The following post is not intended to make light of the very serious problems we had with mad cow disease nor is it intended to disrespect people and families who have had tremendous negative impacts from it – including death of loved ones and losses of entire herds and family farms themselves. It is intended to look at another impact that caught me by surprise on a recent trip to Scotland and is an attempt to find a potential silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud. To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting that mad cow (something I do not understand nearly enough on to be any source of expert) is or was a good thing.
I was sitting in Glasgow with two colleagues for a late dinner and looking through a menu when I stumbled on the following declaration:
I was very excited to see this type of transparency declared on the menu. We were not in an expensive restaurant (by Scottish standards). Prices were equivalent to the local Thai, Pizza and Italian food we had eaten through the week.
It also took me by surprise that the menu declared provenance for items that were not on the menu. It was explained to me that they declared the origins of all ingredients that enter their kitchen – by printing all of their sources on the menu this allowed for daily specials to also be covered by this statement. Essentially this guaranteed diners that they knew where every dish they ate came from.
I was told that more and more establishments across the continent were adding these descriptions. Many were sharing the specific farms and farmers that their food was coming from (here’s another example I found with a quick web search for one of the farms in the menu above). I was fascinated – local farmers being recognized on the menus of places serving their food.
My heart went from light to heavy when it was explained to me that the root cause of this push for provenance stemmed, largely, from the mad cow disease issues that circled the UK (and the press) over the last number of years. People simply wanted to know where their food was from and who they were trusting with it.
I now find the provenance eerie. There is substantial support for eating local that’s come at a brutal price.
I have tried to write my closing statement for this post for 15 minutes and continue to stare blankly at the screen – I have more questions than answers. Is this a good thing? Would provenance help made food safer and animals healthier? Does this promote local food? Would it have made a difference in the first place? Can we get there without the average person in society feeling an impending threat on their safety? Is there something we can learn from this?
I don’t have these answers – would love to hear and share your thoughts in the comments…