The strange persistent existence of food-based urban legends and a generational claim issue

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Summary: Urban legends have thrived on the Internet, though it might be debatable what sort of actual impact the 'net has had upon them: while they are easier to spread, they are also easier to fact check. Reading about the apparent resurgence of a certain chicken-fried myth, a particular line makes me want to muse slightly.

BLOT: (19 Jan 2015 - 08:30:14 PM)

The strange persistent existence of food-based urban legends and a generational claim issue

In today's article from the Daily Offbeat, The Kentucky Fried Myth Of KFC Gets Battered, Tony Sokol writes, "A rumor hit the internet earlier this year claiming that KFC changed its name to KFC because the chain uses mutated chickens with extra limbs...". He then quotes a a Business Insider article that also talks about the myth. Both articles note that the myth has been around before, but both sort of lay a patina of contradictory newness at the same time. Urban legends, generally speaking, are both new and old at the same time: one generation's "man calling to see if anyone is home" becomes another's "man chatting with children to see if parent's are home" becomes another's "man is.." whatever. What's funny in this case is that not only is this one already hit once before—Snopes cites a 1999 email and the 2001 American Gods includes a reference to it—but it is patently the second most ridiculous food-based urban legend I know.*

While on the subject, here are some other Food based urban legends. Note the persistence of some of them. The actually true Apple-Seeds-Contain-Cyanide one shows up all the time [that video at least mentions that it takes a lot of apple seeds], and Pop Rocks + Coke has some new life in the combination of Mentos and Diet Coke. Old myths repackaged with some new labels.

I imagine there are reasons why these urban legends persist from generation to generation. For one, people who heard them years ago lose some degree of context and so resurface them, changing details, possibly inadvertently, to make them seem more reasonable based on a current-worldview. This ties into a certain generational claim, these persistent myths become our myths as we update them, truer for us than they have ever been before, and the fact that they keep changing details but keep the same rough structure implies that the general form of them that appeals to near-timeless rumor: companies doing bad things, healthy foods that aren't healthy, hidden dangers known to those with knowledge, crazy ideas that are just "too weird to be made up". Plus, urban legends tends to be popular and yet vague, so that while we all hear about the kid eating candy and drinking soda and dying from it, we never quite seem to hear the whole story and this might actually help it to resurface, for when we hear it again, it fits a pattern we heard...somewhere...before.

I quote a lot of Snopes in this article, but what's sort of fun is that Snopes has an article from it's "TROLL" section that claims that KFC really changed its name to avoid Kentucky litigation. Ah Snopes, you tricksters, you.

Just think, in 15 years, you will get to hear, again, how apple seeds contain cyanide. And how KFC is selling you mutant chickens, or maybe vat-meat. And how some candy+soda combination killed a kid somewhere. And some of those will be told as though they were brand new.

* The dumbest is the $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe, which requires people to believe a number of facts unrelated to how the real world works. Going along with the theme of this post, numerous versions of that have existed since at least 1948, for a variety of foods and reasons why someone would be forced to pay it.

On Conspiracies and Urban Legends


Written by Doug Bolden

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