Our Chef-in-Residence Ken Durbin breaks down the farm-to-table movement, explaining why locally-sourced food is healthier and tastes better.
When thinking about the theme of this week’s issue, I considered some of the gourmet food trends that have come into fashion of late. Ancient grains. Oat milk. Sumac. Truffles. (Who doesn’t love truffles?) And then it hit me—the biggest trend in food right now is not a food at all, it’s how we get our food. Sustainability is in fashion.
Take those delicious truffles, for instance. The best truffles are sourced from France. It takes a whole lot of jet fuel to schlep those truffles across the country and across the ocean. Beyond being stupidly expensive (hence the price of truffles), jet-hopping all over the world to find crazy ingredients is terrible for the environment. Yes, that’d be the same environment where we’re trying to grow our produce and raise our livestock. So like many chefs today, I’ve embraced the trend toward sourcing from local farms and markets. This encompasses a lot of related food trends, which you may have heard referred to as farm-to-table, sustainable agriculture, or local sourcing.
What all these trends boil down to is that the closer the source, the better the food will taste. Knowing where your food comes from is a surefire way to avoid ingredients that you don’t want or need, like added hormones that have been injected into your meat or pesticides that cover your vegetables. You also know that when you buy local foods, they haven’t been loaded up with preservatives, boxed up, canned, or packaged and driven hundreds (or thousands) of miles to reach the store.
But the reason that we care so much as chefs about food sourcing today goes beyond the selfish reason of wanting the food we cook to taste good. People in our communities work really hard to grow produce and raise livestock. It’s their livelihood, and it’s important to support our local small farms and farmers markets.
As a chef, local sourcing allows me to make informed decisions. I can ask questions face-to-face with the farm owner about about how a vegetable is grown or how an animal is raised. Does the farmer use pesticides? Are the animals being raised humanely and eating the proper diet to ensure a quality life? Knowing these answers then allows me to feel confident telling my clients they can trust me when I say that the food they are being served is as organic and environmentally-friendly as possible.
From Land to Sea
So while it’s relatively easy here in the Midwest to locally source agriculture and livestock products like vegetables, beef, or poultry, what in the heck are you supposed to do if you want seafood? We live in an area of the country that’s so far from either of the coasts that it can be difficult to navigate the environmental impact of the seafood we buy. With overfishing being a real threat to our ocean’s ecosystem, it’s become vital as chefs that we become more knowledgeable about sustainable seafood. Luckily, there are organizations that are constantly staying on the cutting edge of this topic and I’m proud to associate myself with them in order to learn more about how I can choose products that help marine life to thrive and continue to feed our bellies for centuries to come.
Last month, I had the honor of taking part in Off the Hook, an annual event produced by Chef’s Collaborate and James Beard’sSeafood Watch in partnership with the Newport Aquarium to educate and inspire chefs to use sustainable seafood that’s been fished in environmentally-responsible ways. I was honored to learn from and cook alongside chefs from across the country who believe in this mission, including one of few master sommeliers in the country Steve Geddes, who you may remember from Cincinnati’s with Local 127 and legendary Las Vegas chef Rick Moonen, who is nationally known as “The Godfather of Sustainability.”
It’s All About Community
When you buy from the local economy you foster community pride. It is easier to build lasting, trustworthy partnerships with vendors when you can meet them face-to-face. My clients may pay more for my commitment to local sourcing, but I firmly believe there is high value in feeling good about where the ingredients I serve are grown or raised. We’re all stuck on this planet together, we might as well take care of it. And that’s a trend I can get behind.