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Jan 7, 2009 03:34 PM

Asking restaurants about sourcing?

Hey Guys,
For those of you who like to eat responsibly sourced food, how do you go about finding out if your favorite restaurants source responsibly? If you simply call and ask, what have those conversations been like? I realize 'responsibly sourced' means something different to everyone. Some want local vegetbles or organic milk. Others want meat that hasn't been raised on a feedlot, others still care most that their fish is not on the endangered list. Regardless of your individual requirements, what have your experiences been like?

(I realize some people are not concerned with the origins of their food. I'm not as interested right now in discussing whether sourcing is important as I am finding out how people's conversations have gone with restaurants when they've asked about the issue).

Thanks so much guys.


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  1. In my experience, such restaurants will go out of their way to let you know themselves. But it is all deceiving: for example, I buy beef from a 99% eco-sustainable cattle operation 3,000 miles away. They grow most of their own fed, compost, use no pesticides, let fields lay fallow, etc. The total cost per pound for fuel of this beef - to me - is under 20 cents. For me to buy as locally as possible, the environmental impact of fuel consumption would be much greater. Which is better? My beef essentially comes from feedlot cattle (although a very nontraditional, humane and drug-free feedlot), but it's not wholly pastured. Am I better to support as many local farms as possible, or one who can efficiently meet all my needs?

    Anyway, if you called me, I'd tell you all about the farmers around here we have grow for us - from herbs to corn and tomatoes and turnips. I can't imagine a chef who feels as you do would withhold anything like that.

    1. I've asked chefs in person and over the phone. Usually they're very happy to tell me where they get their ingredients. I'm a big fan of grass-fed beef and I like to know what my meat ate. Some chefs don't know, but the ones at high-end restaurants know their purveyors intimately. I live in southern CA so a lot of chefs have relationships with local farmers and are happy to talk about that, too. Out here many restaurants will credit farmers on their menus. It's not unusual to see "baby greens salad with McGrath Farms mache" or "Shelton Farms roasted chicken with spring carrots" on menus.

      1. I've been seeing the term "farm to table" used a lot lately to describe restaurants that source locally, and while I'm not sure if that's a standard term, I like the idea of the restaurant industry adopting some term to let potential diners know when they are a restaurant that has a commitment to local/sustainable/humane sources.

        I do buy my own meat from a local CSA, and do want to support local restaurants who are helping these types of farmers stay in business. When I don't see descriptions that say where the meats are from on the menu, I'll often ask the server if it seems like the kind of a place where I'd expect the food to be sourced "responsibly" (to use your term). They usually go check with the chef and come back with more information.

        I do have to admit that I can be timid about this, depending on the vibe of the place. I don't want to come off as a PITA, know-it-all diner. I sometimes worry that asking such questions might give the staff the impression that I'm overly snobby/picky and I'm going to be a problem diner. OTOH I really am interested in the answers, and I enjoy finding out about new local sources that I didn't know about.

        1. Many restaurants that go to the trouble of sourcing ingredients let you know about it by listing the vendors/sources on the menu and making sure the staff is knowledgeable and informed about the ingredients and sources. It is sometimes easy to find out just by calling a restaurant and talking to whomever answers the phone. The only time I've encountered resistance/attitude to answering questions about sourcing is in restaurants where they don't particularly care about sourcing and/or get most of their ingredients from food service. And if salmon is on the menu, I always ask if it's Pacific or Atlantic. Frequently the answer is illustrative of the restaurant's stand on sourcing.

          As an aside, I once ended up choosing to eat dinner at a restaurant while on vacation because I happened to be walking by earlier in the day when deliveries were being received. Not only was the chef receiving the deliveries, it was obvious he had a rapport with each of the vendors--all of whom were local. It was a fantastic dinner.

          1. pretty much what the op's have stated.

            There is a definite trend here in OZ to let the punters know where the food is sourced from. And depending on the rep of the restaurant, I'd believe them MOST of the time.

            For me, it also depends on the context. If I am grabbing a pizza at the local, I'm not going to be a localvore wanker by asking where they source their ham. If I'm buying said ham from a butcher, I will most certainly ask. And I wont buy if they can't tell me, BTW.

            If I am at a local winery, supping on a tasting platter, I'd expect the produce to be local. And yes, if in doubt, I'd ask.

            My anger at the Food Wankerazzi is well documented, but if I am "fine dining", I'd expect the local products to be noted a la " Rack of Rutherglen lamb with roast local root vegetables" or "Port Phillip flathead tails and Toolangi potato roesti". or if ingredients were Australian sourced, but out-of state, I'd expect to see "Tasmanian Salmon on wilted Asian greens"

            I'd draw the line at expecting the origin of anything other than the main ingredients to be noted!!

            I don't ring and ask beforehand, (because that smacks of being a pretentious pillock), but I would expect my waiter to be able to answer questions on sources, and for me to choose accordingly.