A customer who picks up some fried chicken from a fast food outlet discovers that an unusual-tasting piece is actually a batter-fried rat.
[Collected by Fine, 1976]
An old lady ordered out for Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was eating along when she noticed teeth; she pulled back the crust and discovered she was eating a rat. She had a heart attack and died, and her relatives sued Kentucky Fried Chicken for a lot of money.
[Collected by Fine, 1977]
There was a wife who didn't have anything ready for supper for her husband. So she quick got a basket of chicken and tried to make her dinner look fancy with the pre-pared chicken. Thus, she fixed a candle-light dinner, etc. When her and her husband started eating the chicken, they thought it tasted funny. Soon to find out it was a fried rat.
- The name of the fast food outlet varies, but it is nearly always Kentucky Fried Chicken.
- In most versions the chicken is consumed in a dark place (e.g., a car, a theater, a darkened room).
- How the rat came to be mixed in with the chicken is usually not explained, although it is sometimes attributed to unsanitary conditions or employee sabotage.
- A few variants involve other animals, such as a mouse or a cat (the latter in the sabotage versions).
- The victims who eat the rats are most frequently female, less often male, and occasionally both members of a couple.
- The rat ingester becomes ill, sometimes requiring hospitalization; in some versions she develops psychological problems (such as giving up eating [solid food] for good) or even dies (from poison in the rat).
- The legend often ends with the mention of a lawsuit, which is either pending or has already been decided in favor of the plaintiffs (with their having a won a very large award).
Some elements of this legend
are easy to explain. Within the context of fast food restaurants, the offending eatery has to be a fried chicken outlet in order for the rat to be suitably disguised as a piece of food. Once the restaurant is established as one that serves fast-food chicken, it becomes Kentucky Fried Chicken because, as folklorist Gary Alan Fine writes, "The frequency of attachment of an urban legend to the largest company or corporation is so common as to be considered a law of urban folklore." (These days, however, many KFC outlets receive their chicken pieces pre-battered, and thus one of them could not "accidentally" batter and fry a rat.) The choice of a rat as a contaminant is easy: rats have
turned up in food products before; they're the right size and shape to be mistaken for pieces of chicken (especially when fried in batter); and rats are vermin, symbols of filth and decay. The fact that the rat-chicken is usually eaten in the dark is a plot device to prevent premature discovery of the "secret," although some might consider it an important symbolic aspect of the legend.
So, what does this legend have to say? As our society becomes more urbanized (and frenetic), we become less and less involved with the preparation of our own food, frequently dining out instead of eating at home, scarfing a quick meal rather than enjoying a leisurely one, and leaving the food preparation entirely in the hands of others. And these others are not local restaurateurs we know well, but anonymous corporate fast food franchisees and their faceless employees. The combination of our guilt at abdicating this responsibility and our mistrust of corporations is expressed as fear that fast food entities who don't care about us will serve us tainted food prepared under unsanitary conditions, due to carelessness, laziness, or sheer malice. Women are most often the victim in this legend probably because they are considered more vulnerable than men, but perhaps also because this tale reinforces the notion that women have abdicated their traditional role as the family's meal preparers (with tragic results). The ultimate in impersonal endings occurs when the victims file a lawsuit against the restaurant. A personal apology or settlement is no longer feasible: the impersonal corporate franchise must be battled in the equally impersonal civil court system.
Chicken Head Update:
From the "You Deserve a Beak Today" category,
on 28 November
2000, a breaded deep-fried chicken head was found in a box of chicken wings purchased at a McDonald's in Newport News, Virginia. Katherine Ortega says she discovered the McNoggin while divvying up the wings at home for her family of four. (Fried chicken wings were being test-marketed in that area.)
On 30 November 2000, the Ortegas announced they had hired a lawyer and were contemplating a lawsuit against McDonald's. Legal experts don't think the family would win an award much higher than a couple of thousand dollars because no one ate the piece or was physically harmed by it. (Even in our litigious society, harm has to be demonstrated, and it's not enough just to claim "I was grossed out by this" to gain the big bucks. A small award to compensate for the shock of the discovery might not be out of order,
Katherine Ortega has posed for a number of photos of her holding the chicken head, which may work against her if she tries to seek compensatory damages for psychological harm arising out of the incident. A jury will have a difficult time believing she is now nauseated by chicken or has difficulty sleeping after being presented with photographic evidence of her repeatedly and voluntarily handling the offensive item.
Those who have taken the photographs note the fried batter on the item looks to be the same as on the chicken wings. The McNoggin, however, has yet to be examined by experts. John E.
Smith, owner of the McDonald's in question and two others, states "My ability to conduct a thorough investigation has been delayed because I have not been given an opportunity to examine the object in question. Although I have made several requests to see this object, the customer refuses to give me that opportunity."
An enforcement officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is looking into the case is at a loss to explain how the head ended up in Ortega's order of wings. The first thing that happens in the processing of live chickens into poultry parts is their beheading, with the heads immediately being discarded. The carcasses then go on to the next stage (which is being dropped into the boiling water to de-feather
them). Though the process is mostly mechanized, a plant operator helps with evisceration (the removal of the bird's internal organs) and an on-site
USDA inspector is supposed to check each and every chicken. How both could have missed a chicken head going through is a mystery.
At this point, not enough is known to determine if anyone is trying to hoax anyone else, if a poultry plant worker or McDonald's employee thought he'd have himself an innocent bit of fun, or if something went severely wrong with the food processing procedures at the plant and thus a McNoggining could happen again. Further information will be provided as soon as it is available.
Fried Mouse Update:
September 2003, Tony Hill, a pastor in Baltimore, claims he bit into a batter-fried mouse at a Popeye's in that town. Various news media outlets have reported Popeye's, a popular chain of chicken eateries, has refused comment, but the city health commissioner has stated that particular outlet has had rodent infestation problems before and has been closed two other times for infestation or unsanitary conditions.
The matter is under investigation, and Mr. Hill has said he has engaged the services of a lawyer.
25 January 2007
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- Ahrens, Frank. "Chicken McNoggin; Hold the Fries."
- The Washington Post. 1 December 2000 (p. C1).
- Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good To Be True.
- New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 177-179).
- Brunvand, Jan Harold.
The Vanishing Hitchhiker.
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- WBFF/WNUV Baltimore. 25 September 2003.
- de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip.
- Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (pp. 132 & 135).
- Dujardin, Peter. "Chicken Head Is the Talk of the Town."
- Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. 2
- Dujardin, Peter. "USDA Officer Says He Can't Explain Fried Chicken Head."
- Hampton Roads Daily Press. 2 December 2000.
- Fine, Gary Alan. Manufacturing Tales.
- Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee, 1992. ISBN 0-87049-755-3 (pp. 120-137).
- Morgan, Hal and Kerry Tucker. Rumor!
- New York: Penguin Books, 1984. ISBN 0-14-007036-2 (pp. 52-53).
- Smith, Paul. The Book of Nasty Legends.
- London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. ISBN 0-00-636856-5 (p. 53).
- The Associated Press. "Chicken Head Allegedly Found in McDonald's Order."
- 30 November 2000.
- The Associated Press. "Man Says He Got Mouse with Fried Chicken."
- 26 September 2003.
- Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. "Fried Chicken Head Frightens Newport News Family."
- 1 December 2000.
Also told in:
- Cohen, Daniel. Southern Fried Rat and Other Gruesome Tales.
- New York: M. Evans & Co., 1983. ISBN 0-87131-400-2 (pp. 9-12).
- Fiery, Ann. The Complete and Totally True Book of Urban Legends.
- Philadelphia: Running Press Books, 2001. ISBN 0-7624-107404 (p. 43).
- Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill. Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.
- London: Virgin Books, 1996. ISBN 0-86369-969-3 (p. 83).
The Big Book of Urban Legends.
- New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (p. 46).