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Economics and politics of "Farm to Table" restaurants

$150 for the evening excluding wine, an ensemble of people revealing and sharing their passion, three hours later of perfectly orchestrated experiential dining, the thoughts muttered whether the surreal experience epitomized the oft quoted narrative of “Farm to Table cuisine” as a forward-thinking proposition leading to responsible dining and responsive approach.

Or at least many people believe so, flocking superlative restaurants to flush their guilt for not doing enough. Is this a Machiavellian approach to a complex problem? The answer is not so simple, something which requires delving deeper to question the intent and the outcome.

What is this concept of Farm to table

Eating healthy is a huge part of our life. But now a days it can be really confusing and frustrating. On one side of the spectrum is the restaurant called Rosemary with a rooftop garden and on the other side many others who import the best produces from Asia and Europe and still call themselves Farm to table. Yes. They are pretty right, the use organic vegetable picked on someone’s organic farm in Japan some thousands of miles away.

Imagine how we feel after traveling for 24hrs, and see for yourself the results of vegetables traveling for so long. A plant’s nutritional value starts to degrade immediately after harvest. Green peas lose half their Vitamin C within 48hours of being harvested. Phytonutrients and pigments which give fruit and vegetables their bright colour, fights chronic diseases. We know all these as there is so much of knowledge in public domain. But where do we go from here?

Some Inspirations

There is a historic dining tradition in Northeast of Italy whereby small farms hang their mail boxes on the roadside indicating to people passing by, that they can pretty much drive in for the local, family style and farm to table meal experience. Isn’t that cool, a concept without pretense and usual pomp.

It’s a passé to say that chefs must rely on high quality ingredients to produce great food. And that’s a very conventional approach cherry picking ingredients which puts more pressure on the farm land and the farmers.

But not many reflect on the season, or region and what nature has to offer. One Chef called Rene Redzepi changed the way people thought of Nordic cuisine, and the same go for Dan Barber of Blue Hill restaurant and Stone Barn who scaled new height with his back to basic approach.

The economics and politics of monoculture

The whole idea of monoculture is not new. So is the the whole idea of crop diversity to sustain the soil for long time. Huge fields of corn, soy and wheat brought immense wealth with less manpower and headache, but it also depleted the humus, the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms.

The greed to produce more and more resulted in soil becoming barren. Farmers forgot the companion planting, big corporations encouraged single crop planting to control the worldwide prices. Natural process of obtaining NPK (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) through crop diversity gave way to factory produced NPK fertilizer which depleted the health of the soil.

Artificial shortages were created to prove the point. But the real losers were the farmers who lost the soil and perhaps also the will power to farm again. Chemical depositions do alter the basic character of soil, sometime beyond redemption.

Can we change ourselves to support Farm to table concept?

You do not have to go beyond your grandmother or perhaps your mother (though I doubt the majority of young mothers are feeding kids on junk as matter of convenience) to see how the entire household celebrated communal dining from vegetables gathered locally, the cheeses from the neighbourhood and the wines and meat from the region. Much has changed since then.

Well, I keep saying that the choice is yours! How responsible do you want to become to help the environment? Are you ready to change yourself, your consumption pattern and support to the local farm or only content with raising placard to make a show of solidarity?

Monoculture and bloated animal feedlots are real threat. We also make the mistake of popularizing food ingredients to the point of commercial extinction as explained by Dan in his book "The Third Plate".

Food forest, sustainable approach to aquaponics and cattle farming, can we use the majority of the body parts of plants and the animal as a tribute to the sacrifice they make to feed us? Do we know that leaves of potatoes are edible? The real flavor of garlic can also be found in its leaves! Choicest cuts puts pressure on sustainable approach, we end up slaughtering more animals. We need to learn from history, our forefathers. I simply believe that the new path is an ancient one.

Once we give up the habit of deductive reasoning and evaluate the risk of not doing enough, the path to responsive approach and responsible dining becomes clear.

I see a triad, of humans, of knowledge and intention as a catalyst for the change. The concept of farm to table goes beyond the realms of picking up the freshest vegetables and serving it the same day. How about the cattle, and how about the fish, does the farm produce dairy and multiflora honey? Or your homemade ferments and pickles, hams, bacon, and many more such examples of food prepared with love and reverence?

Connection with the soil is the core of progressive farm to table cuisine; grow local, consume local and gather fewest carbon footprint to do your bit for environment.

Can the cuisine be a real tribute to nature? A poem of ingredients, acknowledging change of season, respecting what is growing through regenerative and sustainable farming rather than aligning farming with demand? There are more questions than the answers, and perhaps that's the way I look at such spproach with pinch of salt and skepticism.

Sharing the tasting menu we did as a tribute to the onset of winter

A drop fell on the apple tree

Another on the roof;

A half a dozen kissed the eaves,

And made the gables laugh."

Simmering rain bursts with flavour of spices

The Fungi kingdom with liquid and tile

Nature’s flower surviving in the rain

Heart of palm and two friends

The roots living in a green house

Tradition has changed

A subtle smokiness has arrived on the farm

Chasing childhood memories on the pastureland

Composted soil sustains the fruits

Mellow serenade of red and green

Moving from the culture of consumption to the culture of profound consciousness

"Namaste" and happy reading