From a chef’s perspective, the ‘humane table’ has never been better

Chef Ken Frank, the owner and executive chef of La Toque.

Chef Ken Frank, the owner and executive chef of La Toque.

As families across the country prepare for their Thanksgiving feasts, American Humane Association went to Capitol Hill on Thursday November 19 with famed chefs, farmers, and leaders in the food industry who have committed to humane practices to take part in a Congressional Briefing on “The Humane Heartland.” Hosted by the Congressional Humane Bond Caucus, the briefing outlined advances in human agriculture, called on the American public to support humane farming practices, and celebrated the farmers and ranchers who work to feed the world and raise their animals right.

Chef Ken Frank, the owner and executive chef of the Michelin-starred La Toque in Napa Valley was one of the featured speakers, and here now are his remarks from the event with a message about the important role chefs play in humane farming:

“First off, I would like to thank all of you for coming here tonight to learn about what we’re doing on an issue that is dear to my heart. Thanksgiving is a unique American holiday and the perfect time to reflect on the state of the American table. From a chef’s perspective, the table has never been better.

American farmers are producing an incredible array of local, seasonal and responsible foods and American chefs are embracing them as never before. Granted, it’s easy for a fancy chef from Northern California to do the right thing, but the goodness is spreading into our supermarkets and local communities as well.

For the last many decades Big Food has dominated the center of the Supermarket. On the one hand we enjoy a safer and cheaper food supply than ever, but it has come at a price. A highly processed preserved food chain has not been good for our health. And the race to the bottom has not always been good for the animals we eat either.

It is encouraging to see shoppers today spending time around the edges of the supermarket where the fresh food is. Americans are re-connecting with farmers, and learning about where their food comes from. They are looking for fresh, healthy, responsible food choices to feed their families. Americans are watching food television, Chefs are TV stars and we’re teaching a new generation the importance of cooking delicious healthy meals at home. It’s trendy, and that’s great.

As a chef, the single most important thing I do is make good choices. You won’t end up with the best if you don’t start with the best. My recipe for success is to work with our network of farmers to source the finest ingredients for my team to work with. That means foods in season, that have hopefully not travelled too far, and have been raised with care.

I have farming in my blood. I still have fond memories of visiting the family dairy with my grandfather when I was a child. We all treasure the stories he used to tell of life growing up on the farm over 100 years ago and pass them on from generation to generation.

For farmers, animal welfare is not an abstract moral issue, it is a necessity for economic survival. The farmers I work with today share his love of what they do. They truly care for and honor the animals they raise. It costs a little bit more to do the right thing, but it is no coincidence that those who make humane treatment a priority invariably have the highest quality products.

American consumers now have humane choices available across the spectrum of animal products in our diet, from cage free eggs, to pork, veal, lamb, poultry and dairy items. They vote with their wallets every time they go to the store and there is a strong trend showing they care to make a Humane Choice, even when it costs a little more.

Many so called Animal Advocacy groups are really a front for a meatless vegetarian agenda. They cannot win an honest argument. They resort to propaganda that is graphic and hard to watch, but fundamentally dishonest as it presents rare exceptions as the rule. Sadly, this extreme ideological agenda blinds them to reality. Unable to accept that animals can be raised humanely for food, they are unable to make a meaningful difference.

That is why I’m working with the American Humane Association on The Humane Heartland. In my mind, it is the best independent, third-party humane farm animal welfare certification and audit program. It provides a moderate, mainstream voice and works positively and collaboratively with farmers, ranchers and animal advocates as to create solutions that work for animals and people. It’s a big deal.

The Humane Heartland program now covers more farm animals than any other program. Americans have always celebrated the freedom to make up their own minds on a wide range of issues, not least what they choose to feed their families. For many, animal protein is a staple in their diet. I am proud this Thanksgiving that we will have such good choices available to us as we celebrate together around the table with our families and friends.”

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