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Marketing Faux Sustainable, Locavore, Blah Blah Blah


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I have reached the limit on marketing ploys that are trying to convince me that a restaurant or product or store is somehow biodynamic, sustainable, local, whatever, when in fact they are nothing of the sort. I think it's time we start exposing these sorts of scams for what they really are. You with me?

I'll start with this carp in a whiskey barrel. I call BS on the "farm fresh cocktails" being touted the folks at "Bar Agricole". From Liquor.com:

Across the country, bartenders are following chefs out into the field (or at least the backyard) to cultivate and harvest their own ingredients, including everything from cucumbers to limes. Perhaps it was inevitable, the result of an increasing focus on fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs as well as the DIY culture that prevails in barrooms these days. If you’re going to bother making your own vermouth, you might as well start by growing your own herbs.

In fact, that’s exactly what San Francisco bartender Thad Vogler plans to do. This summer, Vogler, who opened the bar at Camino and the J Lounge at Jardinière, will open Bar Agricole. The centerpiece of his new establishment will be a 500-square-foot biodynamic garden planted with citrus fruit trees and herbs like hyssop and savory. The urban oasis will help Vogler offer cocktails composed completely of artisanal and, when possible, biodynamic ingredients.

Give me a break. Those spirits that make up 99% of the product aren't made from local, sustainable, biodynamic grains, sugarcane and fruits, and most vermouth recipes require a bit more than a few herbs, including such things as spices from faraway lands. Take the sample drink, Off to the Races, featuring agave nectar, Fee's peach bitters, and Buffalo Trace bourbon. If those three familiar products are genuinely artisanal and biodynamic, well, I have a sustainable few acres of land to sell you.

Surely you've spied some of these cynical schemes.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Good Grief Chris. "Farm Fresh Cocktails"?! How bizarre, absurd and ridiculous. While there are plenty of places around trying to capitalize on the current local foods trend (with varying degrees of veracity) I don't think anyone will top that for pure (and totally local, I'm sure) Bravo Sierra

As a very small agricultural producer of products that are often rightly touted on our restaurant customers' menus as "biodynamic, sustainable, local, whatever," - even I am sick of hearing it at every turn. It's used as if it were the defining quality of the product. As if the product had no other redeeming value - like great taste, marvelous texture, tremendous aroma etc. When the terms are blatantly thrown around solely as a marketing ploy (and I'm SO sure that cocktail drinkers REALLY care that their limes come from the bar's backyard) it makes me want to pop somebody.

Good job finding an excellent example of this abuse. Let's fine some more and drag them all kicking and screaming into the light of day!

The Big Cheese

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I cringe when I walk into a Pavillions which is the upscale of a Vons, which is a Safeway derivative, and the sign above the corn or cherries says "locally grown"- if local is California maybe, but this stuff arrives with everything else in big refrigerated trucks.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is consumer naivety.

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Lack of regulation, I think. There's nothing stopping anyone from labeling anything they want as "local."

The place I shop at least has the honesty to call the stuff "regional." I don't know if they define that as same landmass, same hemisphere or what.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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My major chain supermarket has "locally grown" signs in the produce department but I don't believe any of the produce is actually sourced directly farm-to-store. Since I already know of other deceptive things they do (not enough to make me go to another store) I don't put any stock in the "locally grown" signs.

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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Society member evo-lution has pointed out, elsewhere and correctly, that the cocktail recipe I cite in the initial post is from a different venue than Bar Agricole. Mea culpa. I look forward to learning about the spirits artisanally distilled from the biodynamic grain crops grown by the bar in question.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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If they're genuinely growing biodynamic produce and making their own artisanal products, I see no problem with the statement;

"The urban oasis will help Vogler offer cocktails composed completely of artisanal and, when possible, biodynamic ingredients."

Interested to find out more to be honest...

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

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Ok, I have to say that I am not someone who indulges in cocktails and mixed drinks (mostly because the only thing my husband remembers to get at the liquor store is *his* microbrews and I'm too tired at the end of the day to make my own) but the use of the word "artisanal" makes me wonder if you can have artisanal spirits like you can have artisanal bread and chocolates..... Yes?

Edited by JeanneCake (log)
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Ok, I have to say that I am not someone who indulges in cocktails and mixed drinks (mostly because the only thing my husband remembers to get at the liquor store is *his* microbrews and I'm too tired at the end of the day to make my own) but the use of the word "artisanal" makes me wonder if you can have artisanal spirits like you can have artisanal bread and chocolates..... Yes?

Yes.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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You can call anything artisanal, can't you? From Tuthiltown spirits to Wild Turkey, depending on your perspective. Artisanal has become such a broad term that anyone can use it for just about anything.

The problem with spirits is that the products used to make nearly all of them are among the most industrialized. Society member brinza shared this information recently:

According to The Book of Gins and Vodkas: A Complete Guide, by Bob Emmons, there are four major grain processing companies in the U.S. that distill grain alcohol:

ADM

Midwest Grain Co.

Grain Processing Corporation

Seagram's

Together, they make 99% of the potable grain spirits used to make vodka in the U.S. Basically, according to Emmons, nearly all vodka makers in the U.S.(I imagine this applies to gin producers as well), with the exceptions of few true micro-distilleries, purchase grain alcohol by the tank-car load, (possibly re-distill it, though that's actually the exception), and add their own water to bring it to bottle proof. Even Tito's does this. He dilutes the base (190 proof) spirit to 100 proof, redistills it, then dilutes it again to 80 proof. Seagram's is probably the only mass market vodka/gin producer that manufactures its own neutral grain spirit.

In some European countries, the distilleries are government-owned and the neutral grain spirit is sold to rectification companies.

Interesting fact about British gins: British law forbids the making of gin on the same premises where neutral grain spirits are made. So even British gin is made from neutral grain spirit that purchased or made elsewhere.

Makes you wonder what "farm fresh" realy means. I understand the appeal of marketing spirits as artisanal or whatever else, but an few thousand acres of ADM grain fields do not a backyard victory garden make.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Lol! I guess vodka falls in the category something I don't need and artisanal version of.. Along with Artisanal Spam and American cheese food product. You can mass produce some pretty decent vodka. Someone has to keep the marketers employed though.

We should give props to to the people who do it all themselves. Any others?

http://www.anchorbrewing.com/about_us/anchordistilling.htm

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... use of the word "artisanal" makes me wonder if you can have artisanal spirits like you can have artisanal bread and chocolates..... Yes?

Sure, just as there are microbrews. Products like many single malt whiskys (that's how they spell it there) of Scotland, distilled in batches in pot stills or alembics (and they've been doing that much longer than Archer Daniels Midland and the like have sold industrial alcohol by the tank-truck). There are many such small quality distillers, including in the US. The small-batch Cognac-like brandies by Germain-Robin and Jepson are well known. Near me, St. George Spirits is a larger firm but still makes things like small-batch single-malt whiskey (as they spell it) in a very fine, faintly fruity style, distilling it from fermented barley mash. Not the grain neutral spirits and the food-chemist's kit of heptanoic ether and the other ethers, aldehydes, ketones, and esters of artifice that never, alas, saw the inside of any copper pot still or alembic.

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Isn't biodynamic food just food grown on a farm that had a magic spell placed on it? Anyone who looks for Biodynamic on a label is essentially just looking to pay for hocus pocus. The practitioners of biodynamic farming believe that putting various items in cow horns and burying them on the farm somehow "holistically" affects the farm and its products. It's amazing to me that in today's day and age people still believe in this ridiculousness.

I think I'm going to start a new agriculture fad and call it something scientific sounding (like "ecobalanced bioionized agriculture") and its tenets will combine Native American rain dances and 2 oz homeopathic potions (read: water) to pour out in the center of each field during a thunderstorm. I will claim that this will bring a type of ionized rain that will more quickly be taken up by the plants and cause them to be disease resistant, bigger, sweeter, and full of antioxidants. Then, I'll start up an organization that will "certify" farms and make a mint. Even people who read this post will gladly pay 20% more for products certified by me.

As for sustainability, you can make a good case that mass produced genetically modified foods are more sustainable. They use less land, they are engineered to deplete the soil of less nutrients and they travel better so less is lost to damage thereby reducing the amount needed to be grown to meet a certain demand. My point being that it's a useless term because nearly anything short of global thermal nuclear war is sustainable in one sense or another.

Edit: Removed line that could be misconstrued.

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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Isn't biodynamic food just food grown on a farm that had a magic spell placed on it? ...It's amazing to me that in today's day and age people still believe in this ridiculousness.

I'm glad the situation is so clear to you. I've spent time with some leading Burgundian winemakers who (though they don't use it for marketing purposes) employ techniques they call biodynamic, and swear by them. That's one of the places that helped popularize the idea years ago. As these people make, by international expert consensus, among the very best and most sought-after wines on the planet, few can doubt that ultimately they know what they're doing. Also, these vignerons are often very humble, and from families who have made wine there literally for many centuries -- they tend to decribe their role as midwives, saying repeatedly that nature makes the wines and the "winemakers" just do their best not to screw it up. I know that at least some of the practices they describe (and that others pooh-pooh from the expert viewpoint of the armchair) have abundant scientific basis. For example, taking steps to sustain certain synergistic micro-organisms. These organisms, and I believe this wasn't understood until relatively recently, act as intermediaries for the vine roots -- which can penetrate 50 or 100 feet down through rock fissures -- converting some of the minerals from the rocks to forms the vine roots then assimilate, and convey to the aboveground fruit, affecting the wine's exquisite flavor.

But since you don't believe all that, if I ever entertain you, I'll spare you the rare Burgundies. I can always offer clean, simple, high-yielding, sterile, UC-Davis-approved scientific winemaking since that's the evident preference.

Don't get me wrong: I refer only to low-key use of various methods called "biodynamic" by leading experienced professional agriculturalists. Terms like that employed as marketing hype to eagerly gullible consumers are a different situation. (Incidentally it's thermonuclear, not "thermal nuclear.")

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Isn't biodynamic food just food grown on a farm that had a magic spell placed on it? ...It's amazing to me that in today's day and age people still believe in this ridiculousness.

I'm glad the situation is so clear to you. I've spent time with some leading Burgundian winemakers who (though they don't use it for marketing purposes) employ techniques they call biodynamic, and swear by them. That's one of the places that helped popularize the idea years ago. As these people make, by international expert consensus, among the very best and most sought-after wines on the planet, few can doubt that ultimately they know what they're doing. Also, these vignerons are often very humble, and from families who have made wine there literally for many centuries -- they tend to decribe their role as midwives, saying repeatedly that nature makes the wines and the "winemakers" just do their best not to screw it up. I know that at least some of the practices they describe (and that others pooh-pooh from the expert viewpoint of the armchair) have abundant scientific basis. For example, taking steps to sustain certain synergistic micro-organisms. These organisms, and I believe this wasn't understood until relatively recently, act as intermediaries for the vine roots -- which can penetrate 50 or 100 feet down through rock fissures -- converting some of the minerals from the rocks to forms the vine roots then assimilate, and convey to the aboveground fruit, affecting the wine's exquisite flavor.

Absolutely there are scientifically based parts of the Biodynamic regimen but the thing that separates BDA (Biodynamic Agriculture) from just excellent organic farming is the nonsense (i.e. planetary alignment prescriptions, preparations, etc…). There is absolutely no scientific evidence supporting these practices or even a hypothesized mechanism by which they might be able to work. Burying a deer bladder filled with plants or a cow horn filled with manure somewhere on a farm or vineyard can not affect the entire crop. There isn’t even evidence that it would work if you planted it directly under each plant.

If you have evidence that the practice of preparations has been scientifically proven to have measurable benefits, by all means produce it. It doesn't exist though so you can save your time.

Note: By scentifically proven I mean a blinded and controlled peer-reveiwed study not some group of pseudoscientists declaring it proven.

You are engaging in logical fallacies ("post hoc ergo propter hoc" and "argument from authority") by insinuating that excellent wines made by makers practicing BDA is evidence of BDA’s efficacy. I have a good friend who is a chef and everyday he comes into his kitchen and burns sage because he believes it will get rid of any bad feeling from the previous night’s service. He honestly believes that this is responsible for his kitchen running smoothly and his food being delicious. I believe the reason these things happen are because he’s been in the restaurant business since he was 15 and that he graduated from CIA (Napa). It's an easy application of Occam's razor just as it is with the winemakers you reference. Their crops are most likely excellent because of good land, good weather, and excellent organic farming technique passed down for generations(most of which far predate BDA which only showed up in 1830). Their excellent wines are not evidence that their belief in supernatural forces are correct.

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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I certainly don't believe that every label marketers use is meaningless. However, I do believe that the vast majority of marketers could care less about the meanings of the labels they use.

I was heartened last night when, apropos of nothing in particular, a chef I know and respect said, "... and so he asked about local, sustainable, blah blah blah...." The fact that this chef buys and cooks with items he usually gets from within a 100-mile radius made his ennui all the more enjoyable.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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... You are engaging in logical fallacies ("post hoc ergo propter hoc" and "argument from authority") by insinuating that excellent wines made by makers practicing BDA is evidence of BDA’s efficacy.

Um, please read more carefully. I described a group of grower/winemakers with widely respected results who claim certain biodynamic steps, and in particular, I mentioned one measure that they describe within that broad umbrella that turned out to have sound basis (the synergistic root microbes), which you can certainly research further if you want to look into it. That's all I wrote, a limited accurate narrative description for whatever it's worth. (No claims of proof of general biodynamic efficacies, or any such broad nonsense; and in response to a glib sweeping characterization of what biodynamic farmers "believe" and patronizing dismissal of such things "in this day and age" despite the demonstrated results -- not causality -- that I illustrated.)

I've written and refereed rigorous technical articles for decades, conscious of the distinction between arguments from evidence and those connoting mind-reading (farmers "believe," "you are ... insinuating," etc.).

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That's all I wrote, a limited accurate narrative description for whatever it's worth. (No claims of proof of general biodynamic efficacies, or any such broad nonsense; and in response to a glib sweeping characterization of what biodynamic farmers "believe" and patronizing dismissal of such things "in this day and age" despite the demonstrated results -- not causality -- that I illustrated.)

What you wrote was anecdotal "evidence" that was presented like a refutation including thinly veiled shots about armchair expertise (which requires a bit of mind reading of your own as you know nothing of my expertise).

In addition, if the people you are referring to are ONLY following the scientifically based parts of the regimen, then they are engaging in organic farming not BDA. As I said in my earlier, BDA is separated by the addition of a bunch of non-scientific practices.

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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Yale promotes a Birkenstock and crunchy granola culture here in New Haven. We get a lot of this spucatum tauri from local restaurants. I mentioned this in another thread, but it is worth repeating. There is a new local, sustainable, blah, blah, blah, restaurant that offers a "½ Pound Burger* from Authentic, Artisan, Sustainable Cattle Topped with Sustainable Bacon, local Abby Cheese, local Arugula. Authentic, Artisan, Sustainable cattle? Are you frakin kidding me? At the other end of the spectrum, we have Miya's sushi which prides itself on only offering certified sustainable fish products and is very adamant about educating its customers on the subject.

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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... anecdotal "evidence" presented like a refutation ... thinly veiled shots about armchair expertise ... know nothing of my expertise.

I've heard a lot of armchair expertise (on the same topic) that you evidently don't know about either (once again, you've responded to your own interpretation and don't seem to realize it). To prevent anecdotes that clash with sweeping patronizing statements, I suggest not making such. Anyway we're communicating poorly here so let's drop it.

I like DanM's example of relevant restaurant hype. I've seen some of that around here too. It's like today's counterpart to ostentatious menu styles of other times. For instance my main recollection of the high-end restaurant Magnolia Grill in N. Carolina in early 1990s is the train of modifiers preceding each ingredient name. Not mere Meyer lemons, for instance, but W clone X county Y-raised Z-harvested Meyer lemons -- and this happened to most of the featured ingredients. Reading the menu was exhausting rather than appetizing.

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I think this disagreement just fuels the main point that calling things BDA or Organic or Sustainable is a whole lot of BS, because there are no empirically tested, universally accepted definitions of these terms. They are marketing ploys with a ton of emotional baggage brought to them by both their adherents and detractors. Comparing join dates or post length isn't going to get us any further towards definitions. Obviously BadRabbit is of the opinion that there's no part of BDA that would pass scientific muster, while MaxH disagrees. What's missed is that BadRabbit simply classifies the scientifically valid parts of the wine making example that MaxH is describing instead as "excellent organic farming". There's no disagreement at all about what techniques are scientifically valid, as far as I can tell, but only about what classification (Organic/BDA) particular techniques should be sorted into.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I think this disagreement just fuels the main point that calling things BDA or Organic or Sustainable is a whole lot of BS, because there are no empirically tested, universally accepted definitions of these terms. They are marketing ploys with a ton of emotional baggage brought to them by both their adherents and detractors. Comparing join dates or post length isn't going to get us any further towards definitions. Obviously BadRabbit is of the opinion that there's no part of BDA that would pass scientific muster, while MaxH disagrees. What's missed is that BadRabbit simply classifies the scientifically valid parts of the wine making example that MaxH is describing instead as "excellent organic farming". There's no disagreement at all about what techniques are scientifically valid, as far as I can tell, but only about what classification (Organic/BDA) particular techniques should be sorted into.

BDA like many other pseudosciences blends scientifically valid techniques with new age mysticism. However, all BDA literature that I have seen makes a point that all of the practices must be followed because of the "holistic" nature of the regimen. I therefore can't see how someone who just follows the scientifically valid parts is really "Biodynamic" by anyone's definition.

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BDA like many other pseudosciences blends scientifically valid techniques with new age mysticism. However, all BDA literature that I have seen makes a point that all of the practices must be followed because of the "holistic" nature of the regimen. I therefore can't see how someone who just follows the scientifically valid parts is really "Biodynamic" by anyone's definition.

I guess there's a lot of mumbo-jumbo associated with the term "holistic" but doesn't it boil down to treating the system as a whole rather than treating the component parts? Wouldn't that more or less define the type of organic farming going on at Polyface farm as discussed in Omnivore's Dilemma? Or, is mysticism inherent to the definition?

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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