What is the true meaning of farm to table? This is a question I ask myself regularly. In Vancouver, we have restaurants who avoid the traditional wholesaler route and buy from farm markets, speciality vendors, or even farmers themselves. As consumers (and culinary instructors) this is something we can admire. Given that most people would only ever eat at these places once or twice in their lifetime, it means that the average consumer may have little, if any knowledge of where most of our food comes from. Sure they can go to a Saturday market, but what about the rest of their shopping? When they buy from a big box store, their food could be from Canada, the United States, Central or South America or even China (in the case of ingredients like garlic). Farm to table, to me, means seasonality – salads in the summer, earthy vegetables like potatoes, yams and parsnips in the fall/winter. It also means instead of knowing the country of origin for your food, you may even know the farm (or at least the town).
Grocery stores in the UK (yes, grocery stores) are trying to address this issue. At a corner M+S Food (the smaller version of the British institution Marks and Spencer’s) they are taking it a long way farther. Not only can I choose to buy mineral Water from a Scottish spring, I can buy British chicken with the name of the farmer who reared it right on the label.
Is it a marketing ploy? Maybe, especially given that the UK is in the throes of deciding whether to leave the EU. But as a cook and a consumer, having that level of accountability attached to my food provides some level of comfort. And it allows me to make informed choices.
Is that something we could do here? Probably. Would it take a little effort? Most likely. Would it mean that some farmers may have to treat their animals more humanely if we knew where the animals were raised. And could maybe visit the farms. Most definitely!
One more aside from my latest foray to London. The British are far ahead of us in how the average person eats. For the most part they buy their food for the night on their way home. A lot of time it’s been peeled, chopped and bagged for them. But it’s still fresh – not frozen or pre-made. They can take it home, at a very reasonable price, cook it and eat a relatively preservative-free meal. Is this optimal? No. But given the alternatives (high fat, salt and sugar in pre-prepared or fast food meals) at about £10 ($20 CDN) for two people – including a bottle of wine – it is a decent compromise.