From the dead rat found in a KFC meal to nicotine in Tim Horton’s coffee, urban food legends have plagued fast food restaurants for decades. Rumours ranging from eyeballs in McDonald’s milkshakes to the human finger in Wendy’s chili have been passed along, repeated as gospel, as something that happened to a “friend of a friend”. I heard the KFC rat rumor as a very young child, long before the days of the world wide web (yes, kids, there was time before internet). If such a story could reach the far east of Canada, then surely, it must be true!
Of course, it’s not just fast food that falls victim to urban legendizing. Origins: “tips” is an acronym for “to insure prompt service” (it isn’t), Melba toast is named for an opera singer (it is); cultural differences: Chinese raise St. Bernards for food (true), roast fetus is the latest craze in Taiwan (false), are all rife with rumour.
With the proliferation of social media, urban food legends can zap around the world almost instantly; google any such story and you can find information backing either side. That’s the disadvantage of the wired world, of course–anyone can write just about anything, with no source material to substantiate the information.
So is there a reliable way to test the veracity of urban food legends? Fortunately, yes. There are several sites that offer factual information to sate curiosity and resolve arguments, and my go-to favourite is Snopes. Snopes gives the background information, thoroughly investigated, and debunks and/or confirms (sometimes a bit of both)–and more than just food is covered. Next time you really need to know if Jell-O brand gelatin is really made from animal bones (it is), or chocolate milk has cow’s blood (it doesn’t), hop on over and check it out.