It may have been your last trip to Italy, to France, South America or even Whole Foods. The food seemed better - more flavorful, wholesome and fresh. Did you come back thinking: "Why doesn't the food here taste the same as the food there?"
According to Barbara MacFarlane, co-owner of Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver, it all comes down to one factor: Ingredients.
"America does so many things so very well," MacFarlane said. "And something that America does really well is mass producing things."
MacFarlane said we are amidst a food revolution, and the lack of integrity that has taken over this nation's food chain is beginning to fulfill and enliven a sweeping awareness.
"We are all looking for that taste, that something new," she said on Saturday, during a Taste of Vail seminar hosted by Marczyk Fine Foods and Niman Ranch titled "Where Does Our Food Come From?" "We're all looking for who is making what, and the shift is really strong."
It's not only the specialty markets like Marczyk that are feeling the change. Pete Marczyk, co-owner of Marczyk, said he sees new perspective from his purveyors as well as his consumers.
"One of the things that I think has happened over the past 70 years, since the Great Depression, has been a sense of scarcity in this country," Marczyk said. "As a nation, we went into a mode of being bigger, faster, better - just mass producing food on a scale that the world has never seen before."
Marczyk emphasized how the United States is extraordinarily good at making things with efficiency, and said there are three words that can define food in the industry - good, fast, cheap - but you can only pick two.
It's places like Marczyk Fine Foods, he said, that provide a direct and knowledgeable connection to food sources, and the next best thing to a farmers' market. He said this is the impact that makes a difference on localities - wherever you may be from.
"This idea of connecting really does nourish us," Marczyk said. "It nourishes us in a way psychologically that makes us feel better about what we're eating, and that has a real benefit."
Dig a little deeper
The farm-to-table connection has become a staple in the food revolution, and more and more companies are committing to missions of health and sustainability.
Niman Ranch, based in California, has a network of more than 700 independent American farmers and ranchers dedicated to raising hogs, cattle and lamb under strict protocols of all-natural, humane and sustainable methods to produce the best possible flavor and nourishment.
"The biggest thing that consumers need to understand is that 'natural' really means nothing in the grocery store," said Amanda Seastrom, director of multi-unit partnerships for Niman Ranch. "Producers can put that label on any piece of meat that has not been pumped, hasn't been marinated, and has had no color added. We dig deeper; we have to know our farmers, we have to know our source, and we have to read labels."
Seastrom said consumers should not take anything for face value, but should look into what they are purchasing, and more importantly, what they are eating.
"It has to say antibiotic-free, hormone-free, pasture-raised. These are the things we take pride in at Niman," Seastrom said.
According to Seastrom's Taste Of Vail presentation, 90 percent of hogs in this country are raised in a barn, with an average of 3,000 pigs per barn. The pigs live under flourescent lights, and never once see daylight.
"We talk about the meat that's not great quality, and it's what is being raised in factories all over the country," Seastrom said. "Every time we get another one of these factory farms, we lose a family farm - those who built this country and got us to where we are today."
Seastrom said the amount of pork produced in the 1950s is the same as today, except now we are doing it with about 4 percent of the producers. She said that what is quick and cheap is the opposite of what Niman puts out, but that you get what you pay for.
"Our hogs are old-school, heritage breeds. They are different colors - not white," Seastrom said. "We use Berkshire, Duroc, Chester White, and these are the breeds that can be outside because they have more back fat, more belly fat, more marbling in general. Fat is not a bad thing when it's in moderation, raised outdoors, hormone-free and antibiotic-free."
Quality meat also has a more quality taste, Seastrom said, since the animals are in more natural environments and under less stress. Simply put, meat is a pure product of its environment.
"All Niman Ranch farmers must be owner-operators," Seastrom said. "All of our producers are working the land, feeding their animals, growing their own vegetarian feed, and they're there. They have pride and equity in that business, and that makes a difference."
Rooted in tradition
The food revolution is moving from the ground up. Tyler Dubois starting growing his own vegetables in his hometown of Denver after returning from a cooking stint in France. The well-versed chef said returning home from Europe was tough on his palate, although his time spent working in the Marczyk Fine Foods meat department really brought back a sense of culinary quality.
"When I started butchering in the Marczyk's meat department, just the quality of meat alone, just to look at it, it was really an eye-opener for me," Dubois said. "I was startling to think that I had used quality ingredients in my cooking here, but never like the quality of that meat."
His appreciation of quality ingredients was instilled in him at a young age. His grandmother introduced him to canning and Dubois started his own canning business almost a year ago. The Real Dill is an artisan-made, pickling company based in Denver.
"To me, there is something very magical about the process of taking something so perishable and putting it in a jar - giving it new character and giving it a new life, and an extended life at that," Dubois said. "It was not that long ago in our history where almost every family had their own garden, and they canned everything to get through the winters. And almost every family had their own pickle recipe."
Although his grandmother's bread-and-butter pickle recipe was far from his favorite, Dubois said he has perfected the tradition of canning that captivated him as a child.
"I got into this because I love pickles, and I really didn't think there was anything on the market that was exceptional," Dubois said. "For me it's very satisfying, but I also feel like I'm doing something that's honoring a tradition."
Real Dill pickles can be purchased locally at Cut: Artisan Meats and Seafood in Edwards. Although the pickles are canned in Colorado, Dubois said the growing season is too short in this state to rely on only local cucumbers. It seems that food miles are just a piece of the puzzle, and more knowledge begins with doing the research to learn about the food you consume.
"There is great product coming out of Colorado, but I think it is important that we know that if something is harvested somewhere, it can be marketed and sold as that," Seastrom said. "So go back, get to know the producers, know your source, because that is going to help you get a better quality product."