Laura Riley’s investigative reporting for the Tampa Bay Times on the outright fraud going on with claims about farm-to-table dining has received lots of warranted attention.
This is a story we are all being fed. A story about overalls, rich soil and John Deere tractors scattering broods of busy chickens. A story about healthy animals living happy lives, heirloom tomatoes hanging heavy and earnest artisans rolling wheels of cheese into aging caves nearby.
More often than not, those things are fairy tales. A long list of Tampa Bay restaurants are willing to capitalize on our hunger for the story.
I doubt the problem is unique to the Tampa area. The idea of eating locally when possible is at the heart of the food revolution; restaurant lies about where their supplies come from threaten the sense of community and pursuit of peak flavor that are so important to contemporary food culture. But as chef Hari Pulapaka points out, the worst consequences are not suffered by the consumers who are ripped off. It is the small farmers who are really being harmed:
Restaurants and chefs can sustain by continuing to serve delicious food on the plate at a competitive value. After all, “that’s what the future of farm-to-table should be: food that speaks for itself without having to tell you where it comes from.” But the small and medium farmer, whose livelihood depends on seasonal demand, is at risk because of potential backlash stemming from a questioning of authenticity.
Pulapaka puts the onus on consumers to find out where their food comes from. But “buyer beware” won’t solve the problem. Consumers are not investigative reporters.
There are laws against false advertising. Maybe they should be enforced.