Eating Other’s Food – When is this allowed?

Posted by in Musings

The other day I was enjoying McDonald’s french fries, and my friend asked, “Can I have one?”  I responded, “Dude, you don’t have to ask, they’re just fries.”  Naturally, at least in my mind, it got me to thinking what are the basic requirements for food that qualifies it as a food that doesn’t necessitate asking permission of the primary eater?  In lay men’s terms, which of your friend’s food can you eat without asking?  Granted this rooted in the idea of “social acceptability,” and will probably change depending on one’s cultural background, so I’ll focus on the informal American side that most of us live in.  Now, I’m gonna jump right into the characteristics.

(Important caveat, I am assuming the relationship you have with the functional food-giver is a friend of yours.  Not necessarily a best friend that shares everything, nor should it be someone who you just met, since the comfort level between you isn’t there.)


1) Discernable and Defineable Units

I believe this is the most important component for eating others food.  Take a look at fries; it’s easy to discern what is a single “unit” of fries.  If we take an opposite example, mash potatoes is one big blob of a mess.  There is no discernible unit to take a “piece” of mash potatoes, rather you are taken “some” mash potatoes, and the connotation of the latter word sounds much more significant.

2) Small Proportion of Meal

This distinction, between “piece” and “some” brings up another similarly related notion: proportion of food to the overall meal.  Back to comparing a “piece” versus “some,” the former sounds much less intrusive.  When the definable unit is a small proportion of the overall meal, say less than 5%, it’s much more allowable.  So even though fries and Twix candy bars both have definable units, eating a whole Twix bar is 50% of the entire meal, and therefore not allowed, while the individual fry percentage is MUCH lower, and is generally permissible.


3) Not an Entrée

I only bring up this notion when I think about McDonald’s chicken nuggets.  The nuggets are discernible and definable units, when you have 10 or 20 mcnugget meals, each individual nugget is a small percentage.  So why do I, and some others I asked in passing, agree it’s wrong to grab one without asking? I think it’s because the McNuggets constitute the entrée of the meal.

4) Solid, and typically “drier”

This makes intuitive sense.  It’s easier, more hygienic and less “messy” to share food that is drier.  Finger foods fall within this category, and is consistent with the previous prerequisites. Given the concept is quite obvious, I’ll continue onto the next topic.


What about using a fork? Or maybe chopsticks? Most foods that you eat with a fork break the mold of the previous requirements and debatable characteristics; most notably foods that are wet.  But I’m curious, are there foods that you CAN use either of these utensils, and still be allowable to grab a piece? The only example I can really think of is salad.  Can you eat some of another person’s salad without asking? When asking around, it’s just about 50/50 split.  What are your thoughts?


As with all rules, there are exceptions.  Desserts is a prime example.  Typically desserts are wet, they are eaten with forks or spoons, yet it’s almost expected everyone tries a little of your dessert.  So why is this the case?!? Sadly, I’m at a loss.  I really don’t know.