The World's Most Batshit Food and Drink Conspiracy Theories

Food conspiracy theories
Oren Aks/Thrillist
Oren Aks/Thrillist

If you thought juicy, batshit conspiracy theories were limited to acts of war, mid-'90s Mel Gibson vehicles, and Beyonce-Z's marriage... you clearly haven't been exposed to enough weird corners of the internet: even what we eat and drink is suspect to bonkers legends and (sometimes) incredibly distressing truths.

There's no mention of Illuminati here (though some would argue the all-encompassing Illuminati is everywhere, I guess), but there are mutant chickens, corporate burrito sabotage, and an assortment of wacky, tinfoil hat-worthy notions that might make you question the sanity of our nation. 

You don't have to listen to this while you read... but yeah, you kind of do.  

Water with running faucet

The government controls us with water fluoridation

The well runs deep on this water-based conspiracy. When the US government introduced fluoride to a portion of America's public water supplies (to improve teeth health) in the early 1940s, the conspiracies started to fly like poorly filmed UFO's over trailer parks. In a twist straight out of Dr. Strangelove, some skeptics claimed fluoridation was a Communist plot to infiltrate our precious bodily fluids and control our minds. And speculation only got worse as the Cold War progressed -- as did clothing choices, incidentally. 

Now, factions of dissenters with semi-slick websites are still arguing that it is a worldwide toxicity risk, perpetrated by our very government for variously shady reasons, like purposely damaging parts of our brains to make Americans less intelligent and more docile. Others simply object because it is, in essence, mass medication that one cannot opt out of easily. And the ethics of mass medication (even for healthful reasons) can be debated just as much as how helpful or harmful fluoride really is. At least nine out of 10 dentists just agree that it helps prevent cavities, though.

Truth-o-Meter: I probably wouldn't worry about it, weirdo.

click to play video

"New Coke" was a marketing stunt to reignite interest in Coca-Cola

Marketers are known to pull some suspect stunts in order to garner attention and build hype. For example, some say Calvin Harris and Taylor Swift's feud is all media manipulation to promote all partiesMaybe they are right. But in this case, Coca-Cola introduced its "new formula" in April of 1985, and the public pretty much hated it. When the cola gargantuan readily switched back to its old formula (to much fanfare), some cynics claimed the plan was to dupe the public with a faulty new product all along -- just to get people interested in the old cola once again.

Even for a company as big as Coke, it would be too much of a risk to develop, manufacture, and promote a new product simply to get people pissed off, then bank on them returning to an existing product. Ex-Coke President Donald Keough countered the queries, saying, "We're not that dumb, and we're not that smart." Sounds about right. 

Truth-o-Meter: Almost definitely not true

Tim Horton's Coffee

Tim Hortons' coffee is super addictive because it's laced with nicotine

Canada's more polite answer to Dunkin' is apparently so damn addictive that health-conscious Canucks speculated that the Great North's coffee giant spiked its brew with nicotine. And thus, one of Canada's most enduring urban legends was born.

The rumor hit such a fever pitch, that it's actually addressed on Tim Hortons' official website -- making sure the public knows the coffee chain named after the eponymous NHL stud is not actually dosing its loyal customers, eh.

Canada might run on Hortons, but it doesn't run on nicotine. Oh wait, yes it does -- they just smoke and chew their nicotine (the old-fashioned way!), rather than drink it.

Truth-O-Meter: Not true, surrey

Two chickens standing on a farm

Fast-food restaurants grow mutant chickens

This is a food conspiracy so prevalent, many people just assume it's true. Here's the gist: fast-food mega-chains are genetically splicing chickens to create Franken-animals optimal for mass production. Meaning, they might be making chickens without heads, feathers, or feet, with extra breasts and wings. It's gross. While it may seem like a cheap fanfiction rip on Aldous Huxley, it's not without precedent. Genetic engineering, factory farming, and overall widespread global madness have created a climate where literally anything is possible. Even genetically modified poultry. 

Fast-food spots like KFC have gone out of their way to disprove these claims, and in all honesty, unless this is a conspiracy that also involves highly elevated government collusion (which, I mean... is possible), it's hard to imagine the FDA not cracking down on this -- not to mention the lack of pushback from legions of animal-rights activists, who tend to be pretty intense about these things.

That being said, there's never really been any concrete evidence, either way.

Truth-O-Meter: Probably and hopefully not true

Flickr/Mike Mozart

Chipotle's E. coli outbreak was the result of corporate sabotage

In 2016, fast-casual burrito enthusiasts were left reeling when a string of E. Coli outbreaks were recorded at Chipotle outposts across the nation. Eventually, the bacteria tapered off. Inevitably, the conspiracy theories rolled in.

There's an absurd amount of ground to cover, but the conspiracy fodder basically consists of GMO mega-corporations (the "bio-tech mafia") purposefully infiltrating and lacing Chipotle's meat with the bacteria in an attempt to bring the the carnitas-slinger` down from the inside. Chipotle is one of the most outspoken opponents of GMOs, so it makes sense for it to be a primary target. Well, if any of this stuff even makes sense in the first place. 

A spokesperson from Chipotle politely but curtly delivered this statement to Thrillist: "We have seen some of those conspiracy theories, but haven’t seen any evidence to support them."

Truth-O-Meter: It's not impossible, but it's also not very likely

sugar cubes in a pile

The government is hiding how tremendously unhealthy processed sugar is for the sake of lobbyists

If you've ever visited the dentist or caught a promo for The Biggest Loser, you know sugar -- or at least the kind we eat -- isn't that great for you. This is no batshit urban legend. What is a theory (and aptly referred to as the "sugar conspiracy") is that sugar might be even worse for our bodies than most people know about, and its true effects are being covered up by the government. Zoinks!

The claims trace their source back to an Australian scientist and professor of nutrition John Yudkin. In his 1972 book, Pure White and DeadlyYudkin states, "If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive, that material would promptly be banned," and essentially claims that sugar -- not fat -- is the prime driver behind obesity and associated ailments like diabetes and heart disease.

At this point, the story basically delves into a familiar narrative: sugar is kept (relatively) alive and well by lobbyists and bankrolled corporations, making sure the public at large doesn't catch a gander of sugar's true dangers -- and ensures that processed sugar remain in the majority of mass-consumed foods.

In a sign that these conspirators may actually be on to something, the US government has cracked down on sugar over the past year. And a wave of recent books/authors have picked up where Yudkin left off. It's no coincidence no-sugar diets have been on the rise. Which really sucks because Fun Dip is delicious, if not potentially deadly.

Truth-O-Meter: There's a very good chance this is true. Yeah.

Kobe beef on a wood plate

Kobe beef doesn't exist in America

So, "doesn't exist" is a little hyperbolic, but it is probable that you've never had Kobe beef before, even if you've ordered it. Out of the thousands of restaurants that claim to serve up Kobe, only three in the United States are actually certified to serve real Kobe beef (which must come from wagyu cattle, raised in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture), and the rest are straight-up lyin'. 

There have been whispers of the farce for decades, but the lid was blown off the beef by a 2012 Forbes piece by journalist Larry Olmsted. According to Olmsted's recently released book, Real Food/Fake Food, only three stateside restaurants are actually certified to sell the Japanese uber-beef: 212 Steakhouse in New York City, the Wynn Las Vegas, and Hawaii's Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa. So, when you see it pop up on a menu anywhere else, it's mislabeled as an attempt to cash in on the overwhelming demand for Kobe -- which has become a foodie buzzword of sorts over the past couple decades. The honest truth is this: Kobe is not a bargain meat, it doesn't come on the bone, and it's definitely not in your Kobe beef burger. 

The beef you are eating still might be good, but it ain't Kobe, baby. And you're probably paying too much for it.

Truth-O-Meter: Mostly true! Excluding those three listed restaurants, it's not a conspiracy at all.  

Fun swiss fondue party

Fondue's popularity in the '70s was a lie. A big, fat, Swiss lie!

Fondue -- like turtlenecks and key parties (ask your parents) -- hit peak popularity in the mid-'70s, and even though chain restaurants like The Melting Pot keep the shared-cheesy spirit alive in modern America, it's hard to grasp just how hip fondue parties were unless you lived through the disco years. The brutal truth? Fondue is, at its sticky heart, a marketing machine doctored by a vastly influential group of cheesemakers from Switzerland. Welcome, to the real world (of cheese collusion).

Have you ever heard of the Swiss Cheese Union? It's not an uninspired, cheese-centric hip-hop collective, it's a legion of cheesemakers who banded together shortly after WWI, when cheese consumption was at an all-time low, to fix prices, reduce supply, limit the types of cheeses that were legal to make, and strong-arm any smaller operations to either acquiesce or get the hell out of the cheese business in mafia-esque fashion. Basically, they made Swiss cheese great again. 

In combination with deep-seated levels of government collaboration, and an orchestrated marketing push that made fondue seem like the hottest thing for swingers since the advent of the water bed, fondue became a worldwide sensation.

And no, I'm not fucking with you.  

Truth-O-Meter: Definitely true, and well documented

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He's half GMO and he feels fine. Follow him: @wilfulton.