Everyone has that one book that they couldn’t put down as a kid. The one that they would constantly reread and scour the pictures of cover to cover. For me, that book was actually a cookbook. Specifically, Fanny at Chez Panisse, a children’s recipe guide written by Alice Waters, founder of the Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.
So when my roommate got a credit for a dinner at the famous farm to table restaurant, I jumped on the opportunity to experience the cuisine I had been reading about since I was a little kid. We ate in the upstairs cafe, and although possibly being the youngest by at least 20 years in the establishment, we feasted on a delicious locally sourced meal of spinach fettuccine, eggplant caviar, halibut and strawberry panna cotta.
Alice Waters began Chez Panisse in 1971 with a staunch goal to provide food sourced solely from local farmers in order to promote a green economy. To this day, Waters promotes environmental activism through founding sustainable edible gardens at local schools in order to educate children about food cycles from the ground to the kitchen.
But what exactly is farm to table cuisine? What can this food practice really do to help the environment?
It’s important to understand that a food system is the production, processing, distribution and consumption involved in making a certain dish. In short, everything that happens from farm to table. Food systems are closely tied to the environmental health of a location.
Farm to table food systems promote sustainability as they cut out many of the means of production and processing needed to get food from the place it was cultivated to a restaurant table. There are fewer pollutants due to less transportation, factory processing and general resource use.
Supporting local farms has the added benefit of disassociating from big agriculture industries. Big agriculture (farms that are larger than 2000 acres) is one of the leading contributors of deforestation, loss of biodiversity, the introduction of toxins into waterways and many other detrimental environmental side effects of mass-producing food. Sourcing from local farms means that the produce is fresher, as its journey to restaurant tables is much shorter.
Farm to table restaurants do have some downfalls though in overall accessibility. Currently, organic and locally sourced foods tend to be more costly than products from commercial farms. This limits the ability of the general public to support these enterprises, and limits my chances to go to Chez Panisse as a college student to that one free meal. The food is also sourced seasonally, which limits the menu to whatever is being grown on local farms at that moment. However, these constraints also promote creativity for chefs and allow diners to understand when foods are naturally produced for the region they live in.
As awareness about the negative environmental impacts of commercial farming increases, organic eating and the farm to table movement will continue to grow across the country. With its plethora of health and ecological benefits, one can hope that costs will decrease to make this movement accessible to a broader range of consumers.