Farm to Table | Super Heroes at the Supermarket

Farm to Table | Super Heroes at the Supermarket

We live in an age of super-heroes. The box office, an objective third party, will attest to our latest craze. But what’s the attraction really about? How can we explain the rage for cape and cowl?

Perhaps we ordinary citizens – dispossessed of mutant powers, utility belts, or underground lairs – live bashful, boring lives while towing the 9 to 5 line between survival and oblivion. Maybe the super-hero genre offers us comfortable answers to the chaos of world affairs – as always, served in a pre-packaged structure promising certain victory for our favorite vigilantes. Without a doubt, Freud would notice the skin-tight bodysuits. Surely Aristotle would mention catharsis.

Nowadays we’re more likely to seek empowerment from comic books than history books. If you’re more optimistic than I, and consider this a gross overstatement, just check the ticket sales for the next Batman reboot then get back to me; whether you’re a Ben Affleck fan or not, the latest face for the Gotham City guardian is much less important than the enduring drive that keeps those seats warm.

Okay, okay – I can hear you groaning — but what does this have to do with the farm-to-table movement. Well, the point is this: we ask for social change, for alternatives on the menu of cultural concessions, when we’re ready for it.  So if it can be said that we always get the entertainment we deserve, let it be known that we always get the food that we deserve, too.

Although the farm-to-table movement has finally saturated popular culture, there’s nothing particularly new about its philosophy. The values it supports (highlighting food that is fresh, locally-sourced, seasonal, family-driven, etc.) were in circulation long before solidifying into a bonafide movement — long before being corralled, harnessed, and branded with a title.  Like anything in life, names frame the thing in question, forevermore directing our attention to something that can no longer avoid our collective consideration.

In the 21st century, not much escapes our attention. The problem with our time certainly isn’t lack of information. The problem is lack of action. While surrounded with luxuries and conveniences that threaten to disconnect us from each other, we can simultaneously find ourselves disconnected from the principles we preach. We are not immune to apathy.

Yet not many who understand the farm-to-table’s terms would oppose the values it promotes. And clearly, when it comes to the checkout counter, no one who has the means to pay for the food that they eat is unable to contribute to the movement’s advance. Quite literally, we consume our decisions daily.

Since we eat what we pay for – always paying for what we eat — my challenge during this article was to make our decisions more edible. Yet considering the scope of the project, unpacking the significance of the farm-to-table movement, the seemingly innocuous inquiry at outset quickly reigned me in on a journey through ten separate interviews. While speaking with representatives from various nodes across the food industry spectrum (chefs, restaurant owners, farmers, farm owners, political candidates, and volunteers), it didn’t take long to realize that this influential movement was already in danger of becoming a cliché.

Not only do its terms need redefining, but the relationship between its ideas is delicate (diaphanous at best) — often overlooked amid the hoot-and-holler zeal coloring its practitioners’ lips. It’s important to appreciate the distinction between one’s position and one’s principles. Context creates meaning for us all.

Although everyone I spoke to is an advocate, in some way, of the farm-to-table movement, at the end of the day, these people represent themselves as much – if not more – than they represent any affiliated stage of food production. And with opinions alloyed from sentiment and reason alike, their views are uniquely theirs. Surprise, surprise: they’re human, and — being human — form their lives around values that frame meaning for them.  It’s personal; it always is.

With that said, I wish I could finish with something grand like: all opinions expressed in this article are exclusively those of the interviewees alone.  It would be nice if I could then assure you that my journalistic integrity never once waivered during the interviewing, writing, or editing of this article; but I can’t honestly promise, with the self-same ethics in question, that some eggs weren’t cracked during the wagon ride.

Ultimately, any expectation about a journalist who’s able to remain 100% objective is about as doubtful as a farmer who’s able to offer a 100% farm-to-table approved product — or as unlikely as someone who is able to buy the same. We’re fooling ourselves.

The truth, if I found it, is that the farm-to-table movement still needs help. The truth is that the farm-to-table movement is doing just fine – or at least doing its best. The truth is that I’m still not sure what to think — or how to feel — about it all. The truth is that I’m not sure what the truth is. The truth is a rather small word with a big silhouette.

That isn’t to say that my interviewees offered anything less than belief. Without a doubt there’s true perspective here. At the very least, I’m proud to present a range of voices that should help humanize such a weighty subject. Hopefully this article reads more like a question-born journey than a pre-programmed errand. If I had my choice, I’d classify the final product as neither a beginner’s manual for the uninitiated, nor a definitive survey for the learned, but as a stumbling block for those who still have feeling and appreciation for human contradiction.

Either way, with a propensity for diving deep down rabbit holes without looking twice, I still tend to end somewhere further than I began. With more clarity than closure, hopefully we can continue talking about what the farm-to-table movement is, and then, consequently, who and where we are in relation to it. Whatever the farm-to-table movement might be, we can discuss it together. Speaking of dialogue, let’s get to it.

By Todd B. Gruel