January 26, 2013

Faux Food Freaks Me Out

Picture this: you have a nice piece of white tuna that you plan to grill and serve with a hearty salad and good asparagus dish. Maybe you will even bake up some potatoes. I know, it sounds like a nice dinner. What if I told you that it is possible that nice piece of white tuna is another fish, the escolar to be exact? Well, the truth of the matter is that white tuna is more often than not escolar.

Tuna is not the only food that has been the victim of food fraud. In fact, CNN.com reported on the rise of food faux pas. The article explained that foodfraud.org reported a 60 percent rise in the increase of food fraud records. To be exact, nearly 800 new records were added as a result of a new study on food fraud conducted by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP).

In practical terms, this means that food companies and/or restaurants have adulterated, diluted, or mislabeled foods. Most of these have been purposeful; in other words, the companies knew they were misleading the consumers. The USP reported that common products such as honey, olive oil, milk, coffee, and herbs and spices often are fraudulent products although tea, fish, and pomegranate juice were on the list as well.

CNN even gave a list of tips to combat food fraud including purchasing “whole” alternatives (lemons instead of lemon juice), know the who, when, and where of the products you buy, avoid the newest health trends, educate yourself on foods and tastes, and even petition the United States Food and Drug Administration for better standards.

Okay, so now onto my take here. I do not like the fact that companies are, at the very least, being dishonest about the foods they sell and thus the foods we eat. I buy and use olive oil specifically for its health benefits. The USP found that olive oils were often replaced and/or diluted with cheaper vegetable oils. If I want vegetable oil to cook or bake with, then I will buy vegetable oil. If I want olive oil and I pay the higher price for it (because olive oil is always pricier), then I better be getting olive oil.

It seems to me this is outright lying. It is also incredibly disrespectful to consumers. We must advocate for ourselves and demand better labeling and standards. To dilute olive oil with vegetable oil means that it is not olive oil. A company should want to sell the best product it can not cheat its customers.

I grow tired of the food fraud publicized regularly. The fact that the USP foodfraud.org exists should make us all uncomfortable. If something says it is tuna, it should be tuna. It is not that I mind eating escolar; rather, the fact that I think I am buying tuna is where I see the problem. If I wanted escolar, then I would order or buy escolar. At best, it is misleading, and at worst, it’s downright lying.

The CNN article on food fraud reminded me of a story I heard on National Public Radio’s This American Life. It was about the possibility of pig bung being passed off as fancy calamari. By the end of the show, Ben Calhoun, the reporter on this story, had no definitive proof that bung was being sold as calamari, but he did have a taste test where people overwhelming thought the bung was calamari.

If pig bung is being sold as calamari, this illuminates more fully why I do not like food fraud. For people who do not eat pig for religious or personal reasons, this fraud is particularly egregious. Again, if I wanted pig bung, I would order pig bung. If I order calamari, I want only calamari. I do not like the possibility of being lied to by food companies and restaurants.

Food should be what it is labeled as. Consumers should demand that.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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