By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
An elite catchphrase, “farm-to-table” was once reserved for a small group of pioneering chefs and restaurants to describe the short path premium produce, dairy and meats took from dirt to linen.
But the phrase has evolved in the U.S. into the latest mainstream idiom as we constantly reinvent hip dining in America.
My friend’s father-in-law affirmed my questioning of this colloquialism a couple years ago on the coast of France. “What peculiar marketing in your country,” he mused. “I see this phrase, farm-to-table, in American publications more and more. What does it mean? Isn’t all food grown on a farm, and isn’t all food served on a table?”
When I heard the words aloud, I took pause; shouldn’t that be a silly question to ask? Apparently not.
We say we are ready for farm-to-table. We think we are. But we’re in a time when we see healthy, vibrant lettuce sent back in a restaurant because the leaves have tiny holes from bugs for lack of pesticides.
The research and development organization Florida Tomato Committee prevents one of the juiciest, most flavorful tomatoes, the UglyRipe, from ever seeing the open market because they are, well, ugly. Instead, perfectly spherical green orbs morph en route in a tempered truck to your local grocery store.
The majority of grocers from any geographic region of the U.S. sell primarily the same produce because it’s simply the most colorful and the prettiest, but not necessarily the most nutritious. I wonder if the short road from farm to table has taken a detour and lost us in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
Along with other organizations, the Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit dedicated to building a sustainable national food system, estimates the average plate of food we eat has traveled approximately 1,500 miles.
This seems like a long way to me. Why does a food’s journey have to be so complicated? It’s interesting that as a nation we rediscovered ourselves in the way we eat by declaring that, get ready, some restaurants actually get much or all of their product directly from a farmer or rancher. Brilliant!
I suspect that not too long ago a conversation about farm-to-table foods would never happen because that’s simply the way it was. It was simply the way we ate and the way we handled our food.
On a recent fieldtrip, a handful of the Buck’s T-4 team visited a few local ranchers and farmers to see where some of our proteins and produce begins. It wasn’t that far away. And it was affirming to see people genuinely interested in not only where their food comes from, but also that despite the size of our state, the road from farm to table can be shorter than we realize.
We came to know the farmers and ranchers on a personal level. We saw first-hand the “refreshingly short journey some of our partners’ products took to get to us, as well as how good it made them feel in the process.
Here in Big Sky we don’t exactly live in a climate rich with produce and full of livestock. But every purchase we make of a homegrown steak, head of lettuce, beet, or radish, will help small and local farms thrive in getting these goods directly to your table.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.