Food trends can be tricky. Before you know it, everyone’s consuming mango lassi-flavoured spheres or say, ice cream with aam panna froth; the next minute it’s about jalebi caviar or margarita kulchas. Yet the trends that make it past the initial trial period go on to redefine the way we think of food. So, while we’ve been distracted by the magic of liquid nitrogen, the latest food trend has already snuck up on us – eating local.
Eating dishes prepared using hyper local ingredients is taking the nation by storm. The benefits of eating like this are tremendous and it’s being touted as the way forward for the food and beverage industry, as well as personal consumption.
We spoke to Gauri Devidayal, co-owner of The Table, a San Francisco-style global cuisine restaurant in Mumbai which sources some of the vegetables it uses from a farm it runs in Alibag.
An Unintentional Start
While it may be all the rage now, the move to locally-produced ingredients came about more as a necessity rather than a conscientious choice. “Initially, chefs were kind of pushed in that direction because of the FSSAI regulations which came in a few years ago,” says Devidayal, “There was severe regulations concerning imported ingredients, which meant that a lot of commonly-used imported ingredients just weren’t available for some time.”
This proved to be a good thing in some ways, because it compelled restaurants and chef to look within the country’s borders for the best local substitutes that they could find. Many establishments were so pleased with their new route that they chose to keep going down this path even after the regulations had been lifted and some of the restrictions eased.
Why Go Local?
In addition to the pure hipster value of being able to boast about your new food habits, some of the other benefits of eating local are:
High quality: The food you get is of the highest quality with no drop-off in flavour or nutritional value, which naturally happens after long periods of refrigeration and transportation;
Environment-friendly: Your carbon footprint is reduced by limiting the transportation required to move the goods halfway across the country (as in the current system);
Supports farmers directly: Farmers get their dues and can maintain their farmland, while also making it possible for local varieties of vegetables to flourish;
Keeps local money local: The local economy benefits directly from your purchases;
Claim your food: Devidayal has first-hand knowledge of the challenges involved in harvesting your own produce: “We started growing some things for the restaurant about four years ago, with the intention of being able to vouch for the quality and the source of the vegetables we use at The Table. Today, we even take guests to the farm and conduct various workshops so that they can learn what goes into growing their food, too. And when we cook the vegetables they harvest and serve it to them at the end of a tour, the food just tastes so much better.”
The Way Forward
This shift in dining patterns has also given rise to micro-trends. Take for example, the clean food movement. In a recent interview, TV chef Ranveer Brar says, “[One] aspect that will make a difference in our lives this year will be the stress on unprocessed and preservative-free ingredients.”
There is also a move towards focusing on region-specific cooking styles, so we can expect to eat foods that take us back to our roots. Chef Kshama Prabhu, who helms the kitchen at Mumbai’s The Bar Stock Exchange chain, says, “Regional cuisine will go micro, and will focus on smaller communities and pockets.” She has accurately predicted the rise in popularity of local ingredients such as Himalayan salt or Kashmiri apples.
So, the stage is set for this food trend to transition from a fad to a way of life. The benefits are obvious, but there still exist several problem areas that need to be dealt with before eating local can become a long-term solution to our farming and environmental concerns.
The biggest hurdle is that of supply. Current suppliers of local produce tend to be small-scale farmers or local mandi operators who work intimately with restaurants that specialise in farm-to-table service. As yet, they do not have the means to scale up production. Devidayal knows this problem all too well, “Despite our best efforts, it is very difficult to grow all that we need for the restaurant. So, even though we try to cook with only local ingredients, that just isn’t possible all the time.”
So, if this movement is to pick up steam, we’re going to have to find a way to make eating local sustainable.
Like this article? Also read: #Foodistan: India’s Love Affair With Caramel Custard
Cover Image Courtesy: Anton Jankovoy / Shutterstock.com;