THE BLOG

Where is Your Food From? Not Even Restaurant Owners Know

07/06/2010 05:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I went to Las Vegas this past weekend and it's, of course, the same stuff every time. You walk around, gamble a bit, and then after seven hours or so you can't wait to get out of there.

Of course, on the positive side, they have some great food there, and I was only too happy to indulge.

I was fortunate enough to head to a great restaurant/bar where I tried out a number of craft beers, using the advice of my friends at Drink Eat Travel. I also ordered one of their famous classic burgers, which came, quite naturally, with melted cheese and two strips of bacon. Unfortunately, that is one thing that doesn't stay in Vegas. It sticks with you for a few days.

Though I do like trying new beers, my main focus was on the quality of the beef in my cheeseburger. It tasted fantastic, light years beyond a fast food burger or even one from Chili's, Applebee's et al. After seeing Food, Inc. last year, however, I've become obsessed with the quality of the food I eat (even if it's something as dreadful, nutritionally-speaking, as a cheeseburger).

As I was eating my food, one of my Drink Eat Travel buddies was chatting with the manager about the beers they order and their passion for the beverage, outside of the InBev family. This guy was an encyclopedia. He knew everything about the hundred or so beers they ordered, designed the beer menu himself, could discuss the hints of flavor in each one.

In the middle of the discussion, I poked my head in and asked where the meat came from.

"I really don't know," the manager said. "Angus is angus."

I'm not a restaurateur, a farmer or, fortunately, a cow. But I don't believe that angus is angus. Angus from a factory farm is a lot different than beef from a cow raised on a pasture that eats grass and is not covered in excrement.

I asked if he knew where they ordered it from. He had no clue.

This manager was very generous and knowledgeable, so I don't want to use this story to criticize him, but to illustrate the lax attitude America still has toward the food we eat. This was a "gourmet burger." I wouldn't have expected a waiter at Outback Steakhouse to know where the beef came from. This restaurant, however, is nicer than one of those chains. Most of the patrons probably assumed that this beef was of higher quality than that of one of the other "casual dining" restaurants. The fact is that there's pretty much no way for me to be sure, unless I hung around the restaurant all week, checked the labels on the shipments and tracked the meat back to its place of origin.

Restaurant owners and managers must lead the way if we are to change the way we raise cattle and serve meat. Many consumers want this change to happen but are unsure how to get started. After all, we have to eat, and even the stuff at Whole Foods isn't all grass-fed, free-range, whatever. I'd encourage restaurants to offer the genuine product and then advertise the hell out of it. Let me know that you're serving me the highest quality beef available, even if I have to pay a few dollars more. (Note: It doesn't have to be the out-of-this-world pricey kobe/wagyu beef to be edible. The Kobe beef burger at this restaurant was $60, a bit out of my range. If I'm paying $60, I expect bottle service and a bottle of Ciroc.)

What do I want you to do? The next time you're at a restaurant that you'd expect to serve free range poultry or grass-fed, farmed-raised beef, ask your waiter or the manager where it came from. Good restaurants should be able to answer this question. Let's get this info on Yelp as well, so others can follow suit.