Sponsored by USA Rice Federation
Responsible. Sustainable. Eco-friendly. Three big buzzwords that industry professionals are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis. For chefs who have margins to consider, there’s a possibility that these words have become synonymous with higher cost and inventory, as well. But after decades of heavily industrialized food production, often at the expense of the planet, American farming is in steep decline. Supporting farmers is more important than ever.
Writer, farmer, activist, and esteemed Kentuckian Wendell Berry has spent most of his life discussing the importance of sustainable agriculture, and how it is inextricably linked to humanity. In his 1990 essay “The Pleasures of Eating,” he urges readers not only to eat responsibly, but to learn the origins of the food they buy, and purchase from a local farmer whenever possible. “How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used,” he writes. After more than 30 years, his advice still rings true.
Today, customers of every generation are very interested in where the food they eat comes from, and how it is grown. As chefs and food operators, you are uniquely suited to satisfy that curiosity. By learning as much as you possibly can about the food you prepare, down to the smallest ingredient, you can pass that knowledge on to the staff and the guests. It starts with becoming familiar with the farmers; these are the families who painstakingly grow and supply the ingredients you cook and serve, season after season.
In his essay, Berry explains that “by reclaiming responsibility for one's own part in the food economy” an individual can begin to implement positive change in the world. Learning how food grows is one way to do this. By deeply engaging in the growth cycle of food, you are no longer a faceless consumer; instead, you become an active, connected participant in agriculture, horticulture, and husbandry.
Every year, the USA Rice Federation gives chefs an opportunity to tour a working rice farm and meet the men and women behind the grain. During the tour, the farmers will show how they protect the land itself, while growing a high-quality product. They might witness the wildlife habitats that the farm supports, a delicate and symbiotic ecosystem. From planting to harvest, everyone on the tour will get an in-depth understanding of quality control, processing, and exactly what resources and logistical work it takes to go from seed to plate.
It’s an amazing opportunity. When you connect with the land so intimately, you will realize that truly delicious food—even a grain of rice-- rarely happens haphazardly.
Furthermore, conscientiously grown food, provided by those who love and respect the soil, simply tastes better. Farming families have known this for generations. In fact, many have been committing to the environment long before “sustainability” became a household word, because without healthy soil, farmers wouldn’t be here. They’ve just been waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
One small decision at a time, it can catch up, starting with restaurants. By buying from suppliers who share similar environmental values, chefs and operators can become involved, active participants in the agricultural system and begin to improve the food supply for future generations.
It’s worth the investment. When you proudly serve ingredients produced by sustainable means, from family farms, meat purveyors, or local orchards, the quality of the food you serve will speak for itself. Your guests will experience more pleasure from every meal, and they’ll return to your restaurant because you share their values, too.
Together, the farmer, grower, chef, restauranteur, operator, supplier, customer, and guest, can determine what the world should look like tomorrow, so that everyone can continue the pleasures of eating.