Olive & Oil 02/01/2012

Really so scandalous and sublime the olive oil world?

In a period of global communication, also a little local news could have enormous commercial impacts. A book also more. Could the consumers be educated by scandals?

What's happened in the olive oil word?
In the last period also countries, where the attention for this product was low, begin to care extra virgin and to inform about properties but also problems.

In the past, the information about a new food came directly from the export nation with less possibilities to control the source of reports, tips, advices. Now internet allows to arrive to the sources of information easily and quickly. A sure advantage but not always. This reports are often incomplete or partial. The idea of a product or of a sector could be damn, also by persons or professionals who think to do the best.

A recent article (23th Decembre 2011) on the Italian newspaper La Repubblica was read by Chinese government who decided to block, for more controls, the Italian olive oils arrived in Shanghai and other big cities for the celebration of New Year, a traditional period in witch Chinese people exchange gifts. The damn for Italian producers will be very tall also if we are sure that nothing irregular will be found in the extra virgin exported in China.
Chinese newspapers are are giving great importance to this news, enriched with useful information to distinguish good quality olive oils.

In the same moment, in the USA there is a shock reaction by the Tom Mueller' book "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil". Review on important magazines and articles on newspapers. The author will be sure happy of this return of popularity. Tom Mueller, some years ago, had in the USA other days of celebrity with a fierce critic article published by The New Yorker. The new book takes inspiration by that article and by the report of U.C. Davis and demonizes about all olive oil sold in the United States and in the American continent.
Tom Mueller tells the true? Yes, but not all. He describes the sector of olive oil in witch the defrauds rule the market, in witch the industries and the main and famous labels cheats to make enormous gains. I think that Tom Mueller, as expert, knows the real incomes of brand leaders and knows that everywhere, in developed countries, the buyers make the prices, leaving low profits to the industries. The negotiating power, today, is all in the hands of large retailers.
In the book there are also some usefull advices that Tom Mueller clinchs also during interviews. “When in doubt, resort to the smell test. It should smell fresh and fruity, without any hints of mustiness” he suggested, but in the supermarket you can't smell the olive oil before buying.
The suggest is helpful and instrumental to grow education and sensibleness of US consumers to olive oil. The Tom Mueller's activity is meritorious.

We have only a doubt. Could the consumers be educated by scandals? Could the scandals be the engine of a change?
You can find the answer in an Italian book: “Il Gattopardo” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. A character of this novel, the Prince of Salina, tells: “everything changes so that nothing changes”.
It's possible to educate also with some little provocations and polemics but these devices, usefull to attact the attention, must not take over. The risk, if it happens, is building up the fear and the alienation from olive oil, the best vegetable fat on the world.

di Alberto Grimelli