Olive Oil Activism

It has been a fascinating six months since Extra Virginity was published last December.  During this time I’ve traveled almost constantly on four continents, and seen olive oil ferment everywhere.  Awareness is growing:  more and more consumers understand that fine olive oil is among the healthiest and best-tasting foods on the planet, and that it’s fresh-squeezed fruit juice – a seasonal, perishable product.  They’re also starting to realize that they’re being systematically cheated:  that most “extra virgin” olive oil is actually an inferior substance without the taste and health benefits of the real thing.  That sometimes their “olive oil” isn’t made from olives at all.

During my travels, I saw a few public officials start to recognize these problems.  In January, at a hearing at the California State Senate organized by Senator Lois Wolk, I joined a number of oil producers, merchants and authorities to testify about the need to reform in olive oil in America, and to name several companies actively engaged in oil fraud.  Four months later, in Australia, I watched a popular protest by oil-makers on the Parliament lawn in Canberra draw senators out to see what the fuss was about; one of them, Senator John Williams, later delivered an impassioned speech in Parliament defending great olive oil in Australia, and demanding a government crackdown.  Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the EU Agriculture Commissioner was reputedly planning major reforms in the olive oil sector (here), while my ever-growing correspondence with oil experts and top growers around the Mediterranean reminded me of the enormous skill and knowledge in olive oil’s heartland.  In the US, growers in several states proposed a federal marketing order (here), which aimed to set, and to enforce, more stringent chemical standards.

All this has been inspiring.  Yet now, back home after six months on the olive oil trail, I’m starting to ask what has actually been accomplished.  And at least as far as fighting oil fraud is concerned, what I see is a series of broken promises and false dawns.  Six months after the California Senate hearing, the olive oil fraudsters we named continue to operate with impunity.  The pledges by Senator Williams and other Australian officials to safeguard quality oil in their country have proved empty – the government has a list of substandard oils, yet leaves them on the shelves.  The ballyhooed EU reform has turned out to be a dud which has brought no major changes, and positive movements like the federal marketing order in the US are being obstructed by Big Oil lobbyists, in partnership with ignorant, or complicit, politicians.

One thing is clear to me:  we can’t wait for the public servants, anywhere in the world, to fix this mess.  To achieve justice in olive oil as rapidly as possible, we have to drive the process ourselves – to create a new model for engagement with olive oil companies, consumers and the public sector.  Over the last six months, I’ve been stunned by the number of emails, blog comments, phone calls, FB and Twitter communications I’ve received, from thousands of people asking about olive oil, suggesting an excellent one I’d missed from my list of great oils, or asking my views on a suspicious oil.  Experts in a range of fields – chemistry, advertising, the law, media, food science, internet data mining, and a dozen others – have offered their services to the cause.  I’ve come to see that there’s a silent army of potential olive oil activists out there, ready to act. 

It’s time for us all to act.  To this purpose, Truth in Olive Oil is evolving from basic information on oil to something more incisive.  As a start, I’ll be tackling three major projects:

Citizen Oil Activism – I’ll be asking for help from everyone interested in joining the cause of olive oil quality, on work including:

  • Local intelligence on oils good and bad in your area, including smart phone shots of your local shelves so we can start mapping the oils now available across North America.
  • Methods for guiding/pushing your local authorities, store and restaurant managers, and other folks in a position to defend oil quality better.
  • Professional advice in a range of fields, as we search for the best strategies to elevate great olive oil and expunge its rancid look-alikes – messaging, data, contacts, etc.

I’ll post a citizen’s olive oil manifesto soon – please chip in with comments below or an email, with your ideas for how to chart the straightest course to an olive oil revolution.  Actions that are always honorable, yet eager, inventive, relentless.  Outrage made coherent.

Targeted Testing – Since the FDA and other federal and state agencies claim they lack the resources to test olive oil quality and authenticity, Truth in Olive Oil is going to start test oil, and publishing the results.  I have a long and ever-growing list of target olive oils, some of which you’ve been asking about on the website, others which, as an investigative journalist, I’ve heard about from people who work in the olive oil industry or have had on my radar for awhile now.  As time and money allow, I’ll start testing their chemical and sensory properties at world-class laboratories, and reporting the results on this site.  So keep those oil questions & suggestions coming.

Fresh Squeezed – Last but not least, a feature-length olive oil documentary is in the works!  Together with a crack film crew, I’m making Fresh Squeezed, which captures the worldwide drama of olive oils both fine and foul, celebrates the sacred beauty and cultural richness of this age-old foodstuff, and shows the fight to make olive oil quality a basic consumer right.  Here and there in the world, particularly in the olive oil trenches in Australia, I’ve been traveling with producer John Dunton-Downer and camera ninja Paul Jackson.  Far from the conventional food documentary that reveals abuses and tells viewers what to think, our film aims in itself to become an agent of change:  by showing how concerted citizen action coordinated through the web can improve oil quality for consumers, help honest oil producers to prosper, and compel lawmakers to act against fraud, Fresh Squeezed itself becomes a part of the movement, a prism which magnifies the focus on great oil.  Expect to see a trailer here soon.  We’ll also be asking you to video and send us your own olive oil stories – epiphanies, discoveries, news, great oily moments – for inclusion in the film.

There are many more initiatives underway.  Ultimately, Truth in Olive Oil aims to become a gathering place for fellow olive oil lovers, who want to trigger a tipping point in olive oil quality.  And this fight is bigger than olive oil alone – oil is merely the glistening, gorgeously green tip of a shadowy iceberg of food fraud.  One of the great questions of our times is:  Without corporate goodwill or effective government oversight, how do we ensure Truth in anything we eat?  While we’re at it, how do we exact the Truth from the officials charged with protecting our food supply?  If we find a way to fix olive oil, we’ll have a plan of attack for many future food fixes, a template for consumer-driven change.  Working together, I believe we can demand – and achieve – Truth in Olive Oil.


Brazil is begining on olive

Brazil is begining on olive oil.
In the sate of Rio Grande do Sul there ara about 800 ha , with a small, honest and growing prodution. All farmers are interested in produce an honest and high quality olive oil.
Uruguay also has excellent olive oils.
Pay attention to these two countries. They're gonna be very important in the future.

I live near the McEvoy ranch

I live near the McEvoy ranch in Marin County, California, where "honest olive oil" is made, and from there got interested in the question of "which oil is actually 'extra virgin'"; then the book EXTRA VIRGINITY was a recommended read.  "Recovering Journalist" and former consumer reporter that I am (KABC/LA for 18 years), I have now become mildly obsessed by the subject.
I recently visited the amazing store Amphora Nuevo in Berkeley and had a wonderful afternoon sampling a huge array of "honest olive oil" at that wonderful place. I came home with four small bottles (so it wouldn't have time to turn rancid!) and realize that I am now into a whole, new world.
Thanks to you all working in the field. I will follow this subject with avid interest from here on out...
Ciji Ware

India has begun the large

India has begun the large scale cultivation of olive oil. Us being an agricultural country and the increasing demand for olive oil by the customers and the present market clearly shows the need for activism. There is no strict regulation for import, which is making poor quality olive oil flow in the market.
Time to react is now!

Count me in, Tom! This is a

Count me in, Tom! This is a much needed campaign and we are going to succeed! Thank you for launching it and looking forward to all the many amazing thihgs that we will do together as a global movement of olive oil makers and lovers.

I didn't assume I could study

I didn't assume I could study one more piece of facts on this topic but I guess I was wrong! Your post has topped a few of my preferred author's to
read each day and that's not a simple thing to complete. Fantastic job! What will your next publishing be about?

Bravo Tom! Congratulations on

Bravo Tom! Congratulations on launching this much-needed campaign.  As a staunch supporter of local food products and their producers and a resident of a prime olive oil growing area, I will make sure to stay in touch and keep your news  in the public eye.

Thanks for the great site and

Thanks for the great site and taking things in this direction politically.  Can't wait to see the film and continue being a part of education friends and family on this *amazing* fruit.  Everywhere I go I travel with a box of various olive oils we have found.  At dinners, in homes, with friends, chefs in training, family, and people I just met we have had tastings.  The greatest pleasure is watching someone sincerely enjoy a sip of great olive oil and see the light go on in their eyes - especially when you taste a good oil against an oil off the shelf that more than likely has a greesy, old, or rancid taste.  I have yet to meet someone who doesn't love a good oil and doesn't absolutely appreciate what is going on in California right now.  

I absolutely agree with you

I absolutely agree with you and will try to help you in this crussade of the real olive juice.
We are -pretend to be- one of those honest producers that has been for over four generations in the pursuit of excellent olive oil in the South of Spain, and even though there are many cooperatives and big institutions cheating the consumer and trying to destroy small producers, I must say that there are many other like us, Finca Duernas, that do the opposite. Family business like Suerte Alta, Canena, Nuñez de Prado, Valdueza, Molí des Troms, Hacienda Queliles, Monva, Melgarejo, Fuencubierta, Alcubilla, Natalia de Prado, Pons, Olivar del Valle, Aresté i Teisidó, OMed, Santa Clara, Anfora, and many more are all based in Spain and the representation of these honest producers are very poorly represented in your book (which I have bought and recommended to many of my friends)
Are you considering to include some of the honest Spanish producers -that have been for over 200 years arround- in your Fresh Squeezed documentary movie? We represent the other part of the story ... I honestly think you should. It is only a suggestion from a honest producer in Spain (of many)

This sounds like a fantastic

This sounds like a fantastic idea.  I'm a huge fan of olive oil.  I'm not a producer, wholesaler or retailer.  I'm simply just one person in Canada who's interested in this need for better regulation and support but am willing to help out in any way that I possibly can.  We have a right to know what we're buying and ultimately, consuming and a right to have only quality products on our shelves for sale.  I'd love to help in any possible way.  This is a great idea to continue to strive to educate others and eventually force some change for the better.

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
I am a Western Australian small grower and I really appreciate the things that you are doing. I  do believe that things will change and that we can indeed look forward to truths in other foods apart from olive oil. Also there needs to be a closer emphasis and understanding of nutrition. In fact I think there will be a nutrition revolution and a gross reaction against the food companies and their constant efforts to "add value"!!
But first there is a lot of work to be done. I am "between jobs" at the moment and would love to help you by masterminding a world-wide database of olive oils. I have lots of ideas on how to create a living, authoritative database covering groves, growers, companies, processors, brand-names, batch codes and of course lab test results. It would need reach and speed because the crooks out there can create brand names until the cows come home.
It would need to be funded. Collecting notarised samples from around the world, submitting them for testing and administering the database itself, would cost money. Anyway, I'm up for it if anybody out there wants to back it!
By the way, for a bit of a giggle, see my website: http://www.westerngroves.info/a-diamond-jubilee-commemorative-gift-for-h...

Hello there Tom.... check our

Hello there Tom....
About uruguay
....check our site, we have really a little piece of the Tuscany at Uruguay. Amazing. Hope you can visit us someday.Or maybe we can meet at Expoazeite.
Check also ASOLUR web site www.asolur.org.uy
Actually we have at Uruguay more than 90 producers, 15 factories and rising 8.000 has planted.
All we - the producers & farmers - are doing only Extravirgin Olive Oil.
In our company, we have 25 different cultivars/varieties, 9 of them are our core: Frantoio, Leccino, Picual, Coratina, Arbequina, Barnea, Manzanilla, Farga, Empeltre and the newest ones Picholine and Koroneiki.
You can get our product ast Dean & deluca, at NYC. It is one of the best buys on olive Oil.
It is Nice to be in touch.

Hi, Tom. 

Hi, Tom. 
On the subject of Citizen Oil Activism, one suggestion for effecting change is to circulate your open letters via email to all of us – your subscribers – allowing us to add our names to the letters and post them to our social media pages to amass even more signatures. You can collect the signatures and send them to the targeted influencers and decision-makers, along with publicly posting your letters and the number of signatures that have been amassed.
Another is to craft compelling messages for Twitter and trying to hit trending benchmarks, being sure to use hashtags to call out officials, companies, or topics that you want to address. Notify subscribers ahead of time with the goals and timing via email and Facebook to make sure to get the most exposure and participation for each campaign.
These are also great ways to grow your supporter base, which is essential to our tasty, tasty cause.
Thanks for all you do!

We Love everything you are

We Love everything you are doing to promote the truth in olive oil. Tasted olive oil at a farm in Tuscany in 2006 & it made me wonder what I had been eating & putting on my food all these years. It was a true epiphany! We need truth in olive oil!

Hi Tom, 

Hi Tom, 
Olive oil has been a passion of mine for a long while. Currently I'm a private chef and working in an elementary school. I take a less is more approch in all my cooking, so a focus on good ingredients is key. I'm happy to help get the word out and whatever else you need. 
We just got back from Paris and discovered this great olive oil place called Péchés de Provence. We tasted a lot of great olive olive from Provence but our favorite was the Aglandau. Fruity and peppery... delish!

Hi there, just wondering if

Hi there, just wondering if this is the Tom Mueller who wrote the article 'Valley of the Whales' in National Geographic? If so, thank you for such a fascinating, beautifully written read!
Just wondering if you could clear something up for me: In the sentence, 'Basilosaurus, Dorudon, and their relatives never set foot on land, swimming confidently on the high seas and even crossing the Atlantic to reach the shores of what is now Peru and the southern United States,' does this mean that Basilosaurus fossils have been found in Peru? If so, could you please point me to the findings that mention or suggest this?
Any assistance is very much appreciated! Cheers.

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
We are an independent retail store specializing in fine oils & vinegars in Annapolis, Maryland. We are practicing exactly what you preach about accountability and transparency in all the Extra Virgin Olive Oils we sell. All our California olive oils are certified by California Olive Oil Council as extra virgin. We send our International olive oils out for analysis to Agbiolab in California. Due to the rigorous research we perform before buying oils we have to date had only one oil fail analysis. We are able to show our customers documentation for every olive oil in our store. This is an expensive endeavor, yet it gives us the ability to without a doubt supply our customers with some of the highest quality extra virgin olive oils available.
We are not associated with any one importer/distributor/wholesaler, we passionately research each oil/grower in an attempt to bring to light the otherworldly experience of a true extra virgin olive oil. We would love for you to visit our store so you can witness our grass roots commitment to the cause!
Linda and Saleta Cameron
Cleo's Fine Oils & Vinegars, Annapolis MD

Thanks go to you for saving

Thanks go to you for saving our family from the depths that producers will stoop to sell us olive oils. I've taken up the torch and been promoting good EVOO and your book with a fervor my friends and relatives are shocked at, but receptive none-the-less.
Soon we plan on doing a "book and a movie" night(through our public library) and seeing as how "Fresh Squeezed" is not out yet, do you know of any movies that may have olive groves, olive trees or olive oils as part of the setting or story? A good food movie, no doubt.
The evening will culminate with an Extra Virgin Olive Oil tasting session, with some good balsamics and snacks to round out the educational effort.
Any help would be appreciated.
Many thanks for your dedication to our beloved EVOO!
Andy LeBlanc

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,

One question about acidity in olive oil: Is it true that it is the amount of insects and worms in the olives that primarily determines the level of acidity in olive oil? The idea is that the juice from the insects and worms ferments, becomes acidic, and somehow or other manages to become a part of the oil. This was related to me by an expert, but I'm still a bit doubtful about this statement.

Greetings, Donald.

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