It’s no secret that I am passionate about food. Specifically, locally grown food. I make it a point to go out and purchase it and carefully prepare it for my guests to eat. I’m not shy about advertising it because it is something I believe in and I have found that in general guests appreciate my passion. So it came as quite a surprise last weekend when a guest who was dining with us seemed less than enthusiastic about the fact that I support local farms and serve their food. When I explained that my greens came from Indian Trails Farm in Kewanee, the butternut squash and sweet potatoes from Coneflower Farm in Tiskilwa and the eggs and meat from Meadow Haven Farm here in Sheffield, I expected the usual response, which generally is curiosity, enthusiasm and support. This gentleman said very loudly in front of an entire roomful of guests “I don’t care. That does nothing for me.” I could feel the others in the room sink into their chairs in a sense of deflation. And I wanted to go hide in the kitchen. Instead, I said something to the effect of “That’s too bad because you are an organic being and you should care about what you are putting into your body.” Perhaps a bit rude, but I felt the need to not only justify what I do but also to stand up for the farms that work so hard to grow nutritious and delicious organic foods for me to serve.
So as I say, while certain guests may not care what they put into their bodies, I do. When they dine at my restaurant I am responsible for what they eat and I take that responsibility extremely seriously. Yes, taste is the number one priority, but quality is a close second. I want to provide the freshest, most nutritious food possible whenever I can as the seasons allow. This involves several things in my eyes. First, the food should not travel thousands of miles to get to me. It should be fresh and that inherently means it cannot spend days on a semi making it’s way into a grocery store where it will sit on a shelf for days before making its way onto the table. And let’s be honest, I know this isn’t always possible, particularly in the winter. But, some things are available year round and I can be discriminatory in terms of reading labels on foods at the grocery store and select those that have travelled the least to get to me. Secondly, I want to know how that food was grown and where it came from. I don’t want to provide food that came from a foreign country where I cannot guarantee the growing practices were as regulated as they are in this country. I also want to know that when the chicken and eggs say they are free range, those chickens indeed spent time roaming the outdoors, soaking in the sunlight and didn’t simply have the opportunity to go outside via one small door attached to their coop. Third, I cook from scratch as much as possible, avoiding processed foods that contain ingredients I cannot pronounce and don’t recognize.
Supporting local farms isn’t just a matter of quality and taste either. It is a matter of economics. I want to support Americans, but more specifically, I want to support those who are within my immediate community. Spending money locally directly benefits my local community. It keeps those dollars within our area. I can directly see the results of my relationship with those farmers in the form of say improvements they make on their farms, sending their kids to college or helping them pay for their health care. Locavorism isn’t some idealistic hippie notion that only those in a commune appreciate, it is the wave of the future. Small businesses thrive when those in their communities step up and support them. They do not thrive on multi-national ad campaigns and big corporations. Our future depends upon these kinds of businesses making a go of it and being successful within their communities.
And finally, a statistic that I once heard that always sticks with me. Americans in general spend approximately 5% of their expendable incomes on food and about 25% on pharmaceuticals. These numbers are reversed in Europe where they spend approximately 25% on food and only 5% on pharmaceuticals. Europeans see the value in respecting the notion of “You Are What You Eat.” This isn’t just a catchy phrase. This is a motto to live by. What you put into your body has a direct correlation with what your body puts out. Eating natural, high quality food is like putting premium fuel into a car. It functions better, lasts longer and requires less care. I practice what I preach with my own body and I believe that by feeding my guests locally and naturally I am in some way nourishing their bodies, although I do give my car regular gas. Hospitality doesn’t just mean being nice in my book, it means caring about my guests and feeding them the best possible quality food I can find. That’s my philosophy and I’m sticking to it.