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By Staff | May 11, 2012

New York City has amazing restaurants. There seems to be two or three on every city block serving every kind of food imaginable and they are all busy.

The food venders under Grand Central Station serve excellent food for $15 per meal. That is cheap by NYC standards. If you think otherwise, bring a lot of sack lunches with you, but you will also miss what NYC is all about.

Then there is breakfast – two eggs, bacon, wheat toast, orange juice and English tea plus tip at the Waldorf Astoria for $55. I never had a meal that I didn’t like or where the food wasn’t presented a bit differently than back in the Midwest.

I would say that there was a little bit of exceptionalism about NYC restaurants but there would have to be in order to stand out from the crowd. They are into the organic-natural foods craze.

Whole Foods opened a huge new market in downtown Manhattan where property is amazingly expensive, so high food prices are expected.

One of my favorite NYC restaurants is the 5-Napkin Hamburger restaurant. They serve one of the best hamburgers I have ever eaten – 10 ounces, thick and of course, juicy. They tout it as hormone free-natural. You need five napkins to eat it.

I am challenged to duplicate it off my grill. It is the cooking technique more than the beef that defines it. You get to eat under an umbrella street-side and I like that. For added ambiance, some baritone on the street just starts belting out a show tune while crossing the intersection. I have never heard that done in Iowa, but you expect it in NYC.

Most all menu items in New York restaurants are organic this, natural that. They sell concepts and the concept is that niche non-commodity food is better. Some restaurants have to work at it. To quote the Wall Street Journal, “For conscientious chefs in the city, whole animal butchering has become the new model for moral meat; an entire creature used from head to tail in a single kitchen.”

They buy locally produced grass fed steer carcasses dismissing “$2-a-pound meat of unknown provenance that might not come from a single source.” They are encountering drawbacks. They can’t use a whole steer so share with other restaurants.

They end up with not enough of one cut and too much of another. One chef said that it took him a good three eight-hour days in order to take it all off the bone. I really have to laugh at that. They essentially are going back and re-discovering all the reasons for boxed beef.

Choice USDA beef is Choice USDA beef. All the cuts won’t come from the same animal, but they are sorted by grade to be the same product and the Chef won’t waste three days of his time cutting up a carcass and still not ending up with what he needs.

Money must not be any object as the restaurant will pay four to five times the cost of USDA boxed beef if they pay themselves anything for their time. They can kid themselves that they have a better product. I think that given the difficulty that they are experiencing, they will accept that there is value in boxed beef.

New Yorkers only know about agriculture what they are told. The problem is that others are giving them erroneous information and they are only getting one side of the story.

Right now, too many U.S. consumers have been led to believe that conventional food is foreign. They are told that if it is not free-range, natural, grass fed, organic, local and hormone-free that there is something wrong with it.

That is why scams like “pink slime” can be so damaging. We too often promote to ourselves in the Midwest while we lose customers in droves who are far removed from agriculture.

In response to LFTB promotion we helped sponsor a free hamburger feed locally, but it should have been done in Times Square to be effective.

Our promotion groups don’t appear to be up to that level and that is where the information battle is taking place. I don’t think that we are really in the game.

Disney had a huge color billboard over its store on Times Square touting its use of organic cotton in their shirts. It was an active billboard showing a little seed growing into an organic cotton field identified by the tag on their clothing.

The organic cotton field looked pathetic, but the people on the street would not know that. Disney must not know that. Organic cotton typically yields a fraction of what conventionally produced cotton yields wiping out any perceived benefit to sustainability.

In fact, if it takes four or five acres of organic cotton to equal the production on an acre of conventional cotton, it should receive a much lower carbon score.

Organic cotton is extremely difficult to produce. My son, the Brazilian cotton grower, tells me that there are 24 different species of insects that line up to devour the crop and organic producers do not have enough natural defenses to win that battle.

Disney is probably still paying $2 per pound for 80 cent per pound cotton, while selling consumers on the idea that this makes perfect sense. What they are doing is actually starving somebody, because the extra acres needed to grow organic cotton should be growing food or fuel.

Were Disney to tell the full story on Times Square, they should show all the children around the world who are hungry because Disney demands organic cotton.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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