Fred Armisen, of SNL and Portlandia fame, was recently announced as a 2014 James Beard award winner. It seems that way back on Jan. 11, 2013, the podcast This American Life had Armisen on board as a guest host (because he does an impression of Ira Glass) and that episode entitled Doppelgängers included a segment (heh) by Ben Calhoun that theorized about pork bung being used as “imitation calamari.”
Listen here: This American Life – Doppelgängers
I know! You people are supposed to bring things like this to my attention. Stop sitting down on the job. (Heh.)
Sadly, the podcast ultimately wasn’t able to prove that this sort of switcheroo has actually happened. The piece pretty much relegates the idea to an urban food legend. But it did quite convincingly prove that it is possible. They threw some real calamari and some bung in the deep frier and did some blind taste tests and some of their tasters picked the decoy as the real McCoy.
Even though they didn’t find their smoking gun (heh) there were a few juicy facts they uncovered along the way:
- “Bung” is the food industry term for the rectum and large intestine of a pig.
- Bung is already routinely used as an ingredient in other foods we eat, like sausages and liverwurst.
- Over 50 percent of seafood tested in Los Angeles restaurants was not from the advertised species.
So, to embrace my positive side, I’m here to tell you that yes, indeed, “Anything is possible.”
Whether or not “imitation calamari” is really a think, I postulate two axiomatic truths: Business commits fraud and the food industry doesn’t want certain realities to be generally known. When things get dicey and unpalatable, at least to the brains of the modern American food eater, the industry prefers a certain amount of “food distancing.” In many ways they take the approach, “The less you know, the better.”
Think about it. When’s the last time you picked up a sausage emblazoned with “Now with more bung!” on the label? Not gonna happen. Rightly or wrongly, some might argue, our food hangups can affect the market and their bottom line.
Not everyone thought the podcast was good clean fun. Some had a real beef (heh) with it and became rather testy (heh). Some argued that the story could hurt the real calamari industry. One guy from a seafood producers association called the piece “irresponsible” and that it could harm “fishermen and consumers.”
Sometimes the truth comes with a price. That doesn’t mean we should shy away from it. And the truth is, if stuff like this hadn’t been pulled on us innumerable times in the past, we probably wouldn’t even have thought to ask the question.
Food is going to be an increasingly looming issue as limits of various systems on this planet get tested. Some have suggested that humanity will soon be forced to dine on insects for our very survival. That may be true. All I’m saying it that we should keep our eyes open. Anything else is just a bunch of bung.