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Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It Hardcover – July 12, 2016
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“Olmsted’s well-researched exposé reveals how often what we eat isn’t what it seems. (Parmesan cheese made of wood pulp or fake lobster rolls, anyone?) Eye-opening.”
“Olmsted boldly walks readers through a course in food authenticity that covers olive oil, cheese, Champagne, seafood, steak, coffee, and more. Readers will be inspired by his intensity and clarity, and floored by how far some counterfeiters go to fool consumers and some historic food institutions go to protect their products and their names. Olmsted’s research is impressive, and he lets no stone go unturned. He lets the terrifying facts speak for themselves, adding just a little humor . . . Olmsted’s sharp language will hopefully put fires under counterfeiters everywhere . . . With the guiding hand of a good friend and prose that keeps the reader’s eye moving, Olmsted insists that readers ‘shop better and cook more.’”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Equal parts foodie chronicle and investigative exposé . . . Real Food / Fake Food is less treatise than guidebook, showing readers how to navigate an increasingly complex food system.”
“Required reading for cooks who genuinely care about quality and health . . . a fascinating read that sheds light on our under-regulated food industry. The book also serves as a handy guide to what items consumers should avoid, and how to find and identify the real deal.”
“A striking look at the food industry. It’s unnerving that so many people don't know what authentic olive oil or port wine tastes like because they’ve been undersold on some off-shoot knock off and no one is raising a flag — until now.”
—Ming Tsai, author, chef, and host of PBS’s Simply Ming
“Larry Olmstead makes you insanely hungry and steaming mad in this provocative account of how fraud threatens not just the world’s great craft foods (think caviar, Kobe beef, and Parmigiano-Reggiano) but our everyday diet. A must-read for anyone who cares deeply about the safety of our food and the welfare our planet.”
—Steven Raichlen, author of the Barbecue Bible cookbook series and host of Project Smoke and Primal Grill on PBS
“Do not take another bite or swallow another sip of anything, for your sake and the sake of your children, before reading Real Food Fake Food. It is the health equivalent of Ralph Nader's expose Unsafe at any Speed. The content blows the doors off the kitchens.”
—Michael Patrick Shiels, radio host and author of Invite Yourself to the Party
“Larry Olmsted’s meticulously researched tour de force is chilling for what he uncovers about the food industry. At the same time his love of great food and his skill in writing about it make me want to try every one of the real foods he recommends. A must-read for anyone with an interest in, well, eating.”
—Dan Dunn, author of American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites and One Man’s Blues
“The world is full of delicious, lovingly-crafted foods that embody the terrain, weather, and culture of their origins. Unfortunately, it’s also full of brazen impostors that are hard to identify. In this entertaining and important book, Larry Olmsted helps us fall in love with the real stuff and steer clear of the fraudsters. I'll never look at a menu the same way again.”
—Kirk Kardashian, author of Milk Money: Cash, Cows, and the Death of the American Dairy Farm
“In his solidly researched new book, USA Today food and travel columnist Olmsted, a well-traveled and knowledgeable food writer, takes readers on an enlightening but frequently disturbing culinary journey. While providing fascinating insights into where and how some of the most delicious food products are produced, the author also reveals how often these are imitated to detrimental effect…A provocative yet grounded look at the U.S. food industry.”
“This is an important book to help all buyers shop prudently and with a wary eye toward the claims of food producers. Recommended for all consumers along with policymakers, those interested in food science, and marketing professionals.”
“Olmsted gives us the lay of this seedy landscape with momentum and aplomb. He demystifies the process by which fake ingredients end up in your shopping cart, explains why some of these deceitful foods could be a real threat to your health, and sheds a light on the government policies and shortsighted commercialism that landed them there.”
From the Back Cover
“It's unnerving that so many people don't know what authentic olive oil or port wine tastes like because they've been undersold on some offshoot knockoff and no one is raising a flag--until now.” —Ming Tsai, author, chef, and host of PBS’s Simply Ming
“Larry Olmsted’s meticulously researched tour de force is chilling for what he uncovers about the food industry.” —Dan Dunn, author of American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites, and One Man’s Blues
“This is the health equivalent of Ralph Nader's exposé Unsafe at Any Speed. The content blows the doors off the kitchens.” —*Michael Patrick Shiels, author of Invite Yourself to the Party
Where's the Kobe Beef?: More than 99.9 percent of the so-called Kobe beef sold in this country is Fake.
Parmesan-Gate: Most Parmesan cheese sold in the United States, grated or whole, cheap or expensive, is Fake.
The Restaurant Scam: Restaurants can claim any food is “organic” or “dry aged,” “heritage breed” or “wild caught.” Even names of farms and types of fish are misrepresented to justify higher prices.
The Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Racket: Though widely considered the healthiest fat, 75 to 80 percent of the extra-virgin olive oil sold in this country is Fake, and some is even dangerous.
The Sushi Fraud: DNA testing was used to compare the fish that menus offered with the actual species brought to the table in New York City sushi restaurants. In the largest study, 100 percent of the restaurants had lied.
The Seafood Swap: A third of the seafood sold in this country is intentionally mislabeled.
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Top Customer Reviews
Regarding the organic brand, it is never directly addressed. There are many comments that cast significant doubt on the organic label, and others that suggest you look for the label. Certainly, it depends on the food under consideration. In some cases, such as seafood, there is no organic standard. However, in others Mr. Olmstead presents the picture of a defined standard that is not enforced. I'm left pretty much where I started - choose organic when possible, even if it isn't 100% accurate. Further, it always pays to have some idea of the 'provenance' of the product - country of origin, farm, etc... even if that can be faked.
I was also a little surprised to see two entire chapters devoted to meat, an entire chapter on Champagne and Scotch, an entire chapter on wines. As a book on 'food', it is really a book about seafood, olive oils, kobe beef, wine and spirits, and cheese. Not much else. I think this book speaks more to the food preferences of Mr. Olmstead than a more comprehensive treatment of the thousands of food products you'll find in a typical grocery store. What he left out could fill volumes. His often long ramblings about regional culture, specific farms and villages, his travels and his food experiences tended to obscure what I was looking for based on the title of the book. A better title might have been: "Larry's World of Food" or something like that.
Bottom line - excellent information, but for a limited set of foods and beverages.
Prior to reading this book, I admit that I had NO IDEA of how widespread the problem is. Okay, I get it now--it's a HUGE problem. It's also a little scary: "Unless you are leaving the supermarket via the “8 Items or Less” express lane, something in your cart is likely fake." In fact, the president himself got involved: "In mid-2014 President Obama announced that he was going to clean it up and appointed a seafood task force. When was the last time a national food crisis— and it is a crisis— got so out of control that the president had to step in?"
As another example, the widely-cited Consumer Reports confirmed the problem with seafood: "When Consumer Reports tested twenty-three supposedly wild-caught salmon fillets bought nationwide in 2005 – 6, only ten were in fact wild." So, the folks there showed that seafood was wrong over half of the time.
The author uses a variety of examples to illustrate the problem. For example, he spends a lot of time documenting how "Parmesan" Cheese sold in the U.S. is so much different than the actual, original product. And yet, the U.S. product is allowed to use the name, which is very misleading.
The author cites numerous statistics showing how the seafood industry, in particular, is filled with fake products. He notes that if you go to a restaurant and order sushi, it is near 100% certainty that your meal will NOT be what you think it is. He also cites numerous studies which confirm the deception--especially rampant in restaurants.
Even fruit juice has problems. Mr. Olmsted notes how labeling can mislead the consumer about what is really in the product. I thought the legal case involving 0.3% "Pomegranate juice" especially interesting. In that case, a major soda brand wanted to sell the juice as "Pomengranate Juice," in spite of the nearly non-existent pomengranate juice actually in the bottle.
Whilst reading REAL FOOD/FAKE FOOD, I kept on thinking, "How did this happening? Why doesn't the government stop this?" Well, it turns out that the author is equally mad; he has harsh words for the FDA, who were uncooperative in assisting him. He notes how he made numerous efforts to try to get the FDA to pay attention--but they refused to even grant him an interview, despite their promises. "No amount of follow-up could make those promises come true or make interviews actually happen. I offered to fly to Washington at my own expense and come to their offices to meet them." (They finally let the author submit some questions for consideration.)
Readers will likely get a little "steamed" when they realize how little protection the FDA is providing. "Federal regulations require (as in mandatory, not optional) the FDA to inspect less than 2 percent of imported seafood , hardly a rigorous analysis . Still, in 2013, inspectors managed to achieve barely a quarter of that incredibly low threshold—and their poor performance has been getting shoddier annually, down from the year before."
Take heart--the book is not all whining and hand wringing. Not at all. In the section, "What Can You Do?" Mr. Olmsted provides some practical solutions--ideas on where to buy the real thing, as well as ideas on how to cook. For example, he notes that the "big box" retailers do a good job at removing fake products--simply because they have so much clout. Similarly, certain grocery chains also are vigilant in not allowing fake products. Of course, the author admits, the real product will be more expensive. He personally has decided to have the REAL thing, but just have it less frequently.
All in all, I thought REAL FOOD/FAKE FOOD was an excellent book. I learned a TON about this problem. Honestly, I was totally ignorant of this issue before. At least I am now better informed. I'm also a little mad.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
You’ve seen the headlines: Parmesan cheese made from wood pulp. Lobster rolls containing no lobster at all. Extra-virgin olive oil that isn’t.Read more