Picture your absolute favorite food, that one meal you go to for comfort. Perhaps it’s your grandmother’s homemade apple pie, warm out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or maybe it’s the one treat your family indulges in during the holidays like perfectly whipped mashed potatoes topped with butter and gravy. When we stop to think about our favorite meals, some of us can almost taste them. They’re like a little slices of food heaven. Have you ever wondered what it is that makes us love them so much?
If you think about it, you may realize your favorite foods tell a story of who you are and where you come from. Perhaps it paints a picture of a memorable vacation where you spent days exploring a foreign culture through new spices and ingredients completely local to a destination. Or maybe you enjoy that one special meal because it reminds you of a distant childhood memory. Whether home or away, food is a way of life – a delicious part of sharing and preserving our heritage. But with frozen meals and quick, on-the-go snacks, we start to lose some of the glory our special meal has to offer. Responsibly sourced dining helps us slow down and explore food in its purest form. It’s about celebrating the story of food served as it was meant to be.
Caitlin McMahon, director of purchasing at Tupelo Honey Cafe, has a passion for responsibly sourced dining. After all, she spends much of her day managing the groceries that come in and out of the North Carolina-based restaurant and her experience in the industry has taught her the ins and outs of this dining phenomenon.
“I’m from the Asheville area but spent most of my career in fine dining in New York City,” said McMahon. “The connection to what is seasonal and fresh is a big part of my career and home life.”
At the most basic level, the responsibly sourced purchasing philosophy means a restaurant focuses on knowing where their food comes from – knowing the suppliers and finding those poised to grow foods in their local region. When you take a deeper look, you’ll quickly realize it’s so much more than that.
“It’s knowing the origin of your ingredients and what is in your food,” said McMahon.
In addition to knowing where your meal comes from, farm-to-fork meals are simple meals. We live in a world of packaged snacks and TV dinners – food loaded with preservatives and unnatural ingredients that we often can’t even pronounce. Sustainably sourced dining does away with this. One of the keys to a responsibly sourced meal is knowing exactly what you’re eating. Look for fewer ingredients and whole foods. Think oven-roasted vegetables from the farmers’ market topped with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Light, simple and delicious.
“Feel confident about what you put in your body and honor where your food comes from” said McMahon.
This style of dining is great, but it can come with its own set of challenges. When you’re eating meals made of whole foods, you have to remember and accept that foods are seasonal. You’re not always going to be able to have certain vegetables or fruits because they simply aren’t available. Watermelon may not be sold in January and squash won’t be good to eat in April. Farm-to-table meals celebrate and lift up ingredients that are in season. The upside to this is that it allows the food to create the recipe for you since you can only choose from items that are ripe and ready to eat.
“Things that grow together taste best together, you see that in a lot of traditional cuisines,” said McMahon. “Tomato and cucumber salad for example – both are at their peak at the same time in the summer. What comes out of the ground at the same time is what you cook together. The food does the work for you.”
So, how do you know your meal is sustainably sourced?
“People can assume that if you walk into a restaurant and you’re not being told where your food comes from it may not be happening,” said McMahon.
If you’re at a restaurant, you should look for places that lift up the farms they purchase produce and meats from. You may be able to find this information written out on a chalk board or printed in a menu. If you don’t see it, ask. Many places will share this information with you. Not to mention, you can take matters into your own hands by shopping at your local farmers’ market.
Once you start eating responsibly, you may find a new appreciation for your food. Farm-to-table dining is about respecting food and acknowledging the work that goes into farming it, which is knowledge that will bring you closer to the food you’re eating. There’s a world of fresh and natural foods out there. Take a moment, slow down and enjoy it!