The Los Angeles Times has a fun piece that explores why images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary keep popping up in people’s baked goods. While I personally think the answer may have something to do with the Maillard reaction, the piece doesn’t go into the chemistry; unsurprisingly, the reason is psychological—a phenomenon called pareidolia, in which people perceive patterns where none are intended.
The exciting thing about the article is the specifics, a great summary of the last three decades of holy sightings in food and people’s reaction to them. There’s the candy-factory worker who found the Madonna in a stray blob of chocolate: “I can’t describe the feeling; the emotions make me cry,” she said. And then there’s the “famous Jesus tortilla of New Mexico,” which is said to have set “the world standard for claims of miracle sightings”—it received so many visitors that its owner “quit her job as a maid to become full-time attendant to the shrine of the tortilla built in her home.”
How do religious officials react to these sightings, you may ask?
‘The church encourages Christians to see the face of Christ in the homeless, the poor, the destitute and the immigrant—not in a plate of pasta,’ said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. ‘Imagine showing up on your judgment day in front of God, and he says, “Where did you see me? Did you see me in the poor and the immigrant and the homeless?” And you say, “Well, no, but I did see you in a piece of chocolate once.” Doesn’t sound so good, does it?’
Touché, Mr. Tamberg, touché. On the other hand, the fact that some of the highest-profile sightings lately have been in food rather than in other objects—and that, as the LAT reports, “followers of Islam have said they’ve seen the Arabic script for ‘Allah’ or ‘Muhammad’ on fish scales, chicken eggs, lambs and beans”—is really fascinating. Do humans just have a natural tendency toward deifying food?