In an attempt to lure in conscience-driven customers, many restaurants across the Bay area have been lying about the origins and quality of their products, according to “Farm to Fable,” an investigative report published Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times.
Food critic Laura Reiley spent months heavily scrutinizing 54 restaurants that fell under her radar and found a disgusting reality. In many cases the food being served was not even close to what was being advertised.
The Mermaid Tavern pretended its cheese curds were homemade, Maritana Grille claimed to get its pork from a farmer who in reality doesn’t sell to them at all, and The Mill in St. Petersburg — one of the trendiest restaurants in the area that claimed all of its food was bought within a “250-mile radius” — actually used meats from Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado.
Scientists at USF DNA tested many of the “local” crabs being served and found they were not in fact the Florida blue crab being advertised at all, but rather the swimming blue crab from the Indian Ocean and West Pacific. The fraud, Reiley found, was in several major area restaurants.
This deception is deplorable. There is a reason people are switching in increasing numbers to supporting local restaurants and vendors. Food that was picked or raised in the local community ensures it is fresher, safer, healthier and yields a smaller carbon footprint.
Not to mention, added freshness means added flavor. Plus, many would prefer to spend a little more to support their local community than save a buck and get items from a different state or country.
“They say if you spend your money locally, it gets multiplied three times,” said Michael Novilla, the owner of Nova 535 event space in St. Petersburg who often will go out of his way to buy local, from “soup to soap,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Customers are aware of the price of such criteria, as it will force the restaurant to charge more for locally based dishes. However, as venues across the Bay have proven, they’re willing to pay a higher cost for better food.
To find out the eateries cherished by so many have been lying through their teeth to make a profit is infuriating. If you’re going to serve sub-par food, have the decency to be honest about it.
Unfortunately, there are over 40,000 restaurants in Florida and only 191 inspectors. Thus, it is going to continue to be easy for establishments to pull the wool over customers’ eyes without ever getting caught.
It is not only dishonest, but also dangerous for such deceitfulness to go unprosecuted. Many people struggling with food allergies stick to restaurants where they know exactly what is going to be on their plate.
For example, those who have a peanut allergy must be careful to not only avoid dishes with nuts, but also items that could have possibly been processed with the offending food. By eating locally sourced food, this caution isn’t needed.
Local fare isn’t processed, so it is safer to eat and many of us let our guard down when we go to order. Being lied to could cause this logic to fail and end up seriously hurting customers.
Don’t lie to customers, many of whom eat only organically and locally for integrity and health reasons, in an attempt to profit from the growing trend. You want to be able to brag about supporting local farmers and fishermen? Then make the effort to only buy from local vendors.
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.