Tuesday, August 23, 2011
For some time now the groundswell of interest in the provenance of our food has been steadily building. We’ve come a long way and many people are actively seeking information about their food purchases which I believe is a great thing and I suspect many of you reading this blog will concur.
Inevitably though, there are already opportunists amongst us who seek to profit from this relatively recent circumstance and by doing so, threaten the currency of people legitimately making the extra effort to provide food not found in the mainstream.
With alarming regularity it seems that not a day goes by where the ethics of some operators is under scrutiny. For instance, if all the so-called free range eggs alleged to be used were actually accounted for, I for one would be surprised if our current National free-range chicken census would be anywhere near large enough to have laid all those cackleberries.
For years, the true names of scale fish have routinely been misused by unscrupulous fisherfolk in order to shift their catch. This led the CSIRO to initiate a book a few years ago to once and for all confirm the correct species. It’s called ‘The Australian Seafood handbook’ and I recommend it highly.
Years ago, one very cold Melbourne morning I was at the Footscray wholesale fruit and vegie market inspecting a possible supplier. I asked what that fruit was over there in the corner, which seemed to me, past its prime and looking a bit worse for wear. With a wink and a cheeky grin, the bloke said to me, “Oh that, we’ll flog that as Organic and twice as much!” I was stunned.
More recently, menus are being peppered with references to certain butchers, fisherman and growers which is fine but how truthful is it to the punter when that business might have only ever made one purchase from said supplier but continue to attract kudos from the name of the supplier appearing?
Then you get the innocent mistakes and misunderstanding occurring. A few posts ago I discussed a trail of intrigue uncovered by a fairly innocuous question whilst dining at a high table restaurant of note. The answer given to me at the restaurant didn’t sound Kosher and curious, I made many phone calls, each one frustratingly, leading me to another. Finally when I did get to the bottom of the riddle it seems misinformation and ignorance were the culprits rather than what I had initially thought, which was sheer deception. Either way, as a customer I made my menu choice under a false pretext.
Let’s now turn our attention to the phenomenon of Wagyu Beef. Many people are still confused about what constitutes Wagyu and for some the only way to discern if it’s the real McCoy is in its hefty price. Well that would be a wrong assumption. I have seen beef advertised as Wagyu commanding a King’s ransom but later discovered that the cattle in question only had a one night stand with a Wagyu Bull at the Bovine Club Med. Conversely for a product so associated with luxury, how did it ever get on the menu on one of the Subway chains sandwiches? Little wonder we are left scratching our heads.
Then there was another time at another noted restaurant I was informed that the clams that were served came from a particular part of Tasmania. Knowing the area quite well I contacted every person related to the commercial supply of these and not one of them claimed responsibility. Yes it could have been a snarky chef responding to the waiters query flippantly however for a place whose stock in trade is the provenance of their produce, it left me a little disappointed quite frankly.
It's my belief that its time for restaurants, cafes, producers and suppliers to fess up and state exactly what products they are using especially if they are leveraging off them. Those that don't comply and continue to be conveniently ambiguous I fear will damage the efforts on many people with much integrity who make the effort to source products of merit for the benefit of their customers.