A recent episode of This American Life explored the theme of Doppelgangers, and by far the most sensational segment hinged on a report that pig rectum was being sold as imitation calamari. A reporter for the show, Ben Calhoun, got a tip about a farmer "with some standing in the pork industry" who is in charge of "a pork producing operation that spans several states." One fine day this farmer was visiting a pork processing plant in Oklahoma, and noticed boxes stacked on the floor labeled "artificial calamari." Asked what that meant, the plant's manager, his friend, replied, "Bung. It's hog rectum." For clarity, Calhoun adds, "Rectum that would be sliced into rings, deep fried, and boom, there you have it."
Mmmmm, rectum. "It's payback for our blissful ignorance about where our food comes from," Calhoun theorizes, and in the course of his fascinating report, he spoke with the farmer, who confirmed the story but declined to go on record about the incident—because his girlfriend warned him about his name being linked to pig rectum in Google searches. Smart man. But the plant's manager, Ron Meek, did agree to speak on record. He claimed he never personally saw the label "artificial calamari" but that's what he was told by the people he worked for. And in an interview, his bosses backed the assertion that pig rectum was being sold for use as imitation calamari. They just couldn't say where.
Bung, by the way, is the industry term for the product, which This American Life describes in nauseating detail. But if you eat sausages, you shouldn't be too grossed out, because chances are you've enjoyed bung, among other things, on more than one occasion. As for the calamari question, the plant manager wouldn't say what happened to the bung once it got out the door—they ship a lot of it to Asia. Obviously it would be illegal in America to serve pork rectum and call it calamari, and the USDA says they've never heard of anyone trying to pass pork bung as squid.
But there's all sorts of shady things that go on with seafood, as we've learned again and again. And it's worth noting that "cleaned hog bung" goes for half the price of squid. One food industry attorney tells This American Life, "The regulation we have is not designed to catch an offense like this. It's aimed mostly at sanitation and food safety. If someone wanted to do it, chances are they'd get away with it."
In the end, Calboun was unable to find anyone who would admit to any knowledge of pork rectum being passed off as calamari, but many people in the restaurant industry told him, essentially, anything's possible. After listening to the whole segment, which we highly recommend, we're desperately trying to forget the last time we had calamari. And moving forward, we have a hunch our disgust for pig rectum is going to override our desire for calamari. But be sure to listen all the way to the end, because Calhoun goes all the way with this thing—"eating our way to the truth"—to see if rectum can indeed pass the calamari taste test. On second thought, maybe you really don't want to know.