Mass Production, Restaurants, and Food Quality

A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to an interesting article (now five years old) written by someone inside the food industry. In the article, the author, Jay Porter, owner of The Linkery in San Diego, explains why he radically changed the way his restaurant sources the food it prepares and serves. While not everything on The Linkery’s menu is primal, the restaurant has “an obsession with real food.” After reading the article, you will have a different understanding of why this puts The Linkery and places like it leagues above chain restaurants in the sea of eating-out primal options.

Jay writes,

When I first traveled to Australia, and was blown away by the quality of the food there — even at corner shops and cafes — I couldn’t understand why we in the US couldn’t, or didn’t, have food of this quality at all prices (as opposed to just at the finest restaurants). Yes, I sensed that Oz’s agriculture is more local, and that due to their smallish population and huge land area, they were simply going to have more rural land and better food. But it’s still possible to get good ingredients in the US — why didn’t most restaurants do this?

After a year and a half of us working to create a restaurant with food of that quality, I know a lot more about the obstacles to doing so.

To my surprise — though it shouldn’t have been a surprise — the leading obstacle to flavorful, affordable restaurant food is the success of a cooperative effort between big factory food producers (like, say, Tyson) and big distributors like Sysco and US Foodservice. These organizations, along with complicit groups like theNational Restaurant Association are furthering their financial interests by changing the world so that it comprises:

  1. A homogenous mass market of indistinguishable food consumers, who know and care nothing about the flavor, quality or history of their food. That’s what they need you to be, so that you won’t notice or care that the steaks at Outback taste the same as the steaks at Applebee’s (or where-ever), except for the proprietary spice mix they shower everything with at Outback.
  2. Food production facilities that output 100% standardized meat and processed foods, with maximum productivity and minimum cost to the business (regardless of the cost to their workers, their neighbors, or our environment). This food is bland, cheap, and often genetically bred to contain the most “useful” size and composition for these industrial (restaurant) customers.
  3. Producers and distributors working together to serve as corporate food aggregators, who together handle every element of food production, processing, preparation and cooking up until the final stage of heating the item for somebody’s actual consumption. In other words, the idea is that Tyson and Sysco do all the work of creating chickens and pigs, turning them into meat cuts, flavoring, packaging, and sometimes cooking these meat cuts, and delivering them portioned and prepackaged to restaurants. The restaurant’s job in this model is to “market” a “concept”, develop an appropriate menu of these “food servings”, and “cook” and serve these products as part of a “completely integrated guest experience.” 

Read the rest of the article. It is long, but well worth reading.

Next time you eat out, pay a little more attention to what you are eating. Just because you are eating chicken or beef at Applebee’s does not mean it is necessarily primal. Part of primal eating is having real, high quality food. Perhaps we should all start counting that Grilled Dijon Chicken and Portobellos in our 20% rather than our 80%. (This goes for me, too. This is something I need to be more aware of and vigilant about.)

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About Chuck Grimmett

Web consultant, photographer, and problem solver. I also cook a lot and am learning to make data visualizations.
This entry was posted in Interesting article, the science behind it, WTF?. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Mass Production, Restaurants, and Food Quality

  1. chebridget says:

    I 100% agree with everything said here. I’m new to Paleo, but I’m a long time advocate of the slow food movement, which involves knowing where your food comes from and how it is prepared. You’re completely right about eating out being part of the 20% – even when you think you are making smart choices. One of the best examples I can think of is Bob Evans. Bacon and eggs, right? Except that it is a microwaved, pre-portioned serving of precooked corn-and whatnot-fed pork product loaded with sugar and nitrates, and a similar version of an egg from an unhealthy, poorly fed and poorly exercised hen.

  2. geezerguy46 says:

    So, are there any “big box” chain restaurants that provide quality food? Is Chipotle one? Any others?

  3. chebridget says:

    At McCormick & Schmick’s on the left side of the menu they have fresh catches of the day that they will simply grill or cook on a cedar plank for you. They also always have fresh oysters. And if you bring your handy pocket guide to sustainable seafood, you can choose healthy AND responsible choices at the same time!

    http://www.mccormickandschmicks.com/afreshapproach/menus.aspx

    http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx

    Other options are sushi (Order sashimi, there’s no rice just plain old delicious raw fish) or find a Brazilian restaurant (they walk around with giant skewers of protein and you pick what you want)

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