principle.

  • Mary Latham

    This is a great article, not because of the food issue although I do recognise that, but because of the many pressures that build up when unrelated people are sharing a home. Having let to house sharing tenants for over 40 years I know that it is the small things that cause the biggest issues. At a time when communication has never been easier people are failing to communicate face to face more and more. If an issue is discussed at an early stage it is usually resolved but when it is allowed to go on tensions build and I have seen the closest friends become enemies when the live together.What ever happened to talking?

  • Mary Latham

    Landlords are concerned that only tenants who have had a bad experience will bother to post a review on this site. I don’t agree I think that younger tenants will post reviews because it is something that they are used to doing. Would someone comment on this discussion please http://www.landlordreferencing.co.uk/forum/discuss/community-forum/generation-rent-strikes-back-with-new-tripadvisor-for-tenants-site-a-twist-on-tenant-referencing/ I am sorry if this is not the place to make this comment but I can’t find your on Twitter?