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What's Really in There?


darkstar965
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Big consumer food companies have to report ingredients of their products thanks to labeling laws and FDA enforcement. While far from perfect, there has been some improvement in labeling and enforcement in recent years and hopefully that continues. I've been thinking about this this week because we've been discussing here on dr.com whether different brands of ice cream have corn syrup or additives. With the big brands (e.g., Haagen Dazs, Turkey Hill, Ben & Jerrys, Breyer's), one can find ingredient listings pretty easily online and on container labels.

But, it's much tougher, whether ice cream or some other product, to figure this out with small, local producers and restauranteurs.

I always appreciate transparency on menus. More restaurants are now doing that, identifying the provenance of various ingredients (usually the main proteins) but it's still a very long way from full transparency. I attach a lot of weight to this since, to me, a restaurant that shares more information about what's on plates is usually proud of what they're sourcing and using. When that info isn't readily available, either posted, on menu or in response to questions, I wonder about what's being hidden and why. Is the beef grass fed or something else? Is the bread made in house or purchased externally? Is cream added to stock in the soup? Etc, etc.

Anyway, I've learned to not be shy about this in the same way as most folks with real food allergies (whether diabetic, celiac, lactose intolerant, nut or other) have to do whenever they're out. So I'll occasionally ask dependent on whatever the product/food is, how busy a place is, how likely my server or retail seller is to know, etc.

As a big fan of Dolcezza gelato here in our area, I didn't know who the owner/gelati maker was. So I just sent an email to the info link on their website and got back one of the faster and more thorough responses to this kind of question that I've ever gotten. It's on the Dolcezza thread here but I wanted to also create this thread to discuss any tricks or approaches people who care use to get good and thorough information about what's in food when out shopping at farmers markets, local producers/retailers and restaurants.

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My biggest pet peeve relates the marketing or use as an ingredient of “salmon” especially the use of “wild salmon” without recognition of the species. (I grew up in AK salmon fishing.)

There are five species in Alaska with a per pound values (off the boat, prior to huge distribution markups) that could range from $0.10/lb. to say $5.00/lb. (prices fluctuates by year). Even on the better quality scale you might have Coho at say $1.50, Sockeye at $2.50 and Chinook (with two different meat color/flavor variations – red or white) at say $5/lb. Plus of course you have the Atlantic salmon – the species that is as farmed all over…

So when people use the generic term “salmon” they usually mean cheap farmed Atlantic salmon – but then when you see “wild salmon” you really don’t know what you are getting and the relative quality of the species being served.

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I only got around to trying BGR this past week for the first time. I went to the Dupont location. <snip>

Either this cashier didn't know or I was given the run around. Maybe it is CAFO beef or maybe it isn't And, even if it is, clearly most or many people don't care. Whatever it is, I was just disappointed that I couldn't get a clear and honest answer consistent with what they'd themselves posted on their own walls.<snip>

BGR is, for me, another experience underscoring my belief that ingredients really matter. It all starts there and, if I can't get a clear or good answer on something central to a place's value proposition, I get a bit suspicious that, putting it nicely, maybe it isn't for me.

Hm, website states they are grain-fed (and free-roam, no extra stuff added).

Also, Y&H/CityPaper/Tim Carman 2009 interview answers your question.

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Hm, website states they are grain-fed (and free-roam, no extra stuff added).

Also, Y&H/CityPaper/Tim Carman 2009 interview answers your question.

Thanks for this. Hadn't seen the Y&H piece and it is clear and complete. Grain (corn/oat), of course, isn't grass as the in-store staffer thought but, more importantly, the interview is consistent with what's on the wall in the restaurant. Whether or not one chooses to eat corn-fed beef is a different question we all have to answer for ourselves. I'd guess most folks don't care so much about that if it's a 'high-quality' beef (Prime).

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At a nice dinner at Blue Duck Tavern last night, I was really pleased to see they'd listed a location (sometimes town/state; other times a farm and state) next to Every Item on the Menu. With all the emphasis in recent years on labeling and heightened diner/consumer understanding of what they're eating, most restaurants still don't make it easy. BDT deserves credit for doing what most don't.

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At a nice dinner at Blue Duck Tavern last night, I was really pleased to see they'd listed a location (sometimes town/state; other times a farm and state) next to Every Item on the Menu.

They've done that since they first opened, and it's very cool, especially if everything they list is actually true. I have no reason to doubt it, but also no way to verify it.

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They've done that since they first opened, and it's very cool, especially if everything they list is actually true. I have no reason to doubt it, but also no way to verify it.

It's tough. The only simple way to verify is to ask but, as I have buried in the much longer BDT writeup, that's often unproductive as it was with the fish we enjoyed. Still, given that virtually all restaurants are very much black box on their suppliers/sources/ingredients, I have to applaud one that at least does what BDT does...and evidently has always done. If others are interested, maybe we can use this thread to recognize places that do disclose what's on the plates they serve. Then again, I might be the only one who cares a lot. Maybe The Hersch also :)

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