The local food you’re eating is probably a lie. An intrepid long-time food critic in the Tampa Bay area conducted a thorough investigation of several Florida restaurants that claimed the very trendy “farm-to-table” label, and caught many of them in some serious lies. To summarize the situation, lots of food purveyors are trying to capitalize on current food industry trends by calling their food local and claiming to source directly from small local farms, when it is actually coming to them from major national food distributors and mostly came from other states or countries. A lot of the food they sell that claims to be one thing, like Florida blue crab or grouper, is actually an entirely different species of fish altogether. Fresh-caught seafood and grass-fed beef are meaningless descriptors at these places. But there are few regulations in place that can keep people from making such false statements.
Buying local food is sometimes derided as a silly hipster stance against our corporate food overlords, but there’s actually a lot more to it than just being fashionable. Local food supports the local economy and keeps jobs here in Florida. Local food is generally fresher after taking a 50-mile trip from the farm to your table as opposed to taking a 1,000-mile journey on a refrigerated truck from the farm to a freezer somewhere, eventually finding its way to your table after a few weeks or even months.
Local food may also be healthier, depending on who exactly is growing it. If you know that your strawberries came from a small organic farm in Starke that doesn’t use pesticides, you’re probably better off than getting those berries from Mexico where they might have been coated in some mysterious unregulated chemicals. Not to mention the unspeakable horrors tied to the South Asian seafood industry, which can be avoided altogether if you just get seafood from the sea that our state is literally surrounded by.
There’s also the environmental factors to consider. It takes a lot of energy to put frozen shrimp on a cargo ship and send it across the Pacific ocean just for it to then be put on trucks and driven across the country. If you live in Iowa or some other awful landlocked place, that might make sense, but in Florida where you can drive a few miles in any direction and find live shrimp fresh out of the water, it’s insane to imagine getting it from anywhere else.
Eating food that isn’t local won’t kill you, but it raises some issues of trustworthiness in the food industry. If restaurants have no problem lying about where their food comes from, what else are they willing to lie about? It’s a good lesson in the importance of questioning everything, even something as simple as where your pork really came from. It’s not always easy to know what you’re buying, but do some research before you eat out next time. Do more shopping at local farmers markets and try to support your local farmers and fishermen, not the big bosses at the multi-million dollar food distribution companies.