By Sabrina Sucato
Looking back on it now, I was a pretty spoiled youth. No, I didn’t receive lavish gifts or go on whirlwind vacations. Birthdays with family and occasional trips to Six Flags were the biggest event highlights during my formative years. However, I did grow up in the Hudson Valley, a region of New York just two hours north of New York City. I have no doubt that spending my adolescence in this area influenced the pampered perspective I maintain today, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Off the bat, my childhood may not seem like anything special. Yet anyone who has ever been to the Hudson Valley knows that it is one of the richest food communities on the East Coast, if not in the entire United States. The valley is packed to the brim with dairy and agricultural farms, award-winning vineyards, CSA groups, and local meat producers. Because of this, many of the region’s restaurants and colleges rely upon these businesses for their food supplies. They choose to buy locally grown produce and livestock instead of paying for ingredients to be shipped from across the country and around the globe.
Thinking local isn’t just a fad in the Hudson Valley; it’s a way of life. That’s probably why I became so interested in the farm-to-table movement when I started traveling. I had been raised in a community that valued the use of area ingredients and supported local agricultural businesses. Why would I change this mindset just because I was in another state or country? Knowing where and how food was produced is on my mind wherever I go, and I’m glad for it. With this mindset, not only can I choose healthier and often tastier options, but I can also support the local community and do my part to protect the environment. Here’s why eating farm-to-table makes sense for you and for the planet.
A Taste of the Area
First and foremost, eating farm-to-table cuisine is downright delicious. Because the food is locally sourced, it’s likely to be fresh and in season as well. That means you won’t have to worry about any of the preservative or chemical additions that often go into mass-produced foods so they last for longer periods of time. You will, however, have to consider which ingredients are in season. Depending on where you're visiting, that could mean no strawberries in winter or pumpkins in spring. Pumpkin spice-everything is a fall tradition for a reason!
While this style of eating may seem like a hassle to follow, farm-to-table dining can be an influential guide for your travels. Embracing the farm-to-table mindset means eating as the locals do. You can experience popular regional plates and flavors as you learn more about local cultures and traditions. For instance, while I was living in Italy, I made it my mission to taste the area dishes of each region I visited. I slurped balsamic vinegar in Modena, chewed on prosciutto in Parma, sampled risotto alla Milanese in Milan, and drank espresso with latte di mandorla (fresh almond milk) in Lecce. Yes, I could have found a pizza place in any of these locales and ordered a classic pizza margherita (disclaimer: I may have done this once or twice). By choosing to seek out the flavors and meals that local residents were cooking at home, I was able to experience, even if for only the length of a meal, a bit of what life in the area is like. Ordering a plain pizza would have been fine for feeding my hunger, but it never could have colored the country or diversified the different areas for me like the regional dishes did.
A Care for the Environment
Beyond the foodie benefits, farm-to-table fare also tends to be much better for the environment. Think about it. For starters, eating local food can decrease the amount of nonrenewable fuel used. Instead of buying bananas flown in from Mexico or avocados sent across the country from California, you can choose to shop produce that was grown mere miles from your hotel. Not only does this greatly reduce the amount of gas used for transportation, but it also lowers the amount of plastic packaging required to preserve food over long distances. While local food may still be packed in cardboard or plastic, it is often possible to sidestep such materials by shopping at local farmers’ markets or neighborhood stores. I did exactly this when shopping for groceries in France. I was staying in an apartment in Lyon, the country’s unofficial food capital, and wanted to take advantage of the popular weekend specialty food markets. By bringing my own reusable bag, I was able to pick up fresh baguettes, local cheese, and area produce with little to no packaging on it.
Similarly, restaurants that embrace farm-to-table ideals minimize waste and fuel usage on an even larger scale. Getting crates of apples from an orchard a few miles away uses less gas and likely less packaging than ordering a barrel of them from a mass producer ever could. Plus, purchasing from local food vendors means that profits remain within the regional economy. Eating local and shopping local helps to strengthen neighborhood businesses and revenues, which is a good thing for everyone in town.
Yes, following the farm-to-table diet can be more work, especially when traveling. It involves advanced planning, such as remembering to bring reusable bags and doing research before deciding on a restaurant. However, there are so many long-term rewards. From reducing pollution and decreasing waste to eating fresh, local food and experiencing regional cuisines, farm-to-table dining has too many positives to be overlooked. While you may not be able to eat farm-to-table everywhere you go, keep it in consideration during your next trip when you’re deciding where and what to eat. Ordering a meal made with local ingredients will please your sustainable self almost as much as it will satiate your palate.
Sabrina is a 20-something freelance writer based in the scenic Hudson Valley, NY. She has lived in both Bologna and Milan, Italy, and is now hopelessly addicted to gelato. When she's not writing or dreaming of Italy, she can be found drinking copious amounts of coffee and testing out new dessert recipes.