Everyone talks about sustainable food but what does it really mean? What really is ‘farm to table’? and most importantly what grows in a 150-mile radius of you?
The sustainability movement boils down to providing food that can be sustained so that future generations can enjoy the same delicious food. It ties into the eat local/farm to table movement and it also is closely related to responsible and sustainable fishing, farming, and ranching. Another facet of the sustainability movement are initiatives like the blended burger project, Meatless Monday, and community gardens, just to name a few, these programs help to make sustainability a public issue and much more approachable.
Now back to the 150-mile radius, one of the major ideas within the movement is that you should only eat what grows in a 150-mile radius from you. On paper, this may seem super easy but when you start realizing what really grows within the circle it gets much tougher. For my 150 mile radius I don’t have access to any seafood except catfish, so that means that I couldn’t cook with or eat any shrimp, salmon, oysters, scallops, crab, halibut, or really any other fish. It also means that I don’t have any spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, cumin, and all the rest of my spices. I also don’t have any exotic fruits like kiwi, bananas, passion fruit, or guava. Some of the ingredients I could work with would be pecans, catfish, pork, beef, squashes, some herbs, corn, soybeans, and some wild berries. In one way only using food from in a 150-mile radius makes sure that all of your food is extremely fresh yet it limits a lot of food that can’t be used at all. For me, I would not have any coffee or tea or sushi. Naturally, when you draw your 150-mile radius circle it will be different from mine, it is still an interesting thought experiment, what would restaurants look like? What would your own cooking look like with such limited ingredients? Most importantly, is the cost of giving up food from outside the circle worth what you receive in fresh seasonal high-quality ingredients?
The most misunderstood part of sustainable food is clean meat. Clean meat is lab-grown animal cells that are then mixed with red colour and sometimes a compound called heme and usually turned into a ground meat product like a sausage or burger. The heme compound is largely recognized as the meaty umami flavour that meat has, it can be harvested from soybeans and red algae, although some companies are genetically engineering soybeans to have more heme per bean. The cells that are actually grown come from a specific cell line which has a certain flavour and comes from a specific animal or breed of animal. There are a lot of semi-clean meat alternatives out there and they are called vegan meat since they are made from 100% vegetables and no grown cells. The vegan meats generally use a mushroom extract mixed with some heme and an isolated protein like a soy protein or wheat protein to achieve a meat-like flavour and texture. While this vegan meat may seem like glorified textured vegetable protein it is really like comparing a golf cart to a Tesla, yes both are electric but they are very very different, the same goes for vegan meat compared to textured vegetable protein.
Now for Farm to Table, the name is pretty self-explanatory it is a movement to reduce the distance farm fresh food to the people enjoying said food. The movement has created a number of different outlets and standards for Farm to Table. For the consumer, it has helped create more awareness of farmers markets and the difference that the freshest food makes. For chefs and restaurants, it has opened up a whole new cuisine and restaurant type. Farm to Table restaurants have seasonal menus, sometimes as seasonal as a new menu every day! Farm to Table does have some limitations, one of the biggest limitations is the number of ingredients. Another limiting factor is the number of different dishes that can be made using the same ingredients especially when something like peaches are in season how many ways can a chef incorporate peaches into a menu? Most restaurants usually solve this problem by hiring more skilled and creative chefs. The farm to table trend has really demonstrated that farm-fresh food has a unique flavour and that there is no replacement for the quality and soul that local food has.
Finally, sustainable food is more than just a trend, it is going to be the future of food. The issue of the rising population must be met by a rise in sustainable food production. As a chef working with sustainable ingredients it is interesting to see where the creative limits lie with clean meat and other products coming out of the sustainability movement. While I may not be strictly adhering to the 150-mile rule, it is still interesting to think of the creative potential of being so tightly boxed in.
Written by Logan Guleff
Follow him for more @logan.jr.chef