I have often said my life would be easier if I wasn’t informed about food and if I didn’t care deeply about eating good, honest, sustainable and humanely raised food.
There is nothing convenient about my quest for food. There is no one-stop shopping since I need to visit several places just to get everything I need. Sometimes, I drive two hours with a cooler in the car to buy the best grass-fed meat around. And, for what I can’t grow organically in my garden, fresh pastured eggs and seasonal fruit, the next stop is the farmer’s market. For pantry staples, I shop our local food co-op where we have been members for years. For what they don’t have, I make the trip to Whole Foods. Then, there’s the cooking: no convenience foods and everything made from scratch.
I just finished reading Larry Olmsted’s book Real Food Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating & What You Can Do About It. What I learned will no doubt help me buy better food, but it will not make my life more convenient.
Exposing Fake Food
This book is an investigation of the world’s most commonly faked foods. Some common fakes, like olive oil, have been in the spotlight for years, but others may surprise you. Did you know that even if you go to the most high-end Manhattan sushi bar for dinner, you probably won’t be eating the fish you ordered? Or that truffle oil on a menu is a telltale sign you should go elsewhere? Or that you should call “BS” on any Kobe beef hamburgers you see on a restaurant menu?
Olmsted begins with a detailed chapter on the “King of Cheese,” the one and only Parmigiano-Reggiano. In it, he describes how the cheese is painstakingly crafted under the strictest standards. From how the dairy cows are fed, to the maximum length of time the milk can exist before becoming cheese to the aging process, the Italian government strictly regulates every step. The result is a cheese that is truly addictive and of the highest quality. It’s a far cry from the powdery mess you can buy in those green canisters.
After I read that first chapter I looked for the telltale signs of real Parmesan on my next trip to my local Whole Foods. I was relieved to see that what I’ve been buying all these years is the real deal. I was also then motivated to seek out the real thing at other places. I was successful at both a local artisan, old school cheese shop and, of all places, Costco. I can get a huge brick of real Parmigiano-Reggiano for a fraction of what the same amount would cost at Whole Foods.
As it is, Mr. President and I don’t eat at restaurants very often. Even before I read Real Food Fake Food, I would not order restaurant meat since it’s not likely to meet the standards for what I will eat at home – only pastured and humanely raised. That means I often chose the seafood entree. But now, even that is suspect based on what I’ve learned. I know anytime I see red snapper on a menu, it is probably going to be something else when I get it. I order differently at restaurants now, and have come to appreciate the vegetarian options even more than I used to.
I learned why country of origin is so important when buying seafood, especially shrimp. I also learned which stores are known for honest labeling of frequently faked foods and which stores to avoid.
The Joy of Real Food
What I most appreciate about Olmstead’s book is that his exposé doesn’t paint a dire and bleak picture that takes the joy out of eating at home or out on the town. Each chapter ends with specific and helpful shopping tips to ensure you get more of what you are paying for. By enjoying real foods prepared exactly the way they should be, you will get even more pleasure out of every meal.
What I found immensely satisfying about reading Real Food Fake Food is the validation that all of the inconvenience I endure in the pursuit of our meals is completely and totally worth it. Doing so increases the chance that our hard-earned money is buying what we intend to buy. I have a great respect and appreciation for food that is prepared traditionally and with painstaking attention to detail, as with real Parmigiano-Reggiano or cold-pressed olive oils. I want to support the people who do it with my dollars and help their businesses thrive.
Real Food Fake Food is not only a great read for anyone who is concerned about fake food and wishes to avoid it, but it will inform and entertain anyone who just loves to eat well. This book will inspire you to spend your money where it matters and discover the decadent joy only read food can provide.