Food Fraud + The Double-Shift

Food Fraud--Burger + RingsI’ve been a server my whole adult life.

I remember getting my first job in the food industry at 15, at SUBWAY.  While my boss taught me to use the meat slicer, running a glossy molded ham the size of a football across a spinning blade, I had the distinct thought: Who in their right mind would want to work their whole life with food?

It wasn’t what I wanted.

At 18, I was promoted to waitress at a local pub, a foot in.  I was told the money was good and it was.  At the time I didn’t realize my deeper aspirations would slowly evaporate in the shadow of progressively unstable mental health and then take decades to surface again.

At the IFOA in Toronto a few years ago, the poet Don McKay told the audience, “Poetry is subversive in that it occupies the same space as explanation–but there is something else…a different way of speaking and knowing …”

What drew me to create this blog is this:  the blog as macro-poem, a collage of different parts of myself in any particular week, the ideas I believe in, and, yes, the vast subject of food, which I’ve come to consider now as medicine.

No good poem is dead easy to explain.  No server is just a server.

This week hasn’t been great.  I’m not gonna lie.  A plant-based diet helps but in the last short while I’ve blown up on a family member and a co-worker.  A nutritious, whole food vegan diet–which generally keeps my mood in check–can’t, of course, eradicate every less than postitive aspect of my personality.

But this last difficult while doesn’t make me want to ditch plant-based and eat cheeseburgers and ice cream.

As luck would have it, since making the transition to mostly whole foods seven months ago, motivating reasons to eat this way just keep racking up.

“What should I write about this week?” I needle my husband. He doesn’t miss a beat.

“Counterfeit food,” he says, to my confused look.Food Fraud--fake burger

It’s true.  I’m not talking about juice labeled ‘all natural’ that turns out to be mostly sugar, water, and flavouring.  

Interpol just announced its largest seizure of fake food and drink ever, more than 10 thousand tonnes and 1 million litres–white sugar cut with fertilizer, chicken preserved in formaldahyde, and processed olives painted green with copper sulphate (to name a few examples).  “Around the world, food fraud is an epidemic–in every single country where food is produced, food fraud is occurring,” says Michael Weinbery, president of Inscatech, a company that advises on food security.  Earlier this year France was in a minor media uproar after undercover journalists filmed manufacturers making cheese with artificial substitutes like processed palm oil.

Food Fraud--hot dog

The Europe-wide scandal in 2013 surrounding the substitution of cheaper horse meat in what had been labeled beef products seems to be only the tip of it, and in most cases the supermarkets themselves aren’t even aware they’re selling these products.  Restaurant owners, suppliers–any business is at risk of being tricked.

Food Fraud--fake sammy

The CBC, with Chris Elliot, the founder of the Institute for Global Food Security, reports: “Big crime syndicates are even buying entire food processing companies. During the daytime they’re making the real food products, and at night they’re producing counterfeit goods. They call it the double-shift.”

Two-thirds of takeaway "ham and cheese" pizzas from the county of Derbyshire in England don't contain any ham or cheese
Two-thirds of take-out ‘ham and cheese’ pizza from the county of Derbyshire in England doesn’t contain any ham or cheese (See story here)

It’s not happening in North America???…

Additionally, I found: “In 2011, Consumer Reports did a story on counterfeit fish and found that more than one-fifth of the seafood that they purchased at retail stores and restaurants in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were mislabeled as different species of fish.  And while sometimes people are often eating just a different type of fish than they thought, sometimes they’re eating — well, who knows what they’re eating?”

“Ten percent of food that consumers buy in the developed world is adulterated,” Shaun Kennedy of the University of Minnesota says in a a report by The New York Times.

“So what’s a grocery consumer to do?” Brent Bambury of the CBC asks Chris Elliot.

The more steps there are between the food being harvested and us eating it the greater our chance of consuming something other than what we think we’re consuming.

Elliot says: “What I do is buy as much local produce as possible, because it comes from very, very simple supply chains.”

Produce.  He buys produce.  No steps in between.  Easy peasy.

Poet Charles Simic observed that “poems (in the beginning) are like a table on which one places interesting things one has found on one’s walks: a pebble, a rusty nail, a strangely shaped root, the corner of a torn photograph, ….where after months of looking at them and thinking about them daily, certain surprising relationships, which hint at meanings, begin to appear…”

This is where I’m at with the blog after a couple of tough weeks–a few things seem to be emerging–not the least of which is recognizing myself as a server, now, of my own renaissance.

Thanks to Mye De Leon for posting this photo in her Instagram feed this week (and Uppercase publishing inc. for reposting). Mye is a lettering artist in Singapore.
Mye De Leon posted this photo in her Instagram feed this week (and thanks Uppercase publishing inc. for reposting). Mye is a lettering artist in Singapore.

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