Are Organic Restaurants Really Organic?
I’m obviously pretty naïve. I used to think that if something is labelled “organic” then it was, well, organic.
So if it says it’s an organic restaurant, then it must serve organic food, right?
It seems this might not be the case.
I read an article by eco-chef Aaron French, a chef in Albany, CA and author of “The Bay Area Homegrown Cookbook”. He recalls a job he had in a small deli some years ago, when he was told to remove the labels from apples and instead display a sign indicating that the apples were “Organic Fuji” apples.
He believes this was – and is – not an isolated event.
Produce labelled as “organic” often sells for higher prices. So it is attractive to ‘bend the truth a little’.
Another chef confided that he believes many restaurants buy mostly non-organic vegetables together with a small amount of organic produce each month, and then promote their ‘organic food’.
As demand for local, sustainable and organic food increases, chefs often write on their menus “We use organic, local and sustainable sources for all our products, where possible”.
That “where possible” gives people a lot of “wiggle room”.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Chefs and restaurateurs need a little ‘wiggle room’ in their descriptions – after all, organic and sustainable food means that there will be variations in supply and quality. If you believe in quality ingredients, then you won’t want to drop your quality standards at certain times of the year.
I would like to think that chefs and restaurateurs could make fabulous dishes which change, adapting to the seasons and quality, but perhaps I’m over-simplifying – perhaps it’s not that easy. (Although that’s what people did before it became the norm to get produce all year round from different parts of the globe).
But it does worry me that some – and hopefully they are few in number – people are fooling their customers.
Here’s the rub. Organic produce is certified as such, and clearly regulated. Farms need to meet rules and are inspected for compliance.
But restaurants are excluded from certification requirements.
The Organic Trade Association says restaurants which use “organic” produce need to keep records, right down to lot numbers of specific boxes, and separate storage facilities for organic and non-organic produce. However, many restaurant owners are unaware of this.
So, many restaurants are not compliant, and some are deliberately misleading their customers.
It’s not a good situation.
What can we, as consumers, do?
Where I live, on my little tropical island, there’s very little awareness of organic. But there’s also no factory farming.
As a general rule, the following advice might help distinguish restaurants that care:
- Talk to the waiters and/or the owners about their produce, and get a feel for their food ethics.
- Many ‘chain’ restaurants use central buying procedures, and thus may not be the easiest to find out about the specific produce you are about to eat.
- Get to know the local farmers in your area. Even if they’re not certified organic, they may use sustainable farming methods, and because they also provide local produce, in my book that’s just as good. If you like what the farmers do, find out which restaurants they supply, and eat there.
I know there are lots of genuine, caring restaurants who serve organic food – let’s support them!
Are you choosy about the restaurants you eat in? Do you check if a restaurant is genuinely organic? Do you prefer to eat only in restaurants which offer organic food? Do you think good service and great tasting food are more important than organic / local / sustainable food? Let me know in the Comments below. Thanks!