The National Restaurant Association recently released their 2013 version of the Top Ten Trends in Restaurant Menus. Five of the Top Ten are directly related to buying local and regional or focused on sustainable practices, while four additional focus on better nutritional practices. This is the third year in a row that buying local directly or indirectly played a role in menu concepts.
The survey is driven by responses from 1,800 chefs nationwide and is built from a cross-section of the restaurant spectrum. There is no question that America is moving in a new direction, one that gives respect for the source of food and addresses the concern that chefs have for the integrity of the food supply.
The first thing that came to mind is an old saying that has been passed down from generation to generation: “What goes around, comes around”. For far too long we (most chefs included) have bought into the comfort that it was possible to buy any ingredient, any time of the year, delivered to any property as long as we were willing to pay the price. Of course, the “price” turned out to be more than just money.
Farmers and distributors, in order to meet the unlimited palate that Americans had for anything and everything, resorted to a centralized approach that required farms to focus on one or two products, use of chemical fertilizers, and renting genetically modified seeds that would ward of insects and maximize yield. Farms became mechanized with machinery the size of a small house, product grown with minimal touch from the farmer, distribution systems that required farmers to pick product before it was mature to insure that it shipped well, and a product in the hands of the chef that sacrificed taste and wholesomeness for availability and consistency.
Over the past few years we have been bombarded with the information that points out the price that we are paying for a system that has taken the farmer out of the farm and integrity away from the product.
We ship lettuce 3,000 miles to get to a restaurant loading dock, we put our oranges in jeopardy from freak weather conditions, we cram out cattle into pens that resemble the worst prison setting and pump them full of antibiotics to ward off too much disease, feed them genetically engineered corn and pump them full of growth hormones to increase yield for the insatiable appetite for more and more beef. The list goes on and on.
Chefs and American consumers are beginning to say, “enough is enough” and do what can only be done from the bottom up: change what has gotten out of control.
Due to Mother Nature’s cycle it would be close to impossible to buy only local, but it is so refreshing to see so many restaurants doing what they can. It is encouraging to see more and more chefs building relationships with farmers and supporting their effort to grown quality, organic and sustainable crops. It is fantastic to watch the American public begin to demand food that is fresh, ripe, seasonal, reflective of the local terroir, healthy and incredibly flavorful.
Supporting your local farmer who has as much love for the ingredient as chefs have for the prepared meal, is the right thing to do and as it appears now, the profitable thing to do for restaurants.
I had the privilege of working four years in Vermont and witnessing how a decentralized, farmer focused system works. Vermont has taught us all a valuable lesson on returning to a way of life that supports health, local economies and to respect the farmer/producer, artist in their efforts to pay tribute to Mother Nature and the natural balance that we had lost over the past few decades.
Let me know what your thoughts are.
RESPECT THE SOURCE!
Harvest America Ventures