If you’ve ventured to a popular neighbourhood eatery in the past decade, you’ve probably been flooded with the foodie terms “locally sourced” and “farm-to-table.” Menus claim pork shoulders from a well-known farm just outside your city and cocktails made with artisanal honey from neighbouring co-ops. If you were to essentially visit those places, though, you may find out the sad truth: most of restaurants’ claims about where they get their ingredients are totally untrue.
In April 2016, a food critic for the Tampa Bay Times named Laura Reiley published her two-month examination of the farm-to-table restaurants in the Tampa area, titled “Farm to Fable.” She went to such extents as to track down farmers whose names were written on chalkboards and sneak doubtful fish into baggies in her handbag for DNA testing. What did she find? A lot of restaurants whichever were misled by their distributors, lied a bit about their sourcing, or, in many cases, flat out fibbed about some of the dishes on their menus. It’s hard to overstate how extensive the problem really is. Reiley claims that “if you eat food, you are being lied to every day.”
One such Tampa restaurant, Pelagia Trattoria, listed “Florida blue crab” as an element in their squid-ink linguini. When an example of the crab was DNA tested by experts at the University of South Florida, the meat was branded as a different species of crab from the Indian Ocean—and when pressed, the restaurant’s sous chef confessed it came from a can. They’re not the first and they won’t be the last: the non-profit conservation group Oceana led a study in 2012 that exposed that 33 percent of 1,215 fish samples tested countrywide were mislabelled by restaurants, and a 2006 grouper disgrace in the U.S. Gulf Coast exposed that diners who ordered the grouper fresh catch would really get a type of farm-raised Asian catfish called Cambodian ponga. Other types of seafood, such as Gulf shrimp and Alaskan pollock, are often frozen and sent from other countries, such as India and China. So how can you tell? If the price looks too good to be true, it maybe is. Reilly gives a pointer to NPR: “If you see that $10 lobster roll, something is fishy.” Pun intentional, we’re sure.