People Who Were Arrested For Eating Food

Have you ever been shopping and overwhelmed with thirst? Did you find yourself grabbing a cold drink off the shelf, wondering if it would be all right to drink it and pay later? If you have, you are certainly not the only one. Perhaps the bigger question is, is it illegal? The answer is that, technically, in many jurisdictions, it is. However, most stores choose not to prosecute people for it, but people do get arrested for this crime.

As it turns out, a lot of people have been arrested for food-related crimes — not to be confused with crimes against food. While many U.S. states have weird food laws, these arrests have little to do with using margarine instead of butter or portion control restrictions. That doesn't mean none of these stories are any less strange. In fact, people have gone to prison for eating certain foods on video. Check out this list of just some of the people who've been arrested for eating.

Praying before eating pork

In September 2023, an Indonesian influencer was sentenced to two years in jail for reciting a Muslim prayer prior to trying pork and posting a video of it to her TikTok account. The woman, Lina Lutfiawati, said "bismillah," which means "in the name of God," before taking a bite of crispy pork. The traditional prayer is one Muslims say before starting many tasks, including eating. In this case, Lutfiawati was tasting this meat for the first time while on vacation in Bali. Eating pork is considered haram and thus forbidden in Islam. Unfortunately for Lutfiawati, Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, has strict blasphemy laws. However, pork isn't uncommon in Bali, which is majority Hindu.

Courts found Lutfiawati guilty of "spreading information aimed at inciting hatred against religious individuals and specific groups." On top of her prison sentence, the government fined Lutfiawati Rp250,000,000 ($16,245). Since her sentencing, Lutfiawati's TikTok channel has been flooded with comments both in support and decrying her. For her part, Lutfiawati has expressed remorse and didn't appear to enjoy the pork.

Eating stolen chips

In February 2023, Joseph Braswell, a Memphis, Tennessee, man, was arrested for eating two bags of stolen potato chips, although Braswell was not directly responsible for the theft. Allegedly, another man picked up a display of potato chips and absconded with them to his car after getting into an argument with a worker at Circle K convenience store. In the shuffle, some of the bags fell to the ground.

Braswell found two of those bags and ate them. When police arrived at the scene shortly after that, they found Braswell there and observed that he still had the remnants of dubiously acquired chips on his face. Police say that the video footage made it clear that Braswell knew about the robbery. Police charged him with theft of merchandise of less than $1,000 — the chips cost a combined $4.98.

Circle K manager Melanie Jackson told WREG that she was less concerned about the loss of $5 worth of merchandise than she was with ongoing shoplifting problems at her store. "People come in here daily on a daily basis stealing, they think that is okay," she said. "Kroger left because they were stealing, the mall left because they were stealing, the Walmart left because they were stealing. So if everybody is gone, what are you going to do when Circle K decides we're fed up?" Let us take this tale as a reminder that shoplifting is not a victimless crime.

Sushi terrorism at Yoshinoya

In April 2023, Japanese police arrested two people for "sushi terrorism."Shimazu Ryo and Oka Toshihide posted a video of themselves at a Yoshinoya in Osaka, Japan to social media. In the post, Shimazu ate directly from the communal ginger bowl instead of using a separate utensil to serve himself. The video went viral Police arrested him and Oka on charges relating to business obstruction and property misuse.

However, Oka's and Shimazu's crime was only one of many in a chain of "sushi terrorism" pranks at sushi restaurants. Earlier the same year, three other people were arrested for using their hands and tongues to eat or grab sushi from communal locations. If convicted, Oka and Shimazu face up to six years in prison and a fine of ¥800,000 ($5,343). The pair insisted they didn't mean any harm and just wanted to give people a laugh. Who knew bad table manners could get you into that much trouble?

Eating a church's chicken

Earlier this year, a 49-year-old man named Jason Coleman allegedly broke into a Provo, Utah, Church of Latter Day Saints in order to prepare and steal chicken nuggets. Witnesses say they saw Coleman roaming nearby yards before police found him in the church. When police arrived,he was looking through kitchen cabinets. 

Officers allege they saw Coleman return a bag of frozen chicken nuggets to the fridge. They also say they saw him take "three to four" nuggets out of a microwave and eat them. The arresting document asserts that "Coleman unlawfully entered a church building without a legitimate reason to be there, and because he admitted to taking food that wasn't his from the church building, he has been arrested and booked under the following charge: burglary." Burglary is a third-degree felony, and Coleman was held without bail. We love chicken nuggies as much as the next person, but one wonders if was it worth it.

Forgot to pay at Safeway

The saying is forgive and forget, but what about forget and forgive? In 2011, a pregnant mom in Honolulu, Hawaii, ate a chicken salad sandwich at Safeway and left without paying. Nicole Leszczynski said her theft was due to absent-mindedness, and was 30 weeks pregnant at the time. She took the sandwich off the shelf and ate it with the intention of paying for it at the checkout. 

Though she offered to pay when confronted by security, police were called regardless. She and her husband were arrested, and Child Welfare Services took their daughter for 18 hours. Safeway dropped all charges and said that even though calling the police on shoplifters is company protocol, they never would have done so if they knew the Leszczynskis' child would be taken away. At the time, Safeway said that as a general policy they do not want people to eat or drink food before paying. "However, [they] do understand that emergencies occur where a child or individual needs to consume a product immediately."

Zero tolerance for french fries

Back in 2000, 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth got handcuffed for eating in a Washington, D.C., subway station. At the time, police were cracking down on people eating in the metro. Over a short amount of time, they arrested or cited 35 people, almost all of whom were minors.

Hedgepeth, a seventh grader, was searched, handcuffed, booked, and fingerprinted after school for unlawful snacking in public. While the preteen knew she was not supposed to eat at the metro, she didn't believe it would lead to her arrest. "I can't believe there isn't a better way to teach kids a lesson," said Ansche's mother, Tracey Hedgepeth, to ABC News. "The police treated her like a criminal."

The transit police initially had no remorse for the arrest, citing its zero-tolerance policy. However, Ansche Hedgepeth's arrest led to a lawsuit, leading the Metro Transit Police to change its no-food policy enforcement policy from arrests to warnings. In her case, Hedgepeth requested her record be expunged because her Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

Loitering at Taco Bell

In December 2021, a Florida man parked in a parking lot across the street from a Taco Bell and was arrested for loitering. 

After ordering food from Taco Bell in Baker County, Curtis McLaughlin Jr., moved to a parking lot of a business across the street that was closed. The sheriff's office deputy, ostensibly concerned about a string of burglaries, approached McLaughlin and asked him why he was there. McLaughlin supposedly refused to provide the officer with his information, and the situation escalated when more officers were called in to investigate.

The corporal said that McLaughlin eating food was not a reasonable explanation for being in a parking lot and claimed that he wasn't cooperating. Later, the sergeant arrived and told McLaughlin he was loitering and prowling and needed to provide his ID. They then arrested him for loitering and prowling, but these charges were dropped in April 2022. According to the ACLU, in Florida, you only have to identify yourself to Florida law enforcement officers when they stop you on suspicion of a crime or traffic violation. You can choose to remain silent if you don't have these documents.

Half a chicken

In 2022, two people in Largo, Florida, were arrested for eating part of a Walmart rotisserie chicken and then putting it back on the shelf. The two, who have said they were unhoused, have since apologized. Witnesses allegedly saw Cristian Ray Reeves-Putnam and Alexis Ann Marie Castillo eating a rotisserie chicken while shopping. Police said the two then resealed the unfinished chicken and returned it to the shelf. They were caught and charged with petit theft when they tried to leave without paying for everything in their cart.

Sadly, this story isn't uncommon. There's a devastating reason food shoplifting is on the rise. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more people have suffered from economic instability and food insecurity. A census from early in the pandemic reported that one in eight Americans did not have enough food. The desperation has led to a rise in food theft.

Dine and Dash

Earlier this year, two men in Singapore were arrested after a string of dine and dashes racked up a $2,000 theft. Their scheme was exposed when more than one restaurant posted their "accidentally" unpaid bill. The first restaurant messaged the men on Instagram after tracking down their identities. However, the men did not pay until five days later after several messages were sent back and forth between the restaurant. In the interim, they also played tricks on the restaurant. In one instance, one of the swindlers said he'd pay but never showed up. In another, the same man told the restaurant another diner would pay $100, only for that person's Instagram handle to promptly disappear.

A police statement says five restaurants reported the same men for dining and ditching between April 5 and 13. Police say in all instances, the men used either expired bank cards to "pay" or acted like they meant to pay before sneaking out. The two men face a fine and a 10-year prison sentence for "conspiracy to cheat."

Eating on the BART

In 2019, Bill Gluckman, a Black man, was detained for eating a breakfast sandwich on a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) platform. He claimed it was racial profiling; police claimed he was cited, not arrested, for violating penal code. It is illegal to eat on the BART platform in California. BART defended the officers' actions, saying they only handcuffed the individual because he wouldn't tell them his name, which they wanted so they could issue a citation. However, officers initially told Gluckman they were detaining him for eating. One officer held onto and refused to let go of Gluckman's backpack despite being asked several times to let go.

Many Bay Area residents were unhappy about Gluckman's citation or handcuffing, even holding an eat-in on BART platforms. Some residents agreed that Gluckman was racially profiled. Other residents were annoyed that food was the issue police were focusing on, considering they could instead crack down on passengers defecating on trains.

Shoplift at ShopRite

In August of 2023, a Zambian man filmed himself eating K23.98 ($1.15) worth of food at a Shoprite before paying for it, and he was arrested. Francis Nundwe's video, in which he eats cookies and a drink, went viral. That wasn't his first rodeo in the social media thieving game. Another TikTok video shows him changing his shoes for new ones right from a store shelf. Nundwe says he knew store surveillance cameras were filming him and that this was all just a stunt. 

Perhaps Nundwe is unaware of the latest TikTok trend — vigilantes against shoplifters. A new group of TikTokers are making themselves famous by exposing theft that they don't believe the police are taking care of correctly. In any case, with so many ways to get arrested for eating food, you must stay vigilant. Be careful when you pop that next soda and rip open that next bag of chips.