fake food

The Fake Food Scandal

When you hear the term “fake food”, what often comes to mind are the toys children receive along with their toy kitchen set; rubber hamburgers, apples, pieces of bread, etc. However, in America, we have a real fake food problem. Sounds ironic, but the fake food scandal is present among restaurants, grocery stores, college campuses and almost anywhere else food is sold. What is it exactly? Larry Olmstead, author of ‘Real Food, Fake Food” describes it as mislabeled or imposter food. The problem is not that fake food is unhealthier than real food. The problem is in fact that you are a) not getting what you pay for and b) fake food is often illegal.


Olmstead’s book provides many examples of food fraud; however, four of the most common include olive oil, fish and seafood, Parmesan cheese and honey. Parmesan is an easy example of fake food to understand. Similar to many other fake food scandals, including Kobe beef and champagne, Parmesan receives its name from its origin in Parma, Italy. In Parma, strict regulations go into making the authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In fact, the cheese can only be considered true if it is made with just three ingredients. Finding Parmesan labelled in United States with only three ingredients is rare. While some may ask if real Parmesan really makes a difference, and to real food aficionados, the taste of real Parmesan is incredible. What to learn from Parmesan is not to label a similar product as the true name, but to consider the regulations that go into making the product first.


In the case of honey, the battle first begins with local honey producers and big name manufacturers. Mass produced honey often receives an ultra-filtration treatment which removes the pollen. Local producers claim this is no longer honey, however no regulations are in place and it is perfectly legal in the United States. The taste preference of the consumer ultimately decides the battle between local and mass produced honey. In addition, producers of honey in the United States grade their own honey without USDA regulation. This means any producer has the ability to claim their own honey meets a certain standard. The United States imports most of the supply of fake honey without knowing so. Many countries dilute their honey with corn syrup or other sugar solutions. The United States deems these mixtures illegal, however without testing; no one knows if this honey solution is indeed fake food.

Olive Oil

Similar to honey, Extra Virgin Olive Oil often does not contain what it advertises. Olive Oil remains the most frequented fake food in the world. In fact, the National Consumers League states that 6 of 11 olive oils are mislabeled. In addition, the New York Times found that 69% of olive oil labelled Extra Virgin do not meet standard. Manufacturers either cut with cheaper oils or do not use olive oil at all, just a mixture of cheap oils and chemicals to mask the flavor. Manufacturers can legally label this oil, “Packed in Italy” or “Imported from Italy.” This deceives consumers to believe that Italy makes the Extra Virgin Olive Oil, while it is only imported to and shipped from Italy.


Another very common example of food fraud is fish and shellfish. When you order seafood such as lobster as a main dish, you can clearly see that the food presented to you is what you ordered. However, in the case of lobster bisque, crab cakes and sushi, this is often not the case. Manufacturers often blend lobster and crab with a cheaper seafood option as to keep cost down while growing profit. Same is true with sushi. Whitefish will often replace tuna in the very common tuna roll. With allergies so common among seafood, fake food in this category can be dangerous.

How to Stop Fake Food

In some cases, stopping food fraud is hard for the consumer. Often with mislabeled foods, restaurants will prepare dishes with a different ingredient than they thought. However, restaurants can do their part in preventing fake food. Especially with honey, experts suggest buying from your local farmers. A simple solution is to check labels. In the case of olive oil, checking the label for “made in” or “grown in” will give you the answer about the origin of your olive oil. To be 100% sure about the validity of your food, do your research to check the validity of your product.

Fake food is a real issue in the United States that often goes unnoticed.  With proper investigation you can do your part to prevent fake food from happening. Real food is worth the difference. It’s time to end the fake food scandal.