“Everything we love to eat is a scam”

That’s the title of an article in the New York Post.  Here’s an excerpt.

Think you’re getting Kobe steak when you order the $350 “Kobe steak” off the menu at Old Homestead? Nope — Japan sells its rare Kobe beef to just three restaurants in the United States, and 212 Steakhouse is the only one in New York. That Kobe is probably Wagyu, a cheaper, passable cut, Olmsted says. (Old Homestead declined The Post’s request for comment.)

Fraudulence spans from haute cuisine to fast food: A February 2016 report by Inside Edition found that Red Lobster’s lobster bisque contained a non-lobster meat called langostino. In a statement to The Post, Red Lobster maintains that langostino is lobster meat and said that in the wake of the IE report, “We amended the menu description of the lobster bisque to note the multiple kinds of lobster that are contained within.”

Moving on: That extra-virgin olive oil you use on salads has probably been cut with soybean or sunflower oil, plus a bunch of chemicals. The 100 percent grass-fed beef you just bought is no such thing — it’s very possible that cow was still pumped full of drugs and raised in a cramped feedlot.

Unless your go-to sushi joint is Masa or Nobu, you’re not getting the sushi you ordered, ever, anywhere, and that includes your regular sushi restaurant where you can’t imagine them doing such a thing, Olmsted says. Your salmon is probably fake and so is your red snapper. Your white tuna is something else altogether, probably escolar — known to experts as “the Ex-Lax fish” for the gastrointestinal havoc it wreaks.

Escolar is so toxic that it’s been banned in Japan for 40 years, but not in the US, where the profit motive dominates public safety. In fact, escolar is secretly one of the top-selling fish in America.

“Sushi in particular is really bad,” Olmsted says, and as a native New Yorker, he knows how much this one hurts. He writes that multiple recent studies “put the chances of your getting the white tuna you ordered in the typical New York sushi restaurant at zero — as in never.”

Fake food, Olmsted says, is a massive national problem, and the more educated the consumer, the more vulnerable to bait-and-switch: In 2014, the specialty-foods sector — gourmet meats, cheeses, booze, oils — generated over $1 billion in revenue in the US alone.

“This category is rife with scams,” Olmsted writes, and even when it comes to basics, none of us is leaving the grocery store without some product — coffee, rice or honey — being faked.

There’s more at the link.

I’ve been angered and disgusted at some of the substitutions passed off to American consumers as the real thing.  Coming from abroad as I do, I know the proper ingredients and methods of preparation – and how they should taste – for several dishes popular in Europe and the colonies.  Almost without exception, the US versions served in restaurants are a pale shadow of the real thing in terms of taste, texture and ingredients.  When I’ve raised the issue with the restaurants concerned, sometimes I’ve been met with arrogance (“Well, that’s how we do it here!”) to hostility (“If you dare make a fuss about it, we’ll sue you!”) to indifference (“So what?”).  Needless to say, I haven’t been back to the restaurants concerned, some of which were household names in the cities where they were located.  (Hint:  beware popular seafood restaurants in the Greater Los Angeles area, and a well-known one in Philadelphia.  Many of them are not using the proper ingredients, even though their menus may claim that they are.)

Of course, it’s not just food in restaurants that’s a problem.  We’ve mentioned the olive oil scandal in these pages before, as well as wood pulp in beef and craft whiskeys that aren’t.  Even Parmigiano cheese has been found to be adulterated.  Where there’s a fast buck to be made, far too many vendors are willing to turn a blind eye to substitutions and fakery – or perpetrate the frauds themselves.



  1. Visited California 2 years ago from the UK and was totally shocked by the complete lack of taste. Cheese that was passed off as Cheddar which would not see the light of day in the UK, as for Italian Pasta Sauces why oh why does a Tomato sauce have to have Cheese melted in to it. If I want cheese I'll put it on. Apples that apart from being large tasted and felt like Styrofoam.

    Loved the country and the people we met, but greatly disappointed with the food. As to the idea of flavour in Curries it appears the American pallet can not stand herbs and spices only Chili to make everything fiery.

    I could go on, but America the is truly the land that taste left behind.

  2. Skate wings that are passed off as scallops, "Angus" beef that isn't, you can add more to the list.

    What exactly does the USDA inspect?

    1. Having been on the supplier side of it, I can assure your that certified Angus beef is legitimately Angus and it's a pain in the butt (not to mention expensive) to get the certification.

      It's just that being black or having at least 51% of the genetic makeup being from a documented pedigree are two of the least relevant factors about how the meat is actually going to taste. To the consumer, it's worse than useless information. It's information that misleads. The certification isn't there for the consumer, it's for the packer. The Angus genotype is unusually easy to prepare and ship, that's why it commands a premium.

      If you want taste, you'd be best served with Hereford x Simmental, maybe with a bit of Charlois and Chianina in the mix. (And the packer will curse your name.)

      Don't get me started about the "grass fed" bullpucky. Feed a cow nothing but grass and you might as well market hockey pucks for having nearly as much taste and tenderness. But people like the thought of young cows frolicking about in alpine pastures. (Regardless of how far from reality the vision is.) So… Have the yearling spend most of its time out on the range, and spend a month or so in the feedlot "waiting" for the brand inspector (and eating lots of good rolled oats, rolled corn, and as much by-product from sugar production as possible.)

  3. In a past life I worked for a large food company. As the use of caramel color (basically burnt sugar) was banned as an ingredient, it was added to white sugar by a supplier and declared on the label as "brownulated sugar"!

  4. I've been buying my olive oil from a local grower. It costs a lot more, but I know I'm getting real olive oil. A family friend is allergic to soybean oil, and I was shocked when she rejected the Bertolli I bought at the supermarket.

    Another reason to buy local!

  5. According to Mark Twain, cotton-seed oil was shipped to Italy, bottled as olive oil and then shipped back to the U.S. It's a very old game.

    Skyy vodka was basically flavored and diluted industrial ethanol before some Italians bought the company and moved production over there.

    It's pretty much all crap, which is why I drink Evan Williams bourbon. Why pay extra?

  6. I have discovered it's darn hard to fake a pork chop and baked taters….. just sayin'….

  7. The skate wing for scallop scam bums me out. I used to throw away 20-30 skates a day in my lobster traps when I was a kid. Could have at least had some free fake scallops.

    Another one I'm finding in the south is replacing catfish with Vasa, which used to be marketed as Pongo, after the cartoon character. It's a Vietnamese paddy fish that bioaccumulates heavy metals in the meat. No shit, buddy of mine from Rutgers used them and certain weeds to leach heavy metals out of mud and soil to increase arable land in Nigeria.

    Orange Roughy or Patagonian Toothfish are expensive as hell, but usually you're eating summer-caught codfish from the Gulf of Maine- the wormy stuff fishermen give to their cats rather than eat themselves.

    Crabmeat is usually at least 1/2 Alaskan Pollock.

    DO NOT trust the Marine Stewardship Council. They're nothing more than a Green Mafia that act as gatekeepers for political and financial gain. Farmed salmonids were on their hate list, until suddenly they weren't, coincidentally at the same time as Unilever, parent company of the largest salmon grower in the world, suddenly started donating.

  8. I recall a scandal in Florida, some years ago, where someone was catching sharks, and using a melon baller to make "scallops." They were still pretty good, but the idea was sorta disturbing!

    Kinda makes you wonder what else they're BS-ing us on!!!

  9. I've only been out of the US a few times, once to Paris and several Caribbean islands. I don't really need to describe how even a sandwich in Paris is WAY better than most restaurant meals here. And (at least on St John) I saw the fresh fish going from the boat into the restaurant where I had a large piece of that fish a few hours later. Never had as tasty a fish meal here (Baltimore). But we know we're getting crab when we steam them and gather 'round to eat the little scavengers and wash 'em down with more than a few beers.

  10. I buy my honey directly from a local beekeeper. Each year I pay a rancher (a high school classmate) in advance for a steer. He has it processed by a processor just a few miles from his ranch. Otherwise I'm in the same boat as most everyone.

    Red Lobster? Never been in one.

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