My recent article, Not All that Glitters is Gold, has attracted many comments, and it’s been fascinating to watch their evolution. They remind me of the old game of “operator”: people form a line, and the first person says a phrase into his or her neighbor’s ear. What comes out the far end frequently bears no relation to what was originally said. I’d like to address some of the questions raised by commenters, and hopefully, bring the conversation back to what was actually said at the outset, in my article. In reality, many questions that people have been asking were already answered in the article, and in previous writings on this site. Other questions have grown out of the comments without referring to the article at all, and have no basis in fact.
Why are you doing this?
As explained in this post from last July, Truth in Olive Oil aims to celebrate great olive oils and call out questionable oils, thereby helping to ensure that consumers get fine oils and that honest producers aren’t undercut by low-grade substitutes. Part of this initiative is the Truth in Olive Oil testing program. Relying on my own knowledge from 6 years as an investigative journalist in the olive oil industry, as well as on information from people who work in the olive oil industry and on the sampling and testing of oils, I have identified a number of companies in the supermarket, bulk and boutique oil markets, some of whose products I have tested further and some I will analyze in the future. One of these is The Olive & The Grape, which in the last 3 years has grown to a network of about 250 locations. Other reports will appear on Truth in Olive Oil in the future.
Some commenters ask whether I’ve tested oils from a wide range of other stores. Truth in Olive Oil does not claim to be able to be comprehensive about olive oil quality in North America, but is attempting to draw attention to products of high quality and raise questions where they arise. (For further details see Targeted Testing, here). It does so, again, by relying on knowledge, spot-tasting, site visits and industry information, which helps narrow down the universe of oils to be tested.
How were the samples collected?
The oil samples from The Olive & The Grape stores that were tested were either ordered by phone, or collected in person at the stores. They were shipped unopened, sealed in their original packaging, to the laboratory. No olive oil company played any role in the collection, shipping or testing of the samples. At a separate time, I visited The Olive & The Grape stores in Scottsdale and Tubac, and tasted a number of oils.
Who paid for this?
One of my favorite comments so far: “How can a freelance journalist afford something like this?” I knew most people put freelance journalists pretty low on the food chain, but now I know just how low. Anyway, this question is answered in the About page of www.truthinoliveoil.com, which was linked in the text of the article. Individuals and corporations who want to improve olive oil quality in North America support Truth in Olive Oil’s activities, including its oil-testing program. Veronica Foods is not one of these supporters – in fact, none of Truth in Olive Oil’s supporters competes in the boutique olive oil market. (For more on this, see the About page. For more on the aims of Truth in Olive Oil, see here) The making of Fresh Squeezed, a documentary film about the olive oil industry worldwide which is in its early stages of development, is independent of the oil-testing program. A number of companies, including Veronica Foods, have offered one-time assistance in making parts of Fresh Squeezed – again, more information in the About page.
Does Veronica Foods have anything to do with this?
Veronica Foods and other producers and purveyors of olive oil have been mentioned in my writings, and listed in the Great Oils pages on this site (see here, here, here, and other Great Oils country pages), because of the experiences I’ve had with the oils themselves, the high level of olive oil knowledge I’ve observed among their store owners, and the resulting oil + educational experience that consumers can receive. I have taste tested oils at a number of Veronica Foods stores, incognito and/or unannounced, and found them uniformly excellent. I have seen extensive lab test data, and consulted with the lab technician that did the work. What’s more, Veronica Foods is only one of many quality olive oil merchants and producers whose work I have reported on. Among others, the Truth in Olive Oil Great Oils list for North America page indicates 255 Williams-Sonoma stores, 93 Sur la Table stores, numerous olive oil boutiques from franchises like Oil & Vinegar and We Olive, as well as one-location outfits like The Olive Press in Sonoma, Mike Madison’s Yolo Press, Corti Brothers, and many others. I have also written about high quality olive oils available in supermarkets and big box stores (see here). Helping consumers to find top quality olive oil and solid oil education are among the main aims of Truth in Olive Oil.
As an independent journalist in olive oil, I believe that commenting on and raising questions about olive oil quality is part of my job – investigation and evaluation go hand in hand. I draw my own conclusions based on evidence and experience, and speak for myself alone. (For more on this, see the About page.)
Why Modern Olives laboratory?
Modern Olives laboratory was used for the chemical and sensory testing because of the international reputation of this lab and its staff, members of which I have met at international olive oil symposia and technical conferences. Modern Olives has been accredited by the International Olive Council and the Australian National Association of Testing Authorities, ISO (17025), and the American Oil Chemists’ Society (with 2 awards for 1st place in accuracy). It is used by the Australian government and by the Australian Olive Association for their industry monitoring, as well as by numerous major international oil companies. In addition, Modern Olives laboratory head Claudia Guillaume is an American Oil Chemists’ Society approved chemist (meaning zero errors in inter-lab comparison for five years in a row), and is a leader in research into key new tests for olive oil quality. In fact, Modern Olives has perhaps the most extensive experience in the world with two of the most important new tests, pyropheophytins (PPP) and 1,2-diacylglycerol (DAGs). For an accurate and chemically sophisticated analysis of olive oil quality, Modern Olives is an obvious – in fact almost the only – choice. I was not aware that Modern Olives was owned by Boundary Bend, one of the many suppliers of olive oil to Veronica Foods. This is however common practice: about half of IOC-approved labs are owned by olive oil companies, and to maintain their accreditations, these labs must maintain strict autonomy from their parent companies, which is audited annually by the accrediting organizations. I have no reason to think that Modern Olives would jeopardize its world-class reputation and numerous prestigious accreditations with anything less than accurate scientific results.
Where are the original lab results?
As a journalist, I don’t share my original research material, just as I don’t share interview notes, correspondence with sources, etc. This is standard journalistic practice. The salient data from the laboratory reports was summarized in the article and its footnote. At my request, Modern Olives has reviewed the results as reported in my article and its footnote, and confirms that they are entirely accurate.
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I hope this helps cut through the swirl of comments, many misinformed, surrounding my article, and refocuses discussion on its actual content, which I think deserves close attention.