Pasta is for many people a sacred food — and it’s accorded a particular reverence among people in New Jersey, where Census data shows over 1 million residents can trace their roots back to Italy (including the fictional Tony Soprano).
So why would somebody dump hundreds of pounds of pasta in the Garden State’s woods, denying it the chance to appear in all its glory on a heaping plate doused in sauce and topped with Parmesan cheese?
This question had residents of Old Bridge, New Jersey, scratching their heads over the past few days, although part of the mystery may have been solved.
The incident gained steam when Ali Allocco, a Philadelphia resident who used to live in New Jersey, posted a screenshot on her Twitter account Tuesday from a New Jersey Reddit page of the pasta incident. It bubbled up faster than a pot of boiling water, garnering more than 5 million views and over 4,500 retweets as of Friday afternoon.
Nina Jochnowitz, an Old Bridge resident who ran for a township council seat in 2021, had posted those photos of the pasta dump to her Facebook page and community group pages.
The pictures show mounds of elbow macaroni and oodles of noodles along the bank of a stream in the township.
Reached by phone Friday morning, Jochnowitz said she’d gone to the scene to snap photos after hearing from a neighbor about it.
“They did it in the old-fashioned method — which is they dumped it in the woods, which everybody does,” she said.
The 23-year resident said she contacted township authorities, but Old Bridge does not have its own dump and uses private companies to collect garbage.
“When you don’t have a facility to get rid of the crap, people do it the best way possible for themselves,” Jochnowitz said.
As for who would dump pounds of the Italian pantry staple, Jochnowitz described the person as “a resident of the neighborhood who was cleaning out a large amount of pasta.” She declined to identify him, out of sensitivity for the family.
“He had a very large collection of pasta, and it ended up, basically, at our footsteps,” she said.
Himanshu Shah, Old Bridge’s business administrator, confirmed in a statement to CNN on Thursday that “several hundred pounds” of pasta were dumped — and it all was in fact uncooked.
“We would estimate several hundred pounds of uncooked pasta that was removed from the packaging and then dumped along the creek. It looks like it was only there for a short time but moisture did start to soften some of the pasta,” according to Shah. There was heavy rain in the area over the past weekend.
Police were dispatched to the area on April 28. Afterward, two public works employees arrived on the scene to clean it up, according to Shah.
The Old Bridge Department of Public Works mopped up “what appeared to be 15 [wheelbarrow] loads of illegal dumped pasta along a creek in a residential neighborhood,” Shah said.
It is now under investigation by the township police department, according to the statement.
Commenting Friday about all the fuss-ili, Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry said if the individual had called about what to do with the pasta, the township could have suggested other options, such as bringing it to a food bank.
“It was a lapse in judgment, because this material could have been disposed of properly,” he said. Henry said the cleanup took about 2 hours.
A resident of the neighborhood, Keith Rost, 33, who came upon the mounds of pasta while walking along a trail, said the public works employees scooped up the macaroni with a machine.
“They had a little machine that scooped it up, and they spent about 2 hours cleaning up the trail up that day,” he said.
Like Jochnowitz, Rost declined to name the culprit but said he heard from neighbors that the pasta may have accumulated over the course of the Covid pandemic.
Full disclosure: Old Bridge is my hometown. The New York City suburb in Central New Jersey (no matter what anyone tells you, Central Jersey does exist; even the governor says so) of about 67,000 people doesn’t appear in my Twitter feed too often, and I definitely didn’t expect to read that “pounds of pasta” — hundreds, in fact — were unceremoniously discarded. O mio dio, my Italian ancestors would be horrified.
Two Old Bridge residents (again, full disclosure: my parents) made a previously unplanned stop on Thursday afternoon near the scene, and my dad walked through the wooded area. He didn’t see any remnants of the saucy situation, though they did spot a wheelbarrow.
My mom’s take on why this now-global story struck a nerve? “Well, everyone loves pasta.”
CNN’s Zenebou Sylla contributed reporting to this story.