I’ll have fries with that, thanks

You’ve probably heard about recent Wendy’s flap — in which a diner, Anna Ayala, claims to have found a finger in her chili. There’s a really terrific story in today’s New York Times business section that explores the CSI-like questions of precisely how a finger could get into the chili in the first place. Along the way, you learn some neat details about how Wendy’s works, including …

The company concluded it would have been highly unlikely for an employee to overlook a finger, given the way the chili is made. A worker chops ground beef into small chunks with a spatula — using the same two- and four-ounce patties used for hamburgers — adds kidney beans and small beans from cans, seasoning from a packet, and tomatoes. A 48-serving batch is mixed into a 22-quart pot and cooked for four to six hours, stirred every 15 minutes.

I always love the incredibly dry, spare tone of the Times when it approaches über-weird subjects. Indeed, the gothic the subject matter, the more tinder-dry the writing becomes, until it nearly combusts — such as in paragraphs like this one:

It is still not known whether the finger was cooked, and if so, for how long. A thoroughly cooked finger might indicate that it came through Wendy’s food supply chain. If the tissue is uncooked, that might indicate that it was added to the chili after the fact.

It’s worth noting that this whole thing could easily be a scam, since Ayala has a case history of trying to sue companies for damages — and for reasons that are unclear, she was arrested this morning.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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