It was bound to happen but it is no less disappointing for being inevitable:
Like any good movement, farm-to-table has now been severely co-opted. The stories of restaurants deceiving their customers—or flat-out lying to them—have increased. Multiple San Diego restaurants claim to serve Respected Local, Organic, Sustainable Farm X when in fact they’re serving nameless commodity produce that could be from Chile, for all they know.
Call it farm-to-fable
I doubt this practice is restricted to San Diego. For years, since Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in the early 1970’s, “farm-to-table” meant you were getting the freshest ingredients bursting with flavor, locally-sourced from people who cared about the livestock and chickens they raised and who depended on other members of their community for their livelihood. It was an acknowledgement that food is linked to the seasons and comes from the labor of actual human beings who are dedicated to providing sustenance for their community, a marriage of aesthetic refinement and moral commitment.
Today, the language of “farm-to-table” has been tarnished by hucksters. It’s the equivalent of “green-washing”, a deceptive marketing ploy that defrauds customers who pay a premium price for ordinary produce, rips-off local farmers and farmworkers by using their brand name without purchasing their product, and harms those restaurants and chefs who really are providing an honest, local product to their customers.
Like the word “natural”, the phrase farm-to-table is so open to interpretation in can be endlessly abused. After all, isn’t all food sourced from a farm?
Even McDonald’s has gotten into the act with their “What We’re Made Of” and “farm to fork” campaigns in an attempt to convince customers of the high quality of their ingredients.
It is probably time to retire the phrase. There are many restaurants who do it right but it is increasingly difficult to know who is legit and who isn’t.
The genius of contemporary capitalism at work.