Someone made off with 5.5 tons of Nutella and I know whodunit

You’ve heard by now that thieves stole 11,000 pounds of Nutella from a trailer in Germany yesterday. The total value of the haul is estimated at $20,000, so one is forced to imagine the thieves would be lucky to break even after accounting for the cost of shipping, storing, and unloading their loot on the black market.

Which begs the obvious question: why would anyone do this? Aside, of course, for an intense love of chocolate hazelnut spread?

You might think the obvious solution is to ask the people who did it, but unsurprisingly — unlike terrorists — the thieves don’t seem to be in much of a rush to step forward and claim responsibility. But I have my suspicions.

I always have my suspicions.

The clue that helped me unravel the mystery is buried in the location of the heist. The robbery took place in the German town of Bad Hersfeld. Having spent some time in Germany two summers ago, that sounded like a perfectly plausible pair of German words, but I found myself wondering what they meant.

And I don’t just mean in the sense of their plain meaning as words one might translate from German to English — I mean their broader significance. The straight translation was in fact quite easy to come by, thanks to my expertise in German (and some help from Google). “Bad”, I already knew, means bath. But to translate “Hersfeld”, I turned to Google Translate.

And as it turns out, Google Translate isn’t always all that helpful. “Hersfeld” was translated into English as “Hersfeld”. So I next tried breaking the word up into pieces. “Feld”, I also knew, means field. But “Hers”? Google Translate translated it into English as “Hers”.

Which left me with one inescapable conclusion: the word in German is the same as the word in English. Hers simply means, as it does in English, “something belonging to her”.

But why “hers”? Why not “his”? What in the name of gendered possessive pronouns is going on here?

And that’s when it hit me: the culprit has been hiding in plain site all along. She’s got a history of Nutella-filching, and she’s basically synonymous with gendered possessive pronouns.

I refer, of course, to the Barnard student body, which made headlines about a month ago when news broke that after Columbia introduced Nutella in one of its dining halls, students were going through 100 pounds of the stuff today — a pace some speculated would cost the University $250,000 a year.

Sure, the story turned out to be somewhat less than entirely accurate. Less than a day later, Columbia released a statement claiming that “the ongoing weekly cost of Nutella supply is actually less than one-tenth the purported amount originally reported on a student blog and quickly picked up by other media.”

But was the cost “less than one-tenth” because Columbia students were actually going through less Nutella than originally thought? Or perhaps the abrupt reduction in costs can be attributed to an ingenious scheme [Update, 10PM: as suggested by Slate (sort of)] to defray costs by “importing” a fresh supply from Germany?

As Exhibit A, I submit that the statement didn’t actually say people had stopped “filling cups with Nutella in one dining hall and taking “full jars” from another” — simply that “the actual cost was only about $2,500, and quickly went down to $450 per week.” So it really is just the cost.

I think we have our answer.


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