This. Even if it's not true.
A friend told me the other day that she'd heard a horrifying report on public radio: You know those deep-fried, chewy rings of calamari? Sure. Well, they're sometimes served in imitation form, made from slices of a pig's rectum. Wait … what?! And so it happened second-hand, as these things almost always do: An urban legend hatched and spread its wings.
My friend had heard the story from radio producer Ben Calhoun, who put it in his segment for the Jan. 11 episode of This American Life. You should go listen: It's not an expose but a charming, funny paean to the hog bung. (More on that in a bit.) Calhoun doesn't really think that buttholes have surfed into our seafood—"If I had to bet money on whether it’s happening [in the U.S.], I would absolutely bet money that it’s not," he told me earlier this week—but his reporting in the piece 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.
Where did the legend of the backdoor calamari come from, and why has it only just emerged? The story started in the classic way, with an email from a stranger. Calhoun heard it from a fan of This American Life who wrote in to say that she had heard it from a guy who worked in pork production. When Calhoun followed up, the farmer told him that he'd learned about faux mollusk from a guy he knows who manages a meat-processing plant. That manager, for his part, told Calhoun that he was 95 percent sure the claim was true, though he admitted that he'd never seen the fakes himself—he only knew of them from the people that he worked for at the plant. And while no one at the plant had ever seen a rectum packaged as a squid, employees there confirmed that they had heard the story, too.
If you like calamari, feel free to read it all and reassure yourself.