Why I'm SO Over "Farm-to-Table"

You’ve probably heard the term “farm-to-table.”

Take a moment to pause and reflect on what that term means to you. Does it make you feel anything? Are there values associated with it?

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To most people, "farm-to-table" signifies a shortening of the food supply chain. It is associated with food that's more local and less processed. Food that's not part of the complex industrial food system in the US. "Farm-to-table" connects the grower to the consumer with fewer folks in between.

It’s a useful phrase. It’s had its moment in the food spotlight.

And now it’s time to turn that spotlight off.

“Farm-to-table,” I’m sooooo over you! And I’m not fooled by your thinly veiled re-brand using words that are essentially the same thing. I’m looking at you, “ranch-to-plate” and “field-to-fork.” Nope, nope, nope.

This phrase is so overused it's lost its meaning. Initially "farm-to-table" indicated a specific priority and principle (even though it was never regulated) and people pretty much agreed on what that meant. Now, however, it's been co-opted to apply to a plethora of things that don’t fit. The term is so trendy and popular that just adding this label to a restaurant's description draws customers! Check your “farm-to-table” eateries carefully, there have been stories of owners slapping the term on a menu without altering their procurement process --- an example of food greenwashing!

Bummer, right?

So what can we say instead? What phrase or label can we use to indicate:

  • food grown more sustainably for the planet;
  • animals raised in better conditions;
  • food that’s healthier to consume and available to all people;
  • and workers paid a fair wage?
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Unfortunately, there is no one phrase yet to encompass these ideals.

Take a look at the LA Food Policy Council’s term “good food.” Take a look at famous foodie Carlo Petrini’s definition of “slow food.” We need to find one phrase on which everyone can agree. Ideally, one that can be regulated. We're not quite there yet.

In the meantime, here's my idea:

The next trend within the food movement will be reducing food waste. I’ve written about it before, and so have Jonathan Bloom, and Tristram Stuart. In September of this year, the USDA announced an ambitious goal to cut food waste in half by the year 2030. To celebrate restaurants, chefs, and consumers who are rolling full-steam ahead on reducing waste, I propose we create a new phrase. A "no more food waste" phrase that's easy to understand and hasn't been co-opted by the industry. Yes, it won't be usable for every ideal of sustainable food, but it could be applied to restaurants, growers, home cooks, and eaters minimizing waste.

Here are some of the recent food waste buzzwords from around the country:

Will one of these cut it? Personally, I don't think so.

This is where I need your help! What suggestions do you have for a food waste reduction phrase? How about for the sustainable food movement in general?

Come up with a creative and catchy phrase, post in the comments below, and I'll tweet it all over internet!
jessica levine sustainable food oranges