Why do we have the feeling that the comments under this story won’t be pretty? Unless you live entirely off the land, free from the trappings of a modern existence, then odds are the majority of the things you eat in a given day were processed en masse in huge factories, where certain bits and bobs can occasionally enter the production line unnoticed. Sometimes those bits are living creatures, the result of processing huge amounts of produce harvested from animals’ habitats. Other times, the objects are more innocuous, such as the plastic wrap that betrays your favorite restaurant’s mozzarella sticks as less than house-made. And sometimes, the foreign matter is inexplicable and bizarre, something that briefly illuminates, in more detail than we ever would have wanted, the long journey our food takes to reach us. Here’s what we’ve bitten down into, for your reading pleasure.
While I now understand the error of my ways, I did grow up with a pack of Thomas’ bagels in the kitchen at all times. (Look, the line at our local bagel shop was always out the door, okay?) My favorite Saturday morning breakfast as a high schooler was a toasted bagel with cream cheese and Trader Joe’s olive tapenade, and I highly recommend that you try this combination yourself. But one day, I was trying to put the bagel halves into the toaster, and one didn’t fit. It kept getting caught in the slot before I could push it all the way in. I wiggled it free, and noticed that there was something hard jutting out from the bottom half of the bagel. An entire wooden something was baked into it. It was a thin sheet of wood, with a handle sticking out, sort of like a miniature pizza peel. It was so entwined with the dough that I couldn’t even separate the two in order to get a better look; the wood was splintered into every nook and cranny of the crumb. Maybe it was some sort of dough-mixing implement, or maybe Thomas’ really does remove thousands of bagels from the oven with thousands of miniature wooden pizza peels. Or maybe an inspector misplaced their clipboard on a tour of the factory. Whatever the case, I’m sure that cream cheese and tapenade would’ve covered up the flavor, but I was made to throw the bagel away. —Marnie Shure
Back when you had to call restaurants on the phone to order, my father’s rudeness and sense of entitlement got us on a few “do not serve” lists at local delivery joints. When a restaurant had the audacity to forget to send something or overcook a dish, my father would not make a simple complaint phone call. He would give complaint lectures. It was horrible and embarrassing and the total opposite of how any person should treat another person. We had a good run of luck with our only neighborhood Chinese spot, Szechuan Gardens, but one day, as is only natural for a business run by humans, they made a mistake: My father found a piece of wood in his beef and broccoli. It was a good three inches long, with sharp jagged edges as if it had been snapped from its original host. So what happened? My father complained, with lots of yelling about how everyone there was terrible at their jobs.
Since it was the only Chinese spot my sister would eat from, though, we eventually came crawling back to Szechuan Gardens. My father didn’t apologize for his previous tirade because he believed they were there to serve him. This is why when he ordered Singapore mei fun, there was half a plastic bag in it. He called and gave Szechuan Gardens another lecture, announcing to them that this was their “second strike.”
The next time we ordered, he found the cuff of a man’s dress shirt in his food. I’m serious. The entire cuff and half the forearm of a men’s shirt, cut clean with scissors, folded into his moo shu pork. We took the phone away from him. I think my mother called and apologized. We started ordering from Panda Gardens instead. They weren’t as good. —Allison Robicelli
I can’t top that. But this one time? At a creative writing conference in high school? I found a piece of rubber in my pizza. It was black, kind of hidden under the cheese. I threw it away. I can’t remember if I took another slice. —Aimee Levitt