Sunday, October 30, 2016

Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do about It

The United States is all for intellectual property - as long as it benefits its businesses. When US businesses benefit significantly from flouting IP, the US is more than willing to ignore other countries' rights. Thus is the state of "fake food" in the US. In Europe names are used to identify food and wine from specific regions that adhere to strict standards. The names are protected to ensure customers are getting what was promised. In the US, these same terms could be slapped on anything. Champagne is a bubbly wine from the eponymous region in France. "Parmesan" is the Anglicization of the name of the cheese made in Parma. Each of these was well known for its excellence. In Europe or many other places in the world, the name is a guarantee of a certain product. In the US, it means just about nothing. A product called "Parmesan" cheese is likely a cheese. But, those green cans barely even make it that far. The wedges at least are a hard cheese - but not up to bar with the real thing. An argument could be made that these names help people identify things similar to what they were seeking. However, by that view, a Russian software house could call something "Microsoft Office" because it is an office productivity suite. The US would have nothing to do with that, but they let food get away with it.
In addition to the intellectual property violations, we also have food faked through more nefarious means. Much of the fish we eat is "faked". In processed fish, cheaper fish is frequently substituted for more expensive fish. (In Seattle, only 18% of fish was found to be different than what it claimed to be - making it the most "accurate" fish city in the US.) Things are especially bad with expensive fish like Red Snapper, which is almost always fake. The US will often ban products from certain countries (such as China.) However, those countries will export them to other countries where they will then be exported legally to the US.
Labeling of food can also be an exercise in trickery. 100% may mean 100% of a specific ingredient, not that the product contains only that ingredient. Packaging can predominantly display secondary ingredients. ("Blueberry Pomegranate Juice" may be primarily apple juice.) Many names like "natural" have no official meaning. Even those with meanings may be different than what we expect them to mean. We really have to research what the real stuff is in order to find things that are not fake. And then, we need to hope that the labeling is in fact accurate. (Even if it isn't, the USDA and FDA are often in no hurry to enforce.) If something is a great deal, it is more than likely to be fake. (Even something as simple as honey may be doctored with additional sweeteners.) Even expensive products can be knockoffs. However, the real stuff is generally pricey - though it also tastes better and is better for you and the environment, making it worth the effort.

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