My dearest reader, it’s obvious that you are a true paragon of perspicacity and discernment, a shining example of homo sapiens and a creature of refined taste. Indeed, since you’ve chosen to expend a few precious temporal increments perusing my particular scribbles, we can mark the previous as read.
As a voracious diner at the social buffet, it should come as no surprise that you’ve heard the phrase “farm-to-table” at some point in your travels. However, I find myself wondering if you are fully aware of what this particular hunk of verbiage means.
Fear not true believers, I’m here to help.
Farm-to-table is a phrase that requires some explanation, for the simple reason that it can mean different things to different people. The phrase refers to the direct relationship between a local farm and a local restaurant. Rather than buying through a distributor or food supplier, increasingly restaurants are establishing relationships with farms and purchasing product directly from them, usually within a very small window of time – the idea being to procure ultra-fresh ingredients.
This is a huge benefit to local farmers and producers by providing more profit than their goods could earn at market, as well as giving them the satisfaction of knowing exactly how their food will be prepared and cooked. This process also helps bolster local economies, keeping more money within the community. Beyond the fact that the movement itself has a large popular following, restaurants are motivated to create these direct relationships by the quality and freshness of the food they get from the farms, as well as the ability to get specialty items that not that many people in their area grow.
One of the goals of this movement (at least in its ideal form) is to move people (chefs and eaters alike) away from the over-processed, chemically modified and mutated ingredients mass producers have been promoting for years and back to high-quality, ultra-fresh ingredients. The farm-to-table movement is often associated with organic farming initiatives as well as sustainable and community-supported agriculture. These initiatives are as important to our social health as they are to our economic and physical health.
Interestingly, the farm-to-table movement is actually part of a larger initiative: the Slow Food movement. From their website:
“Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.”
As a human-shaped human with a passion for all things gastronomic, I’m incredibly excited about this initiative. In this time of GMOs (or as I like to call them, genetically mutilated foods) we need this more than ever.
You see my dear reader, I look at food as far more than just fuel. I see it as a celebration.
It’s a celebration of Nature’s bounty and the treasures provided by this big beautiful blue marble on which we live.
It’s a celebration of creativity, from unique and diverse creations of chefs and cooks around the world, to equally unique and diverse cultural traditions based around those foods.
It’s a celebration of community and family, bringing people together over a beautiful meal.
It’s a celebration of flavours, colours, textures, smells and sounds.
As you can see… this is something of a passion, but I fear I’ve strayed slightly from the gravimen of my text.
As with any popular movement, the phrase farm-to-table is not immune to the misuse so many others have endured. So while you can find farm-to-table restaurants in nearly every city, manufactured products in supermarkets are now being labelled as farm-to-table, as marketers scramble to cash in on the popularity of the movement.
While I applaud any food manufacturers who genuinely wish to improve the quality of their products, when it comes to simply slapping a “farm-to-table” sticker on a product, I advise caution. Many of these marketing monikers are not regulated in any way by the government or anyone else, which means… the sticker means nothing.
Indeed, even while researching this essay, I did several searches for “farm-to-table chefs” looking for examples of chefs who have embraced this new movement, and all Google / Skynet could provide were links to magazines listing the “Best Farm to Table Restaurants in [insert city here].” Not only was it decidedly not what I was looking for, many of those restaurants were no more “farm-to-table” than your local Denny’s.
There is also a backlash from those who think the entire idea is simply an aesthetic affectation – another part of the so-called “Hipster” scene. As with many such internet-fuelled misconceptions, this criticism is caused partially by the misuse of the phrase farm-to-table, and partially by a lack of information on the subject.
As the cool kids say, “Educate yo’self before you subjugate yo’self!” Or… something like that.
Farm-to-table is an important movement if for no other reason than it reintroduces people to real food:
- Meats and poultry that haven’t been fed growth hormones or injected with antibiotics and Julia-Child-only-knows what other chemical cocktails.
- Fresh, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables purchased from local growers and farms.
- Simple, time-honoured cooking practices that preserve much of the food’s own flavour, without the need for artificial enhancement.
- The simple act of slowing down and savouring every bite of a fresh, delicious meal with family and friends.
If you’re interested in trying real food for a change, and not just science-experiment-gone-horribly-wrong designed to look like food, give a farm-to-table restaurant a try. You’ll be supporting local business, local farmers and the economy, all while enjoying a fabulous meal.
Pro tip: When you find a local restaurant that claims to be farm-to-table, ask them which local farms they source their ingredients from. Any establishment who has built genuine relationships with local growers will be proud to talk about it with their customers. If they aren’t? Move that bus on down the road.