What’s nastier than finding a worm in your apple?
Finding half a worm.
Several friends recommended a breakfast restaurant in San Diego. Two had decidedly suspect tastes in food, but the third was a local home distiller who dabbles in charcuterie and who hadn't steered me wrong before. I dropped by the place this morning.
There’s no need to return.
My iced tea came to the table with a long metal spoon already in it. The spoon was encrusted with…something. Melted plastic? Caked excrement? A kelp encrustation? I don’t know. It was vile.
It got me thinking about other nasty food encounters I’ve had and how our food supply can be contaminated by the whim — or policies — of a single individual. There was the kid in my high school who bought fried chicken at lunch, only to find an intact brain from some small animal lurking under the crispy crust. That one seemed like employee sabotage at the fried chicken factory that supplied the school.
Sometimes, though, corruption comes from the top.
Take, for instance, two food wholesalers I knew, both with a moth problem. Each supplied gourmet and specialty foods to restaurants, hotels, caterers, and other food professionals. While visiting the warehouse of the first wholesaler, I noticed workers opening bags of rice, grains, and flour and either sifting the contents or picking through them by hand.
When I asked what they were doing, they explained that warm weather had led to a moth infestation, so — on the owner’s orders — they were removing as much as the visible evidence as possible before repacking and resealing the plastic bags. They were picking out maggots, moth larvae, and whatever waste products they could see. Once resealed, the packages were destined for unsuspecting customers. After all, those exotic grains, flours, rice, and beans were a substantial investment.
The second wholesaler had moths as well, but he carried few grains. Instead, the moths had gone after his dried fruit. His solution? Every single box with any evidence of moth activity went into the Dumpster. Turkish figs, 20 pounds at a time, into the trash. Candied pineapple, entire boxes, thrown out. Enough raisins to make a half-tonne of Waldorf salad. And all the boxes next to the boxes that were infected? They were thrown out, too.
It wasn’t quite Sherman’s march to the sea, but the devastation was impressive. The cost of the rubbishing was obviously painful, but here was a man who was so concerned with his reputation and the quality of his goods that he ordered his employees to rout out ruthlessly anything that could harm his customers and, therefore, him.
I continued to buy from the second wholesaler. The first one? There’s no need to return.
I've eaten — and almost eaten — a lot of nasty things over the years, but the image of those writing pale larvae getting sifted out of food destined for tony restaurants is maybe the one that made the most lasting impression.
So. Nasty food. What's the worst you've encountered?