Eating Out, Farm to Table Style

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Dreaming of locally skewered lamb, hand-picked heirloom tomatoes, and all the local farm’s had to offer I slept well the night before my big Farm to Table dinner. With lovingly-harvested potatoes jumping in my head, I tried to contain my excitement for the big event. Meal time is one of the human beings oldest traditions. The French take hours to eat delectable meals, the Italians pour their souls into their pasta and sauces, and I planned on soaking in the glory of local, organic food at a hip restaurant. I chose this restaurant not for its exquisite menu, or known sustainable practices, but because it was trendy, usually well-populated, and attracted a crowd not necessarily aware of the impact of their food decisions. Strategic? Yes.

As a food critique for the day, I wanted to uncover how a hippster restaurant presented their week of Farm to Table meal offerings. Could they jumpstart people into thinking more about where their food comes from outside of the grocery store? Would it encourage a localized change in the hip crowd’s diet? Would organic food grow in demand so much that the local farms wouldn’t be able to keep up? I had to know.

So I dressed in my hippiest of clothes, wrangled in a few friends who enjoy a good meal, and sat down to see what incredible things would unfold before my eyes…

First, they handed us menus, regular menus. Then upon looking at the reservation the hostess casually asked “you’re here for the farm thingy, arent’ you?” Hmm, not the inspired tone I was hoping for, but I smiled and said yes. She dug out some “special menus” just for us.

Food Plate

First Internal Question: Why were we the only ones graced with the Farm to Table menu? Why weren’t there big letters on their artsy chalkboards proclaiming that this week was Farm to Table week, and by goodness Earth Day too? Why wasn’t everyone given this oh-so-special menu when they sat down?

Hold it in. I’m sure she’s new! That’s why, she just didn’t know, and even though Earth Day is, well tomorrow, I am sure they meant to write something special on the chalkboards in celebration of this monumental event of our Earth. But you know how life gets away from us sometimes.

I perused the delicious menu for Farm to Table items, vegetables and pork and even a little chocolate bread pudding at the end. What to choose? The waitress informed me that I wouldn’t have to choose, you either get the whole Farm to Table meal or you don’t. Well, that was easy, I guess. So began our three course meal! Of course, I wanted to know where a few things were from, and if they were organic or just local. So I asked the waitress a question or two. She suddenly became a deer in headlights, not quite sure why I would ever want to know the answer to these questions. Apologetically, she said she could ask. They didn’t have much of an answer. So much for knowing your farmer.

Second Question: If you were hosting a Farm to Table meal, and someone called ahead to tell you that they had been asked to write about it, would you prepare your staff? Would you prepare your staff even if someone didn’t tell you they were going to write about it?

So my hopes of learning about the journey of our food was slightly deflated, but I would not be let down. I came here to eat deliciously local fresh food, and I plan on doing just that. And it is a good thing too, because it was “delectable” as food critique, Nick, would say. We kicked things off with a micro-salad of greens we couldn’t identify, and let’s be honest the waitress had had about enough of my “outlandish” questions regarding food sources, so we let it remain a surprise. Round two came in with a hot plate of potatoes, pork, and some garnish. It disappeared instantly. Then the final round rang in as my personal favorite, a chocolate bread pudding. How was it local and/or sustainable? Not a clue, and they didn’t seem to know either.

Third Question: Would you use beauty, in any form, to disguise a lack of knowledge?

No, I am not addressing Hollywood. Honestly, I was disappointed that the restaurant was able to garner free press for something they had not taken time to promote internally. The food was in fact delicious. Where it came from, it’s story, or why the restaurant wanted to participate in the Farm to Table week across the City, an absolute mystery.

Mystery Diner #1 (aka Nick) Rating: 3.5 Stars
Mystery Diner #2 (aka Irish) Rating: 4 Stars
Mystery Diner #3 (aka Yours Truly) Rating: 3 Stars

Knowing how to cook food is one thing, and an admirable thing. Knowing where your food comes from, now that really is something. Something so special that I don’t take it for granted, and am disappointed when others do.

So instead of ending on a sad note, let’s move forward with how we can help champion the local food movement:

1) Ask your favorite restaurants if they do, and if they are willing to source some food locally. Connecting them to resources like Local Harvest and the Eat Well Guide along with showing them that there is demand for local food can help make eating out more sustainable.

2) Shop locally! Supporting your local farmer’s really is important, and during tough economic times, keeping money circulating in your local economy becomes increasingly important. For every $1 spent at a local business, 68 cents or more stays in that local economy.

3) Do not be fooled by “fancy talk”. I went in hoping for the best, and left feeling like I had a lot of work to do if I truly do want to be the change I hope to see in this World. Holding these companies accountable is important though. I later contacted the manager to review the experience with her in place of causing a scene at the restaurant. My hope is that dialogue, in place of dissapointment, will help them move forward.

Now I spoke with other Farm to Table restaurant goers who attended known eco-friendly restaurants, and their reviews were off the charts. It looks like mainstream restaurants have a lot to learn from their sustainable neighbors. Onwards with our own efforts to make dining, and food, a cultural experience once again.

A big and special thanks to Nicole, the Community Food Security Coalition, and the movie FRESH for all of their efforts to create communities of action nationwide.

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