Let’s be honest now, nothing ever really happens in New Zealand, so the most trivial things attract media attention. Remember how long that escaped otter led the evening news? Last week saw another instalment of that perennial favourite of local news hounds: ‘attention seeking shopper finds bug in processed food’. This time it was a rather bedraggled wasp in a can of soup. These stories pop up at least a couple of times a year and stick to a tight predictable formula: cheeky/alarmist headline, the company assures customers that it was a freak occurrence and the ‘victim’ is always ‘shocked, disgusted and appalled’. And evidently quite naive.
Because I abso-bloody-lutely guarantee that all of us consume various bits of insects, spiders and possibly worse in our food on an almost daily basis. We are never further than around 30cm from invertebrate life, so as you read this there at least one multi-legged creeping thing within arm’s reach. So is it really any surprise that some of these end up in our food? The American Food and Drug administration have some rather alarming statistics to back this up if you don’t believe me.
But should we even care? In the case of well-cooked wasp I would say not. They’re pretty clean insects (I suppose a wasp-sting allergy could be a problem), and any associated bacteria will have been stopped in it tracks by the pasteurisation. It’s all very well to say that nothing should make it past the rigorous screening processes on the production line, but fact is, most insects are small. There is no way to thoroughly check every millimetre, of every item of produce. There will always be bugs in processed food. Not many, hopefully, but always a few. But ideally by the time we as consumers get anywhere such food, these unwanted guests will have been fragmented beyond any recognition.
However, I have more trouble when such stowaways turn up in restaurant food. Just last week I was working my through a bowl of fried udon at a clean and reputable Japanese restaurant, when I removed what was left of a rather large beetle thorax from my mouth. It was very crunchy and tasted peculiar to say the least. I looked carefully through the rest of the dish, but no more beetle. Thing is, I was very hungry, we were very pressed for time and the staff spoke very little English. I could have quite legitimately made a fuss. But I’m a little ashamed to admit that after a moment’s hesitation, I just kept eating. It was only a beetle after all. Not as bad as the cockroach I once found in a meal in Singapore, or the used plaster a friend once recovered from her mouth while sculling soup from a very well-known cafe.
But none of these compare to such great urban myths as the Kentucky fried rat, the cola mouse or the severed finger in the frozen peas. I’d love to get my hands on any of these as I’m pretty confident the companies concerned would pay through the nose to shut me up. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found in your food?