Purchasing food requires a fair amount of trust on the part of the consumer. Whether it’s shopping at a grocery store, or going out to eat at a restaurant, Americans have come to expect that the food they want is the food they get—right down to the most minute details listed on menus and packaging.
But now, in a new book title Real Food Fake Food from the author Larry Olmsted, it’s become clear that quality control in the food industry is largely an illusion. A shockingly high number of dishes and ingredients—everything from beef, to fish, to oil, to cheese—are being misrepresented by producers in favor of profit margins.
And while the phenomenon of “fake foods” has long been an issue on the global scale, with Interpol seizing roughly 11,000 tons of counterfeit produce back in April, it’s difficult for Americans to fathom some of the scams acclaimed restaurants are pulling on a daily basis in areas like New York City.
“Sushi in particular is really bad,” Olmsted told the New York Post this week. “[Recent studies} put the chances of your getting the white tuna you ordered in the typical New York sushi restaurant at zero—as in never.”
Fish is indeed one of the main culprits, according to the Post. What sushi restaurants pass off as white tuna is often escolar—a “snake mackerel” also known as “the Ex-Lax fish,” due to the serious intestinal issues it can cause—and red snapper is almost always substituted with tilefish or tilapia.
While food safety issues often prey on the poor, fraudulent goods are especially prevalent in the upper echelons of society. Gourmet meats, liquors, and cheeses are “rife with scams,” Olmsted writes.
The olive oil business, in particular, appears to be rigged against consumers. Despite the racks of “extra-virgin” blends touted in supermarkets, most Americans have never tasted “real” olive oil.
“Once someone tries a real extra-virgin—an adult or child, anybody with taste buds—they’ll never go back to the fake kind,” Grazia DeCarlo, an artisanal farmer, told the Post. “It’s distinctive, complex, the freshest thing you’ve ever eaten. It makes you realize how rotten the other stuff is—literally rotten.”
Beyond olive oil and fish, Olmsted and the Post detail a laundry list of repeat offenders. Scallops are routinely soaked in chemicals, cheap cuts of Wagyu are passed off as $350 plates Kobe beef, “100% Parmesan” cheese may contains wood pulp, grass-fed cows are often drugged, and shrimp—well, don’t even get Olmsted started on shrimp.
“I won’t buy it, ever, if it is farmed or imported,” he writes. The Post notes that China often sneaks banned shrimp into the U.S. by shipping it through Indonesian first.
But while Olmsted’s findings are stomach-churning, he maintains that all is not hopeless.
"The good news is that there is plenty of healthful and delicious Real Food," he writes. "You just have to know where to look.”
[via New York Post]