Organic Restaurants – A Scam?

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!

 

6 comments… add one

Your thoughts and opinions are important to me! Do tell me in the comments below!

  • Annie @ Care for the Caregiver 24th April 2012, 11:27 PM

    Hi Clare,
    I have a friend who owns an organic shop!
    He checks and double checks origin an has integrity.
    I guess it depends on the individual owner.
    Interesting info yet again!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!

    Reply
    • Clare Delaney 25th April 2012, 9:47 AM

      Delighted to read about your friend, it’s so important to have integrity in everything you do. Absolutely, it depends upon the individual as to whether organic restaurants are genuinely organic or not. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  • Mil 1st April 2012, 1:11 AM

    Clare,
    I’m in that book! We know Aaron; we sell mushrooms to his restaurant all the time. If you look at his profile in his book, we are the foragers paired with his profile.

    Reply
    • Clare Delaney 2nd April 2012, 7:16 AM

      Wow Mil, that’s so great to be in his book! He sounds like such an interesting guy!

      Reply
  • Eva Palmer 25th March 2012, 10:46 PM

    Hi eco-expert!
    ecause they are usually linked to an organic market…So I am guessing they are selling real organic!?

    Reply
  • Sonya Lenzo 25th March 2012, 9:23 PM

    Its VERY important to me what goes into the meals I eat and so I do eat organic and locally grown. Here it is very well known who is on the level and who is not….but I would follow your advice…asking a waiter is likely to get an interesting response. Food can taste good (MSG makes everything taste better) and still be terrible for your health.
    Sonya Lenzo

    Reply
  • Annie @ Care for the Caregiver says:

    Hi Clare,
    I have a friend who owns an organic shop!
    He checks and double checks origin an has integrity.
    I guess it depends on the individual owner.
    Interesting info yet again!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!

    • Clare Delaney says:

      Delighted to read about your friend, it’s so important to have integrity in everything you do. Absolutely, it depends upon the individual as to whether organic restaurants are genuinely organic or not. Thanks for your comment!

  • Mil says:

    Clare,
    I’m in that book! We know Aaron; we sell mushrooms to his restaurant all the time. If you look at his profile in his book, we are the foragers paired with his profile.

  • Eva Palmer says:

    Hi eco-expert!
    ecause they are usually linked to an organic market…So I am guessing they are selling real organic!?

  • Sonya Lenzo says:

    Its VERY important to me what goes into the meals I eat and so I do eat organic and locally grown. Here it is very well known who is on the level and who is not….but I would follow your advice…asking a waiter is likely to get an interesting response. Food can taste good (MSG makes everything taste better) and still be terrible for your health.
    Sonya Lenzo