With the “pink slime” fiasco, it’s a good time to re-evaluate ingredient lists. There is the occasional restaurant that buys from local farms, but it’s not always easy to get the steady stream of quality products this way. The truth is that whether it’s meat or poultry, fish or veggies, restaurant owners typically buy from a limited number of suppliers. But where are the suppliers getting it from?
Perhaps an example of how food gets from source-to-plate through a supplier, let’s take, just as an example, Sysco. They carry national brands, but much of their business comes from their own brands. Their seafood division, named “Portico Seafood,” is one of the largest operating seafood purveyors in the world. It advertises that it offers “quality, consistency, traceability, integrity, and competitiveness.” Is this true? It is true they trace their products back to their source by modern tracking methods, and they are working toward greater sustainability.
Other larger suppliers are working to compete in the arena of sustainability, organic, and locally-grown foods. If you are not sure where your products are coming from, the prudent thing is to ask – they should know. If they don’t know, it may be time to switch vendors.
One of the surest ways to know where your food supply is stemming from is to buy locally and physically visit the farm or fishery that your food is coming from. It’s the single-best way to know what you are serving your customers. However, as noted before, buying purely locally can lead to supply issues; if there’s a bad season, or you want food that is out-of-season locally served year-round, buying from a supplier may be your only option.
There is also the issue of what your customer wants. Does organic matter to them? Sustainability? Don’t try to greenwash your restaurant if the customer is only considering value. Even if you must buy at a bargain, it still doesn’t preclude you from shopping around when it comes to suppliers. The more you know about your food, the better you will feel serving it to your customers, and the more your customers will thank you in the end for a delicious, quality product.