Is it permissible to steal for food

If someone has to steal food to keep their children alive; is it a sin

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Assuming that’s their only option, no.


Nope, not a sin.


The great theologian St Thomas Aquinas provides a compelling argument in the Summa Theological that it is not a sin:

“Is it lawful to steal through stress of need?”

Aquinas: “In cases of need, all things are common property, so there would seem to be no sin in taking another’s property, for need has made it common

Here’s a link to a great article that unpacks Aquinas’ answer in more detail:


Settled: If the one starving takes from the surplus of another then the act is not stealing.

But may we export our misfortune onto others? If the one starving takes from another who is also starving then the one who takes also steals. We may not export our misfortune onto others.


Depends on a whole host of variables, but in general, if the choices are between starving to death or taking food that’s not yours, the answer is no it’s not a sin.

If you’re just a bit peckish and nab a candy bar without paying for it it’s a sin.


The Catechism has this (CCC 2408). Please read it carefully because it is pretty clear about when and why it may be permissible. We must not extend the principle of Universal Destination of Goods to any circumstance that we see in the moment as a necessity.


In July this year, the news showed rioting, vandalism and looting. People busting store windows, running in and taking everything they could.
Then we saw this headline…

Someone might say a person needed that large screen TV to resell to make sure their family was fed. Let’s just call that stealing.

I know your question was about stealing food.
When it comes to the US and Canada, there has never been a huge safety net in place like there is today. My parents grew up in a time when there was no safety net and neighbours helped each other. My mother remembers a trip to the city at 16 yrs old when she saw her first chocolate bar. It wasn’t that long ago.

Stealing someone else’s bread. Why not ask for it? Why take it? If I knew a family needed a loaf of bread, I’d bring that and a bag of apples too and a jug of milk. That’s how my parent’s generation got through the hard years, and there were hard years.

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I was always taught the church said that even if you stole something to stay alive, when you are out of danger you would still be required to make restitutions. But in today church it appear that if you are going to die you have to right to take what ever you want because it was yours anyway.

I think the question assumes the person is truly starving and theft is the only option. Obviously if someone can get food through charity that’s by far the preferable option.

Is this hypothetical or concrete? What country does this apply to? France in the Revolution? Are we going to break into a chorus of Jean Valjean’s “What Have I Done?”

In the modern industrialized socialist world, such as these United States, it is impossible to starve to death. There are food banks, charities such as St. Vincent de Paul Society, government assistance, good neighbors, feedings in the park, and all kinds of safety nets to ensure that nobody goes hungry. I see a lot of fat homeless people walking around on a regular basis. If I made a single phone call my home would be crammed with food boxes containing more than I could eat for 2 months. I honestly cannot envision circumstances where a person would be compelled to steal food to eat. Also, stealing can be detrimental to your freedom, but I guess if you land in jail, you will eat well there too.

The fact that it’s a matter of life or death means culpability is reduced.


In the US, you probably needed to consider other options. I’ve seen other places where I’d say it’s a different situation. In any case, IMO you’re wise to confess it.

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Stealing? It’s like lying or killing. It depends on the circumstances.

Those safety nets aren’t perfect and people do fall through the cracks.

In modern societies being overweight is no longer a sign of prosperity - the cheapest foods are also the most fattening ones, after all.

[citation needed]

I would like to see annual statistics of people in these USA who starve to death because they “fell through cracks” and could not obtain enough food to stay alive. That would be a remarkable statistic any way you slice it, so to speak.

Apparenly it’s just about 1 in 100,000 in tbe US.

Thats over 3,000 people p.a.

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If you’re that desperately starving that you’re snatching food from the starving person next to you, then you may be sinning, but your culpability is likely to be reduced by mental and physical stress. People who are that hungry are not in their right minds to be making a moral judgment.

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Yes, I wish people would stop equating “fat” with “lack of hunger”. Many people are fat nowadays not only from poor diet, but also from genetics (if your ancestors survived a famine you’re likely to be able to maintain weight on little food), medical conditions, and medication they are taking for some other condition. It is possible to be visibly overweight or obese or have a lot of fat stored in certain parts of your anatomy, and also be malnourished to the point where you need to be hospitalized. The number of people who just don’t get this are legion, unfortunately, so it’s like talking to the walls trying to explain it to them.


I echo this. Maybe I’m just being obtuse, but I have a hard time understanding how true hunger — the kind of hunger that leads to distended bellies on children, stunts both physical and mental development, and that gets wars started — even exists in this country. Maybe it’s not the food that people would like to eat, maybe it’s fattening, maybe it’s not the best for one’s health, but it is food, food that millions in the world would give anything to have. I know I’ve told this story before (I think), and it’s probably apocryphal, but I heard once of African students in communist-run Poland during the Cold War years, who heard Poles complaining about their admittedly simple diets, most often not comprised of one’s first and best choices. The Africans told the Poles “what are you talking about? — this food is fantastic, people in our country would be thankful to have it!”. Granted, Poles have noble and elegant culinary traditions, but food is primarily a gift from God for one’s sustenance, and questions of fine dining are way down the list.

As far as “stealing” to feed one’s hunger, if there is absolutely no other way to get food without compromising one’s human dignity, and if nobody will give you food, then as Aquinas put it (in so many words), it’s not really stealing. It would be an awfully cold-hearted independent grocer or restauranteur who would refuse a hungry person some kind of simple meal. (Corporate grocers and restaurant chains might have policies against this.)

I do indeed “get this”, I am just concerned with getting a hungry person the food they need today, “right here, right now”, to slake their immediate hunger, and then pursuing social initiatives to improve people’s eating habits even on a tight budget. Jamie Oliver did an amazing job with improving eating habits in Huntington, West Virginia, at one time “the fattest city in America”.

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