Local, Sustainable, Organic: Are Restaurants Misusing These Buzzwords?

 In Industry Trends Blog Archives

We’ve all seen these words getting thrown around in the food world since the day consumers started getting savvier and more educated about what they put in their mouths. But are these words being used just to have consumers buy in to the idea or to what it truly means to eat local, sustainable or organic food?

With vague explanations and no standard definitions, it’s important to understand what you are claiming when using them on your menu.  To help clear up any misconceptions and to use these buzzwords in a correct way, let’s start with looking at what they really mean:


There’s no federal definition for “local” in regard to how to use the term. Most people think it means that the food item comes from their own neighborhood and would therefore support businesses in the area, but that is not the case. It can actually be produced within a range from a few to 400 miles so it expands to a lot more than the local farmer’s market and can even be state wide in some cases.  Buying local could however, help lower the environmental impact due to a decrease of “food miles,” which is how far food needs to travel to get to the end destination.


Farms using sustainable practices do not require official certification. Many people consider sustainability more of a philosophy that enables us to produce healthful foods without compromising future generation’s to do the same. Basically, it means that nutrients removed from the soil by growing are replenished without artificial input. Sustainable agriculture must be economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound and is usually produced by small farmers who live on the land they farm.


Certified Organic methods follow specific rules established by USDA, however, since this process is very costly for many smaller farmers there are some alternatives to the USDA process. One example is Certified Naturally Grown, which is less costly but still uses USDA organic standard guidelines which include:

    • Crops need to be grown without artificial pesticides, fertilizers, GMOs, irradiation, or sewage sludge
    • Using practices in balance with the natural environment, using methods and materials that minimizes negative impact on the environment
    • Animals to be raised without hormones or antibiotics and allow the animals the space and freedom to behave naturally

One common misconception is that all organic food is healthy, but organic or not, chips, a frozen burrito or pizza are not health foods – which seem to have many consumers confused.

So whether you are using these terms to differentiate your brand, resonate with customers or if it’s something you believe in and support – make sure you know what you’re buying in to and how you can use it on menus and in your marketing the correct way.

What is your take on these buzzwords? Have you noticed establishments using them incorrectly?

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