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E AT I N G H E A LT H Y

Chef Erin Wade

In one of it’s less frequently quoted passages, he imagines a future industrial eater, increasingly passive and unable to question the true cost of what they are being sold:

“They will grow, deliver, and cook your Convenience has an ineluctable food for you and (just like your mothThey want the $500 billion the er) beg you to eat it. That they do not restaurant industry at large comyet offer to insert it, prechewed, into mands. And they want to insert your mouth is only because they have themselves into as many of those found no profitable way to do so. We transactions as they can. may rest assured that they would be By offering delivery as a sort of glad to find such a way. The ideal inhypnotic carrot, they will soon have dustrial consumer would be strapped a relationship with customers that is to a table with a tube running from primary and defining. Restaurants, the food factory directly into his or having lost their customer relationher stomach. “ ship, will be forced to slash costs. That means choosing ingredients of He wrote this as a perversely exaggerlesser quality and firing people. It ated conceit in 1989, and yet sounds might even mean formerly sensible like an almost-plausible mission statecompanies might one day end up ment for a disruptive start-up in 2016. employing robots and 3-D printers to It appears “they” have now found a squirt molten meat goo into burger way to make prechewing profitable: shapes to be delivered to your door just make it an app. by drones. Restaurants today are caught in the early stages of the same dynamic that hit post-war American farms. Increasingly, farmers became addicted to the very things that were causing their troubles—synthetic fertilizers, expensive seed and dangerous chemicals. The industrial farming paradigm wreaked havoc in farming communities and compromised soil health, ecological diversity, food quality and nutrition, and yet it was decades before any widespread dissent took hold. WENDELL BERRY was the voice of that resistance long before hipster restaurants (like mine) began printing his words on their staff uniforms. His essay The Pleasures of Eating reads like a prophetic rallying cry.

Conveniences tend to obliterate the realms they are conveniencing, just as flavorless melons became the new normal of industrial farming. But the very word convenience implies the existence of an alternative that is less efficient but more of something else. In the case of restaurants, or food in general, the something else is community, quality and, perhaps most important, joy. Isn’t that what restaurants are for, after all—moments of joy and togetherness? As consumers, when we choose convenience, we have to accept that we are not choosing a momentary ease, but setting a new and enduring normal. We should ask ourselves if we are willing to pony up the old one along with our dollars.

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ABOUT ERIN WADE Running a working farm for 15 years and a thriving restaurant for 10 years, Wade has an up-close perspective on the challenges and rewards of sustainability, the nuances and wiles of consumer behavior and the brutal realities of running a small business. Wade graduated from Harvard with a degree in English & American Literature and Language She moved to the high desert of New Mexico to become a self-taught organic farmer. She lectures on soil health and high-desert farming and is currently working on a sustainable food hub in Bastrop, Texas near the newest location of her restaurant concept Vinaigrette. Wade’s Vinaigrette opened its first location in 2008 in one of the hottest and fastest growing market segments of the restaurant industry. With three Vinaigrette locations, a retail store and two farms in her burgeoning and sustainably-minded enterprise, Wade has proven her ability to anticipate trends in consumer demand and society as they apply to food and eating. Her perspective on how her industry is changing and what the future may hold are backed by 15 years of close observation of food, farming and health.

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Food & Beverage Magazine January 2017