A few days ago I found a small piece of bone in a Woolworths sausage roll and was immediately faced with two choices.
The first was that I could remind myself that sausage rolls, like pies, are objects of faith. I eat them knowing nothing about what they contain. All I have is a mystical text, glued onto the side of the packet, which makes claims about cows or chickens I’ve never seen, and a general consensus among fellow-believers that I’m probably eating what I think I’m eating.
In this context, I could choose to see the fragment of bone as an affirmation of my faith; a holy relic, if you will, like the toe-bone of an apostle, giving me tangible proof that my belief was founded on fact.
I had evidence that something once alive had been pitched headlong into my sausage roll and I could munch on, content in the knowledge that I was eating a beast of the field or a bird of the air, both fed on mashed-up fishes of the sea. In short, I could do nothing.
The second option was to alert the media.
In most countries, stories about pies are relegated to page 9 of the local parish newsletter, just below reports on cake sales and barn dances. But in South Africa, “I found a Thing in my Woolies whatsit and I have a blurry cellphone picture to prove it!” has become a respectable sub-genre of mainstream journalism. Interviews are conducted. Victims recount the moment they peeled back the plastic lid of the salad and saw the frog or the vole or the crocodile or the bear. And then, because South African media take their readers seriously and treat them like adults, the story is filed under “Eew Gross Look A Cootie!”.
Yes, ordinarily I could have expected a media storm to erupt around me, but this was no ordinary week. The nation was still gripped by the news that a woman had found a mouse in her Woolies pie. My bone could never measure up to a mouse. (Yes I know that kind of innuendo is beneath both of us but I’m hoping this column gets filed under “Sex Stuff!” as well as “Eew Gross Look A Cootie!”)
Woolies apologised to the customer, and suggested that the roasted rodent had got into the pie at a fairly late stage of production (corporate speak for “It wasn’t us”) and was generally trying to convince us that it wasn’t taking the mickey and baking him in an oven.
It didn’t crawl onto the conveyor belt to have a snooze
Nevertheless, the story had the desired response. Because, of course, that mouse was put there. It didn’t crawl onto the conveyor belt, looking for a nice warm, empty bowl of pastry to have a snooze in, only to startle awake as it was showered with gravy.
I don’t know who keeps putting critters in Woolies food. Perhaps it’s some disgruntled employees who are bitter that their idea for tiny, bite-sized mouse schnitzels was rejected by management. Perhaps there is a group of anti-Woolies activists labouring under the incredibly misguided belief that a few crunchy surprises in a few meals will deter regular customers. I can’t believe that, though: nobody could be that stupid. Surely they’ve seen the industrial amounts of meat piled up on creaking shopping trolleys? Don’t they understand that Woolies shoppers love nothing more than driving a spike through a lamb’s corpse and burning it over a fire? These people are the Murine Inquisition! They’re not going to be put off by a mouse.
Because let’s be honest: the “gross” things that saboteurs keep shoving into our nibbles aren’t really that gross. They’re just animals, like the animals we’re already eating. It’s not as if we’re discovering feta-like cubes of human pus in the Greek salad or the eyeballs of orphans floating in our Winter Warmer soup.
I don’t want to preach or poop the party, but if you think a dead mouse in your pie or a frog in your salad is disgusting, may Pan have mercy on you if you ever see what happens on commercial farms or in abattoirs. But that’s another story.
No, if you really want to hurt an expensive food retailer, just confront shoppers with the thing they fear most: work. After all, Woolies already sells pre-boiled rice at a premium – and people buy it.
Any day it’s going to launch its new range of premium water that pours itself using a trademarked scientific breakthrough called “Gravity”. Or pre-chewed food: just put it in your mouth, tilt your head back, say “Aaah” and let it all slide down your throat.
So, hackers, forget the frogs and the mice. Just sneak in with some stickers that say “Requires a double-boiler and 30 minutes of chopping” and they’ll be bankrupt in a year.