Moving Forward by Stepping Back.
The consumer-centric food system is a new thing. Before the industrial revolution and the surplus of people flooding into cities worldwide, food was farm-centric and consumers were at the mercy of the seasonality and distance.
The past century saw the shift to mass-produced food. There are people still alive who remember food as it was then, before the factory farms and picture-perfect supermarkets. During their childhoods, cheap and processed foods were the future.
Today, the public is doing a double-take. Conscious eating has shifted from the fringe to the main stream. Farmers, chefs, and consumers are rethinking the future of food and changing trajectory. Buying in-season, connecting with local farmers, eating humane and organic—we're moving forward by looking back.
Where do we go from here?
"Chefs have a duty to take that vegetable from the farmer, put it on the plate in a sustainable way, and really bridge the gap between the farmer and the customer."
- Melissa King, Top Chef Finalist
Melissa King's career in food started where most do: in her family's kitchen, where she played sous chef to her mother at the age of six. By twelve-years-old, she was in charge of Thanksgiving dinner.
King's culinary exploits took her the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park where she graduated at the top of her class in 2007. Ready to take the culinary world by storm, King left southern California for San Francisco where she bounced from one awarded restaurant to the next, before she found herself under the wing of mentor Ron Siegel at the Ritz Carlton's Dining Room.
Siegel was the one who taught King "the value of seasonality and the efforts of the farmers." It was a lesson King took with her all the way to the finals of Top Chef Season 12.
King's reality TV show days are over for now but she's taken up a new mission: to collaborate with local artisans to create one magical meal after the next.
"Right now, we need to make a conscious effort to eat well and choose wisely what we put into our bodies," King says. "And changing the way someone thinks about food, that's what makes me happy."
Navigating the New Food System
Over the last decade, new and better ways of eating have entered the mainstream. For some, these practices might seem more like a fad than a lifestyle, but every decision you make concerning food is a statement. Every dollar you spend says, "This is what I want. This is what I'm willing to pay for this product."
Our food choices are powerful. Together, our everyday decisions determine what is gained, what is sacrificed, and what tomorrow and the many years to come will look like.
5 Ways You Can Change the Future of Food
For every dollar you spend at the supermarket, only an average of 16 cents go to the farmer. The rest is lost to middlemen.
But when you purchase food from the farmer's market or through a CSA (community supported agriculture), you're handing your dollar straight to the farmer who grew the produce. You're putting money back into the community.
Factory farms account for 99% of all meat raised and consumed in the United States. And those farms aren't just torture for the animals on them. Factory farming pollutes water sources, creates anti-biotic resistant bacteria, spreads disease, and consumes 80% of all water in California alone.
Not eating meat for just one day a week would conserve water, lower your carbon footprint, and even just save you money.
Heavily refined foods, such as granola bars and white rice, wreak havoc on our bodies.
They contain additive chemicals, that aren't at all food, which our bodies aren't built to digest. As a result, they can ruin your gut, make you malnourished, increase your blood sugar, and even create food addiction.
Grapes travel an average of 2,134 miles from the farm to your table. Onions travel an average of 1,774 miles and lettuce travels 2,055 miles.
Most American families depend on food sourced from the other side of the country or the other side of the world. Dependence on long-distance foods leave communities vulnerable to food shortages and crises.
Today, technology has enabled us to flirt with new methods of obtaining and consuming our foods. There are apps that pick up food from farmers and deliver straight to our door, and devices once reserved for elite restaurants available with an online order.
It's become easier and more delicious to eat healthy and consciously.
And Eat Together.
"I want to change how people think about food. That's why I became a chef."
- Melissa King, Top Chef Finalist
King hosted her first Co+Lab dinner last spring. She brought together craftsmen and artisans from around the Bay Area—like Philz Coffee, Fort Point Brewery and Dandelion Chocolate—and incorporated their products into a single pop-up dinner.
Tickets sold out in minutes. King has since hosted another Co+Lab dinner in Los Angeles which was also wildly successful.
"The idea behind Co+Lab is collaborating with partners and really drawing on our strengths and creating a dinner that goes beyond just food. It's really about the experience," King says.
At the Co+Lab dinners you'll find more than just adventurous diners, you'll find the very people behind the night's masterpiece dishes. For instance, King recalls a Co+Lab dinner where diners were seated right next to the hunter who'd caught the main course's wild boar.
"People come out of these dinners just wowed by the layers," King says. "You're seated right next to the farmer who harvested the vegetables and the hunter who hunted the meat. And you can ask them questions. You know exactly where the ingredients are from and that's a powerful thing."
King says she'll continue to build relationships between farmers and customers through the only way she knows how: through her food.
"Being a chef is important to me. It's how I give back to my community," King says. "It's cheesy, but it's my way of showing my love."
Eat Good Food with Good People
Want more Melissa King and Co+Lab?
Visit her website and sign up to get updates on her latest projects!
That's the end of our food journey.
When we first started investigating this topic, we used the phrase "farm-to-table." It was a well-known, punchy, marketing phrase we thought would suffice for the emails we needed to send out. But the more we learned, the more we grew to understand how thoughtful eating was more than a niche movement. Food affects everything and so do our decisions revolving around food.
Food concerns our health, the environment, the global economy, the local community, and yes, our code of ethics also.
We hope that in sharing this food journey with us, you've learned as much as we have.
We'll see you at the table.
If you have any comments or questions, we'd love to hear them! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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