The fashionable phrase in restaurants right now is “farm to table” or “field to fork,” meaning that food is locally sourced when possible, which is presumed to be good for the local economy and ecology. How much of that food is actually locally sourced is entirely another matter. The other day I was at a Denver restaurant (a quite good restaurant, in fact) known for its farm-to-table philosophy and global flavors, and ate a dish of seared sea scallops with plantains. Now, at the end of summer in Colorado it’s not impossible to conceive that a farm-to-table-ish restaurant would avoid ocean seafood for, say, local meat or trout; and avoid plantains for any number of root vegetables with similar texture.

At the same place, duck sliders were made from birds supplied by Maple Leaf Farms—the nation’s biggest duck producer, processing more than 15 million birds a year. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but using the farm's name on the menu seemed to imply something a bit more cozy.

Two things are on the burner here: What are restaurants selling, and what are we choosing to buy? Listing a few local suppliers says nothing about how many local foods actually fill the menu. And ordering dishes that could not possibly be local is, well, a conscious consumer choice—one I made with my scallops and plantains.

Farm to table is an ideal, and like many ideals open to manipulation. I’m skeptical about FTT claims unless details are provided. So, although those long-winded menus that list every supplier and cucumber variety can be annoying, they help frame the restaurant’s commitment.