I was talking to the olive-oil guy at the farmers market the other day, and he told me something shocking: that just because a bottle of the green stuff says "extra virgin" doesn't mean it's even pure olive oil. What?! He said regulations are in the works but that currently it's a labeling free-for-all.
Then comes this post from Grist. Apparently olive oil production is big business in southern Europe (makes sense, given how popular it is), and that it's "drawing down the water table, squeezing out biodiversity, and drenching the earth in chemicals." Meanwhile, the small-scale artisans responsible for the world's embrace of olive oil in the first place are getting their prices undercut by the big bad guys.
The piece goes on to echo what my local olive-oil maker told me: that a huge percentage of the product that appears on our supermarket shelves as extra-virgin olive oil "is actually cut with cheap sunflower and hazelnut oil, as this 2007 New Yorker exposé shows. These counterfeit oils, too, are no doubt grown under ecologically devastating circumstances."
So buy local if you have the option!