Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Greenwashed Meat From "White Marble Farms" (When Is A Farm Not A Farm)

When I eat meat, I want to know where it's from: Meat Of Known Origin. Usually I wind up eating meat from a farmer or a farmers' market, or at an expensive restaurant that can tell me where they get their ingredients.

I'm always on the lookout for less-expensive restaurants serving Meat Of Known Origin.

The other day, I was walking by a place that had just opened near where I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It had been touted as a sustainable sandwich shop. The menu said that their pork was from White Marble Farms.

I asked the guy behind the counter if they got the meat directly from the farmers. He said, "No, but the meat is totally naturally-raised, and we get it from Sysco." "I see," I said.

This aroused my curiosity. For those of you who aren't familiar with Sysco:
Sysco Corporation is the largest foodservice distributor in North America. It distributes frozen foods, various canned and dry foods, fresh and frozen meats, seafood and poultry, imported specialties, and fresh produce. The company also supplies various non-food items, including disposable napkins, plates, and cups; tableware, cookware, restaurant and kitchen equipment, and cleaning supplies. It has its headquarters in the Energy Corridor district of Houston, Texas. [Wikipedia]
Was Sysco selling sustainably-raised meat?

A quick search for "White Marble Farms" on the Internet revealed a San Francisco Chronicle article (which is worth a read). Here's a short quote:
White Marble Farms is a brand of Sysco, North America's largest food services distributor. The pork comes from Cargill Meat Solutions, America's second-largest meat processor. It is bred to ensure tender meat marbled with just enough flavor-boosting fat. But these pigs never see a pasture. They're raised indoors in confinement barns, just the way most commercial pork is produced, except in smaller numbers. Aside from genetics, they're conventional pigs wearing a lip gloss of sustainability.
And their tails are cut off at birth. And they're fed pig blood and fat. In other words, the usual sad story.

Sysco's marketing has fooled even sophisticated restaurant owners who are trying to do the right thing.

Just because something has "farm" in its name doesn't mean it's from a farm.

Know your farmer.

(This post appears as part of Real Food Wednesday.)


Christopher Pepe said...

You had me a Cargill (honestly I got pretty skeptical at Sysco). As sustainability, humane farming and whatever else becomes popular marketers see the value in green-washing and it becomes that much harder to know what you do and do not want to eat.

Adrienne said...

How incredibly frustrating. Did you go back to the sandwich shop and let them know? I'm curious how you handle things like that.

jas0nlev1n said...

i went to the same place, heard the same story... and looking up a few other items of note on the board, have decided not to eat there. my plan is to talk to the owner (once they're settled in a bit) about changing their food distribution to something a bit more sustainable than sysco.

Alex Lewin said...

Yah. What Jason said. I may do it by writing a (paper) letter, one to the owner one to the chef. I'm pretty sure they wanted to do the right thing, but simply didn't do their homework.

Being sustainable means understanding the big picture, and that almost always involves homework.

Jacqui Miller said...

same expirence, i was looking forward to the opening of this place. but will have to wait and see if they get their act together.

Anonymous said...

Today I shopped at Adams Fairacre Farm grocery store in Kingston NY. We try to eat grass fed beef and organic chicken. I saw a package of pork chops with a white label "White Label Farms". I asked what this meant, thinking it was special (organic). The butcher told me it was premium pork from out west. I bought it. I am shocked to learn it is a Cargill product, and the pigs are raised in an inhumane manner. Never again.

Alex Lewin said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry to hear that! We can try our hardest to be conscious consumers, but without reliable information, it's difficult.

Since you're lucky enough to be in Kingston, may I recommend a butcher shop to you? . It's awesome--I hope you like it. No chance of "White Label Farms" there.