Chefs’ farm tour leads to new vision for meat

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Salt Spring-raised meat has definite cachet for local gourmands, but the health and taste benefits of small-scale farming don’t always translate to mass exports.

Adding transportation costs and economies of scale to the equation, it becomes unlikely that diners as close as Vancouver or even Victoria will get the chance to enjoy the island’s fabled lamb or forest-raised pigs. That could change soon, however, with a unique vision that puts together farm tours, chefs and the Japanese-Canadian community.

Takanobu Okamoto is the Salt Springer at the centre of this equation. He is a gut-neuroscience researcher who was working in the pharmaceutical industry in Tokyo until recently, when he realized he needed a life change.

“I have been always hoping to get involved in improving the food system [to be] more sustainable for earth, animals, health, farmers, consumers and so on. With that thought, I have landed on Salt Spring,” said Okamoto, who has found a new direction working at the Salt Spring Abattoir.

It was during work at the abattoir that Okamoto realized chicken gizzards are a wasted by-product in the local market, although valued in Japanese cuisine. He also became impressed with the high quality of local meat, which he had all but given up due to his knowledge of industrial food production.

In July, Okamoto organized a tour of local meat-producing farms for Vancouver’s Tsuruta Yuki, the owner of the immensely popular restaurants Toshi and Shiro. Yuki, his family and the restaurant chefs visited four farmers and the abattoir.

“The tour provided a chance to experience the land. The meat produced here can be labelled ‘pasture-raised’ or ‘grass-fed.’ By standing on the land where the meat is produced, seeing what the animals eat, where they live with excellent care, it gave the labels a deeper meaning,” Okamoto said. “We also learned that these methods of farming are not only gentler on the environment than industrial agriculture but they also produce healthier, tastier meat.”

“My hope is that these tours will help farmers to increase their production in an economically and environmentally sustainable fashion,” Okamoto said. “Having delicious food with good stories will trigger people to be more conscious about their food system and recall their connection with nature.” Anyone who would like to be included in a future tour as a participant or as a farmer can contact Okamoto at 250-880-4616 or email ruheruhe@gmail.com.

For more on this story, see the Sept. 11, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

 

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