Auntie Anne's is not just a pretzel bakery. It is the premier pretzel bakery in all the land. Auntie Anne, bless her heart, just straight up makes delicious pretzels. Salty pretzels, sweet pretzels, all kinds of pretzels. Except for bad ones. I could try to describe them, but even the words in my vocabulary with the most powerful of connotations - delectable, scrumptious, exquisite, heavenly - fail to do them justice. I'll keep it succinct and say that the pretzels are buttery but not heavy, salty but not offensively so, and, above all, soft. The best pretzels on Earth.
My most gluttonous moment occurred during the consumption of one of Auntie Anne's treats. It was a cinnamon sugar pretzel - sweet instead of salty, but just as soft as the originals. This softness and my voracious appetite would combine to be my tongue's undoing. I was a few bites into the pretzel, just chomping away at a blazing speed. I have no recollection of intentionally trying to eat the pretzel as fast as was humanly possible, but my jaw was pumping up and down at no less than 2.5 hertz. Suddenly, there was a pain in my tongue unlike any I had ever felt before. I winced and stopped chewing. I ran to the nearest mall rest room and looked in the mirror. I had bitten directly through my tongue. There was no mistaking it. The right side of my tongue had managed to get in the way of my diligently working canine and that was that. An enormous black spot - a blood blister, I assume - formed that night and the thing took a few weeks to heal, my tongue extra sensitive all the while. It was a terrible experience, mostly because the second half of my cinnamon sugar pretzel was tainted by the taste of blood. Perhaps I should have gone with an original pretzel. The blood probably would have complemented a salty, buttery snack a bit better than it did my sweet and sugary one.
One night I was at the mall with a friend and we found ourselves standing in front of Auntie Anne's just as they were closing up. We perused the pretzels, pretzel sticks, pretzel bites, and other pretzel shapes behind the counter. My friend asked the girl behind the counter what was to become of these freshly baked treats in the coming minutes after closing time. We learned that they were to be thrown away. My friend, a business major, began to haggle. As we were clearly the last customers of the night, would it be cool if we just "took the pretzels off your hands?" he asked. She laughed along, but wasn't biting, saying it was against company policy to give food away. I was fine with this, but my friend wasn't done. "What if we were to meet you outside by the dumpster?" he asked. "You could even place the trash bag neatly on top of the dumpster, and we could take it out ourselves." I'm not even sure if he was being serious. Regardless, the employee still said no, and told us how they just dump all the remaining pretzels into the same trash that they use for the rest of their garbage. In a last ditch effort, my friend inquired about getting some sort of discount. The girl maintained that she couldn't give us one, but looked like she really did want to. She was either a model employee putting company policy before her own morals or just a really good actress. My friend had enough class not to keep going, and we decided to split a large thing of pretzel bites, full price and all.
As we walked away from Auntie Anne's, the girl behind the counter went right ahead and dumped everything into the trash. She wasn't bluffing. It pained me to see all that food just go to waste even more than it had pained me to bite right through my tongue a few years prior. Most bakeries I've been too, even the chains, are far more flexible when it comes to end-of-the-day sales. The local Dunkin' Donuts routinely sells stuff away at less than 50% after the sun goes down, and I've heard that places like Panera and Starbucks do the same. One Panera even donates all of the previous night's unsold bagels to a nearby soup kitchen every morning. After all, day old bagels beat nothing. They beat nothing by a lot.
I was brought up to abhor wasting food. "Cleaning" one's plate, vegetables and all, was always required by my parents in order to earn dessert. Somehow, this parental policy - finish everything you eat - manifested later on in life as a personal moral. I have no doubts that my aversion to throwing away more than a few scraps of food has led me to pack on some extra weight over the past few years, and its a habit I'm trying to get rid of. Still, I always feel a little bit of guilt when I throw away anything more than a pizza crust or the remnants of a taco or sandwich. After all, there are starving people in Africa, no matter how many Delia's shirts think otherwise. There are even starving people right here in America. Yet, right here in America, the local Auntie Anne's throws dozens of pretzels away every night. With over 300 locations nationwide, that's millions a year. The federal government, in order to subsidize farmers, buys surplus corn and burns it. Americans may be pretty good eaters, but we're even better wasters. It sucked that my friend and I had to pay full price for some snacks that were about to be discarded, but the true shame was that all of that food had been discarded at all.
Especially when the foodstuffs in question were the best pretzels on Earth.