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Friday, October 22, 2010

Supermarket Produce Is Better Than Locally Grown Stuff. Except When It Isn't

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 6:39 PM

Our favorite morsel from the Web.

What chef would pass on locally sourced food for the kind of crap you cram your Safeway cart with? Nevertheless, Nation's Restaurant News thinks supermarket produce trucked in from hundreds or thousands of miles away is superior to food from local farms.

That's the conclusion Nation's Pamela Parseghian strongly hints at, anyway, in a story that slips three New Jersey chefs blind tastes of plums, chicken, lamb, and wine, sourced both locally from small producers and at a supermarket behemoth. Parseghian:

What happened? Three critically acclaimed chefs [and a wine expert] ... most often couldn't tell which items were which.
Okay, so it's the kind of surprising-results story that's the raison d'être of blind taste tests. Except when you realize that the tests were conducted so haphazardly they don't prove anything, except the dumbassery of the entire effort.

Take the lamb. Parseghian again:

The lamb shanks that were braised in the same sauce - a light tomato broth with garlic and rosemary -- came out about the same. However, the larger lamb, from Colorado, was fattier and more flavorful than the local lamb, so the panel thought it was the one from New Jersey. Both had been cooked until the meat almost fell off the bone, so texture wasn't an issue. Of course braising in a flavorful sauce isn't a great test, since that kind of cooking can make almost anything taste good. But lamb chops weren't available at the local farm -- a reminder that supply is often an issue when it comes to local products.
Say what? Oddly enough, the only local product that rated better than the distant one was the wine, a New Jersey vintage of Bordeaux varietals pitted against an actual French Bordeaux. Parseghian draws a moral broader than an intelligent reader's skepticism:
Lesson learned -- local food and wine, which is one of the hottest trends in the industry today, may be mostly hype. Local foods that are freshly picked can be outstanding, but that can be true of items from around the globe.
Of course, Nation's Restaurant News is a publication geared for chains, so concluding that food from the mass supply chain are superior to the fragile output of local farms is an act of vindication. An unconvincing one, but still....

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com

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