Samui Wining & Dining
Wholly Holy

In this age of science, an awful lot of religious icons
seem to be appearing in food. We investigate some of these phenomena.


Wholly HolyEver since the sun struggled through the clouds above the post-primeval ooze, mankind has been in awe of the inexplicable and the sublime. We bowed to the power of nature and the obvious Gods that thundered therein. We prostrated ourselves in a worshipful frenzy of fear and adulation beneath passing comets and shooting stars.


We worshiped rocks, stones, grottos and streams. Mountain tops and caves. Giant fish and mammoth beasts. The sun, the moon, the stars and ... toast. Yes, toast. And chocolate, drink stains, buns and grilled cheese, too, although these last few are hardly legends recalled dimly through the mists of time. No, rather they represent the new wave of post-technological worship. And, believe it or not, many of these icons have been taken seriously.


Probably the most startling example of this happened not so long ago. In 1999, Diane Duyser, a Hollywood resident, set about making herself a sandwich. She popped a piece of cheese between two slices of white bread and tossed it into a frying pan. As she was taking her first bite, she looked down and beheld a woman looking back at her – an image of the Virgin Mary. She put the sacred sandwich in a plastic bag, swaddled it with cotton wool and placed it on her nightstand surrounded by candles, where it remained for a decade.


Upon checking it last summer, she noticed that it hadn’t sprouted even one tiny patch of mould. Overwhelmed with ecstasy, she decided to try selling it and placed it on EBay. In a flurry of speculation and publicity, over the next few weeks nearly two million people checked it out, before it was finally bought by an online casino owner for $28,000. The buyer, Drew Black, planned to take the sandwich ‘on the road’, claiming that his new acquisition was now ‘the toast of the town’.


Strange but true. But this was by no means the start of it all, merely one pinnacle in a seething mess of Pop Culture Extremism. No, we have to go back over 30 years to find the roots. Evangelina Barreras of New Mexico was the first recorded ‘religious foodie’, way back in 1978, when she discovered the face of Jesus in a tortilla she was making. Impressed, nay, moved, she built a shrine for it in her backyard. It’s still there today, and tens of thousands of pilgrims have visited it, even though the image has long since ceased to be recognisable.


Tens of thousands! God (whichever one) works in mysterious ways, and probably also slowly to begin with. Because it took another 12 years for the next manifestation, which wasn’t in America, but Bradford, England. In 1990, the Kassim family sliced into an eggplant which attracted newspaper and television attention (no doubt not without some prompting from the Kassims themselves). Inside the eggplant, written as clear as day (if you can read Urdu) spelled out by the pattern of the seeds was ‘Ya-Allah’ – ‘God is everywhere’.


And, comparatively close on their heels, in 2002 there followed the Patels from not-too-far-away Leicester. Somewhat suspiciously, there was also an eggplant involved, but this time with the name of Allah inscribed in the seeds. Rexana Patel, however, expanded upon the theme, explaining that the previous night she had dreamed that she would buy three eggplants and one of them would be holy. Holy enough, certainly to attract 50 visitors a day, until, presumably, the blessed aubergine eventually went the way all of good vegetables – squishy.


But let’s jump back to 1999 for a minute when Hindu pilgrims were flocking to a house in Bombay. They believed that the elephant-headed Lord Ganesh had appeared in the shape of a potato. Visitors offered money and gifts to seek the blessing of this ‘divine vegetable’.


Back in biblical times, the Word had to be spread by means of a lot of preaching and footwork. But things are a tad faster today, thanks to the internet. Hence there came about a mighty rush that swept all before it. In 2005, a Californian kitchen worker, Cruz Jacinto, found herself ‘with the chills’ when she spotted the Virgin Mary cradling a baby Jesus in a piece of chocolate, at Angiano’s Gourmet Chocolate Company. The unusually-shaped cast-off bore a remarkable resemblance to the prayer card she always carried, and caused her workmates to begin ‘praying, and placing rose petals and candles around the figure’. Candles round a chocolate icon? Perhaps that’s why there were no subsequent reports of flocking pilgrims.


Additional ‘sightings’ have recently included Jesus in a prawn (New Orleans), Jesus on a burned cod steak (Ontario), Jesus in a Pringle (Florida), Jesus in the foil wrap of a cider bottle (Manchester) and Mother Theresa in a bun (Tennessee), although this last one looks distinctly more like one of the Seven Dwarves. All of which are, by-the-way, because where the real pilgrims are converging is within that 21st century palace of worship, EBay.


Ever since that eventful day on which Diane Duyser hit the jackpot with her divine toast, there has been a steady stream, if not a veritable flood, of hopeful wannabes scrambling over each other to auction off their own edible icons. But, alas, now to no avail. Take Ontario’s Fred Whan, for instance, who is the latest to dispute EBay’s rejection; this time of a burnt fish finger with an image of Jesus on the surface. He can’t understand why the toasted Mary cleared customs but his fishy Jesus got the thumbs down. He’s grumbling that the Son has to be worth twice the Mother ... sometimes life is downright unfair.


In any event, I have the sneaking feeling that the bubble may now have burst. Perhaps the bandwagon-scramble to cash-in quick has lost sight of the more esoteric manifestations of the divine. Thatplus the fact that you can now buy a toaster to do it all for you! Yes folks, it’s true. Electrolux has just marketed a toaster that will burn (via a linked computer) any image you want onto a piece of toast. And when you can command the Gods to appear at will, it sort of devalues it all a bit. With science providing all the answers, it’s just not so holy anymore. In fact, it’s now all become wholly un-holy!


Rob De Wet


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