Farm to table: truth vs fiction [Tampa]

Okay, this isn’t about the San Francisco Bay Area, but I hope you’ll forgive the post, as it’s a long and fascinating exposé of how “local food” claims are often false (at least in the Tampa Bay area), and I would really love to see a similar discussion (if not a similar article) for this region.

This article, and part 2 on farmer’s markets, reveal a lot more than what people would want to know about the produce/ protein supply chain.

I for one would be highly interested if market operators like CUESA, Urban Village, and well known farm-to-table restaurants comment on the articles.

I think a lot of chefs set out with good intentions but the realities of cost, season and consistency make it so much easier to just buy from the wholesaler. Not surprising.


I actually think the “eat local” movement is a bit overblown, perhaps because I live most of the time in marginal farming country, where I actually stop eating certain things when they come into season (e.g. romaine). But I also think chefs/restauranteurs should be honest. If you can’t get ingredient X locally, either do without, or admit you’re getting it from afar. I suspect few diners will put down the menu and walk out.


Totally agree…plus a healthy dose of nobody making sure that the vendor list on the menu stays updated as the actal vendot list changes.

There’s a lot of buzz in the foodie and locavore circles here in the Tampa area (kinda the choir that sings the sermon), but it’s not getting much anywhere else.


I certainly hope all those episodes of A Chef’s Life I’ve watched on PBS were true. I don’t recall Vivian Howard ever claiming that everything she serves is local, but I’d be surprised and disappointed if almost all of it wasn’t. This kind of exposé can’t be good for a place like Chef and The Farmer. Not that I believe everything I’m told, but I’d have more faith in something in much more rural Eastern North Carolina than one in Tampa.

The point is caveat emptor.

It wasn’t an indictment of any specific place, nor an exoneration of any single specific establishment. …it’s Tampa Bay specific (not even just Tampa) because the writer works for one of the two papers in the area (not in Tampa, incidentally) and so is familiar with the restaurants, chefs, and suppliers in this area.

I have no doubt that the results would be similar in any major metro area.

I find that show to be just a little TOO aw-shucks to be true…remember that she and her husband cooked in NYC before moving back to NC.


Wow! How cynical. Is that a “New York values” slam? Just sayin’.


““Local Florida proteins are not quality,” Dorsey explained.
But what about the mileage claims?
“Well, we serve local within reason.””

They do have a point. It is one thing we like the concept of “local”, but if the foods are low quality, will we really like it?

Kind of like many people complain about high salt in restaurants food, but if they are fed with real low salt dishes, half of them will probably dislike them.


Not slamming “New York” values (because wth does that even mean?) But two people who lived and cooked in a pretty vicious field in a very big city who have found a fabulous way to market their restaurant.

Not wearing rose-colored glasses doesnt mean I’m cynical.

I don’t really want to get into this with you but it seems like you’re concluding something with no evidence that I can see. I’ve never been to Chef & The Farmer, nor do I wear rose-colored glasses, but I have no basis on which to conclude it’s not what it says it is. Maybe you know differently.

You are welcome to your perceptions, as am I.

I’m not trolling for an argument, either, nor do I have any more first-hand experience than you.

I have not yet been able to get through an entire episode, although I’ve tried a dozen times.

Not saying you’re wrong, any more than I’m saying I’m right…just opposite ends of the spectrum at looking at the same thing.

For what it’s worth, I thought this had been printed earlier this week, so was a little puzzled as to the lack of discussion anywhere but amongst food groups.

I only get the Sunday paper (don’t have time during the week to get sucked into the paper-and-a-pot-of-coffee black hole that I cherish on Sunday mornings…) – and it was front-page on the Times this morning.

I’m sure there will be more discussion now that it’s been delivered to front doors around the area! (at least I hope so…)

There’s a side discussion in John Romano’s sidebar column in the Local section that this was brought up with the Florida Agriculture commission, Adam Putnam (who didn’t return multiple requests for interviews prior to the publication of the article). His office said that while his office is responsible for consumer protection and truth in advertising, they are not allowed to inspect restaurants, and that THAT falls under the Division of Business and Professional Regulation, who does health/sanitation/safety instructions with a woefully-understaffed department.

When the Times called the DBPR, they referred the reporters BACK to the Department of Ag.

The Times then called the Governor’s office (the gov’s office oversees the DBPR), and true to his usual form, Governor Rick Scott’s office hemmed, hawed, and sidestepped, citing budget constraints and overworked inspectors.

So the upshot is that there’s a lot of buck-passing and turning a blind eye, while restaurants are being allowed to blatantly advertise bald-faced lies.

Yay, Florida.

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I have a feeling (no proof) that most Farm to Table restaurants are not entirely true in their advertisement. Some of their claims just seem a little too unrealistic to implement. To me, the problem isn’t so much of the fact that it is bad for environment or expensive meals, but rather a knowingly “bleach of trust”. Of course, when is it bad enough? If they claim 10 things, and 8 of them are accurate, I would still think it is pretty good. For example, if they claim they source everything within 200 miles, but it is really 300 miles. Is it so bad? Now if they claim 10 things, and only 2-3 things are true… then what?

It kind of remind me of the Volkswagen incident of rigging the emission control during testing – a bleach of trust. Of course, I will say the Volkswagen’s case is worse since it is a much more clear violation.


we’re also talking about a state where the Fried Grouper Sandwich is a huge thing – but yet when investigated, the overwhelming majority of the fish was not grouper but some other (cheaper) fish.

I’ve had countless fried fish sandwiches – and most of them aren’t grouper (grouper has a pretty distinctive muscular structure) – they’re damned good sandwiches, but I’ve gotten tired of arguing with restaurants about how they’re charging me grouper prices for lesser fish.

In another investigation, cited in the Times piece, something like 85% of what is touted to be “Maine lobster” is actually surimi or a mix.

I kinda don’t care what you really make it out of (within reason, of course…) – if it’s good, it’s good.

but I get really tired of being charged for Champagne and being served Budweiser – not only the sheer bait-and-switch, but the assumption that the consumer is too stupid to know better.

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The first true ‘farm to table’ operators in America were the American Indian. And, of course, the Colonists thereafter. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had their own farms just outside the door. And so it goes. Really, you can only get so close to the farm in major urban areas. And if you lift the mileage limitations that so many are attached to, just about everything is ‘farm to table’.
As far as Farmer’s Markets are concerned, I have found many of the so called ‘local’ purveyors selling produce and products that are not local, nor seasonal for that matter. And if you question the mods at the site they tend to avoid the question…
Just for location sake, I am posting from suburban New York.

I think part of the challenge is that farming has becoming a lot more monoculture than hundred years ago . So instead of Farm A growing a little tomatoes, onions and cabbages along raising a few chicken and goats, it is just Farm A specializes one thing: maybe just walnut.

This makes it fairly difficult for a restaurant to find hundreds of ingredients within a small radius. I suppose this is afterall one of the main reasons to support Farm-to-Table – to try to reverse this trend.

Maybe the blames are to be placed a little on both sides. First, of course, the restaurants shouldn’t knowingly lie about claims – especially claims on big ingredients (I think there is a difference of claiming all the vegetables are grown in a few local farms vs the salt is locally harvested). Second, maybe the customers are to be blamed too. Maybe we have unrealistic expectation. Things do not happen overnight. We shouldn’t expand a full blown menu with every possible ingredients to be all locally grown.

Sometime I don’t care like you said, but sometime it just rubs me in the wrong way. If I ordered beef, please don’t give me lamb and call it beef. Not to say lamb is worse than beef, but maybe I want something specific from the beef. Maybe I haven’t had beef for a long time and I want to eat it. Maybe my doctor told me not to eat lamb. Maybe it is against my special religion to eat lamb.

I have a lot more respect if the places simply state “fried fish” – and many places do just that. If I care enough I will ask what kind of fish, if I don’t care then use any fish you like.

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Next week will be the 2nd part of the series – dedicating to discovering the true provenance of what’s sold at farmers’ markets.

Should be extremely interesting, as there’s a shitheaded and arcane Florida law that restricts the sale of produce directly from the producer to the consumer. I don’t remember all the therebys and wherefores, but it’s there basically to protect the middlemen who only take a profit out of the middle. Not all distributors are bad, and in some cases, they’re a very good addition to the sales channel, but that’s for the market, and not for the statehouse to decide.

(the same argument applies to the equally ridiculous beer distribution laws in Florida…

and @Chemicalkinetics – we’re on the same page – I’m happy to eat good food, but not if it’s not what you told me it was going to be.

That’s a huge part of the hoopla that arose over the horsemeat issue in Europe – in most of the countries that were affected, horsemeat is not uncommon. It’s that they said it was beef, but was really horsemeat of unknown origin, that sent people over the edge.

Is it possible that you’re conflating your dislike for the show, and possibly Vivian Howard’s celebrity moves, with a likelihood that there’s something to find wanting in the underlying product? The idea that she and her husband might be prone to misrepresentation because they worked in New York??? I found that to be a bias, not a perception. Whatever. I enjoy your posts here and did on CH too. You just pushed a button for me though. Peace.