Extra Virginity

In the investigative book by Tom Mueller, a report on the frauds and scandals inside the universe of olive oil

31-10-2013
 (photo alabamachanin.com)

 (photo alabamachanin.com)

At last, Extra Virginity has arrived in Italy and in Italian, published with the title Extraverginità. In this investigative book, American journalist Tom Mueller reports on the frauds and the scandals regarding olive oil, with a Tumblr and a special hashtag on twitter (#extraverginita). Originally published in English in 2011, following the uproar that was created by Mueller’s article on the Italian olive oil industry, titled "Slippery Business", and published on The New Yorker in 2007, Extra Virginity has already been translated into various languages, from Japanese to Portuguese.

Everything began in 2004, when Swiss journalist and olive oil producer Andreas März, had 31 bottles labelled as “extra virgin olive oil” in a German supermarket, analysed. Here the results: only one of the samples was a true extra virgin olive oil, nine were only “virgin” and all the others (including some of the most popular brands in Italy) were non-edible “lampant” oils.

The cover of the book

The cover of the book

The book – with an inspiring subtitle such as "The sublime and scandalous world of olive oil" – widens this research and its spectrum. Besides illustrating the history of olive oil from different point of views, including its religious and culinary aspects, the book describes the current state of the olive oil industry and denounces the frauds and the corruption but it also presents what Mueller defines as “the oil people”: the virtuous olive growers and the representatives of the law enforcement agencies who fight against this phenomenon. Despite the important role played by Italy (or perhaps because of this very role) and despite the fact that Mueller spends most of the year among the olive groves in Liguria, the book is published in Italian only know, thanks to EDT, which in Italy also publishes the Italian edition of the Lonely Planet guides.

In a country that is among the world leaders in the production of olive oil and in which the import of foreign olive oil exceeds the national production and the historic brands are acquired by foreign groups, this is only the smaller of all paradoxes. So we should rejoice in the so called “better late than ever” and be ready to discover many – often unpleasant – things on Italian (supposedly) olive oil.

Tom Mueller, from Us, American, he's a regular contributor of New Yorker and lives in the hills around Genoa

Tom Mueller, from Us, American, he's a regular contributor of New Yorker and lives in the hills around Genoa

In the Italian version, on top of a few updates and an interesting appendix with a guide to help consumers choose extra virgin olive oil and foster their awareness – a campaign that Mueller conducts every day on his website – the preface by Milena Gabanelli stands out. There couldn’t be a more suitable person than the journalist and conductor of Report, who, with an episode dedicated to extra virgin olive oil in 2002 – which caused the programme to receive one of an infinite number of lawsuits opening a legal process that lasted 11 years – contributed in the uncovering of the most suspicious aspects of this sector and in the launching a series of investigations and changes in the labelling laws, in the same way as the article and the book by Mueller contributed in stimulating a reform of the qualitative criteria adopted for oil in the United States.

«Politics is not only conducted inside the places of power. All of us, as consumers, do politics when we choose what to put inside our shopping-basket». Writes Gabanelli. In this case, it’s a good idea to put the book.


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