Food fraud

In the March 15th Economist, a story about food crime, “A la cartel: Organised gangs have a growing appetite for food crime”, beginning:

Gangsters used to send their enemies to sleep with the fishes. Today they are more likely to mislabel the fishes and sell them at a profit. Organised criminals who have long trafficked drugs are diversifying into humdrum areas of commerce — particularly food, booze and cheap consumer goods.

Two things here: the title of the story, with its play on à la carte and cartel; and a final linguistic flourish in the story itself:

Meanwhile, other controls weaken. In December another parliamentary group, the public accounts committee, noted that border police had given priority to passenger checks over other duties, including examining freight for illicit goods. Cuts to local government mean that the number of trading-standards officers is dropping. Worcester County Council proposes to slash spending on trading standards by 80% over the next three years. Britons can expect more corn fakes for breakfast.

Yes, the excellent corn fakes (echoing corn flakes).

The Economist (along with publications reporting on science, like  New Scientist and the NYT Science News) indulges in linguistically playful titles on a regular basis: puns, playful allusions, and the like. So the title is no surprise. But it’s worth some comment.

From Wikipedia:

À la carte … is a French language loan phrase meaning “according to the menu”, and used

• in reference to a menu of items priced and ordered separately, i.e. the usual operation of restaurants. This is in contrast to a table d’hôte, at which a menu with limited or no choice is served at a fixed price.

• to order an item from the menu on its own, e.g. a steak without the potatoes and vegetables is steak à la carte

• to describe a retail pricing model in which goods or services traditionally bundled together are separated out, putatively giving the consumer greater choice at lower cost. Examples include airline pricing where in-flight drinks or snacks are not complimentary, on-line music purchasing where individual tracks can be bought instead of entire albums, or pay television where individual channels can be ordered rather than a bundle of channels.

The phrase was adopted into English in 1826, predating by a decade the common use of the French language loanword “menu”.

As for cartel, from NOAD2:

an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition: the Colombian drug cartels.


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