by Amber

Beware of Farm to Table Fraud Eateries

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Can you trust local restaurants’ farm to table menu? The answer is maybe, which is appalling, yet not totally surprising. People will pay more for locally grown when dining out. Everyone wants a full house, and well, to cash in. Because like it or not, no matter what career path you’ve followed, you’re in it for the money. Otherwise, rush hour would happen at the beach instead of the mad exodus from commercial districts to residential areas.


But this… this is as underhanded as food product labels at the store. Farm to table has spread coast to coast. It’s in demand everywhere from megacities to small towns. Yet, often there’s not enough locally grown or locally produced food for a continual supply.

But because of the chasm between eaters, food production, food seasons, and food origin, getting away with farm to table fraud is pretty easy. Take the year-round availability of highly seasonal things at any supermarket. Actually, there isn’t one fruit or vegetable in your grocer’s produce aisle that isn’t seasonal. Plants don’t bear a harvest through every week on the calendar. Lambs are born in spring. Chickens almost stop laying eggs in winter.

Yet, most people don’t realize that, or it no longer registers instantly. Big Food and world trade have all but erased true seasons in food. And while indoor farming and indoor gardens make some locally grown fruits and vegetables available year around, you can’t grow them all this way. At least, not cost-effectively.

The surprising thing is that this farm to table fraud in restaurants is huge in places that have no snow and frigid winters. Currently, it’s a big problem in Florida of all places, where food is grown outdoors year around. Some restaurants with locally grown items on their menu find the supply sporadic, but never change the menu to reflect that problem. Doing so will cost them business. Furthermore, patrons would want non-local and conventionally produced fare to cost less.

There are also those eateries who never sourced farm to table foods, yet advertise they serve them. Some go as far as having organic on the menu while serving food grown with pesticides. Fraudulent menu labeling is so common in Florida, that state health regulators have started cracking down on them. The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that inspection violation citations in just 4 counties for food fraud hit 68 in 2017 alone. Over 5 times the citations in 2013, and the biggest tally in the last 5 years. However, the farm to table movement is only about 5 years old, so fraud has existed since it took off.


Then there’s the issue with mislabeled fish. Again, why is this happening in Florida? The place is surrounded by oceans! Yet, restaurants are as guilty of selling one fish under another fish’s identity as supermarkets. Perhaps more so, because there is far less regulation of eatery menus than food system labeling.

And where is New York City but on the Atlantic Coast? But falsely identified fish became a huge expose for New York Times Food Critic Laura Reily in 2016. Along with the fish tales, she exposed locally grown and locally sourced fallacies in her April 2016 Farm to Fable article. The same thing goes on along the Pacific. In January 2017, the results of a UCLA study revealed that half of Los Angeles area sushi restaurants practiced fish fraud.

Farm to table fraud isn’t a coastal phenomenon. Though there is a greater population in seaboard cities than in the interior, the plague exists in central states too. An April 2017 article in Governing quotes farmer and University of Minnesota educator Ryan Pesch’s addition to this now national conversation:

It’s rarely as locally sourced as they make it out to be. It’s frustrating as a farmer, because I know some restaurants bought a head of broccoli locally a year ago and want to say they’re a ‘locally sourced’ restaurant.

The Governing writer wants to know where the produce police are. Indeed. This isn’t just a United States problem. According to Jennifer Krajewski’s research for a false local food claims study at Northeastern University published in Quality Assurance Magazine this past spring, farm to table fraud is rampant in the United Kingdom. Almost 20% of foods sold as locally grown or locally sourced are anything but:

Mislabeled products included “Welsh lamb” from New Zealand, Somerset butter” from Scotland, “Devon ham” from Denmark and “West Country fish fillets” that had been caught in West Country and filleted in China (Fallon, 2011).

In 2011 – 6 years ago! So, what’s the current percentage?

At least Canada caught on to the farm-to-table food lies, passing a regulation that defines “local” in 2014. Local food in Canada must come from with the province, or within 50 kilometers of its borders.


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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.