Today, chefs can’t shut up about where every morsel that went into every dish got its start in life. No chef would dare to seek investors without a business plan that boasts of its “farm-to-table” cuisine — a term now so common that it has inspired its own irritating abbreviation, F2T.
But the language and iconography have been co-opted by the very companies to which the movement was supposed to be an alternative — “farm washing,” as the practice is called. “It Begins with a Farmer,” a series of ads featuring pictures of wholesome-looking tillers of the soil, carries messages such as “A Mother’s Love Begins with a Farmer.” The sponsor? Monsanto, the global purveyor of genetically modified seeds (and scourge of farmers who resist them).
It’s time, then, to retire “farm-to-table.” The term has been drained of any real meaning it may have once had. Chefs themselves are getting sick of it.
Chez Panisse itself seems to stick to a rule of less is more when it comes to listing farms on the menu, since nearly all its vegetables come from Bob Cannard, the farmer whose entire harvest the restaurant has long bought for itself. “I’m furious about fast food taking over ‘farm-to-table,’ ” Waters told me recently over pappardelle with asparagus, crème fraîche, prosciutto, and mint (no farm names in the menu listing). “They’ve hijacked the terms of the movement.”
That’s today’s real cachet: having your own farm and not making a big deal about it. That’s what the future of farm-to-table should be: food that speaks for itself without having to tell you where it comes from.
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