‘Food’ for thought

8 years ago

To the editor:

Sometimes radio interviews seem promising. A recent one with Larry Olmstead, author of “Real Food, Fake Food”, revealed the following.

“Extra virgin” should be on the olive oil label, but up to 90 percent of those so labeled are not. Good olive oil is available from California and at least two other states, but the author of the book is partial to that from Australia, which is not always in stores here, so he orders it direct. Italian olive oil, long assumed to be the best, is only one of many on the market and may not be from olives grown in Italy. Instead, it may be imported from Spain, Greece or Tunisia, to be blended, packed and re-exported.

The Chesapeake Bay area in Maryland is still known for its crab cakes. However, the crab cakes may have fish and other filler added, and the crab may come from Asia.

According to the Food Fraud Institute at the University of Michigan, honey is the third most faked food in the U.S., often cut with high fructose corn syrup.

For the book’s author, food includes wine and liquor. Good wine comes from many states, but real champagne comes only from a certain region in France. The price of it may encourage buying sparkling wine instead.

Vodka comes in many flavors, including cinnamon roll. An ingredient used to stabilize liquor is also used in antifreeze.

For quality control, the safest “food” is Scotch whisky, the only thing being protected by Congress, which adopted the U.K.’s standard.

These revelations frustrated the interviewer, Diane Rehm, who kept asking, “Then what are we to do?” and “What do we buy?” As the radio program ended, I shook my head back and forth in disbelief, then just laughed and laughed. I concluded that the program was, if not too helpful, at least entertaining.

However, Larry Olmstead mentioned the website, www.olive oil.com, which provided two helpful tidbits. One, the olive oil from Spain I have bought for years received high ratings from Consumer Reports. Two, olive oil should not be kept a long time after opening. So my choice of a pint bottle over the quart one was wise.

Knowing about size years ago would have saved me a bit of grief. At the time I was buying a gallon metal can and usually dividing the oil into four quart bottles – except when I let the can sit on a shelf high up in the basement. One time, opening the top correctly defeated me and a small part apparently remained open – as I realized when I looked down in and saw in the little remaining oil a small mouse, quite dead.

I regret having told a neighbor, as she still mentions it every few years. Otherwise, I could remember that of course, I never had mice in the basement. Another one I never had ended up in a large plastic waste container with a lid that rocked, so just a touch pushed it down. A gift at the time, it was too big for the kitchen, so I used it in the basement as a clothes hamper. When a tiny mouse touched the lid, whoops! Once in, no way out.

Obviously, I have never had mice in the basement or anywhere else, simply because my unusual “traps” have been effective.

Byrna Porter Weir
Rochester, N.Y.