It’s Time For Real Talk About Fake Food

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but many of the foods that are being sold to you may not be what they seem. Adulteration, fraud, and legal loopholes have led to a dire state of affairs for some of our favorite foods. Kobe beef burgers don’t actually exist. Cellulose has been found in our parmesan. That sushi you had the other night might not have been the fish you were promised.

So what? It was good, cheap, and filling. What’s the big deal whether or not the Chianti came from Italy or Connecticut, or if the white tuna was actually escolar?

Well, a bottle of Chianti from Chianti, Italy is made under strict adherence to legal standards created by the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) — meaning that Chianti literally cannot be made in the U.S. since there is no region called Chianti in the U.S. — and that’s before you even get into conversations about quality. As for that escolar, it’s so well known to cause anal leakage that it’s called the Ex-Lax fish in the industry.

Luckily there’s someone on our side to wade through the very murky waters of food fraud. Larry Olmsted’s new book Real Food/ Fake Food offers tools for helping you identify if and when you’re being duped, swindled, or potentially sickened. We sat down with Olmsted to shine a light on some nefarious fake foods and their delectable real food counterparts.

You mentioned you got very angry writing this book. How have you coped with your anger?

(Laughing) Well, I mean, it’s really easy focus on the negative — like, 94% of the time you order red snapper, you’re not getting it. Then I came to the realization that the only reason that there are fake foods is because there are such good real foods. So I’ve increasingly channeled my desire into educating people about how good these real foods are. It’s more about loving food and embracing food.

Tell us a bit about how you got into the world of real and fake food, and what led you to write the book?

About a dozen years ago, I went to Japan and I got to try Kobe Beef, which is rare even in Japan. It’s sort of the Rolls Royce of red meat. So I came back to the U.S. and, in the course of my work, I’d occasionally go to a fancy restaurant and see Kobe Beef on the menu. And I tried it a couple times and it never tasted or looked anything like it had in Japan, which kinda set me wondering.