Last year, I mentioned my blog to a farmer at the winter Ithaca Farmers Market, and he said "you should go after local food fraud!"
He then told me about eating at a restaurant in Watkins Glen, where the menu said something about using local products. He asked where his hamburger came from, and no one had an answer. The farmer was just asking out of curiosity, but then became convinced that the restaurant was just using the allure of local food without actually serving any local food, at least in a quantity worth mentioning.
I haven't had a chance to investigate this kind of thing, but is is worth thinking about. When a menu says something like "we use local food when able," what does that really mean? Do they serve a token local lettuce here and there and ride the wave of "local" trendiness? Or are they truly dedicated to sourcing most of their food locally?
Recently, I heard a farmer complain that another local meat producer was buying almost slaughter-ready animals from a CAFO, putting them out on grass for a few days, and then selling them for a premium as if they were born and bred and pastured on a small farm. Is it true? I don't know.
Marlo, over at Garden Gate Delivery, writes a great weekly newsletter and recently told a story, excerpted here:
"I recently heard a rumor that worried me: the milk from Chobani yogurt, which is based in Norwich, NY, comes from China. (It doesn't come from China- more about that later.) We couldn't carry this super-popular product if milk came from so far away when NYS's own dairy farmers were hurting so much from low prices. The NYT recently wrote an article about Chobani's popularity and their attempt to gain markets through a new advertising campaign, so I used that information to look up Chobani and call them myself. I spoke with Mike at Chobani Consumer Relations who explained that Chobani has a contract with a company called Dairy Marketing Association that sources milk for Chobani according to certain standards. Those standards include: all milk must be from NYS, all milk must be free of growth hormones, and what Mike referred to as "strict standards of animal treatment and feeding." Chobani is clearly proud of their product and the way it is processed. I'm pleased that their milk is from NYS farmers, but there are a lot of questions that are still worth considering. What are those "strict standards" of animal treatment and feeding? How are the farms treated by Dairy Marketing Association? Do the farms get a fair price for their milk? Would I want to drink milk from the farms where the Chobani yogurt comes from?"
Years ago, when I started thinking about the source of my food, it became apparent just how little I knew. For me, eating locally is one attempt to know more -- I can pinpoint on a map where my morning bacon originated, and maybe chat with the farmer at the market. But even so, it's often tough to know what's important to know. In the end, it comes down to trust. Or sleuthing. Or both.