We Are What We Eat

The path from farm to table has never been as direct, or simple, as it sounds. The various connections required to guarantee that fresh, healthy food ends up on our plates are many and varied.

Certainly we’ve attached values to some of those connections—local, organic, sustainable, fair, etc. But others represent a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all those who contribute to healthy and vital food systems, and how each represents a link in the food chain. In other words, we’re way past the one-way ticket from farmers’ market to the kitchen. There’s the farmer him- and herself, to say nothing of those making land- use policies and working to preserve the family farm.

There are co-ops and producers and farm-to-restaurant and farm-to-grocer networks. There are institutional food purchasing groups and a number of community supported agriculture groups. And there are an array of organizations and groups committed to raising public awareness and action in support of all of these concerns.

And, of course, there are cooks and chefs. Chef Tory Miller, owner of Madison’s esteemed L’Etoile Restaurant, is at least several links in the food chain. If one were to dig a little deeper one might find he’s an entire chain himself. He certainly embodies, and embraces, the role of “co-producer,” Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini’s preferred substitute for the insufficient term “consumer,” something Miller talked about eloquently in his remarks to the U.S. delegation at Slow Food’s Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy, a year ago.

But he’s also a forager, a canner/freezer/preserver, a chef, a caterer and an educator. One assumes he even eats occasionally. He’s cooked for the annual James Beard House Awards Gala Celebration in New York, and for the kids and parents at Sherman Middle School. He’s a rock-star chef without the rock-star attitude.

His prominent role at the recent Slow Money conference in addition to his growing reputation with Slow Food suggests he’ll be a major player in determining the future of good, clean and fair food systems, all the while keeping the kitchen at L’Etoile among the best.