Real Food, Chef, and Stream of Consciousness Food Thoughts

I’m currently reading Larry Olmsted’s Real Food, Fake Food. It’s an eye-opening expose along the lines of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but with an emphasis on informing us of how much of the food we buy is actually fake. By that, I am not referring to the prepackaged, sugar-laden, man-made food that we all know is the antithesis of real, nutritious food.

No, Olmsted aims to reveal that a large percentage food we purchase at premium prices precisely because it is real food, is actually fake. Fake as in not at all what we think we’re buying. Grass fed beef that isn’t from cows which were grass fed. Maine lobster –most seafood, really- that isn’t, Kobe beef that can’t legally be that, and Parmesan cheese laced with wood pulp.

“All of the Kobe beef sold in this country, by chefs famous and anonymous, in ten-dollar sliders or three-hundred-dollar steaks, was fake, all of it, end of story. Every single restaurant and store purporting to sell Kobe beef—or any Japanese beef—was lying, including some of the country’s best-known chefs.”

Kobe beef isn’t a dish I have any particular interest in. In fact, a lot of the more high end food issues Olmsted delved into were less than riveting for me. Tuna, however, is a different animal; literally:

Consumers ordering white tuna get a completely different animal, no kind of tuna at all, 94 percent of the time. Your odds of getting served real white tuna in a restaurant are about the same as hitting zero/double zero on a Vegas roulette wheel, which is to say, not good.

I have a bit more to read before I finish the book, but seeing as my most diligent efforts still haven’t made me a bona fide book blogger, I’m following my instincts and writing about it now. It’s been so surprising in many respects that I am looking forward to doing some research of my own to validate Olmsted’s claims. I rarely take the findings of book authors at face value without corroboration.

Food and cooking is a huge part of our family dynamic. We cook a lot, and we take a lot of interest in cooking real food. Breakfast for us is as likely to contain kale or Brussels sprouts as eggs, as we make try to pack nutrition and real food into every meal. Quality ingredients are important when we cook, which is something we all do, from my husband to our youngest child. Reading that our food supply is more tainted than I already knew is a bit unnerving.

Nevertheless, we have to eat, and we all need to eat the best food we can afford. So we do what we can, give thanks for what is before us and trust that we’re getting what we need from the food we eat. Food is also an opportunity for feasts, fellowship, and fun, contrary to what some people would have us believe.

A few nights ago, I decided to watch the 2014 film Chef, starring Jon Favreau. I was in the mood for a movie, and I was in the mood to watch someone else cook. Since Chef is one of my favorite movies and I haven’t watched it in a couple of years, I gave it a re-watch. I can barely stay awake late to watch anything anymore. When I’m up late, it’s because I’m doing something other than sitting passively, so it took me two nights to watch it.

Sidebar: This is not a family friendly film. There is no sex and no violence, but there is rough language, which is the reason for its MPAA rating. I worked in a restaurant for four years of my young adult life and know that such language is common in a restaurant kitchen. When coupled with the fact that I am not sensitive enough to that kind of thing, it barely bothered me. However, not everyone is as jaded as I am, so consider this your cinematic content advisory.

There are lots of great food and cooking scenes in the film, but my favorite is the scene where the lead character makes his son a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches were my specialty when I was dating my husband, and I made them for him pretty regularly. The care and attention the chef gives to such a simple dish highlights how food feeds us in ways far beyond taste buds and physical sustenance.

Incidentally, neither my husband nor I have eaten a grilled cheese sandwich in a very long time.

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles!

12 thoughts on “Real Food, Chef, and Stream of Consciousness Food Thoughts

  1. hearthie says:

    Look, I already have a solid fantasy life involving moving to the country and growing my own food, we don’t need to toss that a cookie… we really don’t… 🙂 So I’ll give this an interested skip, but hey! Might get it for my mom – and I’m always looking for good Mom gifts. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    We went to a sorta local farm today to buy grass fed butter, eggs, and try pullet eggs which I read have much more depth of flavor (they do!).

    As we were leaving SAM says he’d be totally open to ditching the burbs for farm life. We aren’t as tethered as we used to be, so…

    To which I say, “guffaw!” I’ll believe it when I see it but it’s a nice fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elspeth says:

    It was brought to my attention that some may consider this sexy after I said the film has no sex, LOL. Okay. This is the only -and I mean ONLY- “racy” scene if it can even be called that:


  4. bikebubba says:

    Loved the “food porn”. : ^) And regarding foods that are faked, this is a big reason why companies–not just food companies–require their suppliers to provide certifications that the products are genuine. Fake a cert, be prepared for some very nasty communications with your customer, often including lawyers. Upton Sinclair also writes about this phenomenon in The Jungle–not the certs, but fake foods that led companies to start insisting on them.

    I’m kinda torn here. Unless I can personally come to the dock, and unless I personally can pick out white tuna from yellowfin or whatever, I’m at the mercy of those affirming that the food is what they say it is. But if I get all my foods from local sources, where’d that tuna and salmon go? Where’d my dry reds go?


  5. Elspeth says:

    Loved the “food porn”.

    I know right? It really makes you appreciate what it means to eat fresh food, well prepared. Apparently Favreau took extensive cooking lessons for the role.

    And yes. We’re all at the mercy of what we’re being told our food is when we buy it. Unless you’re, as you said, at the dock you have to trust your supplier.

    I am making adjustments to get some things from local, trusted suppliers, but that comes at a premium that I can’t stretch across my entire food bill.


  6. bikebubba says:

    A couple of other thoughts; first of all, whoever thought that putting Kobe beef, even the fake kind, into sliders needs to have his head examined. It’s like taking that giant tuna that sells for a few million bucks in Japan and making it into tuna salad sandwiches, or taking a 1996 from Gevrey-Chambertin and making sangria out of it.

    Thought #2 is that some of the most dangerous food fraud involves foods sourced from Asia, or at least did. Back in 2008, there was melamine (destroys kidneys) in infant formula from China and biscuits from Thailand. The same countries have been found to be shipping infants’ toys painted with lead paint and covered in cadmium. I’m not a huge fan of the regulatory state, but when you’ve got people who have no ethics (or perhaps scientific knowledge), it can be immensely helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Elspeth says:

    A couple of other thoughts; first of all, whoever thought that putting Kobe beef, even the fake kind, into sliders needs to have his head examined. It’s like taking that giant tuna that sells for a few million bucks in Japan and making it into tuna salad sandwiches, or taking a 1996 from Gevrey-Chambertin and making sangria out of it.

    LOL. I agree. Although I admit that I am woefully ignorant of wine so will have to take your word for the latter example.

    Yes, Asian goods are notortiously sketchy and dangerous. Although I have read that “olive oil” of the Italian variety is such a racket that there are entire crime rings similar to the mob dealing in fake olive oil (and in some cases Italian cheeses and meats).

    It’s wild, really, when you stop to think about it.


  8. hearthie says:

    I have a rule about not buying food from China unless it’s properly food that can only be sourced from China (aka wood ear mushrooms). When I see garlic in the stores from China, I always think, “What? Did Gilroy go out of business?”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Elspeth says:

    I said in this post that we haven’t eaten a grilled cheese sandwich in a very long time.

    Well, we had something of a cold snap here in Florida (where a low of mid to high 40s is a cold snap). So I made grilled cheeses and tomato soup for dinner over the weekend. It was both nostalgic and tasty.


  10. Bike Bubba says:

    Going to grilled cheese in a cold snap illustrates why so many Minnesotans (myself included) have trouble keeping the weight off in the winter….savory food with umami and a good portion of fat tastes so good at 20 below….

    One side note, re-reading the post, is that you can avoid wood pulp in your cheese by simply buying it by the block. Especially with parmesan, you get a lot more taste out of it too. Double bonus is that it’s generally cheaper, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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