You’re a successful family run restaurant that, like most family restaurants, caters to the local community – fundraisers, catering, events, and even little Joey’s high school graduation party. You lean on the community for support, build a guest base who feel more like friends than customers, and have built a close bond with your fellow restaurateurs in the area. You understand the importance your community played in developing your brand, and creating that “Cheers like” guest experience. So, why do most restaurateurs veer towards buying produce based on economics instead of regional farmers?
Let’s break down the impacts your restaurant has on purchasing produce based on price, and the impact on the environment as a whole.
The United States agricultural system is focused on mass production
It’s becoming rarer to find family run farms that supply their community with goods. When you think about the produce flowing into your kitchen, you really have no connection with where it comes from or the journey that it takes to get to your door. People have been replaced with machines and families have been replaced by corporations. Just take a look at these facts:
Taking a look back on the evolution of agriculture in our country.
1900: 41% of the workforce worked in agriculture.
1945: 16% of the total labor force worked in agriculture.
2002: 1.9% of the workforce worked in agriculture.
Our relationship with food has changed with the development of the U.S. agricultural system and the harshness of profit-driven motivations in restaurant industry. Without noticing it, we’ve been acclimated to purchasing our produce as a commodity, like we would with gas or electricity.
If only 2% of the population are farmers, who is producing our food?
Our population has grown a lot. In 1900, the U.S. population was 76,212,168. One hundred short years later (in 2000) the U.S. census number passed 282.2 Million. Interestingly, the data shows an inverse correlation between population growth and independent farmers. The result has been an industrialization of agriculture and the commoditization of the produce market. While this lowers prices for procuring produce used by our restaurants, it has a lasting impact on the earth.
Industrial agriculture is degrading our soil, and diminishing groundwater, especially in states like California. We are exhausting natural systems, by using them as if they were limitless in abundance, converting what we once saw as a land for agricultural growth into the consumption engine known as “factory farming”. This process seems to work for us currently, but many experts argue that is is one of the most unsustainable practices of modern civilization, dating back to the 1970’s and has, and will, continued to escalate since. Not only is our current process ruining our land, it is responsible for greenhouse gasses.
Queue suspenseful music and an abandoned castle in Transylvania. Over the past few decades, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have taken over almost everything that we eat. 54% of American crops, and 70% of processed foods contain at least one ingredient that is genetically modified. “A genetically modified organism is one in which the genetic composition of that organism has been altered — meaning that specific elements of the DNA have been removed or added to achieve certain ostensibly desirable traits.” While there is much debate on the use of GMOs, there have been some benefits to the modification of our food, including helping crops repel insects, speed up the growing process, or even allow crops to grow in less than optimal conditions. But with every good comes the bad; studies have shown correlations between the use of GMO’s and allergies. How many parents a day remind your servers that their kid has a nut, or milk, or soy allergy? And how many did that 30 years ago? While there are benefits and disadvantages to GMOs, there is obvious evidence that their use has significantly altered the modern methods of farming and impacted the sustainability of local and regional farm businesses.
How your restaurant can help
It is nearly impossible to cut out all food and produce products that have GMO’s or are farmed in a “factory farm.” It is easy to feel powerless, and that your restaurant is contributing to the growing problems of industrialized agriculture. If you’re interested in supporting local or regional farmers, check out this map of where you can buy produce close to your restaurant and become a trendsetter in what many are referring to as the Farm-to-Table initiative. At Upserve, we’ve talked to restaurants that have had increased success with locally sourced products by highlighting where they come from so their guests also feel like they’re supporting the local community.