Free-range cattle

COMMENT: Why it’s time to stop romanticising where our food comes from

Using rolling green hills and picturesque cows in marketing does little to tell consumers about the journey from farm to fork.

For the last several years the “food movement” (for lack of a better term) has focused on telling stories. The theory goes that telling the “story” of a brand will create an emotional connection between consumers, farming and products.

Green rolling hills and picturesque black and white cows relate to consumers that a product is pure, while tales of farmers and their families assure us that a farm is sustainable (after all we innately assume “generations of farmers” have taken care of the land).

Adding to the noise are cooking shows celebrating chefs with skills no one needs – when might anyone need to make an appetizer out of five unrelated items? – TV show doctors giving diet advice based on questionable science, and restaurants reviewed by people with no knowledge of restaurants or reviewing.

It is no surprise that despite years of “storytelling”, the public remains largely ill-informed about the food system.

Despite the bucolic-looking labels and idealistic storytelling, organic, it turns out, does not actually mean low tech, low efficiency or the presence of old school machinery or hand-milked cows. Producing local food remains logistically – and financially – complicated for the majority of the world’s farms and ranches, even if the public now views it as more wholesome.

And “knowing our farmer”, sadly, does not necessarily mean we understand the practices he or she uses on the farm.

The problem is that there continues to be little understanding as to what terms like “local”, “sustainable”, or even “organic” mean, or why they might be important. That is because the same marketing is used to sell us everything from trucks to cereal; milkshakes to organic yogurt.

If marketing products is the same as a brand “telling its story” the waters get muddied. If all consumers see are romantic images of farms. they learn nothing of the true financial, social and environmental complexities of farming.

This is fine if you are simply trying to sell products, but woefully inadequate if you are attempting to change an ingrained system.

By opening such a high-tech (and investment-intensive), yet organic, closed-loop facility to the public, Tenuta Vannulo Organic Farm (read more here) is making a statement. It is time we stop romanticising where our food comes from, and allow the public to learn what it really takes to get food from farm to fork.

The Guardian: Read the full article