You must have heard a lot about counterfeit electronic equipment. They are among the classics of modern piracy, as are some designer sneakers, designer clothes and certain bags. But the evil imagination seems to have no limit. Now — believe me — they are falsifying the prosaic beans. The surprising scheme was identified this month. People took tons of cowpeas planted in São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, where the product was painted with a green edible dye and sold at fairs as if it were cowpea. The two types of legumes have a lot in common and can be substituted for each other in many recipes. The biggest difference, from the perspective of those who commit the crime against the popular economy, is the price: the cowpea, whose kilo reaches 27 reais, is four times more expensive than its cousin.
“’Milk mix’ is sold as condensed milk. ‘Dairy drink’, whey-based, passes for milk”
Food counterfeiting may be absurd, but it’s not unheard of. I remember situations in the bakery in which they used to “dirty” the refined flour of recipes with wheat bran so that the products took on an integral aspect, a practice from which we have not completely gotten rid of. This crappy wholemeal bread, although it was far from having at least 4 grams of fiber per 50-gram serving (a proportion that I already consider acceptable), was sold for a value equivalent to that of the most nutritious product, much higher than that of refined white bread. Other well-known examples of food adulteration are the “oil and olive oil compound”, which is available as if it were olive oil, and the margarine and butter mixture, sold in regular butter packs. Those who cook often have already learned to redouble their attention in these cases, so as not to run the risk of seeing the recipe go wrong.
With the same objective of confusing the consumer, products have appeared that only look like their more expensive counterparts. “Milk mix” is sold as condensed milk. “Dairy drink”, made from whey, passes for milk. “Cream flavor requeijão” is on the shelf next to the requeijão. There is even a “coffee-flavored beverage powder” marketed as if it were ground coffee. None of this is a crime, exactly, since the specifications are described on the packaging, but who’s to say it’s not cheating?
In times of high inflation, counterfeiters seem to feel encouraged to illegally bill with the difference in prices between products of different qualities. But it’s not just today, not just around here, that people try to sell a pig in a poke. The expression, by the way, was already common in the times of Camões, in the 16th century, at the same time that cowpea arrived in Brazil. It is said that in cheap inns in Lisbon and Coimbra it was common to serve one meat for the other, earning undue profit. The poet used the expression in a comedy in which he explored funny situations with doubles. Some time ago it refers to maidens who think that “with beautiful words / they sell us a cat in a poke”.
But there is nothing funny about the fact that, in a country that is the world leader in food production, this type of expedient is resorted to, which makes the famine even more cruel.
Published in VEJA of October 5, 2022, issue #2809
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