Real Food Fake Food – Book Review

Not all food is created equal.

This may seem obvious but as Larry Olmsted makes clear in his most recent book – Real Food/Fake Food – even food that seems “real” may indeed be “fake.

The problem is not something that happens only when you compare Parmigiano-Reggiano with Cheez Whiz, but also when you compare that Parmigiano-Reggiano, created and aged in the hills of a very specific region of Italy, with a product made in the same way but done so in California.

Olmsted maintains that it isn’t just the process or ingredients that differentiate “real” food from “fake”, it’s those specific ingredients in that specific place; terroir.

And he says that “fake” food is costing consumers (mostly Americans, more on that in a moment) a lot of money.

This type of fraud (food fraud) comes in many shapes – from brand counterfeiting (slapping a new wine label on a bottle of plonk) to honey laundering (selling lower cost, often Chinese or adulterated honey for rare Australian honey for example). Whatever the scam, the principle remains the same: cheating buyers for financial gain.

In the book Olmsted investigates the meaning of terroir and why it is important. He looks at designations such as Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication, and others and how they protect consumers around the world, though not much is being done to protect US consumers. He singles out Canada for having some of the best origin protection laws in the world. Not just for our domestic products, but the fact that we respect the designations that come from Europe, Asia, and Australia.

That’s the main problem in the U.S. Names protected around the world are routinely disregarded south of the border. That’s why you can buy California champagne and Kraft “Parmesan” in a green tube. Neither of which are real in the sense that they come from Champagne, France or Parma, Italy, despite the fact they may be a fizzy wine or a hard cheese. These names mean more than that.

real-food-fake-food-nytcover_credit_publisherThe U.S. Patent Office has decided that names such as Parmesan and Gruyere have become generic terms and “lost (their) geographical significance”. Tell that to the Italians who have been making Parmigiano the same way for close to one thousand years.

This scenario does repeat itself here in Canada, but not to the extent that it does in the U.S. although Parmesan is considered a generic term in this country too.

The author says it’s always best to seek out the real thing (hint: all real Champagne is “good” Champagne). You won’t be disappointed.

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also like writing about food. Go figure.

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