This American Life, a weekly public radio show that’s broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.8 million listeners, aired a program early this year about a meat plant selling pig intestines as fake calamari (squid).
Ben Calhoun, a reporter for the show, was tipped off by a farmer in charge of a multi-state pork producing operation who claimed he noticed boxes stacked on the floor at a pork processing plant in Oklahoma labeled “artificial calamari.”
When asked, the plant’s manager said it was “Bung” — hog rectum that Calhoun later assumed would be sliced into rings, and then deep fried as squid.
Chitterlings, the small intestines of a pig, are eaten all over the world. In America, chitterlings are an African American culinary tradition; FriendsEAT co-founder Blanca Valbuena points out that chitterlings are also consumed in Colombia and called chunchurria.
What may surprise some is that hog guts are also eaten in the form of liverwurst, capicola, summer sausage with a natural casing, brats and Italian sausages stuffed in intestine.
But what assuredly would surprise many is that in restaurants everywhere, people may be squeezing lemon wedges over what they believe to be calamari, which is in reality hog rectum.
Is it legal?
No. In fact, according to the USDA’s food-inspection service, “Products we inspect, including those derived from pork, must be accurately labeled and cannot purport to be a product of another species.”
But fish is regularly being mislabeled as other species. A recent study of seafood by Oceana found that all across the country fish is regularly being labeled as other species in restaurants and in grocery stores.
Labeling fraud of commercial seafood is rampant. As much as 20 to 25 percent of seafood is fraudulently labeled in North America and Europe.
And since approximately 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is now imported, rates of fraud in some species can run as high as 70 percent.
So this horrifying calamari fraud is entirely possible, because as FriendsEAT readers know, anything is possible in America’s corrupt food system.
Does Calhoun think there’s any truth to it?
“If I had to bet money on whether it’s happening I would absolutely bet money that it’s not,” he told Slate’s Daniel Engber.
Engber added: “But his [Calhoun's] reporting…did leave some tiny room for doubt, and that margin of uncertainty, the implied what if that was central to his piece, provides a blueprint for how a rumor gains the gloss of truth.”
And yet the farmer who confirmed the story declined to go on record at the behest of his girlfriend who warned him about his name being linked to pig rectum in Google searches.
And the plant manager wouldn’t say what happened to the bung (boxes of “artificial calamari”) once it got out the door.