I read an interview the other day with a very famous chef.Â He talked about the absurdity of the label â€œfarm to tableâ€ because all food comes from a farmâ€¦right?Â He also talked about how ridiculous the label â€œlocalâ€ is because there are no rules about what makes something local and what does not.
The headline for the article was Thomas Keller: â€œThe Absurdity of Farm to Tableâ€.
Iâ€™ve been thinking about this and then watched as some other high profile chefs piled on to say how they agreed with this. I thought about debating it with them but I wanted to really think about what the article said and how I really felt about what they were all saying.Â â€œgood ingredients are more important than local ingredientsâ€ and â€œnot everything grows or is available locallyâ€.
Even as I write this morning, I am wondering what my response will be.Â Carefully I feel myself wade out into the water of this very complicated conversation.
What do you believe in?Â what do you stand for?Â What are the issues that you call attention to and change with your voice? Â Thatâ€™s the biggest one for me and for people that have the opportunity to speak publicly and influence others on a large scale.
Would I know what you believe by the way you run your business because that is our loudest, most authentic voice?
What is really important? The plate of food youâ€™ve made and the notoriety you get when you make itâ€¦.or is it making a difference in the world in which you inhabit?Â Do you inspire others to pay more attention, to take better care of things, to care about something larger than themselves? Do you know how much energy is used to bring your food to you?Â do you know the farming practices of the people that grow your food?Â Do you have relationships with the people that provide you with the single most important thing you will put into your body in order to be healthy and strong and happy?
Actions speak louder than words.
These are my questions.Â Is it just about being a good cook?
Well.Â Iâ€™ve never thought so.Â I am a good cookâ€¦.maybe not the best cook but I am good.Â I donâ€™t surround myself with the latest techniques, gadgets and expensive equipment.Â I know technique, patience, time and ingredients are what makes a good cook.Â I also believe that at the end of my life, I want to be known for more than being able to open restaurants and cook food.
What do I believe in?
When I speak out in public, what am I calling attention to?
Iâ€™ve been using â€œlocalâ€, â€œseasonalâ€ food at my restaurant for 23 years.Â I believe it is the right thing to do and I believe that if we can do it, maybe it will inspire people to make better choices about food and where they get it. Here are some other things I believe:Â it is how we keep our money in our own communities.Â We support farmers that are taking care of the land and planting in ways that enrich the soil and the life in it.Â We eat what is grown here, when it is in season because our bodies are actually designed to function at their very best this way.Â Allergies become less of a problem when you eat what is grown in your community.Â Our food is ripened on the vine, tree, bush, plant and retains the nutrients that are only developed when the food is fully ripened in the sunshine.Â I know the people that provide us our food.Â There are less hands handling and processing and packaging our food so there is less opportunity for contamination.Â I have connections and relationships with people that grow food, we are friends and we take care of each other.Â We are taking care of their families and sending their kids to school.Â That is what we are doing with our support. We provide work for people in our communities by keeping farmers in business.Â We are taking care of the planet by supporting diversity in farming practices right here.
If we canâ€™t do it in our own communities and with our own familiesâ€¦.what are we doing?
So.Â Yes, all food is grown on farms.Â The label â€œfarm to tableâ€ was actually born out of the desire to capitalize on the publicity restaurants were getting if they used these words to describe themselves. Restaurants were quick to use this label without actually doing the work.Â They have been one of the biggest reasons the label â€œfarm to tableâ€ is now being referred to as absurd.
No.Â there are no rules about how local something is.Â Is that 5 or 100 miles.Â Again, it was a term born out of the desire for publicity.
In my experience, as these 2 labels took hold and became the buzz words for all things food it was all about money and publicity and had very little to do with real commitment or belief.
Seeâ€¦thatâ€™s how our culture ruins things.Â We see something we admire but we arenâ€™t really willing to do all the work it takes so we take a shortcut and a piece that will do us the most benefit financially.
Then, there is no point or recognition for the ones that are walking the walk.
Itâ€™s maddening.Â Itâ€™s disappointing, disheartening.Â It seems to always be about the money, about the attention and the fameâ€¦.which brings more money and attention.Â Itâ€™s sick what we do here.Â Its upsetting, the decisions made and the sacrifices and compromises they demand in the name of success.
Doing business the way I have done business is really hard.Â There is virtually no money to be made in it this way.Â Our food costs are high.Â Our food is expensive.Â The time I have to spend talking to farmers and going to markets so that I know what is being grown when and where and why is time consuming.Â I donâ€™t have time for events, Iâ€™m working my ass off.Â Then, honestly, most people donâ€™t care where their food comes from.Â A stroll around every grocery store will tell you this. If Iâ€™m not careful, I can stand in the middle of the produce isle at my local â€œSprouts Farmers Marketâ€ and feel discouraged.Â I can read another article about another â€œfarm to tableâ€ restaurant that isnâ€™t and feel hopeless.Â What is the point?Â Itâ€™s so much work and now that the people with the voices are speaking at the absurdity of it. What is the point?
And there goes another â€œtrendâ€. For them, itâ€™s on to the next one, the next big idea so that they get the attention, the business and the money.
I crave a restaurant with a soul.Â I crave a business with a soul. I crave a place that takes care of their people, that cares about who they support and where they spend their money.Â I crave a business that does the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Its been said that we vote with our money.Â Where do you spend your money?Â How do you take care of your community and the beliefs that you have?Â How do you use your voice when you have a chance to call attention to something?
What is important to you and how do you show it? What does your business stand for? Is it always about the money or the attention and blowing on the winds of those things?Â Can we stay relevant and change without compromising our soul?Â Does our society even allow for this and success?
The Truck Driver:
Made in America.
I pull up for parts of parts, aluminum lengths of extruded metal bones.Â Bones for what will compete aftermarket automotive and truck accessories, agricultural equipment accessories, the frames or skeletons of tonneau covers and crop hauling tarping systems, other stuff… Made in America
I always ask about stuff.
The man answering my questions is of Hispanic descent.Â Â He’s an American as much as I am.Â He’s been with this company for over 20 years, raised kids, home, wife, stock portfolio,Â health insurance, taxes, even has a grandchild,Â the whole dream.
I ask, where do you get the aluminum.
“Most of it comes from Dubai or South Africa,Â Less from smelters here in California. ”
I had seen a daycab hauling a trailer like mine onto the property loadedÂ with many ingots bundled untarped.Â Local?
I guessed they came off a ship from nearby.
The man told me some of the company’s story.
The much beloved founder,Â recently passed away, he said , ” God rest his soul. ” while gesturing a sign of the cross over his heart.
We have always been paid well, provided with 100% company paid health insurance, stock ownership and other benefits and most importantly respect.
Our company has been bought this past year by a Canadian company.Â Â We have been told to expect some changes.Â Health benefits to change in the next year or two.Â All the company stock was immediately bought back by the new ownership, the employees paid out, everyone got a check.Â Changes, not unusual.
As usual, I’m pretty chatty this particular morning and I’m telling this guy some of my “Fascinating ” experiences as a trucker, telling him how much I learn from workers all over the country like him.
Who actually makes what.Â Learning so much of how we utilize the land, all over the
country.Â Â How dirty it all is on the other side of the tracks.Â Yes, that place does still exist, the other side.Â I care about all the people I encounter out here, yes, sometimes, some more than others.Â Yes, some days I’m better than others.
It’s not black and white.Â I’m just here for a short visit.Â I get a glimpse.
Big lesson, I depend on these people.Â I realize this truth on my better days.Â I have a deep respect for the complexity and interdependence that exists in our global economy, our relationships.Â I do business all over the world, so do you.
I’m delivering the aluminum parts way up north in North Dakota.Â Â I did a little research, or perhaps a lot.Â Â This is Republican country.
The website for the company states, “Our American Made products…”Â What does that actually mean?Â Do you really know?
Sometimes when I haul American Made steel from the steelmill, owned by the Brazilian company I see a small note stating that the steel has been origiginated from melted recycled scrap, origin unknown.
Focus Adam, bring it home…
The machines in the picture is made in Italy, installed by Italians.Â Recently when the machines where installed and turned on, the Italian installers got on airplanes and returned to Italy.Â My new friend told me, “The machines replaced 20 to 30 workers.”Â We both laughed and I said goodbye.