Sunday, March 14, 2010

Working Together - Trusting One Another

It’s becoming ever more difficult for consumers to know really what they are eating – and the number of stars or diamonds associated with the restaurant provides little confidence.  Over the past several months, several news stories have highlighted the false and often misleading claims of purveyors, stores, and restaurants as “organic”, “natural” or “local”.  NBC News in Washington, DC ran a recent story about produce in Whole Food Stores carrying the USDA Organic Label that actually comes from China and has never been inspected or audited by an organic monitoring organization.  Jane Black of the Washington Post also wrote a front-page story about the “local and seasonal product” claims of the much acclaimed DC restaurant “Founding Farmers”.  Farmers, commercial growers, and large truck grocers and  have been caught claiming “free-range” or “better than free-range” poultry when the birds live on concrete floors in large chicken houses and never venture into the out-of-doors. 

“The Farmer”, a year ago, provided lamb samples to a highly acclaimed, four diamond, resort in Central Virginia from which one order (a two-week supply) was then placed.  Unfortunately, the resort’s chef wanted a larger rack and loin that would be commonly found on Colorado lamb and at Sysco prices – from which they were currently purchasing their lamb.  Thus, “The Farmer” moved on, having only supplied the resort with a singular order, and peddled his lamb to several “Top Chef cheftestants”, Iron Chef America challengers, and James Beard Award nominees.

Recently, “The Farmer” heard that some changes at the resort may have occurred and that a new Chef may have been hired, so a scan of their website was in order to see what changes, if any, had been made.  Their website indicated the same Executive Chef who preferred the price of Colorado lamb to the local Virginia lamb is still in charge.

So imagine “The Farmer’s” surprise when he looked at their menu and saw that only one farm, only one local purveyor, was listed on their menu and it was his.  There it is, “Border Springs Farm Lamb Loin”.  Here it is Saturday, March 14, 2010 and the singular order of Border Springs Farm Lamb was delivered in early April of 2009.

It would have been a surprise if the farm name had made it to print on their menu with the delivery of only a single order.  It is amazing to see that some 12 months later, the farm and its product is listed as the only “local” menu item.

Farmers have an ethical responsibility to Chefs to represent their product honestly.  Many farmers, and “The Farmer” as well, use a third-party auditing organization to lend credibility to their product claims.  “The Farmer” is proud to carry the label “Animal Welfare Approved” which involves an annual on-farm audit from their staff as well as an on-site audit of their slaughter facility. 

Likewise, Chefs have a responsibility to represent the farmer’s products honestly and ethically.  If the farmer says they raise Certified Naturally Grown products, they should not represent them as “organic”.  If the baby chickens or turkeys are not born on the farm, they should not say they are “sustainable”.  And by all means, if you are not buying a local farmer’s product, you don’t list them on your menu.

Supporting local farmers is a grand and noble thing. Serving great local food is devine. Claiming you do and then not even buy their product is simply despicable.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, I think that this type of behavior goes on more than people know. As producer I think that before selling a product it is important to make sure there is some shared values, and not just the next best sales opportunity. That was also interesting fact about Whole Foods.