The Most Important Book You Will Ever Read
I think it's safe to say that food is an essential part of our everyday lives. Not only do we literally need it to thrive and survive, but it's a huge part of the way we socialize and interact with other people. But what if I told you that everything you knew about food is not true? That the food you actually believe to be good for you could be slowly killing you? How would you feel about food then? Would you still consider it a vital part of existence, or just another wolf in sheep's clothing to watch out for?
As a lover of food myself (and a very curious person), the title "Real Food Fake Food: Why You Don't Know What You're Eating & What You Can Do About It" intrigued me. Food should be straight forward right? What you see is what you get sort of thing? Apparently, that's not true at all. The truth about food goes way beyond the obvious such as fast food is bad (yes, we've all seen Super Size Me) and vegetables are good for you (are they really?) This is more about the quality of our food and where it really comes from. It's also about false appearances and labels. Just because something is given a certain name and priced high doesn't make it a quality and safe food to consume.
The author of this book is a food journalist who has traveled to over 40 counties to study food and its practices. Although fake food is a worldwide problem, it seems to be a major issue in the United States due to the FDA's refusal to pass adequate laws that will protect our food supply. Other countries all over the world seem to care more about the quality of its food which is why it is a known fact that many European countries refuse to sell American food because of all the chemicals inside it. These European countries have outlawed such chemicals to be used in their food which is why they cannot accept imports from the United States. America, on the other hand, seems to accept imports from most other countries because it doesn't have very high standards for its food and let's face it, what they're getting from foreign countries is probably much higher quality then what they're selling to their own people. This is very sad, but unfortunately very true.
So what kind of food is fake food in the United States? Well, the better question is, what kind of food isn't? Most food that is sold at grocery stories all over the country is not what it appears to be. It's filled with chemicals and substances that are not supposed to be used in items for human consumption. Let's start with the big stuff though: meat and fish.
After finding out about what's really going on with the meat and fish in the U.S., I am really glad that I have been a vegetarian for over five years and don't eat either of them.
The first thing to know about meat is that just because it appears to look like meat doesn't mean it really is. Manufacturers of meat have many tricks up their sleeve when it comes to presentation of their products. They will not think twice to use food coloring or even gas to make the meat appear redder and fresher. And that's just the "good" side of meat.
The bad side is really bad. Unless you're eating organic or grass fed meat, the animal you are getting your protein from is filled with hormones and anitbiotics. It's fed whatever roughage is cheaper and raised in inhumane conditions until it is brutally slaughtered and then sold at your local grocery store. That alone is enough to turn anyone away from meat, but that's only part of the deception.
Many times when you go out to eat at a restaurant, you might order a pricey steak thinking you are getting what you paid for. Most of the time, you are wrong. You are getting a low grade steak for the price of a high quality one.
One great example of this practice has to do with the best beef in the world, Kobe beef. This beef is only ever produced in Japan, but has been known to be available in the United States in very small quantities. The thing to know about Kobe beef is that it is very rare and very expensive. It is also never sold in grocery stores, but only in a tiny quantity of restaurants in the United States. It is so rare that the author only lists two or three restaurants in all of the U.S. where you can get the real Kobe beef. Yet, thousands of restaurants list Kobe beef on their menus and charge exuberant prices while knowing full well that it is fake and having no problem lying to their customers.
Fish is another major area where so many lies and false promises are made to the consumer. Let's start with the most popular type of fish: Sushi. Again, a Japanese delicacy that is expensive and should be of the highest quality. The sad fact is that while you may pay a high price for your Sushi, what you're most likely getting is nothing close to the real thing. The practice of saying a fish is a certain type and charging a high price for it while giving the consumer a fish of a lower quality instead is commonplace nowadays. Numerous studies have been done to show that 95% of the fish you are getting in a restaurant or store is fake. You are certainly not getting the fish you are paying for.
In a best case scenario, you are just getting cheated out of your money plain and simple. Worst case scenario though, you are getting cheated out of your hard earned money while at the same time eating a fish that could be deadly and poisonous. This happens all the time to fish eaters. Don't you ever wonder why people who eat Sushi always get food poisoning? It's not because the fish is spoiled, it's because they were duped and actually ate fish without ever knowing what kind it was. This is very troubling and disturbing.
Another fact that I found out about fish that really horrified me is its origins. Apparently, it's not enough to just look at a fish's label at the grocery store and believe that it came from where it says it did. Manufacturers tend to lie about the country of origin of fish and sometimes they just plain don't know because the fish has been sold from one country to the next so many times that it's hard to keep up. One thing to know though, is that most of the fish in the United States comes from China and that is not a good thing. The conditions in which fish is produced in China is beyond terrible. Most of the time the fish are fed food that contains medicine and other substances that are not allowed for human consumption, yet that is exactly what the fish is produced for. If you've heard about the Tilapia fish fiasco, then you know what I mean. It was found that Tilapia fish that was produced in China was actually discovered to literally be fed feces. Instead of food, that is what Tilapia fish in China was fed. That is literally the most disturbing thing I have ever heard. And then it was sold in the United States and consumed by millions of people without them ever knowing. Bon Appetit.
Other times, the story behind our fish is not that dramatic or scary it's just fake. For example, it is a common practice for fisheries and grocery stores especially, to use food coloring on their fish so that it appears fresh and appealing even when it's not. It could be expired and old, but on the outside it looks like it was just caught yesterday so the consumer buys it. Lies in the fish industry amount to billions of dollars of profit a year so it's not just a labeling mistake that someone made. It is literal and thought out. There is good news though. The government has made slow but steady attempts to better check the fish that is imported into the United States. There is something else you as a consumer can do too. You can choose to shop for fish and really all your food needs in places you trust. There are many listed in the book for reference. These are places that guarantee that you are getting exactly what you are paying for. When it comes to fish, it's important to remember that Alaskan wild caught is probably the best fish you can get in the United States. And if you live in a city that's near a body of water, you might get lucky and actually get fresh caught fish for dinner. Otherwise, always be awake and aware when you are buying meat and fish.
Other food items that are commonly faked in this country are wine, champagne, olive oil, honey, coffee, tea, cheese, juice, fruits, vegetables, and pretty much anything else you can buy at the grocery store.
I'm not a big drinker, but there is a large section of the book that is dedicated to champagne and wine that I found very interesting. One fast fact I learned is that basically all of the champagne that is sold in this country is fake. Why? Because the only real champagne in the world is from Champagne, France the country where real champagne is produced. Everything else that is using the name champagne, but not produced in Champagne, France is fake. Pretty simple and makes sense. So that bottle of "champagne" you buy at the grocery store for New Years should be called sparkling wine, which is really what it is.
Apparently our honey has been tainted too. There are all sorts of chemicals and additives in honey that we don't even know we're consuming. If you want the real thing, go for Manuka honey, the best honey in the world. It is produced in New Zealand and some parts of Australia, is very pricey, but the quality can't be beat.
Coffee and tea is also not safe from being faked. Unless you're buying whole coffee beans which are harder to fake, you never really know what you're getting in ground coffee. Could be some coffee, mixed in with a whole lot of other things you'd rather not consume. The same goes for tea. It's hard to tell what's really in those teabags right? Could be tea, could also be twigs, other leaves, and many substances that have nothing to do with the art of tea drinking. Beware.
Overall, this book opened my eyes to many things I was not aware of in the food industry. Some parts downright scared me, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. I believe every person should read this book and then just use their own discernment to make everyday food decisions. When it comes to the food we use to feed our families, we should be a little too careful if we want to be careful enough. There's no such thing as over analyzing when it comes to our food. Don't be disappointed though, because while this information is disturbing, it can save you from making poor food decisions. With a little research and this book, which is a great reference guide, you can find places that sell food which lives up to the quality meter you are comfortable with. Just remember, check, check, and check some more because the quality of our food determines the quality of our health and life.
Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don't Know What You're Eating and What You Can Do About It by Larry Olmsted
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