Beware of Farmwashing at Restaurants

As we’re solidly in a growing movement toward real food, many of us are able to read between the lines. There are a number of words and terms that we see on products which we know can sometimes be misleading. Words and terms such as natural, free range, and grass fed. There’s another word to add to the list: farm.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are many great businesses which use the word farm in its name, such as Farmhouse Culture, Farm Fresh to You, and Farmer’s Belly. But as the farm-to-table restaurant trend becomes more popular by the minute, the word farm has been co-opted by restaurants which have no intent of serving real, unprocessed or minimally processed food. Here we have farmwashing.

How do I know these restaurants aren’t what they say they are? A simple look at their menus is a good indication. Many of the restaurants that include “farm” in their name don’t give any sourcing as to which ranches their meat and produce come from. They don’t indicate whether any of the ingredients are organic or if their beef is 100% grass fed. They could just be doing a bad job of explaining why their food is sustainable, but this raises a red flag.

In farmwashing, the word farm isn’t only limited to a restaurant’s name. Many of these restaurants say on their websites that they buy from local farmers. Buying a local is a start, but if there’s a farm that’s located in 100 mile radius which uses GMO seeds and/or sprays all of its crops with glyphosate, then being local isn’t anything to be proud of. I also constantly see the term “farm egg” on menus. All eggs come from farms. A factory farm is still a farm, just not a sustainable one.

Others of these restaurants go a bit further in their quest to make their food sound real and healthy. They’ll throw around words like fresh and natural. Sure it’s better to be fresh than to sit around in a warehouse for weeks, but there’s a fine line between being fresh and nutrient dense. And natural, what does that even mean?

Well, some places will explain what natural is. I saw one describing its ingredients as natural because they use “100% USDA pure beef patties, ground fresh”. There’s that word fresh again. If it’s corn fed beef, you’re better off with frozen grass fed and finished beef. And saying your beef is 100% USDA is completely meaningless. This business also mentions the beef is anti-biotic free. That’s better than what we see at so many restaurants, but anything short of 100% grass fed shouldn’t be labeled as farm fresh.

Then there are the farmwashing eateries that do list where their food comes from. But when I look at the sources, I find that they’re anything but farm fresh. All sources fail to say whether they’re organic or not. Several use factory farms. And others sell highly processed products containing ingredients such as corn syrup and soybean oil.

So where do we go from here? I know all this information about farmwashing isn’t the most encouraging. It’s a wake up call that we still have a long way to go in returning to traditional foods. But I mention this also as a reminder to be sure to scrutinize any food you buy at the supermarket or anything you see on a restaurant menu to make sure it meets the quality you’re looking for.

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