Who could forget Harry Potter and Ron Weasley’s delightful skepticism in Professor Trelawney’s Divination Class. Staring myopically into tea leaves, the eccentric Trelawney saw all manner of images and visions. Hermione was openly disdainful. Ron wasn’t buying it; “From now on,” he says, “I don’t care if my tea leaves spell ‘Die, Ron, Die’, I’m chucking them in the bin where they belong.”
And so, like many seers before us, we enter the bizarre and downright weird world of food apparitions: Obama’s face on a piece of toast, the profile of Abe Lincoln on a McDonald’s fry, the face of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich or Mother Teresa’s countenance on a cinnamon bun. Sometimes, the people who discover these things swear they’re real. Other times, it can be little more than a spoof, a joke or a marketing ploy. In many cases you just have to take it with a large pinch of salt, as there is no way to prove that the so called ‘spontaneous’ apparitions are real and not manufactured. But that doesn’t stop us from taking a step back, taking a look and having fun with it.
Quite often, there’s money to be made. Mother Theresa was displayed in a coffee bar. The Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich went to an online casino that saw it appear in a Museum of Oddities (along with the Lincoln fry).
And some apparitions are works of art. The face of Marilyn was in fact the purposeful creation of master Glasgow pizza maker Domenico Crolla. He claims to have more or less accidentally created a pizza with Bruce Lee’s face shaped by the crust, cheese and tomato sauce. He has perfected the craft and says he can now do anybody, from Marlon Brando to Queen Elizabeth II. Each pizza takes about an hour to make and costs a whopping $400.
A lot of the apparitions have spiritual or religious overtones, focusing primarily on images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. There are a few politicians, living and dead, in there as well.
For your consideration, with a generous pinch of salt and a side of healthy skepticism, here are some food apparitions that gave their discoverers their 15 of fame and spurred plenty of good-humoured debate. And some really good stories.
6. Jesus in a Frying Pan
One night in 2010, English bank clerk Toby Elles had a few beers with his mates and decided to fry up some bacon as a snack before going to bed. He fell asleep on the couch and when he woke up the room was filled with smoke. He turned off the burner and lifted the bacon from the pan. In his own words, “I lifted up the bacon and there was JC looking back at me.” Elles described the apparition as a “miracle” and claimed the pan had saved his life. He appeared on TV and was pictured in newspapers with the mysterious frying pan. Then, he and the pan disappeared off the world stage. The last the public heard is that he was keeping the burned pan intact and was considering buying a glass cabinet to display it in. No indication of exactly how many beers he had on the night…
5. Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich
In 1994, Floridian Diane Duyser made herself a grilled cheese sandwich. Normal enough. Right? Well, she started to chow down and low and behold “I saw this lady looking back at me.” In 2004, she claimed that the sandwich was intact and showed no signs of mold or deterioration. And so what did she do? She put it up on eBay. 1.7 million hits later, it was purchased for $28,000 by Golden Palace Casinos. Says Golden Palace CEO Richard Rowe, “We believe that everyone should be able to see it and learn of its mystical powers for themselves.” Mystical powers or not, the Casino put the sandwich in its traveling Museum of Oddities and produced a nice little line of Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich tee-shirts with its logo and name getting top billing.
4. Mother Theresa Cinnamon Bun
In 1996 a Nashville, Tennessee newspaper reported that Bongo Java, a local coffee shop, claimed to have a cinnamon bun that bore an uncanny resemblance to Mother Theresa. It was the way the folds of the bun came together in a circular fashion that seemed to do the trick. Of course, the bun was carefully displayed near merchandise (including, of course, coffee mugs) that bore the saintly image. Well, in a rather un-saintly fashion, Mother Theresa hired a lawyer and threatened the shop with action if they did not cease and desist. Bob Bernstein, the shop’s owner, debated the nun’s lawyer on Fox News. A lawyerly fudge of a compromise was worked out. The roll became “The Nun Bun” and Mother Theresa and her attorney withdrew objections. In 2005, some nine years later, the bun was stolen. The owner put up a $5,000 reward and said he hoped nobody had eaten it. A nine year old bun? In 2007, reports emerged that the Nun Bun had surfaced in Seattle. The Bongo Java people expressed their doubts and hinted it might be a fake. This one surely goes down in the history books as the most controversial cinnamon bun of all time.
3. Obama is Toast
Sightings of images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on toast are everywhere. The Obama take on this was a series of (almost certainly spoof) sightings of pieces of toast bearing Obama’s image, similar to the portraits from his first Presidential campaign in 2008. Some say it was a Republican attempt to make fun of what they saw as his crusading savior image and the “ messianic nature of his campaign”. As one publication said, tongue firmly in cheek, they didn’t believe it – but many might. “Holy Toast,” read the headline. “Obama Apparition Coolest Thing Since Sliced Bread”.
2. Jesus on a Jar Lid
There have been sightings of Jesus on everything from frying pans to Cheetoes and Kit Kat bars. It’s really all about how you look at it. In 2009, Claire Allen, a seemingly sane 30-something mother from South Wales, saw Jesus. She had made toast for her youngest son and when she pulled out the Marmite (a pungent yeast spread well loved in England), there he was on the inside of the lid, sketched out in gooey Marmite. Predictably, her 15 minutes of fame ensued, with pictures of Allen holding the lid popping up in English papers – the story even made its way onto the BBC news. One publication dubbed it “The Marmite Messiah”.
1. The Lincoln Fry
Here, the apparition world meets the publicity stunt. In 2005, McDonald’s Super Bowl commercial featured a “real” couple at a McDonalds. Happily munching through their carton of trans fat, they stopped long enough to find a fry whose shape seemed to bear a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln’s profile. The way the story ran, the couple started a blog and decided to sell the fry on eBay. Some of the viewing public bought the whole thing. In the real world, a replica fry was put up on eBay by McDonalds. Fully realizing the purposeful hoax, enter our old friend Golden Palace Casino. Claiming that McDonalds had based their marketing on the Casino’s much publicized acquisition of the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich, the Casino was the winning bidder. How much? It’s staggering and hard to believe, but the sale racked up over $75,000. And the fry joined the grilled cheese sandwich in the Museum of Oddities.