Over the past two years, I have been gathering data on restaurants, bakeries, caterers, grocery stores, juice bars, and delivery services that have a focus on sustainable sourcing that engages us in the means by which we fuel ourselves. I have also looked up the practices of over 150 Midwestern farms including what they feed the animals, how they are evaluated by different rating agencies, which restaurants they supply, and even how many feet the animals have to roam. However, even with all of this information, the nature of our food system still creates significant transparency challenges such as discerning the honesty of food purveyors’ sourcing claims, understanding the meaning of a litany of confusing and misleading labels, seeing the ingredients in what we buy, and knowing the farms that provide our food. Government oversight purports to promote transparency, but as self-proclaimed “Christian-conservative-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer” Joel Salatin warns:
“Government oversight is always scale prejudicial. There’s all this intention for safety regulations, food regulations, dietary guidelines, organic standards—name your agency, name your legislation. But at the end of the day, when these are actually converted to boots on the ground, they’re always prejudicial against small operations. I think the untold story right now in this local food system is that there’d be a million more players at the table if we actually had, for example, a direct market or went to empirical testing instead of subjective paperwork. This is absolutely what drives the takeover of small businesses. When you add up all the scale-prejudicial elements of regulation such as getting insurance, passing GAP standards and ensuring animal welfare—filling out paperwork, getting certified—they absolutely consume a small business’s time. The larger the business, the easier it is to deal with all this.”
Yet this centrally controlled system has given rise to a level of convenience and efficiency that we’ve never had before. We can now have food delivered to our door at the click of a button and buy just about anything at a grocery store, no matter what season. We have no incentive to engage in our means of fueling ourselves, as the system we have created provides what we need with little effort required on our part. At least so it seems.
Companies like Kitchfix, a chef-crafted meal-delivery service striving for both convenience and exceptional quality and transparency, don’t want to sacrifice the benefits we now enjoy, but rather address the unintended consequences of a lack of integrity in our food system.
Founding Chef, Josh Katt was frustrated with the green washing in the restaurant industry and meal delivery business and equally struggled with his inability to properly label food as markets and sources changed.
“Simply stating local and organic when possible felt too vague, and lacked the level of integrity that we wanted our business to represent”, Josh stated. “We had this idea for a while – an idea to go beyond a label or simple sentence to define how we sourced our food, so we created a system that could change as rapidly as the market and seasons change. We think the future of food is about transparency, not simple labels.”
Kitchfix did this by creating a quick look chart that shows the source and extent to which their ingredients are local and organic. After every delivery, or even before ordering, customers can track through a QR code on each item, or an online link that will take them to this frequently updated list. These types of grassroots efforts from entrepreneurs with a deep understanding of our food system and a strong desire to improve it can help bring us out of the dark and perhaps provide motivation to accept responsibility for not only how we feed ourselves, but the entire food cycle that sustains us. Central control of our food system, on the other hand, only moves us towards abdicating responsibility and apathy. We should be wary of federally enforced guidelines due to the history of regulatory capture, where federal agencies have acted as lapdogs for the industries they claim to regulate as opposed to watchdogs. As for labeling, when it becomes standardized by force through lobbying exclusively by companies with the means to influence the legislative process, the integrity of our food system becomes compromised, and consumers gain a false sense of security which makes them less likely to ask probing questions and more likely to accept the legitimacy of coercive labeling standards. Rather than blindly trust the integrity of government-mandating labeling, let’s unleash companies like Kitchfix to engage in innovative strategies that other businesses can follow.