Place-Based Food Right Here at Home

December 17, 2012 | 2:34 pm
Margaret Mellon
Former contributor

In my last post I discussed the wonderful Danish restaurant Noma, which is out there on the cutting edge of international place-based food.

I will long savor that experience, but my excursion into the world of high-end cuisine was a rare treat. Of course, I didn’t have to go to Copenhagen for action on the place-based food front. There is a lot going on right here near my home in Washington, D.C.

Local sustainable meat guru, Bev Eggleston, co-founder of EcoFriendly Foods Foundation.

To wit, I recently spent a cool, sunny afternoon celebrating local food on Capitol Hill within sight of the Senate office buildings. The occasion was the launch of the EcoFriendly Foods Foundation, the next step for local sustainable meat guru, Bev Eggleston.

Bev held the event on the veranda of a local restaurant, Johnny’s Halfshell, where he laid out sides of coleslaw, beets, and beans on a long table and offered a selection of drinks that featured beer from Starr Hill Brewery in Charlottesville, Virginia, and hot spiced cider from Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. He set out bins to collect beer cups for recycling and leftover food and tableware for composting. Over the course of the afternoon, a steady stream of Washingtonians stopped by for good food, friendship and lively conversation.

At the curbside in front of the restaurant was a custom-built mobile pig smoker with a platform on which Bev presided, smiling as he carved up a big pig for the event. Along with his wife Janelle, Bev founded EcoFriendly Foods in 2001 to connect farmers raising animals sustainably to customers who value that kind of food and farming.

Over the past 12 years, Bev and Janelle have worked tirelessly to make sustainable meat production economically viable. They work in the space between farmers and eaters, the part of the food system most seriously in need of attention if we are to transform our food system in the direction of sustainability.

As a result of their hard work, EcoFriendly Foods now supplies sustainable meat to restaurants up and down the East Coast and sells directly to customers at farmers markets and by mail.

Connecting sustainable farmers and customers has not been easy. One of the many barriers Bev and Janelle encountered was the fact that there was no local slaughterhouse to process their products. So they bought one—well, an abandoned one—and renovated it. Now up and running in Moneta, Virginia, the facility is U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected and Certified Humane®.

EcoFriendly Foods is one of the few meat purveyors that can vouch not only for the lives their pigs led on the farm, but also the way their animals were handled right up to—and through—the slaughterhouse door. Ecofriendly Foods veal calves live with their mothers on pasture their entire lives.

EcoFriendly Foods provides an alternative to today’s dominant meat production systems that are centered on huge confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Typical CAFOs crowd thousands of animals into small spaces, a practice that encourages the spread of disease and produces mountains of manure that pollute surrounding air and water. The cramped housing can be cruel, especially for sows, confined for months in crates not much larger than they are.

It is not difficult to understand why livestock operations that raise animals in these stressful facilities routinely feed them antibiotics to stave off disease. Since many of the drugs are the same doctors use to treat humans, the resistant bacteria created in CAFOs can cause human diseases that are difficult, if not impossible to treat.

Avoiding pollution, providing humane raising conditions, and preserving our dwindling antibiotic supplies provide plenty of incentive to seek alternatives to CAFOs, but it turns out that moving animals back outdoors has even more benefits. It allows nutrients to be recycled in ways that protect the environment and create healthy soil. Although Americans should eat less meat, especially beef, than they currently do, making sure that the meat they eat is raised sustainably can protect the environment.

The transformation of our food system along the entire food chain—that means producers, processors, transporters, bankers, marketers and consumers—has a long way to go. No one understands better than Bev, who is focusing his new foundation on connecting entrepreneurial young farmers with land, livestock and capital, and facilitating collaborative food-crafting businesses, like USDA-inspected charcuteries.

The future of U.S. food depends on energetic and optimistic entrepreneurs like Bev, who are proud of the delicious meat they bring to the table and committed to transforming agriculture, in his words, “one farmer at a time.”