Fleshing Out Farm-To-Table (Part 1)
In this first part of a two-part series, we're going to look at a food industry buzzword that's been thrown around for a while now: farm-to-table. You've likely heard this term before; maybe you've eaten at a few restaurants that claim this title. The fact remains that the definition is elusive and the representative practices that categorize it are difficult to accurately pinpoint.
It's our goal to demystify farm-to-table and look into the details of what it truly entails. So before you immediately dive for the grass fed beef, have a seat and listen, your server will be with you shortly.
Commitment to a Standard
Restaurants that pursue a goal of providing farm-to-table cuisine are submitting to a higher standard of production and product acquisition. One that's much more difficult than traditional avenues. While there isn't any standardized definition of exactly what farm-to-table is/means, we can break it down into some basic particulars:
1) Knowing the farm and farmers who raise your crops and livestock free from unnatural additions of hormones, pesticides, and the like. 2) Dealing directly with farmers, removing large-scale processing and packaging plants from inventory stocking operations.
Opting for this route seems simple enough; after all, it's just a little extra digging, research, etc., right? To the person dining, this might be the case, but to the restauranteurs, chefs, and people in charge of farm-to-table restaurant provisions, it's a different world entirely.
A quote from George Orwell's Animal Farm aptly displays an important sentiment: “The distinguishing mark of man is the hand, the instrument with which he does all his mischief.” In 2001, an estimated 60 to 80 percent of animal fed antibiotics were mixed into livestock feed. Grass fed beef, free range chicken, free range pork, wild caught Alaskan salmon, and any type of sustainable meat must be thoroughly researched. It's not enough to believe claims of spoken word, thorough exploration is essential and that trusting relationship with the farmer is crucial.
People and Product Relationship
Farm-to-table restaurants value the relationships between farms (near and far), markets, their processes, and building a symbiotic relationship that helps both farms and restaurants flourish together. Restaurants don't get everything from a single farm, based on the shear food volume that might be needed. Their contact networks span great areas. An incorrect assumption about farm-to-table food is that it must be local. That's not the case in some circumstances. It's knowing the inside-out scoop of the farm from which your supplies come from. Is it enough to just buy grass fed beef whenever? Is it salmon season? Should you purchase free range pork online or in person? How will all of these variables impact your upcoming menu? The distribution, slaughtering, processing, and delivery methods all must be scrutinized to ensure true, untainted quality before adding to the menu. At a farm-to-table restaurant, every single piece of the menu, down to the garnishes answers to the same level of scrutiny.
This first part touches briefly on what it means to be farm-to-table. The details make the menu and formulate the type of restaurant. The next post is going to look into why it's difficult to effectively run and manage, leading into why so few places actually do it.