Farm to Table: Keeping It Real — Introducing Our New Series

by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed

The Good Food movement has made tremendous strides, during recent years, in building greater interest — among consumers, diners, producers and marketers — in promoting a healthier, more environmentally sustainable, and more economically vibrant food system in the United States.

farm_to_table_logo_plate_loresBut this progress is so fresh and fragile that Good Food advocates must be aware of the challenges they face. Among the biggest of these is assuring the public that Good Food claims made by people in the industry — such as “local,” “sustainable,” “humane” or “fair” — are legitimate.

That is why FamilyFarmed and Good Food on Every Table has decided to publish a series under the title of “Farm to Table: Keeping It Real.” The articles in this series will feature the first-person accounts of chefs and restaurateurs who have staked their businesses and reputations on doing farm-to-table the right way. Many of these articles will be columns written by the chefs/restaurateurs themselves, or will be q-and-a from interviews conducted by Good Food on Every Table.

While Good Food on Every Table has published a number of pieces on this subject, the impetus for this series is to provide a counter-point to an in-depth article, titled “Farm to Fable,” that was published by the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg, Florida. This well-researched and well-reported piece by the newspaper’s restaurant reviewer exposed false or misleading claims of local and/or sustainable sourcing made by restaurants in the newspaper’s home area.

The piece made a solid contribution to the discussion of farm-to-table issues. After all, no one, including competing restaurants who are doing farm-to-table on the up and up, could really complain when fakers are called out.

But as advocates for the Good Food movement, and the professionals who adhere to its principles, we have a major concern. We work closely with chefs and restaurateurs who vigorously pursue the most local and most sustainably produced food they can obtain, and who are transparent about challenges they face, such as availability, price, reliability of supply, and seasonality issues in regions with short growing seasons. And we work closely with farmers from whom these chefs and restaurants source their food, and can vouch for their legitimacy.

So we have created “Farm to Table: Keeping It Real” to provide a platform for these chefs, restaurateurs, farmers and others to share their experiences, the opportunities presented by greater consumer awareness of (and demand for) Good Food, and the challenges they face in making it happen in ways that please their customers without overly lightening their customers’ wallets.

We will kick off the series by reprising a recent story about Paul Kahan, the Chicago chef whose dedication to both excellent cuisine and local and sustainable sourcing have earned him a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef in the nation award (in 2013) and FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Chef of the Year award this year. We will continue Tuesday with our first original piece for the series, on Chef Johnny Anderes of The Kitchen in Chicago.

And we approach this in full knowledge that even here in Chicago, which has a vibrant culinary community that is committed to Good Food practices, there is some degree of faking, fudging and greenwashing.

A farmer whose name is familiar on menus in Chicago and around the region had me laughing out loud recently with an anecdote. He related how he has repeatedly heard from a restaurateur who tells him how much he loves the farmer’s cherries.

But the farmer cannot tell a lie. He has never grown a cherry in his life.

He is a livestock farmer.

“Farm to Table: Keeping It Real” will tell the stories of chefs and restaurants around the nation who are doing farm to table right. If you are a chef/restaurateur with a perspective to share, or you know of a chef or restaurant you would like to recommend, please use the comments option on this story. Or please share your own comments about this important issue.

Farm to Table: Keeping It Real logo by Jamie McCarthy/FamilyFarmed


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