MANATEE -- Children are the focus of the 26th annual Florida Winefest and Auction, and one chef hopes his message of responsible and natural food sourcing goes home with families.
The festival, largely along Sarasota's bayfront, runs March 17-20, and includes a focus on "clean" foods.
Chef Paul Mattison, who is on the Florida Winefest and Auction board and owns three Sarasota Mattison's restaurants, says he recently jumped on the "all natural" train. And when Mattison uses the word "natural," he's careful. Instead of buying from farms and producers who use the "natural" label, Mattison prefers the "never-ever" label.
"You can say all natural; no antibiotics and no hormones," Mattison said. With that label, "you can give them antibiotics and hormones all of their life and take them off of it in the last 90 days of their life and it's OK" by the Food and Drug Administration.
With "never-ever" companies, the animals never receive a dose of antibiotics or hormones.
Though it's a little more expensive to buy sustainably sourced ingredients for his restaurants, Mattison says it's worth it. Eating beef or other animal products laced with antibiotics can impact human health and the reaction to antibiotics taken for illness.
"There is strong evidence that some antibiotic resistance in bacteria is caused by antibiotic use in food animals," according to the "Antibiotics and Food Safety" page on the Centers for Disease Control website. Mattison also cites the nutritional and flavor benefits of eating what is commonly known as "clean" meat.
"I wouldn't have done it if the flavor didn't excel," Mattison said. "But the flavor is better and it makes sense for so many reasons. The animals are treated better."
For example, Mattison noticed sustainably sourced meat doesn't have a metallic aftertaste like other beef does.
Sandra Loevner, president of the Winefest board and volunteer event coordinator, says Mattison's food-quality mission impacts the children the festival seeks to help.
"Now we're learning about what we're putting in our bodies and it makes us healthier," Loevner said. "It can help our children grow up healthier."
The Florida Winefest and Auction, through grants, donates to nonprofits and charities in Sarasota and Manatee counties, including The Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County, The ManaTEEN Club, the Tiny Hands Foundation and Just for Girls, according to the festival brochure.
Six festival events still have tickets available, according to floridawinefest.org. Tickets range from $25 to $200, pricing that's intended to include all segments of the Manatee-Sarasota community.
"There's something for everyone," Loevner said.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.