There's one at every party: The woman who can't resist snitching food from the buffet table, and surreptitiously slipping it into her purse. Personally, I find this behavior abhorrent, which is why I first make sure no one is looking when I pluck a nice, little puff pastry or a mini quiche into my napkin. From there, I pop the napkin into my "poacher's purse" lined with plastic bags. Yes, it's true: I am doggie-bag deviant.

It wasn't always this way. For years I attended lavish affairs, put the allotted amount of food on my plate and tried carrying on a conversation while simultaneously navigating guacamole dip into my mouth without spilling it on my clothes. It was hardly what I'd call gracious dining. Then one night I witnessed a scene so astounding, it changed my party protocol forever.

I was seated next to a woman at an elegant soiree who, throughout the evening, removed food from her plate, and without batting an eye, placed into a plastic Baggie that lay inside her purse, poised and ready for the big drop. At first, I tried not to notice, but when two slices of honey-glazed ham, five cherry tomatoes and a jiggling sliver of aspic disappeared right before my eyes, it was hard not to stare.

"Don't be alarmed," she said. "I do it all the time. My hunger clock is always off. I prefer late-night eating. I always carry baggies with me. When I get home, I put on my jammies, turn on the TV and have a feast."

I was impressed. Not only did this make perfect sense, but she carried it off with such aplomb, I couldn't help but applaud her well-rehearsed take-out strategy. She became my role model -- a person whose hands were quicker than the eyes of any hostess who might be passing by. Here was a woman who had made her culinary mark in the world. I soon followed suit by perfecting the art of kidnapping food from people's homes without them having a clue as to my cunning wiles. I figured if it were a choice between good manners or good food, the food would always win out.

I have tried unsuccessfully on many occasions to confiscate the goods without getting caught, but my hosts were aware of my antics. My lingering too long at the table meant instant depletion of their entire menu. Caterers peered over my shoulder like private detectives. "Keep an eye on this one," I overheard one of them say. "She has her eye on the smoked oysters." My reputation had preceded me.

As time went on, I learned the ropes. I would hover in front of an elaborate spread, engage in wry banter, appearing to be the epitome of the perfect guest, while, in truth, I was secretly casing the joint and planning my next move. So proficient was I in "fowl play" I could carry on a political discussion and manage to squeeze a turkey drumstick into my purse with nary a look from anyone. What I lacked in good taste, I make up for in fast finger maneuvers.

Beautifully decorated petit fours, crab cakes and succulent spare ribs found a home in the bowels of my bag. To the world, I ate like a bird as I nibbled on a lettuce leaf knowing the real fun would begin when I got home. Hoarding away my supply of incredible edibles could get me through the week without having to cook.

You can fool a hostess some of the time, but you can't fool her pets. While I sat in the living room making idle chit-chat, my bulging purse at my feet, the family pooch -- a bullmastiff -- knew something was up. The drool dripped down his jowls as he inhaled the contents lurking within my bag

This dog was on to me from the get-go. So were the two cats. Even the parakeet swooped down from its perch to get a whiff. My goose was cooked, along with everything else I had managed to snitch. Others turned their eyes away, allowing me to save face. But what did I care? If I left now, I could eat like a queen, my peccadillo, a small price to pay for gluttony.

I am not alone in this act of dinner debauchery. Months before, I watched in amazement as a woman dressed in a full-length ball gown, carried off the perfect culinary coup. She lifted two cantaloupes from the fruit bowl, concealing them inside the bodice of her dress.

"I never knew that Edie was so well-endowed," one woman whispered to another.

"She's obviously had work done," the other said. "I need the name of her plastic surgeon."

Dare I tell them that all they needed to do was pay a visit to the produce department?

At the last dinner party, the hostess had so much leftover food she implored me to take some home.

"I wouldn't hear of it," I said. "They'll make great leftovers."

As I walked away, three plums, five chocolate-dipped strawberries, two onion rolls and a few biscotti fell out of my overly-stuffed purse, and rolled across the floor.

Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every other Wednesday. She can be reached at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.