Inspired by the environmentally focused mantra, ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’, the locally sourced food revolution is well underway. Thanks to increased awareness around sustainability, a growing number of people are demanding the goods and products they use are locally sourced.
“If you look at where the consumer is regarding the sourcing of food and the production of food, they have become much more riveted on learning about where their food comes from as well as the different production methods for that food,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the NRA.
This new demand to know where the food on our plates is coming from has also impacted the restaurant industry.
Over the last decade, two significant trends have emerged within the restaurant industry: the use of local ingredients and the use of organic ingredients. Restaurants are clamoring to include these ingredients in menu items to satisfy customers and increase business.
According to a 2012 Zagat survey completed on Toronto diners, 71 percent of Toronto diners consider local, organic and/or sustainable food to be an important factor when choosing a dining establishment. Additionally, another 56 percent of respondents indicated they would be willing to pay more for these quality ingredients.
Despite often being grouped together with organic foods, locally sourced food are often more affordable than their organic counterparts because, unlike organic fruits, vegetables and meats, locally sourced foods travel shorter distances, which means they cost less to transport. Also, oftentimes there is no middleman, meaning restaurants and customers often deal directly with the farmer who can pass on savings.
Jack Graves, chief cultural officer at Burgerville, a Washington–based quick serve establishment, says 70 to 75 percent of their ingredients are sourced locally. He also points out that some food suppliers will bend over backward to give the chain acceptable and competitive prices.
“They appreciate consistency and the continuity and the partnership in knowing that they always have an outlet for the products they grow,” said Graves. “That’s worth something to them, and they appreciate that.”
This relationship fostered between local suppliers and restaurants is mutually beneficial — restaurants get affordable, locally sourced foods, while farmers and suppliers are able to put the money back into their business, which stimulates the local economy and promotes local farming and harvesting.
Executive chef and co-founder of Branca, a Argentinian inspired restaurant, Kanida Chey is adamant that all the meats used at Branca are locally sourced from responsible and environmentally conscious farmers and suppliers.
“Branca is all about simple traditional cooking methods. Because of this, it is imperative that the meat we use be high quality,” said Kanida Chey.
Branca’s unique method of roasting and smoking whole animals may originate in Argentina, however the meat used is completely sourced by local Ontario, Canada farmers.
“I want to know where the meat we use is coming from. I want to know what the animals are fed and how they are kept and you cannot get that when you are sourcing food from all over the globe,” noted Chey.
Aside from being good for local economies and the global environment, locally sourced foods are also more flavourful and have a higher nutrient count. When grown locally, crops are picked at their peak of ripeness versus being harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed to your local retail store. Many times produce at local markets has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase, making it fresher, healthier and better.