When is flat food fair game? One Auckland woman's tragic story kickstarts debate

birthday cake after being eaten
It begs the question: Is the flat kitchen a 'help yourself' zone? Photo credit: Supplied.

Flat politics have led to many fights over the years. There are of course the classics like "Who drank the last of the milk then put the empty bottle back in the fridge?" and "I didn't eat eggs for the month of May so I would like to contribute $1.66 less to the weekly flat shop". 

But then there are more subjective ones - how often should partners be allowed to shower before they have to contribute to the power bill, what time of year does using the dryer become off-limits - you know the drill. 

Now an Auckland woman's tragic tale of discovering the trampled grave that was previously a birthday cake in her flat launched a newsroom-wide debate over when flat food becomes fair game. 

'Leona'* says she was presented with the thoughtful gesture by a flatmate on her birthday, complete with a 'Happy Birthday' candle. As she was going out to dinner that evening, she says she left the cake in a closed Tupperware container on the bench, ready to take to work and share with her peers in the following days. 

But a day later Leona was alerted to a message from the same flatmate, asking if she had enjoyed the cake as a quarter was gone. 

birthday cake eaten
The still-delicious but definitely destroyed remains of Leona's birthday cake. Photo credit: Supplied.

So launched an investigation into who had eaten the cake - and whether leaving it out in the shared kitchen overnight should've been seen as an invitation for others to indulge. 

A team divided

While most of Leona's flatmates denied responsibility, an image of the cake's destroyed three-quarter remains led to mixed reactions in our own newsroom. 

"I'd be fuming," said one reporter. 

"That's actually wild," wrote another. 

But another pointed out that as Leona left it out on the bench, it was "fair game". 

"Gotta eat it before it goes bad," he wrote. "In the fridge, it's a no-go." 

NB: The reporter changed his mind upon learning a lid was on the Tupperware container. 

Another reporter wrote that she believed the bench is where people leave food they don't want, so while a lid would put her off, she didn't think it was a crime. 

Personally, I would usually call the bench the 'help yourself' zone - but an uncut birthday cake in a closed container, of course, has its own set of boundaries which supersede that unwritten rule. 

For any other flat occupants who find themselves in a similar situation, experts agree that some food ground rules are needed in any shared house situation so everyone can live in harmonious bliss. 

In an article for The Kitchn, food editor Kelli Foster says "communication is key" - in fact, she calls it "the single most important tool to happily sharing a kitchen". 

That means no assumptions, ever - even when it comes to closed containers and uncut cakes. 

woman sneaking cake
Sneaking food from the shared kitchen is never a good idea. Photo credit: Getty.

She also recommends flatmates live by the code of "if you didn't buy it, don't eat it". 

"While you probably have good intentions to replace your roommate's food ASAP, it's best not to take it, especially if it means polishing off the last of the cookies or finishing the milk," she recommends. 

"It's always best to ask first, before diving in and helping yourself."

So who did eat the cake? 

Despite Leona living in a flat of five occupants, a lengthy Newshub investigation of 11 minutes revealed it was actually the flatmate who gifted the cake who had snuck some of it with his girlfriend during the night. 

Assumedly either guilt or an attempt to cover his tracks led to the text exchange with Leona - but after going public in this admittedly overly outraged article, we can only hope next time he doesn't secretly indulge - or at least does a better job of covering his tracks.