While it may be tempting to fantasize about growing and cooking all of your own wholesome food independently, it’s just not a practical reality for most of us. Instead, we put our trust in those who grow and manufacture it, while also reading labels, choosing “healthy” options, and assuming that someone is enforcing authenticity and accountability in the food industry.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. And trust is starting to wane in the face of increasing reports that there is an awful lot of fake food out there.
Now we’re not talking about FDA approved additives, hidden sugars, or preservatives. That’s a different discussion entirely. What we’re talking about here is food that is purposefully deceptive - marketed one way but sold another.
Earlier this year, Interpol and Europol announced a major bust involving counterfeit food products from 57 countries around the world. This included painted olives, adulterated honey, fraudulent alcohol, bogus supplements, and meat unfit for human consumption, among others, which were destined for supermarket shelves.
Counterfeit food is now seen as a “multi-billion criminal industry” by authorities.
According to Larry Olmsted, author of the new book Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It, some of the most common counterfeit foods are seafood, olive oil, coffee, wine, honey, cheese, rice, and Kobe beef, although almost anything that looks edible can be deceptive.
Olmstead defines “fake food” as:
- Purposeful replacement or addition of (lower quality) ingredients
- Misleading packaging
- Creating inflated economic gain for producers
Some examples that have been reported include adding corn syrup to honey, diluting olive oil with corn or soybean oil, getting an entirely different fish than you think you’re ordering at a sushi restaurant, and wood pulp in your Parmesan! The reported consequences of consuming these mystery ingredients range from food poisoning to allergy attacks to other, more serious illness.
Government agencies are trying to keep up, but some have also been openly criticized for their lax regulations and lack of prompt action.
While this is a massively widespread problem, there’s always something you can do to consume more consciously. At Integrative Nutrition, we are big proponents of consumer rights and education so that you can make the most informed choice for you.
Here are some ways you can minimize your exposure to fake food:
1. Eat food in whole form.
You know a lobster when you see one, but “lobster ravioli” may not really be what you think it is. You’re much better off – and healthier – by eating the original food as it looks when it grows or is harvested from the earth than you are when that food is produced into something else.
2. Know your source.
Choose your food with diligence by shopping at a local farmer’s market and asking questions about what you’re buying directly from the farmers. You can also research your favorite brands to see how they grow and produce their foods. If they don’t give any information about their quality or process, then find another option where the production and compliance with safety regulations is more transparent. If there’s a particular product you’re unsure about, such as olive oil, research trustworthy sources that can help you find the real stuff.
3. Cook more.
The more you can buy wholesome ingredients and prepare them yourself the more likely you are eating real food! Plus, food simply tastes better when you know you prepared it for yourself!
Interested in learning more ways to elevate your health and happiness through nutrition and beyond? Explore Integrative Nutrition’s Curriculum Guide and see just how endless your involvement in the wellness world can be.
Have you experienced fake food? Share with us in the comments below!