Back in July, Larry Olmsted was featured on the Diane Rehm show, talking about his book “Real Food, Fake Food” The discussion revolved around olive oil, claimed to be the healthiest fat on the planet. Many people had switched from vegetable oil to olive oil several years ago based on this claim, and it was shocking when Mr. Olmsted claimed that the health benefits that were supposed to be gained from using this pricier oil were nonexistent. As he went on to describe the many ways in which we as consumers are misled into buying cheaper, non-healthy versions of this oil, it became apparent that this book was an important perspective on the food situation we face in our grocery stores every day.
Larry Olmsted is a travel and food writer for Forbes magazine and has worked in the industry for 20 years. As a result, he has had the opportunity to travel all over the world and taste “real food” – sustainable, fresh, and processed by hand. This food is often produced using methods developed hundreds of years ago and, in some cases, protected by law. Examples of real foods in the book include Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Parmesan), fish and shellfish, Kobe beef, Champagne, Scotch, craft cheeses, wines and, of course, extra virgin olive oil. Each of these highly prized “real foods” has a “fake food” corollary, which can consist of adulterated, substituted, or purposely mislabeled foods (“100% pure” and “all natural” are two examples given) in an attempt to fool the consumer. As the author states in the book, many of the most grossly “fake foods” on the market attempt to capitalize on our desire to eat healthier. Much like my switch to olive oil, most of us make these changes without the knowledge to know if the product we are buying is what it should be. This books attempts to rectify that situation.
In addition to the glorious language (the author writes poetically about the tastes, fragrances and experiences he has had with “real foods”), Larry Olmsted provides clear guidelines near the end of each chapter about how to avoid the fakes and what to look for in the real. In some instances his advice is, regrettably, to avoid it altogether. Some “real foods”, such as Red Snapper, have become so rare that only 6% of the fish labeled as such is judged to be genuine. Its common substitute, tilefish, is heavily laden with mercury.
The author ends each chapter with a recipe using the real foods he has written about in order to both tempt our taste buds and encourage a different relationship with food. As a culture we have moved away from the “real” and this book is an enticement to understand and appreciate the real again in order to better feed our communities, our bodies, and our souls.
Deana Cunningham is the Branch Manager at May Memorial Library in Burlington. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 229-3588.