Working in the food industry over the past several decades has convinced us that the mainstream model of food production and distribution is problematic for everyone who eats. According to Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn, “Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?” After seeing and learning a lot, we decided the best way to address our concerns was by being diligent about what we eat and offering those same alternatives to fellow eaters.
At our restaurant, we live by the slogan “If we won’t eat it, we won’t serve it to you,” and we are very picky eaters. By picky, we are not talking elitist, or reticent to try new things. We are talking about our serious commitment to and passionate support of sustainable alternatives to the global industrial food system in the form of local, seasonal, organic food.
While it appears consumers have an abundance of choice, the reality is that this country’s food is produced and distributed by a limited number of big food conglomerates. As consumer demand increases, these companies are also acquiring organic, upscale and health related brands once found exclusively in local co-ops, health food stores and specialty grocers. Ostensibly, this is a good thing, meaning more Americans are starting to pay attention to and care what is in their food, where it comes from, how it is grown, etc.
However, big food adding formerly nonindustrial-scale food brands to their portfolios continues to fly in the face of the sensibilities of the original mission of buying organic and natural products in order to support small farmers and artisanal producers. Those born in the 1960’s, suspicious of corporations due to their historical lack of concern for people and the planet over profits, succeeding generations of counterculture eaters, along with anyone who is doing their best to avoid the ills big food is famous for, are now facing a case of buyer beware.
It’s frustrating to learn big food has bought once trustworthy companies such as Annie’s, Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen, Stonyfield Farms Yogurt, etc. While these brands become more readily available due to mass production and distribution, the quality of the product and the values of the company founders are sure to change. For example, when Proctor and Gamble bought Toms of Maine, they added sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) an ingredient that can dry the mouth and cause canker sores, amongst other health and environmental concerns to the toothpaste formula. General Mills, who acquired Annie’s, donated more than $1 million to defeat California’s Proposition 37, the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food initiative.
Similar to finding out you have been brushing your teeth with SLS or eating chemicals you were trying to avoid (SLS is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption as well) or giving money to a political cause you disdain; once you start asking questions, you will be surprised to learn how much greenwashing is going on. When you get the answers, we hope you will decide to put your money where your mouth and health are by supporting local, organic farmers and artisanal food producers whose values align with benefiting both people and the planet.