`"Extra Virginity" Book Review Has Plenty of Quips, But Misses the Point - Olive Oil Times

"Extra Virginity" Book Review Has Plenty of Quips, But Misses the Point

By Curtis Cord
Dec. 13, 2011 12:37 UTC

A review of Tom Mueller’s book by New York Times writer Dwight Garner begins by mak­ing a car­i­ca­ture of one of the peo­ple Mueller pro­files: There’s a funny moment when an olive oil expert holds up a bot­tle that’s cov­ered with dubi­ous claims: 100 per­cent Italian,’ cold-pressed,’ extra vir­gin.’ ”

Garner con­tin­ues: The man shakes his head and says, per­haps with a hint of Don Rickles in his voice, Extra vir­gin? What’s this oil got to do with vir­gin­ity? This is a whore.’ ”

The man, Flavio Zaramella, is a ter­mi­nally-ill Milanese busi­ness­man and expert olive oil taster who, among oth­ers pro­filed in the book, is work­ing to shed light on the cor­rupt prac­tices in the olive oil indus­try.

The leap to the American wise­crack come­dian Don Rickles is a far one, but it’s one of many in the book review by Garner, who seems more con­cerned with string­ing together a suc­ces­sion of one-lin­ers him­self, than con­sid­er­ing the seri­ous sub­ject of food fraud.

The lengths Garner goes to find his stabs are sur­pris­ing, includ­ing a crit­i­cal assess­ment of the dust flap descrip­tion of the author’s home. Mueller does indeed live in a medieval stone farm­house sur­rounded by olive groves in the Ligurian coun­try­side out­side of Genoa — (not a nine­teenth-cen­tury colo­nial mod­ern in Frenchtown, New Jersey). But Garner calls the jacket detail the prose equiv­a­lent of Corinthian leather.”

Out of this immensely inter­est­ing book, Garner plucks three words here, four words there, to build another quip: One man here has a hint of won­der in his voice.’ Another laughed, high-pitched and mer­rily.’ A woman has almond-shaped eyes that seem to look straight into your soul.’ This same woman has a twin­kle in her eye.’

Garner snaps, it is as if we are read­ing about elves.”

I never felt that way, because I read those words in the con­text of the rich por­traits of intrigu­ing peo­ple Mueller vis­ited around the world — instead of pulling a few snip­pets out for a clumsy book review.

When Garner comes around to what’s really at stake, it’s with a belit­tling tone of sar­casm. The news Mr. Mueller brings about extra vir­gin olive oil — E.V.O.O., as Rachael Ray likes to put it — is alarm­ing,” Garner writes (for some rea­son includ­ing in the sen­tence a hyper­link to an obscure web store that sells gift bas­kets but offers no clue to the iden­tity of its owner or from where it is oper­ated — not unlike the anonymity of adul­ter­ated olive oils). And of course, Garner knows if you ever really want to say some­thing is alarm­ing, you don’t let it share a sen­tence with Rachel Ray.

Then there’s this: The Food and Drug Administration con­sid­ers this adul­ter­ation a low pri­or­ity. Grody olive oil is not killing any­one. We’re talk­ing about a first-world prob­lem here. Caveat emp­tor.” Notice the absence of a colon or com­mas that would help attribute each of those sen­ti­ments to the FDA. Garner con­ve­niently omit­ted the colon so you don’t know where the down­play is com­ing from — the FDA or Garner him­self.

But caveat emp­tor did­n’t help the 800 peo­ple who died and 20,000 hos­pi­tal­ized from olive oil adul­ter­ation in Madrid in 1981 (and not much has changed since then). Olive oil fraud is a seri­ous global health issue and its ongo­ing prac­tice endan­gers the eco­nomic and cul­tural sta­bil­ity of olive oil-pro­duc­ing regions through­out the world — per­ils that are only now com­ing to the fore­front, thanks in large part to Tom Mueller.

Garner saves the best for last, as he tosses aside thou­sands of years of his­tory, cul­ture, cor­rup­tion and the ded­i­ca­tion of pro­duc­ers who craft one of the world’s health­i­est foods: Where there’s a flask of olive oil, you also pray to find some vine­gar.” Right. My sen­ti­ments exactly, Mr. Garner.

It would be too bad if Garner’s review, clearly con­structed to be enter­tain­ing instead of a seri­ous look at the impor­tant top­ics Mueller brings to light, pre­vented peo­ple from read­ing this essen­tial book.

Book Review: Olive Oil’s Growers, Chemists, Cooks and Crooks, by Dwight Garner


Related Articles