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Is local growing less important?

When I lived in Tampa, Fla., in the 1980s and ’90s, Bern’s Steak House was the place everyone mentioned when talking about high-end steakhouses, and that apparently hasn’t changed since I moved away. But something else has, as the Tampa Bay Times reported. Founder Bern Laxer got into organic farming during the 1970s, and much of what he grew on his 7-acre farm wound up on the restaurant’s menu. But that’s been changing under the leadership of Laxer’s son David, who wants to turn the now-fallow farm into a soccer complex and begin farming a smaller piece of land. Meanwhile, the eatery’s marketing still emphasizes local and organic, despite the fact that these days, the lion’s share of produce is sourced through large distributors and only about 20% is organic. David Laxer told the Times that the eatery will shift its message once the new farm is established.

Though “local” and “organic” have been hot restaurant trends for at least the past two years, Bern’s isn’t the only eatery that seems to be putting locally sourced and organic ingredients lower on the priority list. World-renowned chefs Thomas Keller and Andoni Luis Aduriz gave a joint interview to The New York Times that set the food blogosphere abuzz. The chefs see their main mission as creating amazing meals and are content to let promoting local and organically grown ingredients take a back seat.

Bloggers including Grist’s Twilight Greenaway quickly took Keller to task, calling his comments irresponsible and destructive. Environmentalist Laurie David called the chef’s stance shocking and said, “Why check your citizenship at the kitchen door?” Others responding to posts and tweets on the story saw the issue as less black and white, including commenters at Chefs Collaborative who eat sustainably when possible but draw the line at giving up coffee, tea and favorite dishes simply because the ingredients can’t be locally sourced.

Enhancing local produce options

Some agriculture researchers see benefits in growing crops closer to where they’ll be consumed. One project is designed to grow more broccoli — typically a West Coast crop — on the East Coast, with the help of federal farm subsidies. Congress began including specialty crops in federal farm bills in 2008, and growers get about $3 billion in subsidies, McClatchy Newspapers reported.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, are using federal funds to “show how fresh fruits and vegetables with enhanced flavor can be successfully handled, without compromising food safety, so as to improve consumer satisfaction,” McClatchy reported.

Maybe they mean “papples”?

The Guardian’s Word of Mouth Blog reported on the latest hybrid fruit: a pear disguised as an apple. The fruit, developed in New Zealand, is actually a hybrid of two pear varieties, with the taste and texture of a pear but a distinctly apple shape. It might seem weird, but some of the most common fruits are the result of cross-breeding experiments, including grapefruits, lemons and several varieties of grapes.