I just finished reading this book called Real Food / Fake Food. Even though much of the book covers non-vegan food, I still found it completely eye-opening and recommend it to everyone in North America who is at all concerned about what they’re eating.
Each chapter is dedicated to one type of food that is commonly “faked”: olive oil, truffle oil, Champagne, wine, coffee, tea, honey, cheese, beef, and fish. Faking a food could mean cutting it with cheaper ingredients (eg. mixing high fructose corn syrup in with honey) or completely substituting the item with something else, because it’s difficult to tell the difference (eg. adding random weeds into tea leaves or oregano).
I didn’t really think much about the business of food until I realized how big your profit margins will be if you sell someone an expensive bottle of “truffle oil” that’s actually just olive oil with flavorings. In some cases, the stuff it’s replaced with is actually a health danger.
Danger and inflated prices aside, some people may not care that the Champagne they’re drinking is not authentic, because it tastes fine. The author argues that selling a lower-quality fake food product tarnishes the reputation of the real thing. It also discounts generations of families who have dedicated their lives to perfecting the creation of Champagne (or whatever), and all the quality assurance effort of the governing organizations.
Some fascinating things I learned:
- In Europe, many foods have VERY strict rules around what can be in them, how they must be produced, and where they can come from. These foods also have certifications by different European organizations.
- Certain types of fish served even at fancy restaurants have high rates of being fraudulent. In some cases, they are even replaced with a cheaper type of fish that causes health problems.
- Truffle oil is overrated and almost never real. It’s usually another type of oil mixed with a chemical compound that resembles truffles.
- The concept of terroir, which describes the combination of a specific climate, ecosystem, landscape, etc. of a place on Earth that allows it to produce the best of some type of food.
- Champagne apparently tastes best with fried, salty food, like french fries (I have to try this sometime).
The takeaways from the book on how to avoid fake food are to:
a. read the ingredients when buying food at the grocery store, and
b. cook more, so you know what is really in your food
After reading this, I’m starting to look more closely at labels on food. Today, I was buying tomato sauce at the grocery store, and I checked all the cans to see if there was one from Italy, not because I’m suspicious of American tomato sauce, I just wanted to try one that’s been made with many strict rules and regulations around quality, to see if it is any better.
I did find one brand (this one), and the cans were sitting on the very bottom shelf at Whole Foods. It had two seals of approval, indicating that these tomatoes did come from Italy and were made using traditional methods.
I haven’t tried the sauce yet but I’m hoping it’ll be good.