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liuzhou

Food Fraud

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From your first linked article:

Quote

"I was also surprised at how casual they were about it," she said. "Almost like they didn’t recognize that it was a misrepresentation."

 

Sad to say but I am absolutely not surprised either that in this world this is now more the norm than an anomaly.

 

If one pays attention to other areas of our lives and world then one can see that values and morals have changed significantly over the past 30 or so years.

 

One could attribute the 'seeds' of this particular culinarily-related phenomena to the high cost of organic foods or the weather or whatever you want, but, once one begins to market a 'lie' to oneself and others, it gets easier and easier to conveniently 'forget' that it is a lie - and hey, everyone else is doing it too. It's 'marketing'. It's 'survival'. It is however not honorable! But, it is now the new normal. And because people know that it makes it harder for honest establishments to sell their own stories. Slippery slopes.

 

When someone says I am eating grass-fed beef, much as I would like to believe that from calf to cow/bull, the animal I am consuming was fed nadda except grass from birth to last meal (no grain supplements and no pesticides/hormones/antibiotics were ever used), in most instances, it would be ludicrous for me to buy that line literally. But, 'maybe', just maybe, the meat is a bit closer to truly grass fed or organic than if I went to Golden Corral. If I eat at a high class establishment, I want the food to be very edible and well cooked so my assumption is that the cook at least tried to source ingredients that would make that possible, especially knowing the price they will be asking me to pay and the fact that they want to stay in business. But, do I believe all the hype on the menu? That would be stupid if you ask me.

 

The upside is that you can usually trust that the foods sold in restaurants where they do NOT tout farm to table are indeed just from the local supermarket or trucked in by Sysco from their warehouse and are nothing special other than they were the cheapest available. And by the way, the verbiage 'farm to table' for vegetables, etc. is usually not a lie anyway - since most vegetables are grown on a farm somewhere, probably just not locally. 'Fresh' is a word that gets stretched a lot too. What does 'fresh' mean? Today, in some supermarkets, that can even mean 'frozen but not for long'! If I didn't see you pick it from the back garden, I have to assume that it is not 'that' fresh even if you tell me it is.

 

Quote

"It makes me a little embarrassed and moving forward, I’m sure I’ll be a lot more skeptical of people’s claims," she said.

 

Bravo. Better to learn in middle age than not at all. Maybe if the school systems (and parents) really taught people (their children) to think critically, we might all be better off. Much of the world is being snowed 90 percent of the time in all areas of life - why not in the restaurant industry too? I would hope that most people know that most words aimed at consumers when it comes to most products are only for 'marketing' purposes, but unfortunately I know that is not the case these days. People are heads down in their iPhones oblivious to truth and logic - and consequently they get taken for a ride.

 

p.s. I will believe someone like gfron1 if he says that x, y or z on my plate is foraged - mainly because I 'know' his personal integrity and background and those particular ingredients are not commonly available on the market or are so perishable that they would not make it to the plate looking at all perky had they come from anywhere but locally and today.


Edited by Deryn (log)
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It's nothing new, food fraud has been an issue for a very long time, see here, here and here.

There are no guarantees; but knowing your grower, if possible, is a good policy.

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The problem, as I see it, is that now people either expect lies (and therefore wouldn't know truth if it hit them in the palate). Fraud used to be a horrible thing and was somewhat isolated in occurrence but it is expected nowadays and therefore has become the norm.

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I agree that there has been an increasing trend of fraud among SOME "natural/organic" growers over the past 20-30 years, folks who jumped on the bandwagon for the the money rather than a matter of principle.

But, in this area away, they are few and far between.

I suppose it varies greatly from area to area.

I don't think that one, generally, needs to spend much time with a grower to tell the difference between those who are passionate and principled and those who are just in it for the money.

 

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In northern climes, where fresh vegetables (unless grown in a specialized greenhouse environment) are purported to be 'local', they had better be in some 'preserved' form when served in winter for me to even begin to believe they are still 'local'. They could be organic (maybe) however but I don't know one would 'prove' that. People who dine and/or run restaurants really need to think before they eat or write their menus - and, if you vary the menu by season, you are more likely to have people buy into the 'local' part at least.

 

But, really I don't think most people even care any more. Except in very high priced places, where there is a reasonable expectation for truth in advertising, and delivery of a high quality product, most probably don't 'expect' the flowery descriptions on menus to be anywhere near accurate (other than when it comes to taste and texture and comfort on the plate).

 

And, even with air transportation these days, 'fresh' ocean fish served in the heartland is a bit beyond my ability to fully believe in. Lobster in a tank by the door is not even guaranteed to be really 'fresh' (strange as that may seem) since I know they can be held that way a long time - and in my experience here where I have tried 'fresh' live lobsters both right from the ocean, as well as well out of season but held in tanks, doing that changes the taste/texture, not to mention that even in season one gets very different tastes/textures based on whether the lobster is hard or soft shelled (just molted) at the moment. And yet most menus where lobster is served say the same thing about their lobster all year long.

 

Common sense (which is not so common any more) and a life of eating experience go a long way towards one's ability to discern truth from 'marketing fiction' in my humble opinion. Believing that everyone else will tell the truth is foolish. Whether their 'marketing lies' constitute legal fraud in today's world (where everyone is doing it) is questionable. It is rare (does it even really happen?) for anyone to be prosecuted for menu lies. A farmer purporting to sell organic produce however may be held to account - but not a restaurant that says they serve organic. Right or wrong, it is what it is. As I said, slippery slope - and the result of same.

 

The more I think about it, I think this particular reviewer was just stretching for a 'story' for want of anything else distinctive to report about at the time - even at the expense of making themselves look a bit ignorant by claiming that they were astonished at the 'fraud' that might be going on in the restaurant business.


Edited by Deryn (log)
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(Rambling thoughts since I can't quite make it coherent today)

 

Thanks for the comment about me above Deryn, and I accept it with restraint. I'm fortunate in that I'm a one person show in the kitchen for my dinners, so I do know the source of everything that I hunt, forage and grow. However, as I've sat on this article for a few days I've decided that there are three culprits:

1. Chefs who like to tell a good story;

2. Chefs who have been forgetful;

3. Chefs who lie.

I look at the motivation of each before judging. I'm not defending the outcome, just the motivation. I am certainly guilty of any or all of those at some time. And I suspect all chefs are at some point whether its knowingly or out of ignorance. I want to share some known examples that I've had in recent months.

 

a.  Met a couple of foragers last weekend on holiday, who work with a handful of big name chefs in a large midwestern city. Big name. They told me story after story of a chef asking for a specific item, and how they would head down to the bank down the street and snip their flowers (pollution and theft), or go to a private farm and glean the edges of the field (pesticides and theft) only to have the chef claim that "he foraged" the ingredients. So much wrong in this scenario.

 

b. A local chef responds to a negative TripAdvisor post that he flies his seafood in daily, as a means to explain his prices. We are 3 hours to the nearest airport. We have a regional airport but they do not fly his seafood in. Outright lie.

 

c. A local chef (Me) runs out of 4H lamb for 3 days before I butcher my next, and serve lamb from the grocery store. Didn't re-print the menu. No bones about it - its a lie. 

 

d. Same local chef (Me) just last night harvested lettuce from my greenhouse for dinner, but we had a bigger turnout than I expected. I mixed a tub of organic grocery greens in with my greens. No explanation was given to the customer. Nowhere do we claim it all comes from the greenhouse, but I think my customers assume, as the article points out, and accept the story blindly.

 

So here are four very different examples, all of which have different motivations behind them. Should I have caught the menu error - absolutely. Should the first chef be claiming that he foraged the items when he hadn't. and that foraging might mean from unacceptable sources? I'll let him decide that for himself. The lying chef is just outright lying. But, I don't know that I say any of these examples is better than the others.

 

And lest you think this doesn't include the biggest of the big names. I know a forager for one of the top chefs in the country, and same story. He's a bit vague in how he describes who does his foraging and where ingredients come from. I would be surprised if anyone is immune. Like I said, chefs love a good story.

 

None of these is acceptable. But running a business...I can at least understand how it happens. So...When I read this, I sat down with my staff and we talked about what was found. I asked them for things we've done, and the list started growing. Most fell under the "didn't update the menu," while others were more serious such as a week when we ran out of elk and served bison and I didn't change the menu, and servers didn't notify guests. (side note, bison is more expensive than elk so it wasn't working in our favor). 

 

I asked how we can claim the high road (as we like to do) when we let little (or not so little) things like these slip by. All were known to someone at some level. Someone or everyone should have opened their mouths. I get it, we're tired; we're busy; we're human. But we agreed to dig deeper and hold each other to a higher level. First thing I did was delete the part of the menu that listed sources. If I can't/won't maintain it for accuracy, then it shouldn't be there. Personally, I printed the graphic from the cover of the article and made it my desktop on my computer, and posted it at my work station in the kitchen. Token action, but hopefully, next time I'm tired or don't want to reprint the menu and am willing to ignore that minor fib...I won't when I see that graphic.

 

Random - I remember reading how Canada is much more aggressive in finding lying menus especially around wagyu and such.

 

A final thought. I disagree about the value of the article. I found it well researched and powerful. She should be immensely proud of what she did and hopefully the lasting impact it has on the industry. We all deserved a good kick in the ass.

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Fraud has become a norm. Not just in the food industry, but in life. Think politics, finance, sports. When caught, people shrug their shoulders and get right back in the game. And they are welcomed back in the game! It's like there's no sense of shame at all. It used to shock me, it used to shock everyone. It doesn't any more, and I'm not sure how far removed that puts me from the frauds themselves. I know this is a food board and we'll stick to the food industry, but overall I don't think it can be separated out from all the rest of it. 

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3 hours ago, Deryn said:

Common sense (which is not so common any more) and a life of eating experience go a long way towards one's ability to discern truth from 'marketing fiction' in my humble opinion. Believing that everyone else will tell the truth is foolish. Whether their 'marketing lies' constitute legal fraud in today's world (where everyone is doing it) is questionable. It is rare (does it even really happen?) for anyone to be prosecuted for menu lies. A farmer purporting to sell organic produce however may be held to account - but not a restaurant that says they serve organic. Right or wrong, it is what it is. As I said, slippery slope - and the result of same.

 

 I wholeheartedly agree. 

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My favorite story was many years ago when I was on a business trip with my then boss.  He drove not much out of the way to have breakfast at his cousin's restaurant.  "Real maple syrup" was on the menu, but what I received was artificially flavored sugar water.  Even so labeled.

 

Of course we were not charged for our meals and even if we had been charged it would have been on the expense account, but still.

 

 

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I remember some years ago ordering bread and butter in a café in London. I forget what with - fish and chips, perhaps. What arrived was clearly what passes for bread, and MARGARINE. Not even some trendy low-fat can't believe it isn't nectar from the gods garbage, but solid baking margarine uber-garbage. Industrial effluent.

 

I remonstrated that it wasn't the advertised butter. The young server was baffled and called on the boss who patiently explained to me, in tones I've only otherwise heard being used to address a child of  obviously low intelligence, that margarine IS butter and butter IS margarine.

 

It pissed me off so much that I did report them to the local trading standards people. Not something I would normally do, but...grrrr.

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gfron1 - Thank you for your excellent examples. All I can say is ... you have high standards and a conscience. I do understand why your particular substitutions were made, and the fact that you were not comfortable with them (or with not 'advertising' them) tells me all I need to know. Had I been there and ordered 'elk' at your establishment, whether or not the 'elk' I thought I ate was really bison (and there is a good chance even though I have eaten a lot of game meat that I would not have known the difference), the overall quality of the meal would have been excellent I am sure - and even if I found out, all I would have taken with me was a good story to tell for years. Your changes were short lived and not intended nor deliberately designed to deceive. 'Things happen'/mistakes are made - and one compensates on the fly with no real intent to deceive for gain. Understandable. Not so much the other examples you described of others' behaviour.

 

Liuzhou I have had a similar experience with the 'confusion' between butter and margarine - and a similar response from the cook and servers. Absolutely annoying that these people really believe that they are interchangeable or the same product. I question their qualifications to be cooking food for customers for money. Didn't report it (would not have known who to tell to be honest) but I will never go back there either.  

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It's been going on forever.

One of my all time favorite books is 'Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, From Poison Candy to Counterfeit Coffee'.  

The butter/margarine thing is really inexcusable, and perhaps a mention on Yelp is warranted if one doesn't know how to contact real authorities. That said, in the US, we gladly eat cassia sold to us as cinnamon, whereas an English home cook of 150 years ago would have known the difference.

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15 hours ago, Deryn said:

Whether their 'marketing lies' constitute legal fraud in today's world (where everyone is doing it) is questionable. It is rare (does it even really happen?) for anyone to be prosecuted for menu lies. A farmer purporting to sell organic produce however may be held to account - but not a restaurant that says they serve organic.

 

Here's one local case (not a restaurant, but a purveyor of gluten free products) that was prosecuted with a very harsh sentence of 9-11 years handed down. I'm pretty sure there's more to the story than can be found in the article, because a prosecution like this is extremely rare. He ruffled some powerful feathers somewhere, I suspect. One does not do that here.

 

But you are right Deryn, about most lies, fraud and big white collar theft not being prosecuted today. It's just the normal SOP for doing business today. :(

 

There are some of us left that remember when people took pride in their work and product, and their reputation. Now even when they are caught, they shrug/laugh it off and go on as usual. The authorities usually ignore it too.

 

I do have one personal success story here locally with food fraud. A local low cost grocery chain which shall not be named was pouring up to a pint of water into large, four or more pound packages of chicken parts. They have to put those horrible large diaper things under the chicken now to absorb the exudate that oozes out of the perfectly legal "up to x% solution" that has been injected to ostensibly make the chicken moist and tender, but is really done to drive up the chargeable weight.  Some of the stores, to one extent or another were taking advantage of this and obviously adding water to the packages.

 

I got angry and sick of it as it escalated and they kept getting away with this flagrant fraud. I called whatever passes for the Bureau of Weights and Measures in NC after looking around on line. I did not expect results, but shortly after my call, the practice disappeared, although there was nothing in the news, and the stores go on as usual.

 

So maybe if people begin to speak up, instead of just thinking, "Everyone does it, what can I do?" small changes can be chipped away, even in these Hell-in-a-handbasket times.

 

 


Edited by Thanks for the Crepes (log)
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2 hours ago, Lisa Shock said:

It's been going on forever.

One of my all time favorite books is 'Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, From Poison Candy to Counterfeit Coffee'.  

The butter/margarine thing is really inexcusable, and perhaps a mention on Yelp is warranted if one doesn't know how to contact real authorities. That said, in the US, we gladly eat cassia sold to us as cinnamon, whereas an English home cook of 150 years ago would have known the difference.

 

An English home cook today would know the difference.

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40 minutes ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

Whether their 'marketing lies' constitute legal fraud in today's world (where everyone is doing it) is questionable.

 

It certainly is illegal under UK law (Trade Description Act (1968). That is why I reported the butter-margarine thing. They probably weren't prosecuted, but given a sharp warning.

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I have a story on the butter/margarine thing too. There used to be a restaurant in Raleigh where I have eaten both the best stuffed whole lobsters in my life many times, and also the very worst one in my experience. I'm naming Neptune's Galley, because it's many years defunct, and the building is now occupied by Pam's Farmhouse Restaurant with no affiliation to the owners of Neptune's. Pam's BTW is excellent, as Neptune's was in its heyday, and run by a real sweetie of and old NC country girl. I find myself lapsing into the vernacular whenever I'm lucky enough to eat at Pam's. :)

 

Neptune's used to be a date night destination place, with an oyster bar, and many expertly prepared seafood dishes. Top notch service and quality. They served a large and lovely whole lobster with the carapace hollowed out on the dorsal side and stuffed with mostly real crab meat and just enough other stuff to flavor it and make it the top of my list ever for stuffed lobster. The first time I ever saw a butter warmer was at Neptune's, the kind with the romantic tea light candle underneath.  It inspired me to search out and buy my own to use at home. This lobster was really from the god of the sea. Fresh, boiled first almost done, because everyone who has tried it knows that grilling or broiling a lobster from raw is a drying mistake that leads to rubber right? Then the premium expertly flavored stuffing was placed in the lobster and it was broiled to perfection and served with the melted butter, twice baked potatoes and a fresh and beautiful salad and fresh baked bread with more real butter.

 

The last time I darkened the doors while it was still Neptune's, and the worst stuffed lobster experience of my life, I got ripped off big time. The stuffing had turned to surimi, all the butter had turned to margarine, and the bread wasn't house made or fresh anymore. Being me, I spoke up, and the manager, told me it was the same, and what I was eating was real butter. NO. NO. NO and NO. So sad to lose such an iconic restaurant in our area, but they went out of business very shortly after my last visit and I think they were planning it at the time of my rip off. We are glad to have Pam's in the same space now, and it is a large and very lovely space. Still, I have so many fond memories of the restaurant when they were thriving and trying.

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5 hours ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

 

Here's one local case (not a restaurant, but a purveyor of gluten free products) that was prosecuted with a very harsh sentence of 9-11 years handed down. I'm pretty sure there's more to the story than can be found in the article, because a prosecution like this is extremely rare. He ruffled some powerful feathers somewhere, I suspect. One does not do that here.

...

 

So maybe if people begin to speak up, instead of just thinking, "Everyone does it, what can I do?" small changes can be chipped away, even in these Hell-in-a-handbasket times.

 

 

 

Sounds like many sick and vocal celiac sufferers spoke up in that case, and it's more like food tampering than simply not updating your menu. Spring mix instead of local handpicked baby lettuces isn't going to cause people physical pain. It does seem odd to simply be a repacker of bread though. 

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I worry about substitutions of fish because I have a severe allergy to iodine - found in ocean fish and I can easily avoid obvious seafood.

But I have been served "catfish" in a restaurant and within moments of taking a bite, I began to feel the tell-tale tingling that I recognized as being the start of a reaction.  I used my Epipen and was okay but the manager's attitude was "fish is fish" and "you're okay, no problem."

 

I tried to explain that for me and quite a few others, this is a life-threatening event, if I did not have the Epipen, swelling in my larynx could close my airway and kill me.

He said he had never heard of anyone dying from eating fish, except the "weirdos who eat that Fugu stuff."  

 

We left the restaurant, with the manager insisting the others pay for their meals, even though they did not eat them, because "they got what they ordered."  And threatened us with "legal action."  My friend's husband handed him his business card and the guy shut up.  At the time he was an attorney with the AGs office.

 

I no longer order fish in restaurants and rarely buy it in supermarkets.  Fortunately I have a friend who fishes, often in the California aqueduct and brings me fish that is guaranteed to be fresh water.  

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I've been reading this thread with fascination, amazed that people will actually try to pull off things like that. I hate to think I'm that gullible, because usually I am not, but I tend to take a restaurant or grocer at their word unless it's obviously not so. A few experiences, both pro and con, I've had:

 

  • Any number of restaurants advertising "crab-stuffed" anything, or any sort of crab in a sauce preparation, using imitation crabmeat instead.
  • A vendor at the farmers' market who got tossed out on his ear after his "locally grown" peaches were found to have been brought in from the Rio Grande valley, which isn't very local, by about 800 or so miles.
  • A purveyor of "farm-raised" pork, beef and lamb who apparently was selling more than he grew, and supplementing it with purchased meat. He's actually doing fed time on a related offense.
  • On the other side of the equation, a restaurant in a town where I once lived advertised wagyu beef. I went to dinner there one night, and was cautioned by the waiter that they wagyu steak wasn't wagyu, as the chef/owner had looked at the shipment and rejected it, going with Kobe that night instead.

 

And on the butter/margarine issue -- I used to belong to an organization that sold Maine lobsters, either live, cooked on-site, or the frozen tails. For the cooked on-site, we included corn, potatoes and melted butter. One year, whoever bought the groceries for the event bought margarine instead. I came unglued when some of the cooks suggested to me it didn't make any difference, and went to the store myself and got butter.

 

Margarine is nasty stuff. I'll use it when I'm eating at my favorite local greasy spoon meat-and-three, because they don't offer butter, but that's about it.

 


Edited by kayb (log)
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@andiesenji, sorry about your "catfish" experience. :o Glad you were able to save yourself. What a shameful reaction by the manager! Fortunately, that kind of ignorance is becoming rarer as more people realize the liability to them involved, and that is a good thing. I didn't really get the whole allergy thing myself, until a lady I worked with at the YMCA who was directly involved in managing our afterschool programs for thousands of kids explained to me that some kids who walked into a movie theater where popcorn was cooked in peanut oil could instantly go into anaphylaxis. That hammered the point home that allergies are no joke to me. I just wish the picky eater, manipulator, control freak types did not exploit this, because it's what's makes folks not take it seriously.

 

@kayb, you sound like the kind of person I would love to have working at any restaurant where I ate. :) Especially with an expensive and so delicious food as lobster, or even corn on the cob, margarine should be a crime.

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16 hours ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

@andiesenji, sorry about your "catfish" experience. :o Glad you were able to save yourself. What a shameful reaction by the manager! Fortunately, that kind of ignorance is becoming rarer as more people realize the liability to them involved, and that is a good thing. I didn't really get the whole allergy thing myself, until a lady I worked with at the YMCA who was directly involved in managing our afterschool programs for thousands of kids explained to me that some kids who walked into a movie theater where popcorn was cooked in peanut oil could instantly go into anaphylaxis. That hammered the point home that allergies are no joke to me. I just wish the picky eater, manipulator, control freak types did not exploit this, because it's what's makes folks not take it seriously.

 

@kayb, you sound like the kind of person I would love to have working at any restaurant where I ate. :) Especially with an expensive and so delicious food as lobster, or even corn on the cob, margarine should be a crime.

A lot of people didn't take allergies serious thirty years ago but now more people are aware, since their have been some highly publicized deaths from allergic reactions.

 

I've been allergic to alcohol since the early 1980s, it developed slowly over time - I was never much of a drinker but had a scare one evening when I took a sip of a margarita and my voice abruptly changed, hoarse and raspy. I thought it was the salt on the rim of the glass and wiped it away but with another sip I lost my voice entirely.  At that time I carried an emergency shot kit, as the Epipen was not universally available and the expiration times were not as long as epinepherine in glass ampules.  

I saw my allergist the following Monday and he really didn't believe it was the alcohol but did some scratch tests on my back and said, yes, I was allergic to alcohol, pure grain alcohol so it wasn't a strain of yeast or other additive.

From that time I have always been careful about desserts, many include raw liquor.  I can cook with wine but it takes hours to reduce the percentage of alcohol in foods, much longer than most people realize. Now there are charts which detail the times required but twenty years ago, most chefs assumed flaming a dish would "drive off the alcohol."  

 

Regarding margarine, I never liked it and refused to eat it.  To me it always tasted like it had kerosene in it.  I'm a supertaster, have many more taste buds than normal so I taste flavors that many people can't sense.  They say elderly people lose the sense of taste but I'm now 77 and I can still pick up faint flavors that others do not notice.  And that includes alcohol.  Not long ago I attended a party where the host was grilling hamburgers and dosing them with a "secret sauce" before serving.  I asked if it contained liquor and he denied it but his wife said it did and gave me a spoon with just a dab on it.  I could taste the bourbon and said so, then asked for a bare hamburger absolutely no sauce. He was a bit miffed but complied and I avoided an unpleasant incident.  

He really thought I was just being contrary but I showed him the MedicAlert bracelet I wear that states, Anaphylaxis to Alcohol.


Edited by andiesenji (log)
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A more recent article on food fraud in the Tampa Bay area.  Farm to table BS and the whole ruse of the Farmers Markets.   I've been telling anyone who would listen for years ( not many cared )  that the farmers market produce came from the same places the produce in the supermarket came from.  No independent farms at these markets, just resellers

 

http://www.tampabay.com/news/farm-to-fable-a-times-investigation-into-tampa-bays-local-food-scene/2273052

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A Farmer's market with peaches in May isn't growing them locally

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