The crime rate in Bermuda is not particularly high, but I’m still surprised the island nation’s police force had time to solve a five-year-old cold case that was far from dastardly: the theft of $70 worth of meat from a home. The perpetrator of this not-so-sinister act was finally nabbed last month, after Bermudan cops finally linked his fingerprints to those found on the victim’s refrigerator. The exact nature of the stolen meat is not mentioned in the newspaper account of the mystery’s end.
It might seem curious that a burglar would swipe only a few steaks or chops from a house, when there were surely more valuable baubles ripe for the plucking. But as I discussed in this 2007 Slate piece, meat is arguably the item most coveted by small-time criminals, particularly those who engage in retail theft rather than burglary. This is in large part because meat has symbolic heft as an aspirational item:
Loss-prevention specialists note that a large number of meatlifting incidents, if not the majority, involve the pilfering of meats associated with luxury dining: rib-eyes, filet mignons, or lamb chops, among other treats. Stores have had particular problems with cuts bearing the Certified Angus Beef brand, which are often displayed near ostensibly less succulent offerings. With only enough money to purchase an ordinary chuck-eye roast, many otherwise ethical shoppers make a snap decision to lift the Angus instead. Store detectives speculate that these meatlifters feel entitled to have steak instead of hamburger on occasion, as a reward for their hard work; swiping an expensive bottle of dish soap doesn’t provide the same sense of satisfaction. Though men and women shoplift in equal numbers, such aspirational meatlifters are most likely to be gainfully employed women between 35 and 54, according to a 2005 University of Florida study; men prefer to lift Tylenol or batteries, often for resale and often to support a drug or alcohol habit.
I now have to wonder if we’ll ever reach the point where consumers feel compelled to affix security devices to meat products that they take home, in order to prevent incidents like the one in Bermuda. And if lab-grown meat ever does become a staple of America’s diet, will it have the same cache among crooks as the stuff that comes from actual animals?