Over the past decade, we’ve seen an explosion of interest in what can loosely be categorized as “clean eating.” We want to know where our food comes from, how it’s prepared, and every detail on the journey from field to fork. We prefer our ingredients local, fresh, and organic — often going to outlandish lengths to ensure purity. But why is this trend so in vogue? What changed? And, where is the movement headed?
For the full story, we need to dial all the way back to the 1800s and the rise of the American suburb.
The close of the 19th century birthed a cultural movement known as “fin de siècle,” or “end of a century.” Though the name is literal, it was a period of cynical pessimism, driven by technological innovation and its dark effect on human integrity. This theme rippled through European literature, and it can be seen in such works as A Picture of Dorian Gray, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
In the United States, fin de siècle was driven by the belief that civilization spurred decadence and excess. While the Industrial Revolution produced invaluable technological innovations, it also brought deadly disease, environmental pollution, and a sharp divide between the rich and poor.
Frustrated Americans took advantage of the country’s new railway system and moved away from overpopulated, polluted city centers in the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, the American suburb was born. While many fled the decadence of the city in favor of a smaller, more comfortable life, an unforeseen problem emerged.
Agriculture, struggling to cater to suburban sprawl, had its own industrial revolution. Farms became more remote and had to find new solutions to feed the masses. The agricultural industry streamlined production to delivering food to citizens thousands of miles away. The process was convenient. It allowed consumers to eat any type of produce they desired, any time of year — but at the expense of taste and local economy.
The end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the new millennium birthed an agricultural fin de siècle of sorts. In this case, the decadence and effect on the human condition has been more literal. Complete, unfettered access to convenient food — cheap, processed carbohydrates and vegetable oils — has led to an obesity epidemic. Most Americans today eat food that comes not from a local farmer, but from corn or soy producers who sell their products to mega-companies for processing. The end result is simulacra of real food; minus the nutrients your body needs, often doused with fake flavors cooked up in industrial labs off the New Jersey Turnpike.
The farm-to-table movement breaks this chain. It powers local economies and encourages consumers to eat whole, non-processed, nutritional foods. This way of relating to what we eat has become so popular that the Oxford University Press recently added a term to its lexicon: locavore, meaning “one committed to eating local food.”
Shortening the supply chain does not mean sacrificing taste. Quite the opposite, in fact! To find out for yourself, check out these local restaurants riding the trend:
Farm to Table Bistro, Fishkill
Winning high praise from the New York Times for its quirky charms, the Farm to Table Bistro creates a menu that changes with the seasons. Current summer options include roasted sweet beet salad, burgers made from grass-fed beef, and fresh seared Atlantic salmon.
1083 Route 9, Fishkill
Heritage Food + Drink, Wappingers Falls
This newest addition to the Hudson Valley farm-to-table scene has yet to open its doors, but it promises to cook up New American–style fare on a wood-burning grill.
1379 U.S. 9, Wappingers Falls
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills
Just 30 miles north of New York City, this four-seasons farm delivers great-tasting fare while creating consciousness about everyday food choices. Don’t expect to see a menu. The farm offers a “multi-taste feast” for a flat rate, so bring an open mind and an empty stomach.
630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills
The Grange, Warwick
This locavorian eatery and market hosts periodic prix-fixe farm-to-table menus, complete with Q&A sessions from local vendors about humanizing the food system — all while delivering scrumptious food and beverages.
1 Ryerson Rd., Warwick
You can enjoy healthy food grown with sustainable practices by finding local farm markets and eating at farm-to-table restaurants.