10/29/2015 04:39 EDT | Updated 10/29/2016 05:12 EDT

From Farm To Table, To Your Gratified Body

Jeremy Woodhouse via Getty Images
Fresh vegetables on display

Remember that old milk slogan: "It does a body good"?

These days, it should be adopted by the farm-to-table movement. That's why, as an executive chef at four restaurants -- Terra in Thornhill, Sarpa in Richmond Hill, Francobollo in Toronto, and Rusty's in Collingwood -- local food anchors my menus. It's not just about taste, or supporting local farmers - it's about doing what's right for the body. And our customers.

Obviously, I love food. Cooking it. Serving it. And eating it. But that last one is a two-step process: there is the enjoyment of eating and then there's the aftermath of eating. When I eat a multi-course meal of meats and vegetables that are genetically modified -- or full of additives and preservatives -- I can feel it afterwards. It means feeling lethargic and gross, or just an underlying sense of unwell -- like your body is waging a minor internal rebellion.

With farm-to-table goods, I find the taste is cleaner, richer and I always feel more energized. That's partly because I don't need to eat as much to feel full. I'm getting more for every mouthful -- and our restaurant customers do, too. That's because our bodies crave nutrition from what they're taking in. If our food is low in nutrients, it can often leave us feeling hungry for more. Like something vital is missing.

For example, if your body is short on potassium, you can't do better than nutrient rich potatoes picked straight from the soil that morning -- not potatoes that have been boxed up and lying in a crate for days on end. You may eat less of the fresh stuff, but you'll feel more satisfied. It's a win, win.

Obviously, we all crave our treats. Fast food is cheap (and a guilty pleasure), but the nutritional value is minimal. The decadence of a rich cake is hard to match, even if it's not exactly a health booster. We all like -- and deserve -- to indulge once and a while. But when it comes to fruits and veggies, farm-to-table is better for body and soul. While you might pay in slightly higher prices, you're getting a much higher rate of return on your culinary investment.

Almost all the meat I serve is local and organic, as is my seasonal produce. If more people -- and restaurants -- embraced farm to fork, I honestly believe it would help improve Canadians' overall health. I think you would see less diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and allergies.

Younger generations are leading the charge -- demanding and going out of their way to source quality local food. They in turn will train their own kids. And it's good to start them young. My children are so excited to look at fresh fruits and vegetables -- from broccoli to baby carrots -- at farmer's markets or roadside stands. With the right example being set at an early age, don't be surprised when wee ones get excited at the sight of fresh shard or kale. It may sound crazy, but I've seen it firsthand.

Through books like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and John Robbins' The Food Revolution, social media campaigns, and new labelling and marketing standards, big corporations -- including commercial farmers and butchers -- have less places to hide. There is growing public awareness about everything from unwanted ingredients to unnecessary chemicals.

Toronto is a multicultural haven. Many of my restaurants sit at the intersection of multiple, thriving ethnic communities. We are a nation of immigrants, but I find that people often eat healthier in the places they were born, or their families' ancestral homelands. Around the globe, from Europe to South America, food is more likely to taste real -- because it is real. Many of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents were eating farm to table long before it become a North American trend. They remember their Nona skinning a rabbit, or plucking a chicken, or visiting the local market in their village. When they sit at my tables, they often tell me that they recognize the taste of home on our menus. We serve food that reminds them of traditional family meals.

As a chef, I'm not doing anything new. We're not reinventing the wheel. We are simply revisiting the old and reintroducing the authentic. Flavour and nutritional value go hand in hand, and farm to fork.

Whether cooking at home or dining out, sink your teeth into real food -- from heirloom tomatoes to organic chicken. You won't regret it. After all, it does a body good.


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