“Farm to table” has become the new attraction in restaurant fare. Eating local and supporting local with the chefs knowing the farmers, produce and livestock has become a huge selling point at hip urban dining spots around the nation. But it turns out that many of these “farm to table” claims are downright misleading and often times intentionally false.
It’s pretty obvious at this point that consumers are interested in what “farm to table” restaurants have to offer. And every restaurant differs slightly in their interpretation and sales pitch at the table. But most suggest that they source their food from local farms within a couple hundred mile radius. Many name specific farms and farmers. It certainly makes a patron feel good to know that they are supporting their local economy in a few different ways during their meal and makes the more expensive plates feel worthwhile. But, as a Tampa Bay Times food critic found out, the lies are served up in droves at many of these dining spots.
Farm to table restaurants may be selling you a load of pre-packaged baloney
That steak from down the street likely came from across the country instead of a cattle rancher the next town over. And that freshly caught fish came frozen from South America — last month. All of the cliche words like “organic” or “non-GMO” we’ve come to expect from restaurants vying for our dollars are often used without any truth to those claims.
Laura Reiley, a writer for the Tampa Bay Times, decided to follow the claims back to the source: The farmers and distributors. What she found wasn’t just the occasional inaccuracy but a trove of lies. Even though a farmer’s name was written on a blackboard next to the dish, many of these farmers said they have never sold product to the restaurants. And the excuses mounted from there.
‘Do you make these cheese curds here?’ the writer asked of one Tampa Bay restaurant worker. ‘Yes,’ said the bartender, ‘everything is made in house from scratch.’ It turns out that those cheese curds came shipped in a box. The fish and chips there aren’t fresh either, as claimed. They come frozen from China. And the list goes on.
Laura Reiley continues on to explain in her piece that no government or private entity is keeping watch over the way restaurants label their food. There are food inspectors in most states, but often they aren’t looking for blatant food advertising lies on a restaurant’s menu. And even if the perpetrators of those lies are caught, the fines are minimal.
This isn’t a problem solely in Tampa Bay either. There was a piece in San Diego Magazine as well documenting fraud in the “farm to table” movement. And just because there hasn’t been an investigative piece done on your town or city doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It likely is and no-one is keeping tabs. Be careful when spending big money at a “farm to table” restaurant. If you are concerned, do your own investigative work and look into the claims that are being made.
You also need to be aware in the grocery store and fish market. We told you back in 2011 that 22% of fish being sold is mislabeled. Much of this is outright deception to fetch a higher price for what should be a cheap piece of fish. The author of the Tampa Bay Times article found this to be true in her restaurant tests as well. Her grouper sushi turned out to actually be tilapia.
Paying $28 for a fried chicken entree becomes WAY worse if that chicken came frozen in a bag from far away. These restaurants are trying to tell a story with their menu, but it turns out that many of these stories are actually tall tales of fiction. And these lies aren’t innocent. They hurt the farmers and patrons as well the restaurants that are actually doing the “farm to table” term real justice.
You can read the full longform article from the Tampa Bay Times here. The number of fraudulent instances that the author found are astounding. Many Tampa Bay restaurants changed their menus as a result of the story to better reflect what they are actually serving. You as the buyer need to beware!