THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- FAKED OUT - PART THREE

by: Wes Ishmael

CHOSEN REALITY

“…Mama's Best Protein—Bet you can't tell the difference,” said the whiny voice recording of Marsha Caterwauler.

The recording was how Benny Wilson and Myron, just Myron, introduced Hooter to her nefarious plan to win the fake meat wars by selling real meat products but claiming they were plant-based replicas or cultured from animal cells.

“Admittedly, somewhat brilliant in its simplicity,” Myron had said. “She can offer a lower-cost, fake product, one that tastes just like the real thing because it is the real thing.”

“But, why would anyone go to the trouble?” Hooter wondered.

“Money, you moron,” both Benny and Myron replied in unison.

“I get that,” Hooter said. “But it seems like an awful long ways from helping run a sham animal rights organization to selling fake meat, and a whole lot more work.”

Marsha and her ex-husband, Vernon, had owned the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute, a fraudulent business built upon the ill-gotten gains from phony animal rights organizations run by Vernon and a partner, Ernest Nimblewimp. Both men were doing a long stretch in prison for those and assorted other crimes. Turned out, Marsha was pulling the strings all along.

“More work, I'll grant you,” Benny explained. “But potentially, exponentially more money than any of us could imagine.”

Almost the Oldest Profession

Hooter agreed to meet Benny at the rancher-lawyer's infrequently used office in Amarillo to get more detail. Later, they were supposed to meet Myron at some undisclosed location. Hooter hoped it wasn't at the same miniature golf course where he first heard the recording of Marsha Caterwauler. He froze to a nub that day; he'd melt to a puddle today.

Hooter was turning the knob on the rickety door when he heard the sharp, splintering crack of wood, followed by a series of thuds and then the kind of swearing that could make a sailor blush.

Hooter pushed against the door and some weight on the other side of it, until there was a big enough gap to slip through. Before him was a landslide of books, ledgers, notebooks, files and papers. Benny was in the corner, cussing and apparently trying to beat a cinderblock into dust with what was left of a 2X4.

“I don't suppose there's any reason to ask who's winning,” Hooter shouted over the racket.

“None, whatsoever,” Benny hollered back. “Good for nothing store-bought wood, wouldn't hold up a midget's union suit. But, I was in a hurry to add some shelves, went to one of those chain stores instead of a proper lumberyard. Sit down…Just kick those out the way, I was done with them anyhow.”

Hooter opened up enough space and found the only visitor's chair. Benny did likewise, knocking detritus from his red leather desk chair, which was now missing a wheel, apparently. He was sitting at an angle, but didn't seem to notice.

“Fascinating. Truly fascinating,” Benny announced, motioning to the piles around him and then slicing a wedge of his plug tobacco. “Trying to profit by selling something different than what is claimed may be truly the world's second oldest profession, with food products leading the way.”

“Huh?”

“Fraud in general, food fraud, specifically, Benny explained. “You can find all sorts of examples going clear back.” He gnawed his chew, plucked a leather notebook from his shirt pocket. He was more excited than Hooter could remember seeing. “For instance, back in Roman times, supposedly, some vendors added lead to wine for a sweetener. Fast forward to America in the 1800s and some dairies either diluted milk or added all kinds of stuff to inferior tasting milk to make it taste better.”

Hooter leaned forward to ask a question, but Benny hushed him.

“And, I quote, ‘Some of the earliest reported cases of food fraud, dating back thousands of years, involved olive oil, tea, wine, and spices.' That's from a Congressional Research Service report just a few years ago. They go on to say that ‘foods and food ingredients commonly associated with food fraud include olive oil, fish, honey, milk and dairy products, meat products, grain-based foods, fruit juices, wine, organic foods, spices and alcoholic beverages.'”

Hooter knew than Delmar Jenkins would take umbrage at anyone suggesting his shine was less than authentic.

“According to that same report, the Grocery Manufacturers Association estimated that fraud could cost the global food industry $10-$15 billion every year, and affect 10 percent of all commercially sold food products,” Benny explained. “But that's likely way conservative. They pointed out that most incidents are never detected because they don't usually cause a food safety risk and because consumers don't necessarily detect a problem.”

Hooter thought about fish, which he never liked, except for catching them. He was proud of the fact that he wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between genuine lobster or sand crab if you fed it to him.

Hooter could tell Benny was just warming up as he riffled through the notebook.

“Of course, some of it does create a big problem,” Benny continued. “Remember a few years back, there was that pet food coming to the U.S. from China that killed dogs and cats? Turned out some supplier used melamine, which is used to make plastic, as a replacement for some of the corn gluten in order to cheapen it up.”

Shades, Nuances and Degrees

Benny stopped to look for the spit can he kept beside his chair, which never made any difference, given his pathetic aim. He spied a Styrofoam cup in the corner and gave it a shot. Bulls-eye, to both his and Hooter's astonishment.

“Whether this Caterwauler cow really thought this through or stumbled into it, you've got to give her credit, she couldn't have picked a riper orchard for larceny. There's just so many layers involved.” Benny explored a pile of papers with the toe of his boot, apparently looking for a writing utensil. Hooter fished out the stub pencil he always kept in his pocket.

“Think of it Hooter. You've got blatant adulteration with something like melamine and pet food. You've got substitution, which could be diluting one product with another. You've got mislabeling, intentional and not, where you slap a label for a similar, higher-priced product on something worth half the cost. For instance, you sell extra-virgin olive oil. It's olive oil, but it's not extra virgin. How do you know? Or you buy a certain kind of cheese, and it's cheese but diluted compared to what you think you're buying. That's all layers, before you consider shades and degrees of truth.

“Like, for instance, how can soy milk or almond milk be labeled milk? Or, what's locally grown mean? The definition of local is broader than Aunt Bessie's bloomers. Then there's my old favorite, Natural beef. Good grief, all beef is natural.” He aimed for the cup again, less successfully.

“So?”

“So, that's how easy it can be to sell something fake. That's how hard it can be to stop such fraud. So, this is going to be one fun ride.”

To be continued.







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