Interesting article in today’s Tampa Bay Times about whether or not Bern’s Steakhouse really serves its customers locally grown organic produce as touted by their wait staff. The story reports that their original garden is closed and about to become a soccer field, and that a new garden will have a harvest later this year.
There are a few things about this article that have my attention today.
First, is that owner David Laxer admits that recently about 5 percent of produce served at the restaurant came from this garden, and the rest has come from suppliers. I don’t think anyone would have much issue with the fact that they are making some changes based on what is current and realistic for them; it’s how they communicate the source of their produce to patrons. And as far your ad goes in Local Dirt (the one that says you grow your own organic produce), Mr. Laxer, the owner is always responsible for the content of ads. My goodness. Own it and be truthful.
Second. This quote from the article is very telling to consumers: “the restaurant uses five 25-pound boxes of tomatoes a day, a figure that might exhaust the capabilities of all the local, organic farms put together.”
This speaks to the issue of supply and demand. Today demand for locally grown produce is much greater than supply, an issue that will take some serious problem solving. People want food that tastes like food and has retained some of its nutritional value. That means growing it locally.
In fact, supply and demand is how we got into this food mess anyway. Demand. We have a huge demand for food and suppliers, to keep up with that demand, devised all kinds of ways to artificially increase production, pre-package foods with preservatives and in cans that are lined with BPA, and processing that disassembles natural food and reassembles it in ways that are shelf stable, but unrecognizable to the human body.
Modern food production is a far cry from what it was a century ago, but then again, so is everything else. We can’t turn back time, but we can work together to find a new way of producing food that won’t make us obese, disease-ridden and malnourished. This article is a kind of a wake up call. Restaurants may want to serve healthier, locally-grown produce, but it’s really not possible as things are right now.
In a recent conversation with a manager at Sysco Foods who fields requests from restaurants, he said that while they can find some organic produce, they can’t find enough.
In an interview with the owners of Serendipity and Ohana Cafe, they shared how difficult it is to find organic food of any kind for their restaurants. It was their biggest obstacle to overcome when starting their restaurants.
In a conversation with a seller of beef that is grass fed and antibiotic free, he says there’s not enough room to raise the cattle necessary to meet the demand. With our population explosion and urban sprawl, where would all the free-range chickens roam and the grass-eating cows graze?
And finally in a conversation with a seller of produce at a local farmer’s market, he says his family has been in this business a long time and that people need to realize that this is Florida and we don’t have soil that is good for growing produce. Commercial farmers, he said, bring in soil and then there are the bugs ~ together making growing a tough proposition in Florida. He sells the locally-grown organic produce he can get, but finished with, “If it can’t be grown in Florida, it can’t come from a local farm. And that’s just the way it is.”
Third. This last point really got under my skin and is still irritating me. To fill you in, here is the excerpt straight from the Tampa Bay Times article (bolding is mine):
“According to Harry Balzer, who researches food trends for the NPD Group, the farm-to-table movement is largely about marketing. He sees consumers first and foremost as novelty seekers, with words like “local” and “sustainable” the flavor of the moment.
” ‘Local’ clearly has a wonderful feel to it right now and we’re seeing a trend toward clean ingredients and local food. It’s the issue of the day — what cholesterol was in the 1980s and nutraceuticals were in the 1990s. We go through fads. Consumers are always looking for new ways to define their food.”"
As someone who follows the issues of healthy living and healthy eating and is part of advocating for healthier bodies, I am seriously P.O.’d about this. I guess I could say, “Whatever, that’s your opinion,” and move on, but clearly I didn’t. Probably because it feels like an insult to any parent who is tired of processed mac n cheese and chicken fingers being forced on their kids by schools and restaurants. Or to folks who are fighting for their own health because they have diabetes, heart disease or cancer and they need clean and nutritious foods to restore their health. Or to parents whose children have ADHD or autism and they need clean foods for their kids. Or to anyone who has food allergies and sensitivities and needs clear and honest labeling.
Or to any intelligent human being who has realized our nation’s food supply is basically crap. I don’t think aspiring to health and wanting disease-free kids is the flavor of the moment. I don’t believe that Americans who are now educated about GMO’s, pesticides, processing, added flavorings, antibiotics and produce that is artificially ripened would agree that they are novelty seekers.
I don’t think that farm-to-table movement is largely about marketing. I think it’s largely about big government and big food producers putting one over on the American public while at the same time preaching to us about our obesity epidemic and health crisis.
Any good movement to change something as big as the American food supply will be complicated and controversial. It’s mired in political policy that’s a humongous interwoven web that’s glued together by years and years of history and directed by lobbyists. No one can argue that we have a problem. They may disagree on how we got here or how we solve it. But to suggest that Americans who want healthy food are fickle fad followers is short sighted, insulting and cynical. I don’t care what your market research says, I want to feed my family food that won’t kill them and I’ll do what I can to make that happen.