Ever since she met thousands of her neighbors while running for local office a few years ago, Nina Jochnowitz said, she has been fielding complaints from fellow residents of Old Bridge, N.J., a suburban town about 30 miles northeast of Trenton. Typically, they call her hoping she can persuade the town to crack down on fireworks or ATVs or pick up trash left on their curbs.
But last week, a woman she had met during that unsuccessful campaign called her to report an entirely different problem, Ms. Jochnowitz said: “There’s a pile of pasta dumped on the side of the stream.”
A scientist by training, Ms. Jochnowitz said she jumped in her car to investigate. What she found, about 30 feet off the road and less than a mile from her house, confirmed that this was more than an overturned bowl of bucatini.
Someone had apparently dumped hundreds of pounds of spaghetti, macaroni and alphabet shapes in large piles by the side of a stream in a wooded area where, Ms. Jochnowitz said, people often dump construction materials, bed frames and furniture.
“There was literally 25 feet of pasta that had been dumped,” she said.
The scene resembled something out of “Strega Nona,” the classic children’s book by Tomie dePaola about a kindly “grandma witch” whose magically overflowing pot floods her little town in Italy with pasta.
Ms. Jochnowitz estimated that 300 to 500 pounds of pasta had been left to congeal in the woods. She documented the pasta with the camera on her phone, emailed a town official to report the find and posted the photos on Facebook.
Before long, the town was consumed with theories about who might have dumped the pasta and why, especially in a state known for its love of Italian food. Was it a caterer with a last-minute cancellation for a wedding? A restaurant cooking for a football team that never showed up?
In Old Bridge, “That’s all they’re talking about,” said Denise Bloom, an administrator of a local Facebook group, who called it the “Great Pasta-gate of 2023.” Some residents, she said, have been posting photos of a few noodles on the ground and calling their renditions an “impasta.”
When photos of the discarded pasta were shared on a Reddit discussion about all things New Jersey, it became fertile ground for puns and dad jokes. Someone commented: “We should send the perpetrators to the state penne tentiary.”
Anthony Esposito, the owner of Via Sposito, an Italian restaurant in Old Bridge that serves spaghetti, linguine, penne, tortellini and gnocchi, said that he could only speculate about where the pasta might have come from.
“Nothing from over here,” he said on Thursday. “I guess whoever did that is feeding the forest.”
To Ms. Jochnowitz, the pasta, previously reported by NJ Advance Media, was evidence of the lack of bulk-trash service in Old Bridge, which has about 67,000 residents. “It’s been a point of contention for many years,” she said.
In an email on Thursday with the subject line “Pasta Dumping,” Himanshu Shah, the town business administrator, said that after photos of the pasta circulated on Facebook last week, the Department of Public Works visited the site and found “what appeared to be 15 wheelbarrow loads of illegal dumped pasta along a creek in a residential neighborhood.”
The Police Department dispatched an officer, who took a report. Two Public Works employees then cleaned up the pasta “in under an hour, and properly disposed of it,” Mr. Shah said. It was not clear if a large fork had been used.
Although Ms. Jochnowitz said the pasta had been cooked, Mr. Shah said it was uncooked pasta that had been removed from its packaging and had softened amid several days of rain.
The Police Department is investigating the matter, Mr. Shah said. The department did not immediately respond to a phone call and an email on Thursday.
Ms. Jochnowitz said that she eventually learned who had dumped the pasta and that it was not a restaurant.
“I only know that it was not a business,” she said. “It was a private residence, and I’m in conversation with the family via an individual who knows the family.”
She declined to reveal more, saying she did not want the source of the pasta to be subjected to unwanted attention.
“I laugh now, but it’s a lot of pasta,” Ms. Jochnowitz said. “My hope is that whoever did it is not eating as many carbs as they cooked.”