Most of us have probably heard or read the term farm-to-table over the past year- aka farm-to-fork- especially as the local food movement has gained so much momentum. There are now many farmers markets around Hong Kong and a plethora of organic farms have popped up all over the New Territories- a testament to the demand for safe, clean food. Families can now spend the day tending to a rented garden plot, picking strawberries, or making jam. But what exactly is the farm-table movement?
The term farm-to-table refers quite simply to the distance food must travel from where it was grown to when it reaches your mouth. It is based on the idea that food is best when freshly harvested and locally produced. It encourages people to swap processed, genetically modified foods for natural local products. The movement has its share of champions, some of the most prominent being Jamie Oliver, Michael Pollen and Alice Waters (many denote her as the doyenne of the whole movement). Below, we explore the reasoning behind this varied but below we explain some of the key elements.
We all know that fruits and vegetables are nutritious, but produce that are in-season, harvested closer to their peak ripeness, and transported shorter distances are fresher and more nutritious. Long storage and long-distance transportation decreases essential nutrients present in your produce due to bruising and temperature fluctuation. Other natural processes, such as respiration (did you know that produce actually continues to breathe after it is picked?) and oxidation (think the browning of an apple) also decrease the nutrient levels in food.
Buying locally-grown and locally-produced food decreases food loss and wastage during the food value chain, AKA the stages the food must pass through from production to storage to processing to distribution. This food loss impacts incomes and can have particularly devastating impact on local farmers. It also drives up the end prices of food, restricting access for poor consumers and contributing to hunger and malnutrition.
Avoid Pesticides and GMOs
Most sustainably-grown produce requires fewer pesticides. This directly translates to your body being exposed to fewer toxic chemicals as well, which has variety of benefits and can potential decrease your risks of cancer. In addition, a know-thy-farmer approach to produce shopping means that you are more likely to be able to ensure your foods are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
There is growing evidence that monoculture- growing large quantities of a single crop in a field- can lead to a wide range of environmental problems, one of which is a very negative impact on biodiversity. In addition, monoculture farming leaves crops more susceptible to disease, which then increases the need for pesticides. Local, smaller farms are also more likely to grow a larger variety of produce. This in turn protects biodiversity and preserves a wider agricultural gene pool, both important factors in long-term food security.
Harvesting fruits and vegetables in season helps farmers pick produce that is closer to peak ripeness and requires the food to travel shorter distances. This eliminates the need for all that fuel-guzzling transportation and the energy needed to properly store food products. The average truck travels about five miles per gallon of gas – that means about 500 gallons of diesel fuel is needed to haul produce an average distance of 1, 500 miles!
Increase Food Safety
As food production and distribution has become increasingly industrialized and globalized, food safety problems are also on the rise. Foodborne illness and food contamination caused by industrially produced food are difficult to trace and monitor due to international distribution of food products and the increasingly common involvement of multiple farms, food processors, and food distributors in a single outbreak.
Support Local Farmers
When you buy foods that are grown or produced locally, you are directly contributing to local farmers and food producers livelihoods. They can then hire local workers as demand for their products increase, which boosts employment. Since most commercial food producers ship their foods long distances, purchasing from them means money are going to places overseas instead of staying right here in the Hong Kong community.
Our favorite reason of all, and just as important as any other, farm-to-table eating is delicious! Fresh produce is simply tastier. Plus, when you know your farmer and your cook you can taste the love in the food!
With all of these reasons including benefits to the environment and to your health it is no surprise that this movement is on the rise, so what are you waiting for?
Eateries in HK that practice farm-to-table:
- Artichoke Canteen – International Organic, Ap Lei Chau
- Cafe Gray Deluxe, International Fine Dining, Queensway
- Fresca, Vegetarian Cafe & Salad Bar, Sheung Wan
- Fresh & Green – Western-Style Cafe, Fotan
- Fish & Meat – Seafood & Steak, Lan Kwai Fung
- Fish School – Modern Cantonese Seafood, Sai Ying Pun
- Grassroots Pantry – Gourmet Vegetarian Dining, Soho
- Happy Veggies – Vegetarian Restaurant, Wan Chai, Mong Kok & Tsuen Wan
- IPC Foodlab – Western-Style Cafe, Yuen Long
- Linguini Fini – Relaxed Italian, Soho
- Locofama – Healthy Cafe, Sai Ying Pun
- Lotus Courtyard Restaurant – Western Cuisine, Tai Po
- Lung Wah Hotel – Cantonese BBQ, Sha Tin
- Mana! Fast Slow Food, Mana! Cafe & Mana! Raw – Plant-based Takeaway, Central & PoHo
- Mavericks – Beachside Cafe , South Lantau
- Meraviglia Bar e Ristorante – Homestyle Italian, Sha Tin
- Mini Organic Farm Restaurant – Indonesian Cuisine, Yuen Long
- Restaurant NUR – Michelin-Starred Fine Dining, Central
- O Veg Farm – Organic Private Kitchen, Yuen Long
- Posto Pubblico – Relaxed Italian, Soho
- Sohofama – Organic Chinese, Soho
- Shelter Italian – Gourmet Italian, Causeway Bay
- Stone Nullah Tavern – Pub Food, Wan Chai
- The Blackstar – Gastropub, Sheung Wan
- Wild Grass – Seasonal & Organic French Cuisine, Lan Kwai Fong
- Yin Yang Coastal – Cantonese Fine Dining, Tsuen Wan
This post was co-authored by Michelle Lau, a qualified nutritionist. Follow her nutrition & healthy eating instagram page.
Photo credits: Evergreen Republic