Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Race To The Bottom

The other day I was having a casual conversation with a friend who used to own a pizza restaurant about places that still use real cheese on their pizzas. Since he was in the business I thought he would be a good source; he couldn't think of one fast-casual pizza restaurant that used 100% real cheese around here (that is by no means the final word, there may places we hadn't thought of). The giveaway is apparently the oil that develops on the top of the cheese when melted. Makes sense, in order to reduce the cost of cheese food producers substitute soy oil and partially hydrogenated fats for the more expensive milk fats in real cheese. Now that I am in the restaurant business I am amazed at the crap you can buy to cut corners. One food rep was surprised that we used extra virgin olive oil in our food, quote "nobody does that". Most places use a mixture of low grade olive oil mixed with soy oil, cheap and tastes vaguely of olive oil. In my view disgusting and not real food. Even food that is made in beautifully presented "prepared food" sections at the grocery store is loaded with ingredients that act as fillers, and low quality oils you would never use at home.

The whole thing begs the question, what happened to food?
We can blame big corporations for their clever switcheroos and constant hunt for cheaper alternatives (don't even get me started on chocolate) but we also have to take stock of what we as consumers are allowing to happen and encouraging with our constant search for rock-bottom prices. If price is the determining factor for purchasing then businesses have an incentive to cut corners or lose customers. Places that use real ingredients and make the food have the highest food and labor costs and therefore have to charge more. The benefit to the consumer is a better product, support of real food and its producers, and good wages for skilled workers. The challenge for all of us is to recognize it when we get it and support it.

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