Which Is More Fake: The Food or the News?

We’ve all heard of “fake news,” but what about fake food? Or, rather, fake news about food? I’ll explain.

It won’t come as a shock to most readers that there are some pesky foods out there masquerading as others: like imitation crabmeat, cheaper oils passing for extra virgin olive oil, or sushi fish that’s just plain not the fish that’s being advertised.

In China, the disparate issues of fake food and fake news seem to be combining into one big shitstorm, with fake news circulating that allege certain foods are fake, when in fact they’re not. Now I know that’s an earful, but bear with me.

Recently, a video of a popular packaged seaweed circulated the internet. The video claimed to show that the seaweed was made of plastic, and though this claim has been disputed writ large, the sales of seaweed dropped drastically.

Li Xiaojiang, manager of Abiyo Food (which sells seaweed), told Quartz News that the fake food news has a measurable effect on their profit margin. He said, “This is detrimental to us. These videos cost us millions of yuan, whether the rumor spreaders intended to do it or not.”

Xiaojiang poses an important question here: What is the intent of this type of news? Essentially, those creating this content are preying on the vulnerability of the credibility of food marketers. In recent years, real food scandals (like the melamine milk scandal of 2008) have caused a drop in the public’s confidence regarding the authenticity and safety of foods that they consume.

Of course spreading false narratives isn’t a good thing, but being vigilant about knowing what goes into the food that you eat is important! You shouldn’t believe everything you read, but that applies to the words printed on the labels of food as well.