Plenty of foods come surrounded by urban legends. Hot dogs and genetically-modified organisms, for instance, come with a cadre of rumors — some true, some patently false. But if a recent segment on “This American Life” is to be believed, it may be time to add calamari to the list.
The popular radio show’s Jan. 11 episode focuses on doppelgangers — people and things that appear extremely similar on the surface but are actually totally different.
Among the doppelgangers? Calamari’s modest cousin, “imitation calamari.”
Though it has a shape and texture similar to the real thing, its component parts are decidedly different. While calamari comes from squid, the replica is supposedly made of hog rectum, otherwise known as “bung.”
The irony is not lost on Ben Calhoun, one of the show’s producers, and ring-leader of the segment, who notes:
In restaurants everywhere, right this second, people are squeezing lemon wedges over crispy, golden, rings, dipping the rings into marinara sauce, and they’re eating hog rectum. Now they’re chewing — satisfied and deeply clueless. It’s payback for our blissful ignorance about where our food comes from and how it gets to us.
Mark Wheeler, a spokesman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) — the department tasked with ensuring the correct labeling and packaging of our nation’s meat products.
However, Wheeler did note that pig intestines are edible and are more commonly referred to as “pork chitterlings,” a product the USDA notes has a “pungent odor” when boiled and a texture similar to (you guessed it) calamari.
What’s more, Steve Haruch, a journalist for the Nashville Scene, claims to have chowed down on pork bung and concluded, “prepared the right way, it could pass for calamari.”
So is hog rectum getting passed off as calamari at restaurants across the United States? It’s unlikely (not to mention illegal), but there really isn’t any proof one way or another. Thankfully, “This American Life” didn’t uncover any anecdotes of bung-based bait-and-switch practices in America’s restaurants.
That said, a disconcerting report from Oceana, an ocean conservation watchdog, notes that seafood fraud occurs at shocking levels in major metropolitan areas, including Boston (48 percent), Los Angeles (55 percent), Miami (31 percent), and New York City (39 percent).