Do you suspect the farm-to-table movement is bullshit, too?
If you ever worked in a restaurant you’ve probably long suspected that the farm-to-table movement was bullshit. Too difficult, too expensive. Profit margins are low enough already.
The idea that restaurateurs would find a way to jack up prices with pretty rhetoric, then cut corners to bolster the bottom line is far from unbelievable. To be expected, more like.
A lot of the time it doesn’t matter, taste wise. An order of battered and deep fried fish and chips slathered in tartar sauce tastes much the same whether the fish in question is wild caught Alaskan halibut, Vietnamese gutter fish or koi the dish washer snatched from some rich dude’s reflecting pool.
I see it most often with seafood. Pretty easy to tell the difference between truly fresh and previously frozen ahi. Or when the waiter says their ono was caught yesterday, but you know it’s off season and none of your fishing buddies are seeing more than one or two at a time. A lot of the time it doesn’t matter, taste wise. An order of battered and deep fried fish and chips slathered in tartar sauce tastes much the same whether the fish in question is wild caught Alaskan halibut, Vietnamese gutter fish or koi the dish washer snatched from some rich dude’s reflecting pool.
Happens at the farmers market too. “Heirloom” tomatoes that are suspiciously firm, uniformly red, and totally unfragrant. Or “local” Dole pineapples, when everyone knows there’s almost zero chance they were grown in Hawaii. Much easier to keep a cutesy project farm on Oahu, but import the things from Honduras, or wherever.
Not that I think it truly matters, beyond the sting of being misled and overcharged. If food tastes good, it tastes good. Apples don’t grow well in Hawaii, better to import them and use the land for something that thrives. And I rarely order fish when we go out to eat. Ever since I got balls deep in the spearfishing game the stuff you pay for tastes like garbage to me. Fried baloney, I want filet mignon.
The Tampa Bay Times has an amazing article up online about the topic now. The writer went deep, contacting farmers to see if eateries were buying from them (they aren’t). DNA testing seafood to see if what’s advertised is actually being served (it isn’t.)
For several months, I sifted through menus from every restaurant I’ve reviewed since the farm-to-table trend started. Of 239 restaurants still in business, 54 were making claims about the provenance of their ingredients.
For fish claims that seemed suspicious, I kept zip-top baggies in my purse and tucked away samples. The Times had them DNA tested by scientists at the University of South Florida. I called producers and vendors. I visited farms.
My conclusion? Just about everyone tells tales. Sometimes they are whoppers, sometimes they are fibs borne of negligence or ignorance, and sometimes they are nearly harmless omissions or “greenwashing.”
To a certain extent, I’m fine with industrial farming. Getting produce out of season is great. If I lived in some frozen Northern tundra I’d want fresh veg year ’round. Pickles and preserves taste great, and are fun to make, but they don’t scratch the same itch the fresh stuff does.
Straight up charlatans, on the other hand, fucking suck.
My wife forced me to buy some “organic” beef recently. Marbling was terrible, I knew it would taste like shit. The red dyed store line looked better. But, even though she doesn’t eat meat, I’m not allowed torture beef. Only that’s all eight dollars a pound will get you. Still haven’t found a proper butcher on Kauai, you’ve gotta make do.
I ate less than half, gave the rest to my dog. He seemed to enjoy it, though I later remembered why you shouldn’t serve a french bulldog large quantities of beef.
While you eat your cheese at up to $26 per pound, he will show you his “bible,” a photo album of his water buffalo.
It appears his bible is a fairy tale.
While he once sold his cheeses at St. Petersburg’s Saturday Morning Market and other outdoor stands, questions arose that he was substituting cow’s milk from Dakin Dairy in Myakka. Jerry Dakin confirmed he was selling milk to Casamento, but said Casamento hasn’t bought any in the past year.
In January 2015, Casamento was accused of animal cruelty over a calf in Plant City found tied to a post too tightly, with an eye injury and a rope embedded in the muscle tissue of its neck. In February 2015 he signed a settlement with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office relinquishing ownership of the calf and agreeing to have Brandon veterinarian Mark Mayo inspect his herd.
“He really did love on ’em,” Mayo said of his visit. “They were a little down on weight. I wouldn’t say it was a severe animal cruelty case. People have good intentions and sometimes things don’t go well.
“He was talking about selling his herd.”
According to EcoFarm’s Jon Butts, Casamento sold his water buffalo about a year ago, many for their meat. Butts took two males and a female at his Plant City farm, but said Casamento has not been buying their milk.
Very well written, superbly researched, worth your time. Even if you’re not some overly concerned foodie, it’ll give you ammo if you feel like fucking with the ones you know.