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Putting Trust on the Menu

iStock steak dinner smallWhether restaurant fare at farm-to-fork eateries really is sourced from sustainable family farmers is the subject of a recent Washington Post article by food writer Jane Black. Chefs have long been some of the most committed supporters of farmers using sustainable, high-welfare practices. AWA farmers have forged strong relationships with dedicated chefs such as Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill, NC, Manhattan’s Bill Telepan and Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio.  However, as the terms “sustainable,” “family farmer,” and “humane” become part of the marketing lexicon, the chances of a menu being greenwashed rises.

Luckily, there is one simple step all restaurants highlighting their ties to farmers and sustainability can take to make sure patrons feel a sense of trust in the menu and the mission. They can be transparent. Much like the nutrition labels that now appear on packaged food, restaurants should spell out on their websites and menus what production practices they tolerate (raised in confinement? pesticide use?) and how they determine if a farm or supplier meets its standards.  Any farm-to-fork restaurant worth its prime rib should be able to tell you the exact farm a given menu item came from or if its backed up by a highly reputable label, like Animal Welfare Approved. If it’s not printed on the menu, ask the server; “I don’t know,” is never acceptable.

Rather than trying to obscure the issue restaurateurs would be doing themselves a favor by being up front and honest with the customers.  A simple notice, “Our famous pork chop is not available this week because we were unable to source pastured pork,” may disappoint customers on one level, but it elevates the trust and shared commitment between the restaurant and the patron.  Farm-to-fork restaurants are about good food that doesn’t come from bad places. Losing the trust of diners will ultimately do more harm than good to restaurants and farmers.

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