Cleanliness is said to go hand-in-hand with godliness and this saying proves to be truer than ever at a time like this while the world battles a pandemic. But it does not end there. Over the past year people have started paying closer attention to the quality of hygiene in their surroundings, investing in more advanced technology to help them lead a cleaner, healthier lifestyle and most importantly paying attention to what they consume. Now more than ever, the Farm-to-Table movement, popularly known as the ‘ Farm-to-Fork ‘ movement, and certain aspects of it have started to become more popular because of a growing need to eat better, healthier, fresher produce. The key is to understand what this movement aims to achieve and how can one start small by imbibing from it the key factors and practicing them to lead a sustainable lifestyle.
What is a Farm-to-Table meal?
In broad terms, eating a meal that is cooked with ingredients acquired directly from the producer and does not pass through any intermediary such as a shop, private vendor, etc. can be called a meal served following the Farm-to-Table approach. Here, the producer need not necessarily be a farm but could be a winery, brewery, ranch, fishery, or any other type of food producer that is capable of delivering such a service.
How did the Farm-to-Table movement come about?
In recent times, as people have become increasingly aware of what they are consuming, about food-safety, food freshness, and also mindful about supporting local businesses, there is a trend that seems to depict a rise in families that opt for buying local produce directly from the vendor and also a rise in people willing to spend larger sums of money to host or have meals from restaurants and setups that work with this strategy in mind.
A proper introduction to the Farm-to-Table trend can be traced back to 1960’s-70’s America. A significant contribution that kickstarted this movement came form Alice Waters who was the first chef to use local produce in her restaurant Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, which she opened in 1971. Soon after this, the practice of organic farming started in America and spread to Europe. As this started to become popular, people started demanding for local, fresh, organic food and the farmers markets continued to grow. And soon, this movement was translated into one with different facets ranging from societal betterment to economic gains that catered to all sections of the community.
Aims of the Farm-to-Table movement
- Sourcing the finest ingredients from local vendors
As an organization or business, after deciding to switch to or align with the Farm-to-table approach, the first and most crucial step is to identify a farm/primary producer from where they will regularly source the food. This requires adequate trust between the two parties and a similar thought process of building a more sustainable and healthy food service to the customer.
The client should select a Farm/Production service that is in close proximity to minimize transportation of the goods. It should also be one that caters to a variety of the clients needs.
- Advocating and Practicing the need for Food Traceability.
The transparency involved in the Farm-to-Table approach is what makes it stand out. It aims to give full clarity to the consumer about where the food they eat has come from. This method should not be limited to the Farm-to-Table movement alone but also be taken forward in other set-ups to ensure a smooth functioning that hides nothing from the customer. This can be done by taking small steps such as accurate labelling with adequate information about the produce on packaging , crediting the farms that the produce came from so as to provide them with more opportunities, etc.
Food traceability as the name suggests, lies in the transparency that the end user has about where and how the produce is made and reaches them. The ‘ Food Production Chain ‘ poster below explains that this transparency starts when the consumer is aware of where the production starts from, and assurance of intermediate processes such as distribution and processing is mentioned through other selected mediums. This produce then reaches the restaurants or retail stores where the above mentioned information is ideally further vocalized to the buyers.
- Promoting sustainable methods of meal preparation
Meal prep involves multiple stages that ranges from cutting, cleaning, cooking, inspection of quality to the final packaging stage. In all the stages the scope of minimizing the use of non-biodegradable products and replacing them with more environmentally friendly materials such as mycelium or hemp will create a significant impact in the process. The amount of waste generated while processing and delivering must also be carefully segregated and managed.
- Ensuring that the food system has a neutral or positive impact on the environment without sacrificing its resiliency, quality or safety.
To put this system in place, especially one as complex as reshaping the food and lifestyle sector, the initial goal should be to implement reforms that do not harm the environment in any way. The next step should be to have that reform benefit the surroundings and the consumers. During this shift it is an important factor to keep all processes flexible with the ability to be changed as and when required, for the quality of produce to be of optimal quality, and ensured safety throughout. Here, these factors not only apply to the consumers but to the environment and atmosphere with equal if not more importance.
Where will the change reflect?
Climate Change Phenomenon
The pandemic has increased the drive for a zero emission future as the world is seeking ways to bounce back more environmentally sound and cleaner. The food system and the vicious cycle of production and waste generation has proven to be factors that adversely contribute to climate change and environmental degradation and the way forward is to put the farm-to-table movement into practice and reduce these impacts.
In 2017, the percentage contribution of CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) – a metric measure used to compare emissions from different greenhouse gases (GHG) – from agriculture was 20% of all human activities , including 11% from crop and livestock activities and 9% from associated land use. This is compared to worldwide industrial processes, such as cement production, which only accounted for 8% . Apart from this, approx. a third of the food produced is wasted either at the harvest level or at the consumer and retail level which makes food waste responsible for about 8% of the global Green House Gas emissions. The goal of understanding this should be to reduce food loss and waste while not increasing emissions associated with the production in question.
Casual and Fast dining industry
Although the two dining cultures are contrary in essence, the casual and fast dining industry in recent times has started to include more healthier options with fresh produce in their menus. Many restaurants and small scale business owners are consciously making the shift towards having products more aligned with the farm-to-table movement by offering locally sourced food at a considerably lower price, limiting the distance the food travels before it reaches the restaurants requiring them to build relationships with the local farm communities. Some businesses and restaurants have taken steps to buy and manage their own farms. These restaurants intend on starting slow by not claiming to source all their food from the farms but to learn how things grow and progress with time.
What are the Pros and Cons?
Every coin has two sides and so does the Farm-to-table movement.
- The local economy of the area is naturally boosted with the support of farmers. Since the movement directly deals with the farmers, we can make sure that the money spent is going directly to aid the these farmers grow their businesses.
- Both parties, the farmer and the restaurant benefits from the Farm-to-Table movement. And once a relationship is built between the two, requests can be made to grow specific foods to suit their needs. A new type of business model is hence formed.
- The movement is an excellent way to make local and organic foods more available to the local community.
- In the new age, with a rapid increase in people who have started to pay attention to what they eat and where it comes from, the Farm-to-Table movement has become a popular trend and associating ones restaurant with it can bring in more customers and create excitement about the menu.
- As mentioned earlier, since the produce does not have to travel long distances, there are fewer greenhouse gases let out into the atmosphere during commute. And also ensures the freshness and quality of the produce.
- Farms are not common in urban settings which pose as a constraint for those settled in more built up areas.
- Purchasing locally may not always give all the produce at any time of convenience whereas going to a grocery and buying produce is a considerably quicker process.
- There are many arguments from those who believe that the Farm-to-Table model is more of a fashion fad rather than an approach which truly aims to create change for the planet and the economy.
- Not everyone can afford to switching to this lifestyle as it demands more time and money in comparison to purchasing processed foods from a near by grocer.
The Farm-to-Table movement can be aligned with the principles of Circular Economy in simple ways. For instance, using materials that are recycled to produce other required products. Around 1 trillion drink containers are being produced every year, and the same being disposed off. This quality material can be recycled to whatever extent possible and used to create new bottles and cutlery which can be used in restaurants promoting the Farm-to-Table movement. Promoting and ensuring zero-waste dining in the outlets will also be a good start to creating awareness among consumers and sustaining it.
After understanding the many facets of the Farm-to-Table movement, it can be concluded that when strategized carefully and implemented, it proves to promote sustainability in ways more than one. As discussed, it creates a positive impact on the environment, reduces the use of hazardous materials that are commonly used in fast dining facilities, and paves path for a more heathier life for consumers going forward.