The great Extra Virgin Olive Oil Scandal


It’s not hard to understand why an election is all screwed up when you stop to consider the state of business in the world.  It’s not just politician who live in an ethical desert — at times one would think that all businessmen as well haven’t the foggiest idea about ethical behavior.

That unforgetable public hero, Dr. Jeffrey House M.D. (now being seen in re-runs) made the expression popular I believe:  “Everybody lies.”  Maybe it was someone else. Or it sounded something like that — but the point is that finding people who are straight forward and honest seems to get harder and harder.

Case in point the difficulty of finding real, true, Extra Virgin Olive Oil — in an industry which for at least half a decade has been foisting immitations on the buying public.

A comprehensive academic food fraud study spanning 30 years in the Journal of Food Science showed that olive oil was the single most commonly referenced adulterated food of any type in scholarly articles from 1980 to 2010. A highly publicized 2010 study by the University of California–Davis Olive Center tested supermarket samples and concluded that more than two-thirds of imported oils (69 percent) and 10 percent of California oils labeled “extra virgin” did not meet the legal standard (under law, the extra-virgin designation is determined by a combination of laboratory testing/chemical analysis and sensory testing by an expert taster panel). A follow-up Olive Center supermarket test in 2011 used a larger number of samples for more consistency and found that the five top-selling imported “extra virgin” olive oil brands in the United States failed to meet the basic legal standard 73 percent of the time. Some have suggested that the University favors the domestic olive oil business – which is almost exclusively in California – over imports, and industry trade group the North American Olive Oil Association, which does its own testing of members’ products, disputes the accuracy of UC Davis’ findings.

Forbes Magazine

Then there was this article:

(ANSA) – Florence, September 29 –
Fraud in olive oil and other oils and
fats quadrupled in 2015, farmers’ group
Coldiretti said Thursday. 
There was a
record 278% increase in the number of
seizures of these products because they
were adulterated or falsified, it said.

As well, three out of four oil containers
in restaurants do not comply with
regulations, Coldiretti said.
— ANSA

In a world that abhors absolutes, that doesn’t want to be judged by arbitrary standard, and doesn’t want to be criticized for it’s own actions a consumer has to be ever more cautious.  People will lie to you.  Don’t be surprised when it happens.

I’ve pulled into a RV shop after having been told that they have the parts needed to do a job, only to find out after they’ve taken something apart that they, in fact, did not have the promised part and I’d have to wait 4 days for it be shipped in.

Then there is the whole area of customer satisfaction/expectations.

“Most oils sold in the United States are fake.”
Mother Jones

To read that such a large percentage of oil sold as Extra Virgin is in fact not what it purports to be the question begs to be answered, why is it that consumers aren’t up in arms about it — except for the fact that evidentally a huge number of consumers can’t tell the difference between what they are tasting and what they think they are buying.  

It seems we have become a nation of Faux people.  We love faux finishes. We built Tuscan or Provencal estates in San Jose and South Beach.  We’ll buy “Alfredo” sauces by the case, even though an alfredo dish isn’t about sauce at all; it’s an amalgamation of egg and cream and cheese that isn’t ooey or gooey, merely coating the noodles.  We buy cinnamon that isn’t cinnamon.  We buy Swarovsky crystals because they look like diamonds but aren’t.  We love things that look like something else but aren’t! Right down to wanting to look like celebrities, go where they go, eat what they eat, smell like they smell, etc., etc., etc..

I’m not sure if the last olive oil I bought was really what it claimed to be.  The brand I bought wasn’t on any of the lists of violating companies, but that’s ok — I’ll enjoy my meals just the same.

Peggy’s been telling me for a quarter century that I should bottle and sell my salad dressings.  The thing is I don’t use a recipe, but I do use real herbes and spices.  I don’t advertise what I’m using and you’re sure to get a different dressing any two times you eat with us — and I’m ok that it’s not the same.  I’m ok because I like the final product.  Which is good, I suppose…. A person ought to like their own cooking, right?

I think that as RV’ers we do well to be careful about what we buy — literally, or figuratively.  We can buy into ideas, fads and trends just like we can buy fake olive oil, or just-as-good-as-the-name-brand products.  If we know what the name brand product really offers we’ll usually find that just-as-good rarely is. But sometimes we’re willing to accept not-as-good.  Everything’s a trade off, right.  How much flavor, or how much glitz do I really want to pay for.  And if I pay less, will I be just as happy?

Last winter when we faced replacing our slide toppers we had several choices.  The dealer tried to sell us toppers they made in-house. They had three levels of quality and all we had to do was tell them good, better, or best and they’d take care of of in a day or two.  The problem was that I wanted the coach to LOOK the same after we were done as before.  So I agreed to wait until Carefree of Colorado could fabricate and ship matching toppers — at a slightly higher price.  But that was what I wanted.  And I made sure I got it.

A large part of RV’ing is about optimized decisions.  We have to know what we want if we’re ever going to get it. Whether it’s where we want to go, what sites we’re going to stay in, or what time of the year we’re going to visit — the RV lifestyle is all about making personal choices.  Sometimes we’ll get cheated.  Other times we’ll get full value for our expectations.  In the end, what matters is how we feel about the experience.  A sort of “did it taste like I wanted it to taste” moment.  Was I glad I drove cross country for that?  Was I glad I exchanged X number of dollars in fuel in order to see, or experience this?

Learn to be critical — not in a complaining sort of way, but in a analytical way.  Make sure you’re getting what you want from your RV lifestyle.  And if you aren’t — change something.  Buy a different oil.  Keep tasting other brands until you find what you want.  🙂

Let’s talk again tomorrow

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14 Comments

  1. Sometimes, Peter, I am amazed at how we track similar thoughts at the same time…this has happened in quite a few instances.

    For the past week, I have been walking around and looking at things from a different viewpoint. Maybe the debacle of a presidential election has spawned some of this dissection, maybe not. House’s “everybody lies” has actually helped me to not be disappointed when others fail…but again, to insist in my own standard.

    The world is evolving, just as it had when we were young. I am now seeing things through an elder person’s eyes. Not my father’s he was too cool, too up to date with current thoughts and ideas…but those of generations who said, “turn off that noise” in reference to music. Or talked about the “good old days…when…”

    Reality is what we are used to, what we agree upon. For example, living conditions in Haiti are deplorable yet there is a generation who knew nothing else…it is normal. Same is true in war torn countries…they have known nothing else. Yet, children still play…and smile. Sure we see the worst images of these places and in our viewpoint, they are terrible. I’m sure the Europeans thought the American Indians lived in abominable conditions…but the Indians didn’t think so. They had culture, family and respect of nature.

    The US market has become a marketing trap…everything is painted with an artistic brush to be the next Picasso, whether it is wine, olive oil or Pampers. Why do we even need to have the next Picasso in the first place?

    As a traveler, you can see the differences in places. You can see where the emphasis is put and it gives you better spectacles to view life from…and to chose which parts of life you want to focus on. Yes, there are lots of fads out there. I’ll probably buy into a few of them. Our children will do so as well. Does it matter? Yes and no. If they experiment and try things…no. But if they depend on those things for life, then yes. Materialism in itself turns ones heart into stone.

    A balance of all things in life is best…lots of choices. I just wish more people would get into respecting nature. I do believe that our need for the newest, latest and greatest comes with a price…and that cost is not good for mankind. It is not sustainable. And, I’m starting to look at things as not my problem…because if I make it my problem I will miss out on the simple enjoyment of the little things in life. I spent 25 years of my life fighting for causes…it’s time to let others pick up the torch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like you, I have begun consciously saying (to myself — I try not to talk to myself out loud too often!) that various things are not my problem. I spend decades giving away my services to causes; it IS time to let others pick up the torch if they care at all about the same things. And the truth of the matter is that —in some cases — they do not. And that’s OK. Learning to admit THAT has been one of my hardest life lessons.

      Balance is crucial to life — in every form of life, at every time. Externally and internally. My health issues have refreshed my appreciation of how fundamental balance truly is — from our body chemistry to global warming — there is no where we can turn where balance and that tension between extremes does not pull at us, tug at us, always aiming to throw us off balance. We are stuck in a material world. There’s no doubt about that. I may have grown up in a culture that was more idealistic but I have no idea whether I was an aberration and the rest of the world has always been as materialistic as they are now; surely when times were more frugal people struggled just to keep their heads above water, I don’t know how much opportunity ‘average’ people had for idealism.

      It doesn’t pay to live in a fictitious world. So, embracing the change around us is the only rational thing to do. Resenting it doesn’t accomplish anything. Taking a stand AGAINST it only disadvantages us further. But, like you, by consciously limiting my engagements with change I find myself a lot happier and productive. Volunteering for example. A lot of folks think it’s stupid for us to give away services. But we find satisfaction and enjoyment in the act. It’s a win/win for us. Who cares about anyone else?

      I think what troubles me most is that in this country (and some other countries as well) we seem to feel that any other culture is “less” than ours. There can be no reasoning with that kind of attitude. This assumption of superiority has kept us constantly at war for the better part of 250 years. We are not such a great nation if our greatness comes from killing others. Our treatment of the First Nations, of Blacks, of Iraq… we seem to feel the ‘right’ to force others to our way of thinking/doing. And our leaders buy into that, or perhaps our attitudes arise from them? Are constantly reinforced by them.

      Travel gives us a different perspective. Sometimes I wonder if travel will be the reason I stop traveling. ???? You know what I mean?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have found in my later years that I no longer care what others think. My only concern is that I do what makes me happy and those close to me happy. I never worry about my choices because I generally make good and sometimes imperfect but never harmful ones.

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      2. I hear ya.

        Worry isn’t productive. And like you, I don’t worry about my choices. I figure I make the best decisions I can based on the information I have at the moment, so how could I make a better decision? On the other side of the coin I have a friend I have learned from. He’s the husband of a gal I went to H.S. with. He can never let go of a decision; and he frets each decision until he thinks he is making a choice that will last forever — which is to say that he won’t regret for some unknown reason in the future. As a result he makes very few decisions and family life is forever up in the air. Even if I wanted to be more like him — observing the consequences of that behavior has made me all the more willing to let go any future concern for past decisions!!!!!

        >

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I have a friend /client like that who I see twice (and sometimes more) every week. The indecision factor drives me crazy. It takes forever to accomplish anything. I’m a doer. I like to check off those things that are completed, even if they are smaller steps to a larger completion. Doing so rewards me with accomplishment and doing it over and over again, gives me confidence. Both qualities, she lacks. Very sad to see because she’s really quite intelligent.

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      4. LOL — you can be an intelligent wreck, just as easily as a stupid one. 🙂

        Doncha find being around that kind of indecision absolutely draining!

        >

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    1. Linda,

      “Tastes Vary.” Used to be one of my favorite sayings. I find that how much I like olive oil varies with my mood more than with the oil itself.

      I find it interesting that people often buy EVOO because chefs talk about it and neighbors talk about it and (like you) if the get a chance to taste it they discover the flavor is stronger than they like. If there was no peer pressure to use it, perhaps there wouldn’t be any market for it in the US at all. It seems that the U.S. palate is like that in a variety of ways: we tend to like products with milder tastes even WHEN we like products with heat!

      When I compare European CHEESES to U.S. cheeses there are clearly more cheeses with a great deal more flavor but they don’t get much market here. Some of that is cost, for sure. $5-7 / lb is a lot easier for people to swallow than $15-25 / lb based on cost at my local cheese monger’s deli case. We seem to like Cheddar and mozzarella as a nation. You can find Colby in some states, but not a lot. There are places where you can find decent artisan cheeses — WI has quite a few artisan cheesemakers, but not every state has a cheese culture. Sometimes it’s hard to find much variety at all.

      AS for personal taste — that’s what it’s all about, right? Eat what you like! Not what you’ve been told to eat.

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  2. You might want to look for an “Olive Our Best” (pronounced like ‘All of our best’) store as you travel around. They are nationwide and sell the real thing, also vinegars. I love getting my oils there.They offer a variety of flavors and you can taste-test them in the store. Once I finish the gallon of vinegar I bought in the grocery store, I’ll start getting my vinegar there as well. It is pricey, but well worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have one similar — but not “Olive Our Best” here at one of our malls. I’ve always felt that you get what you pay for. While paying a lot may not always get you quality, paying a little is guaranteed NOT to get it.

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