The Fringe Aspects of Farm-to-Table

A recent blog post by Marcus Guiliano includes a video of him talking about farm-to- table restaurants he has visited and how very few of them seem to be taking additional steps to research the entirety of their sources.  He makes several prescient points about the definition of "family farm"; the concealed ownership of "local" businesses by banks and insurance companies; and conducting fact-checks about the economic impact of each dollar spent in regions outside of his own in the Hudson Valley.

I have thought of the term "family farm" as incorruptible until I watched this video and listened as Guiliano recounted attending a wine expo and learning that several wealthy and heavily invested families are the "family" behind some of these farms.  It's the same thing as when a legitimately organic or GMO-free brand like Larabar is bought by General Mills or Naked Juice by Pepsi.  Those brands lose all credibility due to the conflicting interests of the new parent company.  He gives an example of one pricey French vineyard owned by Geico!

In addition to some of these "families", many large banks and insurance companies have also purchased wine producers and then deceptively conceal their identity behind the label.  The point here is that a farm-to-table restaurant should extend its commitment to include all aspects of the kitchen and behind the bar.  Guiliano seems to thoroughly enjoy the hunt to expose where or who his wine and food are coming from, and I'll admit that I find it a thrill as well - sort of a "gotcha" satisfaction and one that leads to personal empowerment and meaningful choices in the economy.

The third point that stuck with me concerns all those fringe aspects of a true farm-to- table business, and specifically a restaurant.  Guiliano includes his own restaurant when he takes on the task of sourcing ALL kitchen and bar necessities, such as flour, lemons, currants, herbs, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, bourbon and wine, from sources of integrity.  Can all of these be ethically sourced from anywhere in the world?  Maybe they can't, in which case each restaurant should evaluate and make some small alterations in order to stay true to farm-to-table.  If enough credible information is available for a sugar producer in Hawaii about its values, practices and ownership, we still need to consider the impact of its processing, packing and transport.  If a chef in the Midwest U.S. doesn't have the resources to evaluate the sugar producers in the Philippines, then what about using only honey or maple syrup that are both made in abundance nearby?  What I'm trying to say is that following the farm-to-table business model to its logical conclusion might mean placing some restrictions on what is possible at a restaurant within your geographic location, which is how all culinary traditions in every ethnic population began.

Posted on January 25, 2013 .