What’s really on your plate at the fancy restaurant you’ve chosen to celebrate that special occasion? Was the grouper entrée truly locally-sourced? Is it really grouper, and is it truly fresh? How about the label on that cereal box in the grocery store? Is it actually gluten-free? Is it truly non-GMO?
The complex and confusing issue of food labeling will be the focus of a public forum presented by St. Petersburg College’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions on Wednesday, Aug. 31. Titled What’s on Your Plate? Food Labeling, from Seed to Fork, the forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at SPC’s Seminole campus, 9200 113th St. N. The forum is co-sponsored by Nature’s Food Patch, the Tampa Bay Times and WEDU Television.
Regular readers of the Tampa Bay Times know that the answers to the questions listed above may not necessarily be “yes,” despite what the menu or package labels say. In a provocative series titled Fork to Fable, Times’ food critic Laura Reiley exposed shocking disparities between what restaurants and farmers’ markets label their food items and the reality of where they came from and how they were produced. Reiley will lead a wide-ranging discussion of food labeling practices at the forum.
She will be joined by Katherine Miller, founding Executive Director of the Chef Action Network and Senior Director of Food Policy Advocacy at the James Beard Foundation; Robert Baugh, Chief Operating Officer of the Chiles Restaurant Group in Anna Maria, Fla.; and Ben King, owner/manager of King Family Farm in Bradenton, Fla. The moderator will be Dr. Amanda Gilleland, Academic Chair of the Department of Natural Science at St. Petersburg College.
With health-conscious consumers paying more attention to food additives, calories, nutritional value and sourcing, reading food labels has become an important part of the dining and grocery-shopping experience. But this attention to the content and quality of food comes at a time when the labels are increasingly being called into question. Reiley exposed widespread mislabeling by Tampa Bay-area restaurants and outdoor markets.
Consumer advocates also have written extensively about the veracity of labels on processed foods, asserting that labelling standards are so flexible and enforcement so lax that misrepresentation is a common practice of food processors.
Admission to the forum is free, but advance registration is required at solutions.spcollege.edu.