Top 5 restaurant myths

We've all heard them.  Those urban legends that snake their way across the world, lodging in your horrified imagination via your co-worker whose sister knows a guy who swears that this happened to his girlfriend's cousin last week.  And now, suddenly, true or not, you find you'll never be able to eat a fast-food burger again without first taking a suspicious look under the bun.  In the dark days before Google, Snopes, and online fact checking, humanity was doomed to live with these withering uncertainties.  But now, thankfully, the Hot Dish is here to disabuse you of some of your more misguided, horrific, and just plain inaccurate notions.

5. "Arby's" is a clever play on the initials R.B., which stands for "roast beef." This one is pretty innocuous as restaurant myths go. The only real purpose it serves is to give Arby's employees a reason to feel smug and superior when clueless customers wander in asking why there are no burgers on the menu. "Heh. Don't those morons know that Arby's, like, means 'roast beef'?" Sorry, smarty-pants, it's just not so. While Arby's is in fact a play on the initials R.B., those initials stand for "Raffel Brothers," Leroy and Forrest Raffel, who founded the festively sombreroed chain. The more you know...

4. Chinese restaurants in the U.S. use cat and dog meat in their food. This little gem comes in as the oldest fib on the list, dating as far back as 1850 in the U.S., and further than that across the Atlantic. With roots in xenophobia, ignorance, wild imaginations, and (dare we say) jealousy, this particular myth has actually caused damage to many establishments' bottom line, including one Chinese restaurant in Burlington, Canada, that lost 30 percent of its revenue in 1991 to a persistent rumor that it was serving cat meat. It was patently untrue, but then, wars have been started on less evidence. And as this insightful commenter on Yahoo Answers observed, "Think of all the work to catch the cat.... Why bother?" Indeed.

3. McDonald's uses worm meat in its burgers. Heaven knows where and why this one gained traction, but it did. It seems the collective memory was implanted at some point with the image of the McDonald's CEO going on CBS and admitting that yes, the company did in fact use worm meat in its burgers. The movie Inception hadn't even been conceived yet, and there it was, happening on a cultural scale in 1978. No such admission ever happened, of course, because the whole idea was absurd. It's hard to imagine worm meat tasting remotely similar to beef, and then there's the fact that it costs four times as much per pound.

2. KFC is not allowed to use the word "chicken" because it uses meat from genetic mutants that can no longer be legally classified as chickens. Look, we kind of wanted to believe this one too. It gives credence to all those deep misgivings we have about genetically modified food, multinational corporations, and mysterious acronyms. But there's enough real scary information out there on which to base our alarm without resorting to easily debunked nonsense. Yes, genetic modifications have resulted in many a chicken with unusually large breasts, but then L.A. has done the same for members of our own species. One visit to KFC's website will show even the most ardent skeptic that the company does indeed use the word "chicken" with abandon. Now, what IHOP is up to with their "pancakes" is anyone's guess...

1. Diners contract STDs from "Special Sauce." Can anyone hear the term "special sauce" anymore without giggling and/or gagging? Our number one restaurant myth is so horrifying and ridiculous it defies belief, which is reasonable, as it is 100% untrue. That said, it is also perhaps the most pervasive in all its many forms. Bodily fluids are said to have turned up in everything from fast-food sauces to Olive Garden dishes to doughnuts to Indian curries. The victim in the stories is almost always a female, and the number of different men contributing their specialness to the sauce is always specified, with the most common number being 7. We leave it to you to uncover the morbid societal fascination with ingesting strangers' diseases with your food. As for us, we're going to go enjoy a nice Alfredo sauce. And then gargle. Vigorously.

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