I have a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle's food section today — my first. It's about going to the Globe, a San Francisco restaurant that makes a point of serving sustainable food, and seeing a White Marble Farms pork rib chop on the menu. My husband ordered it, and it was wonderfully tender and juicy, with a nice crispy layer of fat.
I was unfamiliar with the name but I thought the farm could be a possible supplier for the meat CSA I am working on, so I took the menu home and looked it up. What I discovered was a big surprise. (Read the Chronicle story.)
Hint: this pork isn't all that it seems.
For those who've read it, I have provided links to publicly available material (after the jump) that may be of interest.
Ultimately, I think the story illustrates that as more consumers make a point of seeking out and paying higher prices for SOLE food, conventional purveyors will want in on the action. It's up to chefs and consumers who care about such things to investigate any claims not certified by an independent third party.
(White Marble Farms pork chop photo by my husband, the Potato Non Grata.)
• Sysco point-of-sale materials for White Marble Farms pork (PDF)
• Sept. 22 Tampa Tribune restaurant review: "The kitchen doesn't skimp on quality…the pork comes from the venerable White Marble Farms."
• 2005 High Plains Journal profile of a hog farmer who raises specialty pork for Cargill, with similar genetics and methods to the White Marble Farms brand. He makes a profit of just $16 per pig — guaranteed. Article also details why CO2 stunning is not only a humane slaughter method, but also good for meat quality, lowering incidences of PSE (pale, soft and exudative) pork, which tends to be less tasty.
• Cargill Meat Solutions' website for its own brand of specialty pork, Prairie Grove Farms, which is grown by an "exclusive network of family farmers in Iowa and Illinois." The brand's home page states:
Prairie Grove Farms controls the integrity of its branded, premium pork products from conception to consumer. Today an important word to keep in mind is "traceability." If the person behind the counter where you buy your pork can name the farm that raised it, you are taking a step in the right direction.
Cargill does not make public the names of the farmers raising either Prairie Grove or White Marble pork.
• Google-cached minutes from a meeting of the Pork Niche Marketing Working Group, a collection of small, niche pork brands including Niman Ranch. The notes describe in detail how, before settling on Cargill, Sysco reps had visited a Niman and another small Iowa farm because the CEO "had a strong interest in finding high quality products with compelling stories that build trust with customers."
• Account of the 2005 Farm Journal Forum, where Sysco CEO Richard Schnieders said “The food service industry requires a constant flow of unique, highly differentiated products, and those kinds of specialty products are generally not raised on 2,000-acre farms...We desperately need the mid-sized farms and the products they can produce in food service.”
• Details of the agreement reached between the State of Iowa and Cargill under which Cargill will be allowed to move into hog production and finishing, bypassing the state's constitutional bans against such vertical integration on the part of meat processors.
• Cargill representatives mentioned several times that White Marble Farms pork is produced under a USDA process-verified quality standards program. Here is its description.
• There are almost 3,000 current trademarks containing the word "farm" in their names, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
• The only other person I found who had noticed White Marble Farms is Jay, the chef at the Linkery, a San Diego restaurant. Here is his blog entry about it — don't miss the comments section!