The Olive Wars

After reading Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, I had one major takeaway. Never buy olive oil at a Supermarket again. Despite the fancy bottles imported from Italy, the stuff is nothing but lighter fluid. About ten years ago, I remember starting a diet, a change of life style as you call it, and switching to olive oil for cooking. Leave the vegetable oil behind. It was supposed to be healthier. And like most people, olive oil being more expensive, I purchased in bulk. Bertoli looked like a solid brand, made in Italy of course. Well, it turns out that I was consuming lighter fluid by the liter. It still turns my stomach. You see, there is no regulation of oils being imported into the United States. No quality checks.

I’d call this book a modern-day Jungle by Upton Sinclair. There are many of these books coming out today that discuss the merits of gluten-free diets, fast food practices (you never want to read how a real McDonald’s McNugget is processed from start to finish), and how chickens have been bred to hardly walk these days. This book takes a deep dive into the history of oils, and it’s actually fascinating. Wars have been fought over shipping lanes and olive trees. It’s amazing how hardy these trees actually are in certain climates, including the Middle-East (Now, a good mid-west winter would destroy the best of trees). There is so much history found in this book.

After reading, here is what I learned:

(1) Never buy Olive Oil at the Supermarket no matter how much it costs. Fancy labels don’t always make good olive oil. In fact, when Supermarket oil was actually tested, about every bottle was rated as lampanate quality (low-grade oils used for burning, an example would be lighter fluid) and some much worse than that. It is truly amazing what the human body can stomach. So, instead of throwing out that poor olive oil use it for fixing that squeaky door in the house or start a fire. Then, go buy some good stuff.

(2) I learned what Odysseus smelled like from the Iliad and the Odyssey. Apparently, the Greeks bathed in this stuff all the time. I thought the look of the Spartans in the movie 300 was a bit overdone, but it turns out to be accurate. A scientist actually went to the trouble to recreate the exact oil used by the famed warrior. Yes, I thought this was odd but does show that you can truly do anything given enough time, money, and determination.

(3) You get what you in cent. There is a black market for cheap olive. That’s why people take a small amount of real olive oil and cut it with other cheaper types of oil. Even Mark Twain wrote about this back in his day. If people only accept the low cost, you get poor quality in return, or actually less in this case. Buyer beware. And pay attention to what you put into your body.

(4) Learn what a good oil tastes like. I actually went out and found the oils the book recommended. Check out the Olive Press, a grower in the Sonoma area. Good oil tastes different than what you are used to. And it will make you a better cook. Drizzle the good stuff on on something as simple as a fried egg in the morning and you will truly be surprised and inspired.

(5) It’s surprising how broken the world’s legal system really is in some industries. There are so many kickbacks in this industry it makes our own political system pale in comparison. Now, the United States Government hasn’t been around 250 years; maybe, just give it a little time to catch up to to the olive oil industry.

(6) That the American view of dieting is flawed; especially, when it comes to fat intake. It’s the type of fat consumed that truly matters.

The sad part of the book is that you can’t make money producing good olive oil. Even startups in California, producing the quality stuff, can’t seem to make a profit. The companies that cut cheaper oils are putting the squeeze on those that do it well. This is nothing new. It’s yet another reason to support the local farmer or anyone that steps up to make a quality product.