I like Tampa, and even more Sarasota and Anna Maria Island. Brisbane is equidistance from the equator as is Sarasota, and I enjoy going to the rink in flip-flops and shorts.
And like Brisbane, there is great seafood, but a lot of it is bullshit.
Laura Reiley of Tampa Bay writes the restaurant’s chalkboard makes claims as you enter from the valet parking lot. At the hostess stand, a cheery board reads, “Welcome to local, farm-fresh Boca.”
Amy and I were in Phoenix in 2007, and went to a Coyotes game, and I eventually had to turn to the asshole sitting behind us, going on about how he had this cougar in Boca and tell him to shut the fuck up.
But food fraud and hucksterism is a growth business.
Brown butcher paper tops tables and lettuces grow along a wooden wall. In a small market case, I see canned goods from here and produce from somewhere. Check the small print: blackberries from Mexico and blueberries from California.
With the tagline “Local, simple and honest,” Boca Kitchen Bar Market was among the first wave of farm-to-table restaurants in Tampa Bay to make the assertion “we use local products whenever possible.” I’ve reviewed the food. My own words are right there on their website: “local, thoughtful and, most importantly, delicious.”
But i’ve been had, from the snapper down to the beef.
It’s not just Boca. At Pelagia Trattoria at International Plaza, the “Florida blue crab” comes from the Indian Ocean.
Mermaid Tavern in Seminole Heights shouts “Death to Pretenders” on its menu, but pretends cheese curds are homemade and shrimp are from Florida.
At Maritana Grille at the Loews Don cesar, chefs claim to get pork from a farmer who doesn’t sell to them.
This is a story we are all being fed. A story about overalls, rich soil and John Deere tractors – I grew up with Massey-Fergusons — scattering broods of busy chickens. A story about healthy animals living happy lives, heirloom tomatoes hanging heavy and earnest artisans rolling wheels of cheese into aging caves nearby.
More often than not, those things are fairy tales. A long list of Tampa Bay restaurants are willing to capitalize on our hunger for the story.
PEOPLE WANT “LOCAL,” and they’re willing to pay. Local promises food that is fresher and tastes better; it means better food safety; it yields a smaller carbon footprint while preserving genetic diversity; it builds community.
If you eat food, you are being lied to every day.
The food supply chain is so vast and so complicated. It has yielded extra-virgin olive oil that is actually colored sunflower oil, Parmesan cheese bulked up with wood pulp, and a horsemeat scandal that, for a while, rendered Ikea outings Swedish meatball-free.
Everywhere you look, you see the claims: “sustainable,” “naturally raised,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” “fair trade,” “responsibly grown.” Restaurants have reached new levels of hyperbole.
What makes buying food different from other forms of commerce is this: It’s a trust-based system. How do you know the Dover sole on your plate is Dover sole? Only that the restaurateur said so.
And that’s why traceability and microbial food safety need to be marketed at retail. The technology is there.