Fake Food?

Get real: It may be time for an oil change—in your cupboard.


It’s bad enough people have to (or choose to) worry about gluten, carbs, preservatives, GMOs, soybeans, peanuts, poor farming practices and declining seafood supplies when they pick up a fork. Now we have to check if what we’re eating is actually what’s on the label.

Is that wine really Pinot Noir? Is that fish snapper, or tilapia? The extra-virgin, cold press, single grove olive oil you paid $25 for … is that green color from first harvest olives, or a liberal dollop of chlorophyll?

I suppose we have ourselves to blame for the rampant fraud found all over the world. Insatiable lust for the “foodie” life has made wine, fish, high-end steak, olive oil, honey and any number of other prestige foodstuffs an astounding lucrative business.

And where there is money, there is temptation. In February, the Piromalli, a powerful Italian Mafia clan, was found to be leading a scheme that chemically pulled oil out of spent olive pulp and labeled it as extra-virgin for sale to the U.S. And that’s just one example of a business that is so common it has been labeled “the agromafia.” According to a report in Forbes Magazine, 55% of the olive oil in the U.S. is fraudulent–either not olive oil at all or inferior product diluted with vegetable oil– and 69% of the “extra virgin” on our shelves failed simple chemical testing. Much of it is sold by very reputable sources, and it’s been going on for decades: In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union.

So what can you do? Check the North American Olive Oil Association site for a list of certified brands. I advise buying American: California Olive Ranch and Corto consistently test pure. Avoid Filippo Berio, Bertolli, Pompeian and Colavita unless they have International Olive Oil Council certification.   

Meanwhile, sushi is mislabeled, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is phony, black pepper is actually sawdust and dirt, honey from China is sugar water, premium ground coffee contains barley and twigs, and the only thing genuine about truffle oil is the word “truffle.” It might be time to grow your own food. 


Two guest collaborations bring chefs together in August:

  • Ferrell Alvarez, co-owner and chef of Tampa’s Rooster & the Till and 2017 James Beard Award nominee, joins Ravenous Pig chef Nick Sierputowski for a one-night collaborative dinner on Sunday, August 20. The four-course dinner is $65 per person (plus tax and gratuity) with an optional wine pairing menu. Tickets can be purchased by calling 407-628-2333.
  • John Rivers presents another of his very casual “Guest Chef” evenings on Wednesday, August 23, at The COOP, 610 W. Morse Blvd. in Winter Park. His guest is another 2017 James Beard nominee, local legend Brandon McGlamery, he of Prato, Luma on Park and Luke’s Kitchen and Bar. The event is free and open to the public.

Stay in touch with Joseph at joseph.hayes@orlandomagazine.com. You can access a comprehensive list of his reviews here!


Categories: Savor Orlando