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Dear Abby: Supermarket treated like a buffet is no free lunch

DEAR ABBY: I work for supermarkets as a merchandiser, and a day doesn't go by when I don't see customers eat food they have not yet purchased while they shop.


I work for supermarkets as a merchandiser, and a day doesn't go by when I don't see customers eat food they have not yet purchased while they shop.

I was taught as a child that items in a supermarket are not yours to consume until they are first paid for at the register. A supermarket is not a restaurant! You pay for the food before you eat it.

I am sure many people "forget" that they handed their child a muffin from the bakery display to keep him or her occupied while they shop. And how can a store weigh the grapes you ate while browsing in the aisles? This is stealing, and parents send the wrong message to their children by letting them graze on the products the store is selling.

By the way, employees are not allowed to say anything to customers when they see it happen.

This practice not only keeps prices higher, but also is unhygienic. Shopping carts are filthy; they are rarely cleaned. Pushing a cart and eating a cookie is a perfect way to pick up a serious food-borne illness.

Abby, what are your thoughts on the subject?

- Supermarket Merchandiser in N.Y.

DEAR S.M.: They're the same as yours. Children learn more from the examples set by the adults in their lives than from what they are told. When they see their parents bend the rules, they grow up thinking it's normal. And by the way, this applies not only to what we do, but also to our sins of omission.

DEAR ABBY: This year was awful. One of my friends shot himself. A few weeks ago a classmate hit a young man, and the guy died. Now I have just learned that yesterday another classmate was killed in a car crash.

All I want to do is hide in my room. I'm scared of what is happening. Who are we going to lose next? Please tell me how to handle this.

- Scared in Pennsylvania

DEAR SCARED: When deaths happen with no warning, it is shocking and scary, and you have had more than your share.

When tragedies such as you have described happen during the school year, many schools invite grief counselors to come and talk with the students, which can be helpful. If that hasn't happened where you live, it would be a good idea for you and some of your friends to discuss your feelings with a clergyperson or another trusted adult who can guide you through the normal emotions people experience during the grieving process.

DEAR ABBY: Please settle a disagreement for us. Is a butter knife used to put your butter on your plate, or to spread the butter on your bread?

- Etiquette-Challenged in Shiloh, Ill.

DEAR CHALLENGED: If a small fork isn't provided to transfer the butter to your bread plate, use the butter knife to do it. If the butter is served in a dish, then use your butter knife to scoop out a portion and place it on the edge of the plate.

And by the way, when you take a slice of bread, do not butter it all at once. Break off a bite-sized piece, apply the butter, then pop it in your mouth.

P.S. The butter dilemma can be avoided by substituting olive oil instead, which is healthier. When I'm in a restaurant, I often ask for olive oil, to which I add a dash of balsamic vinegar - making sure the design on my butter plate looks like modern art. Not only is it good for my heart, it's creative and fun.

P.P.S. My editor suggests adding a dash of Parmesan. Delicious!