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Farm-To-Table Fraud: How Your Local Restaurant May Be Deceiving You

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Aug 4, 2015 2:00PM

That local food restaurant you love may be more accurately labelled a local fraud, if it's food isn't actually coming from the farms advertised on the menu.

A fascinating San Diego Magazine story recently delved into whether or not restaurants advertising "farm to table" fare are honest. As consumers look to support local farms and eat in-season foods, restaurants are eager to put farms on their menus. But in San Diego, some diners found a restaurant selling tickets to a "farm dinner" featuring produce that the featured farm didn't even grow. Another diner discovered a salad named for a local farm only contained one small ingredient from that farm.

It's not just a problem in bountiful California; once in awhile I encounter a restaurant or cafe that touts a premium local product on their menu, and then I see them reaching for the commodity equivalent behind the counter. I chatted with Chef Jeremy Leven, formerly of Gaslight and now at mfk about the problem.

"At Gaslight we got weekly deliveries of Swan Creek eggs, but there were days we ran out," he said. "The question became, do we not serve most of our menu or do we buy eggs elsewhere and then tell customers?"

To Leven, it's natural that restaurants would have a hard time with managing supplies from a mosaic of different small farms, but what's important is communication and flexibility.

New distributors like Local Foods and a slew of fledgling food co-ops, are working to make the process easier, but customers have to be willing to pay more for a supply chain that's just more expensive. And be willing to be OK when their favorite dish isn't on the menu because it was too hot for the chickens to lay eggs or aphids ate all the farmer's kale.