Truly local is more than a slogan

Exterior-Curious Palate-L.A.

While I was recently in Los Angeles I made two basic observations about the restaurants and cafes that are setting themselves apart by serving organic or local products…or saying that they do.

There are many, many places that are trying to capitalize on the public’s desire for healthier, cleaner, non-contaminated food. Some consumers want truly organic products in all or most of their food, while many are less demanding, happy to find locally produced food. Restaurant owners in L.A. have a huge advantage in providing local products, if they sincerely want to, because of the sheer number of local farmer’s markets. The owners of  The Curious Palate (more about the cafe and market coming soon) shop three times a week at farmer’s markets and one of those markets is just around the corner from the cafe/market, it doesn’t get any easier than that.

What I discovered however is that probably about half of the places that I visited really do not fit the bill, in spite of marketing themselves as organic or ‘local’ restaurants, either in their outside signage or on their menus-or both. They might have a few items that are organic but not very many. I was in one cafe that only had organic coffee, that was it, and not even organic milk for the coffee. These businesses in my opinion are just trying to trick the public and unless one asks, there is a natural assumption that there is a commitment to organic or local since their sign subtlety indicates this. I would suggest asking if particular items are organic or local if this matters to you. By inquiring it will also let the owners know that this really matters and hopefully add more ingredients that truly are organic or local .

My other observation is that many vegan restaurants have made the most serious commitment to using organic and local products. A few example of places that fall into this category are Cru, Cafe Flourish and Golden Mean (more information on these will follow soon). I think that these cafes are truly organic and local because the owners, and staff in most cases, are also personally committed to eating and living this way. At these cafes this is not an attempt to satisfy a current trend -and I by no means believe that this is just a trend, but rather a recognition of the crucial importance in committing to this shift in eating habits, and agricultural practices.

Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, are wise words to follow as we consumers shop, whether at the market, farmers market or eating out. We are witnessing tremendous growth in our food choices but the expansion of our options will only go as far as we demand.

Unfortunately the buzzword of local is being bantered about in many ways and this article exposes some of the ways that the public is being intentionally deceived. Probably one of the most blatant deception campaigns is from Frito Lay, the $12 billion “convenient foods business unit” of PepsiCo  Become more informed and ask questions, any business that is truly local and sustainable will be happy to talk with you and proudly tell you how they operate. The more we become selective consumers and let business owners know that we are looking for more than slogans, the sooner these seeming trends will continue to slip into the mainstream more and more.