Book Review: Extra Virginity

I was chatting to my neighbour once, telling him about the oil mill which I am making, and explaining my plans to market my olive goods as a single estate product. I started explaining how my oil, by virtue of a rapid from-picking-to-press process, would differ from the rest. He explained with an outburst there are only two types of olive oil: good and bad. All this hype about virgin and extra virgin, and the other categories which they periodically introduce: all constitute lies and deception. Now, we are all aware that there is nearly always some element of deceit in advertising, and many councils and institutions are set up simply to promote trade. I did a little digging and came across Mr. Tom Mueller. He has written a really good book about the olive oil industry called ‘Extra Virginity’. It is obvious Tom has thrown himself into his research, and he really does deserve credit for his exposé. I was compelled to write to him through his Truth in Olive Oil website. Here is a copy of the letter:

Dear Mr. Mueller,
Earlier this year I read Extra Virginity. Your book is an education, and you deserve recognition for your bravery in exposing marketing deceit. I would recommend the read to anyone as an eye opener into just how meaningless a label on a food container can be, and indeed, how ignorant we are when it comes to malpractice within the food industry. What I find particularly noteworthy is the way the farmers you met in the course of writing the book buy into the hype: they seem to revel in the olive oil romance. Farmers I know seem to be down-to-earth, cynical, and conspiracy theorist, so those you interview somewhat surprise me. I am an olive farmer, of sorts, and my experience is that farmers concentrate more on their operations and keeping up with nature, than trying to convince themselves or their immediate families that olive oil is some precious gift of which they have a sacred duty to produce its raw material. As an exponent of raw and whole foods, and guided by the maxim ‘too much of a good thing is bad for you’ I consider liquefied olive oil itself to constitute fraud.

Any concentrate or preserved foodstuff coming via an industrialized process undoubtedly introduces some element of deceit into the food chain. This could be monetary, in health, or by depriving a citizen of employment, the list goes on. I have one particular problem with your book, and I think it demonstrates my point. You may just put it down to semantics, but I cannot grasp your concept of eating olive oil. Simple fact we don’t eat liquids aside, the oil contains no fibre or bulk by which it may be identified as a complete foodstuff. I thought about whether we eat butter: if we do we never really consume it in large amounts like, say, potatoes. Generally we apply olive oil as a condiment, along with something which we do recognize as being able to be eaten.

But on the other hand neither can I consider that one drinks olive oil. Try drinking the stuff and you’ll soon realize that your body will only absorb so much of it, and leave the rest to pass through you, in quite an uncomfortable manner. There is something not right – bodywise – about overgenerous amounts of oil in one’s diet.

You could have used the continental form take, but then you would not convey the message I think you were trying to: that the oil is a whole food. I have found many proclamations that it isn’t. Indeed, there are some scientists warning that liquefied oil is bad for you in the same way as is refined sugar.

I do believe oil of olives is good for you. I have observed a detergent quality in liquefied olive oil when applied to the skin, far more potent than sunflower oil. I dare say olive oil has a similar surfactant property when inside the body too. However, I believe the oil should only be consumed as part of the whole olive. By eating the whole olive your oil intake is always moderated, and easily integrated into a balanced diet. Obviously, I’m not referring to eating jarred olives preserved in brine etc. Nutritionally, they are seriously degraded, virtually void of straight oil, and rather high in sodium content. Neither do I refer to simply picking them from the tree and eating them, for that is quite a challenge. I’m talking about the raw, dehydrated type which are practically unprocessed by human intervention. I’m sure during your travels you have come across these. They are palatable, tasty in a phenolic and resinous way, and quite oily. I call them ‘tree olives’. I have spent years in discovery, and finally, after much experimentation, I have learnt how to produce them myself. I market them through my own enterprise Olia Borruix. I’m selling them directly to persons wishing to include them in their diet, and there are no middle agents in my operation.

Practically unprocessed by human intervention, and with no middle-man in the sales operation, this truly is fraud free olive oil.

Johnny Fitzsimmons