REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry Olmsted

REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry OlmstedWhy You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do about It

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a while now, and I would start reading, get upset, close that book and go on to something else. After several false starts, I steeled myself and got into it. It’s not that it’s a difficult read in the sense of being wordy or high brow or too scientific for this English major, but rather that I found the subject matter upsetting.

Several years ago my husband had a very mild heart attack followed by not so mild surgery. Since then I’ve been intent on feeding my family healthy foods, and let me tell you, those parameters seem like they change weekly sometimes. Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee, drink coffee. Same with wine. Eat lots of fruit, eat only berries, limit fruit. Vegan or Paleo? Vegetarian or pescatarian? Mediterranean, carb free, gluten free, dairy free, the list goes on and on and on.

What I finally decided on, what works best for me and my family, is basically living by Michael Pollan’s golden rule:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

 We usually limit red meat – grass fed, organic – to a couple of times a month. Wild fish. Organic, free range poultry. Same with eggs. Mostly organic fruits and vegetables, I try to shop with the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 as my guide whenever possible. You get the idea.

So to read this book and learn that I may be spending money, lots of money, on foods that aren’t what they purport to be is upsetting. The Tampa Tribune did that year long investigation into restaurants and how they lie about grass fed and organics and so forth and that was bad enough, but this book takes it even further.

Extra virgin olive oil? Don’t hold your breath, you’ve probably never even tasted it. What is commonly sold in American supermarkets is something that may have started with olive oil, then had other oils like soybean or sunflower oil added to it, which is bad enough, but also has chemical additives. I’ve been buying olive oil from California, which is delicious and even more importantly, is what it professes to be. I used to have to buy it online, but now most supermarkets carry at least one or two varieties, from Walmart to Publix to Fresh Market. I’ve heard that there are some Florida farms that were devastated by the citrus greening that are now experimenting with growing olives for oil, but it will take a few years to see how it works out.

Fish? Unless you’ve caught it yourself, you just have no idea what you’re getting. Red snapper is one of the worst, it’s usually tilapia or tilefish. And shrimp? OMG – Olmsted writes:

In 2007, the FDA banned five kinds of imported shrimp from China; China turned around and routed the banned shrimp through Indonesia, stamped it as originating from there, and suddenly it was back in the US food ­supply.

And that’s not even the worst seafood culprit. Escolar is a fish so toxic that it is outlawed in Japan, but somehow it makes its way to US tables, often as white tuna in sushi restaurants. In fact, Olmsted says the odds of actually getting white tuna in an American sushi restaurant is about 0%.

I could go on and on, and Olmsted does – but he also offers some good news. Big box stores like Costco, BJs, Trader Joe’s and even Walmart are as stringent with their food labeling as the much more expensive Whole Foods. Bison is a cleaner and healthier alternative to beef. If you buy food live – like lobsters – that can’t be faked. Buy coffee beans and grind them yourself at home or the supermarket, at least you know you are getting 100% percent coffee in your bag. Check the label for country of origin when purchasing cheese, and the rinds – Reggiano Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano are stamped on the rind of those cheeses from Italy.

If you care about what you eat, or are a foodie of any kind, this is fascinating and elucidating reading.

For more information, check out Diane Rehm’s interview with Larry Olmsted:

drshow_logo_sm_1285 Foods You Can Trust-And 5 To Avoid, From The Author Of ‘Real Food/Fake Food’ – The Diane Rehm Show

Larry Olmsted titled his book ” Real Food/Fake Food,” instead of “Fake Food/Real Food,” he told us during his July 6 interview on our show, because he’s passionate about high-quality, natural meals – and he wants others to have the same approach, too. “These real foods are so good,” he said.


8/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry Olmsted. Algonquin Books (July 12, 2016). ISBN: 978-1616204211. 336p.

5 Responses to REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry Olmsted

  1. Clif Bradley says:

    I too live in Florida, Pinellas county to be exact, and my Publix here has a seafood counter. I buy my fish only fresh and usually only with the skin on so I can verify the species. Publix will gladly filet the fish for you. If the skin is not on, then I don’t buy it unless I know what the fish is without it. Having grown up fishing, I know what filets look like from numerous fish. I also remember the St. Pete Times (now Tampa Bay Times) artice about the restaurants selling fake grouper.
    If you go to Sam’s Club you can buy whole tenderloins (Pismo) and cut your own filet mingion. You can also buy whole sections of beef to cut at home. The problem with grass fed beef is that it’s unsustainable for everyone. Also grass fed only has to refer what it was fed on the feed lot prior to butchering. That cow could have grown up eating whatever until it went to the feed lot. David Jolly here in Pinellas has argued for a while to have legislation passed that would make food labeling perfectly clear, especially with meat. The Beef Association lobby though is powerful, well funded and highly organized, as is the Poultry and Pork lobby.
    Even the term ‘organic’ in meat terms isn’t as stringently regulated as it is for the fruits and vegetables. I wish you luck and look forward to reading this book.
    On a side note, for a slight investment and some work, you can farm shrimp. Not as big as Gulf Shrimp, but very tasty, freshwater shrimp are very good and not as hard to farm as saltwater. Worth checking out if you love or need seafood in your diet.

    • Stacy Alesi says:

      Cliff, thank you so much for your informative comments. My Costco recently started carrying organic farm raised shrimp from the Keys. It’s not terribly expensive & I’m fairly comfortable purchasing it. On the other hand, my husband always wanted to be a fish farmer – he has a degree in oceanography. I will tell him about this and see what happens!

    • Stacy Alesi says:

      Cliff, my husband was wondering if you have any more info on the shrimp farming? What type of shrimp & where to get them? Thanks!

      • Clif Bradley says:
        The original site we used no longer exists it appears. This is the best site I found with step by step guides. The freshwater shrimp we raised were from The University of Mississippi and we’re juveniles. The reason being is that when you start you don’t have the algae and insect larvae you need to feed them. But in Florida mosquitoes are prevalent and they will eat those, however just 25 prawns will eat all the larvae 1000 mosquitoes will produce. So juvenile prawns are best. You can feed them regular fish food and they will eat larvae as well. I would start at the above website and do a little research on your own because different species have a different taste. Malaysian prawns are big and very sweet. Thailand prawns grow huge but have lots of issues if not tended well. There are native species but hard to come by (at least when we did it). I would encourage you to consider the effort though involved. While not hard to raise, the occasional cold snap requires some extra attention in the form of water circulation and heating. It can lead to some stressful, sleepless nights. Also, inevitably you will at some point kill all your shrimp. It happens and anyone who says otherwise either hasn’t been doing it long, or is a liar. We researched the University of Mississippi as well as Illinois State who at the time almost 15 years ago, had extensive on-line material about it. But I can not find that now. I do apologize because most of my material is gone. But the above website has a lot of good info and they also have several tips that I wish I had known a long time ago.
        As far as species go, Malaysian prawns are easier to raise. The meat is excellent. We did do saltwater white gulf shrimp for a few years in our garage and that was costly and not really worth it. I at one time took a BB gun and tried shooting them because I was beyond frustrated. They are hearty but grow slow and eat a lot and have a tendency to try escaping.
        If you have any other questions please ask. I would tell you to contact the Dept of Agriculture or Florida Wildlife before doing it, but if you aren’t doing it commercial and you don’t live on the water, you should be ok. But put a net over your pond, or do it indoors as birds will eat your stock fast. Some species of prawn can be picked up and dropped in the water nearby kicking off an invasion. So a net or indoors farming is advisable.

      • Stacy Alesi says:

        Wow, you are a fountain of information! We’ll definitely do research before we start anything. Really appreciate all your good advice, and especially that you took the time to respond.

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