I was surprised to find how much trouble one simple question caused Sarah Agudo in her neighborhood of the Mission District in San Francisco. “Where does your meat come from?” In this era of Portlandia fanaticism of concern for ingredients and preparation, this little question caused panicked anxiousness.
I have worked in the industry for the last five years and it wasn’t until I moved to NYC and started working for Devon Gilroy that I asked that question of myself. Growing up in Dayton, OH meat came from supermarkets not butcher shops. These were things that existed on the coasts in big cities. Once I started asking the question I couldn’t stop. I educated myself on sourcing ingredients. I took Farm-to-Table 101, Michael Pollan’s book Omnivores Dilemma.
In this adventure of sourcing and understanding where my food comes from and how it affects the environment I became avidly aware of the impact of this question. Where does your meat come from? I jump at the chance to answer that question. It gives me a chance to share the story of our farmers, of our cows and pigs and lambs (oh my!). It’s not only important for me to use local animals, but local animals that are part of a biodynamic system of farms. Farms that understand that the grass fed cow isn’t the end result, but one part in a system of stewardship to the land. This is one of the ways that we can help secure our ability to keep producing food.
From a branding perspective farm-to-table has become the new “green” which is the new “black”. Right? Technically every restaurant is farm-to-table, the difference is the amount of steps removed from where the animal/vegetable was raised/grown until it hits the plate. I feel there are some restaurants that highlight a certain veg/animal from a farm, then supplement the rest of the menu with “normal” products. Consistency in a menu for a restaurant is an important goal for most restaurants. When patrons come in to certain places they want to know that what they ate yesterday is the same as what they are going to get today. This is at the crux of the farm-to-table restaurant. Nature doesn’t care, or even acknowledge, your preferences for what food you would like to eat today. Nature just is, and will produce certain food at certain times of the year, unless you live in an environment where your climate doesn’t vary too much. As for the rest of us, we are bound to the seasons. You want an avocado in February? You want an apple in March? Too bad! As as patrons we need to accept the seasons and not demand that our restaurants have everything we want all the time. In the winter enjoy pickled vegetables, and when the spring and summer comes those fresh vegetables will taste all the better!
Where does your meat come from? Is a question that opens a number ten can of worms. If all meat was sourced from local biodynamic sources the typical American would have to eat less of it. Yes, you would pay more. That price would be closer to the actual cost of producing that ounce of protein because the price would account for the unsubsidized cost of the energy used to raise the animal and the cost of environmental impact. Im not sure most americans are ready to give up a $1 hot dog, a $6 hamburger, or a $12 steak. Its a fundamental shift in our culture.
These are some of the reasons why “Where does your meat come from” is such a scary question. It could also be that they just don’t know, and it’s hard to admit that you don’t know something sometimes.