One of the biggest trends in the culinary world today is the farm-to-table movement. The phrase “farm to table” is a buzzword referring to food made with locally sourced ingredients. Our society is in a rapid state of technological innovation, which means that we often compromise health and nutrition for the sake of convenience, hence the popularity of fast food and TV dinners. However, a growing number of consumers have started to seek healthier and more environmentally friendly alternatives to the processed foods that dominate grocery store shelves. Learn more about the roots of the farm-to-table dining scene to understand why it has become such an important trend in our society.
Back to Our Roots: Farm-to-Table Movement History
The Rise and Fall of Processed Foods
At the turn of the 20th century, most of the food that Americans ate came from within 50 miles. However, as Americans began moving away from rural areas and flocking to cities, many local food sources disappeared. Interstate highways and improvements in shipping technology led us to bring in food from further and further away. For the sake of convenience, American’s began to rely on processed foods as away to save time for meal preparations.
Emphasizing Quality Over Convenience
Farm-to-table restaurants are taking us back to our roots by valuing quality over ease and convenience. Processed foods, although quick to prepare, typically contain excessive amounts of sugar, fat, and sodium, and consuming these foods regularly can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. The farm-to-table scene emphasizes simply prepared food comprised of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.
From the 70’s to the 21st Century
The first farm-to-table restaurants can be traced back to the hippie movement in the 60s and 70s, when organic, local, and natural food became trendy and more people began supporting local farmers. Pioneers in the food to table movement include Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and Jerry Traunfeld of Herbfarm in Washington State.
However, while these types of restaurants have existed for decades, it was not until about ten years ago, where the locavore movement began to really take off. Initially, farm-to-table restaurants began in progressive cities like Boulder, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; and Berkeley, California, but today they can be found everywhere from Austin to Anchorage.
Emphasis on Locally Sourced, Seasonal Foods
Healthy food choices are often expensive and of limited availability, but that is slowly changing. More and more farm-to-table restaurants, farmer’s markets, and food co-ops are cropping up to meet the demand among consumers for healthy, local foods, as more chefs and consumers recognize the poorer taste and nutritional integrity of ingredients shipped in from far away.
The Strenghs of Local Food
According to the definition adopted by the US Congress in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, the total distance that a product can be transported and still be considered a local or regional agricultural food product is less than 400 miles from its origin.
Fruits and vegetables that have to be shipped long distances are often picked before they have a chance to fully ripen and absorb nutrients from their surroundings. Because local food doesn’t have to travel long distances, it is grown in order to taste better and be healthier rather than to be resilient to long travel. The farm-to-table movement also has severed to help local economies by supporting small farmers, which were becoming a dying breed.
Environmental Benefits of Farm-to-Table Dining
Fewer Transport Miles = Fewer Transmissions
Local food is not only healthier and tastier, it is also better for the environment because fewer transport miles equal fewer transmissions. According to a study conducted by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, food travels 1,500 miles on average from farm to customer while locally sourced food travels an average of 44.6 miles. The same study found that the conventional food distribution system uses 4 to 17 times more fuel and emits 5 to 17 times more CO2 than local and regional systems.
How Food is Transported Also Matters
However, the environmental impact of food depends not only on how long it travels, but also on how it is transported. Ton for ton, trains are far more efficient at moving freight than trucks are. This means that the greenhouse gases associated with transporting potatoes trucked in from 100 miles away is the same as those associated with potatoes shipped in by rail from 1,000 miles away.
Farm-to-Table Cuisine: A Refreshing Trend
The farm-to-table scene is a refreshing trend in today’s hectic, technology-driven world. The movement brings us back to the basics and encourages us to enjoy fresh, simple foods. More of today’s consumers understand the value of eating local, seasonal food, and they are willing to pay a premium to get it. Gourmet chefs aren’t the only ones who are embracing farm-to-table cuisine. Even Chipotle, the fast-food Mexican chain, strives to buy many of its ingredients from local purveyors.
If you’re thinking about training to become a culinary professional, consider incorporating aspects of the farm-to-table movement into your career so you can craft culinary creations that improve people’s health, protect the planet, and support the growth of local economies.