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Do You Know What You Are Eating? Is It Real or Fake?

By Sandy Schroeder

It’s easy to be skeptical of the food in the marketplace as we hear about food-related illness and read about marketing  scams.  Now award-winning journalist Larry Olmsted zeroes in on our suspicions with his new book, Real Food, Fake Food.

According to Olmsted, we are frequently fooled. His book explores much of the “fake food” that he says the industry uses, like a used car lot practicing “bait and switch” tactics.

Olmsted says the expensive extra virgin olive oil you buy may be mixed with cheap soybean oil. The honey may include corn syrup. He advises checking labels.

His list of common “fake foods” reads like a summary of my grocery list, except for the Kobe beef. He says these popular foods provide great targets for scams.

  • Seafood
  • Kobe beef
  • Coffee
  • Honey
  • Orange juice
  • Wine
  • Rice
  • Cheese
  • Apple juice

Fish Story

Olmsted looks at the whole fish market and warns us about red snapper. Oceana, a nonprofit ocean preservation group, uses DNA to establish authenticity. They say customers only get real red snapper six percent of the time. The remainder is tilapia or tile fish.

I love fish, and always read the labels, buying “wild caught” from the most reputable markets that I can find. But, it is not comforting to be told 91 percent of the seafood that we eat in the U.S. is imported and current FDA law only requires two percent receive annual inspections. Olmsted says even that low number is not achieved with only half a percent being inspected annually!

Food Label Regulation

Olmsted says the abundance of “fake food” often stems from poor regulation on food labels, which becomes even more subversive, when terms like “natural” are used legally, but carry no real meaning. His book covers markets and restaurants to help us navigate the maze.

As the media spotlight on food inspections and research findings on impact have gained ground, we would be wise to support their efforts and demand better regulation whenever and wherever we can.

Olmsted outlines advice that you may already be following:

  • Read labels carefully.
  • Skip “natural flavors” and artificial colors.
  • Buy whole instead of processed food whenever you can.
  • Cook more to better control what you and your family eat.

Devoted foodies, concerned parents, and shoppers everywhere will probably welcome Olmsted’s efforts as they continue to shop carefully and call for better regulations.

Best advice: Hang in there and speak up. We all deserve to have safe, healthy choices in food become the norm.


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