Shopping last week in one of Sacramento’s largest grocery chains, we spotted a large display of strikingly tender green asparagus with a gargantuan “LOCAL” sign displayed over it.
Since Delta asparagus season is long over, we were intrigued about where, exactly, the asparagus was grown.
“Mexico,” cheerily replied the produce manager.
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But why the “LOCAL” sign?
“Because our distributor is in California.”
That experience got us thinking: Is Sacramento’s push to become “America’s Farm to Fork Capital” having an identity crisis?
If you read the pitch to corporations being asked by the Convention & Visitors Bureau to sponsor “farm to fork” events, you might think so: “By placing your brand alongside events that are endorsed by the city of Sacramento and embraced by the community, you can immediately differentiate your brand and gain important local credibility,” reads the city’s pitch to event sponsors.
Renting the “farm to fork” label to the highest bidder in this manner compromises its integrity. If there is no commitment to honest food linked to the brand, Sacramento’s coveted “farm to-fork” name will instantly diminish in value.
Remember that the roots of Sacramento’s food-focused efforts can be traced to the international Slow Food effort and was launched to protest the opening of a McDonalds near the much-revered Spanish Steps in Rome. Slow Food’s mantra – bringing fresh, sourced, unprocessed foods to the table where they could be shared, appreciated and unhurriedly enjoyed by friends and family – is the heart of the worldwide movement underway to better understand and appreciate what we eat.
Sadly – but predictably – this culture is being exploited for commercial purposes. What started out as a simple effort to “honor the dignity of labor from field to fork, and the diversity of cultures and traditions” now risks evolving into a promotional gimmick without value. And it’s happening right in our backyard.
Like Slow Food, Sacramento’s “farm to fork” effort was designed to promote a greater awareness and respect of heirloom food, and where and how it is produced in the Valley. It’s been a smashing success. Just look at our region’s vibrant farmers markets, high-quality eating venues and a new wave of talented small producers of organic products.
That is why city officials should be wary about diluting this brand when most consumers are as confused about nutrition as they are overweight.
The centerpiece of our city’s efforts – the “Farm to Fork” dinner on the Tower Bridge – is being sponsored this year by Cadillac, Jiffy Lube, banks, a nursing home chain and, stunningly, McDonalds.
None of those companies represents Sacramento-area agriculture or biodiversity. Yet they are receiving top billing at this celebration of our region’s food culture.
Before modern transportation and food distribution, all food used to be “farm to fork” – and not the $200-per-plate variety, either. Local farmers provided the nutritious and sustainable food that was available for everyone to share, taste and enjoy.
It’s time for “farm to fork” to return to these roots and remain true to its intended purpose of promoting local agriculture. Our region’s leaders would be wise to protect the “farm to fork” brand for it to continue to be meaningful to consumers and the farmers, chefs and local producers it is meant to represent.
Michelle Basso Reynolds and Steven Maviglio are past presidents of the Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative’s board of directors. Contact Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Maviglio at email@example.com.