Alice Waters began pulling from California’s agriculturally rich soils to direct the menu at her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in the 1970s — giving rise to the farm-to-table movement. In recent years, this movement again gained steam and was a trend everyone embraced. Despite the overuse of the term in marketing, the movement had positive outcomes. Restaurants already sourcing fresh, local food were celebrated for doing so, and new restaurants followed suit. Although Tennessee does not have all of the agricultural benefits of California, chefs in the area began taking advantage of produce and ingredients that are readily available.
Now, after the movement had its five minutes of fame, “farm-to-table dining” is a phrase rarely heard anymore. But this doesn’t mean its lasting impact — and the age-old tradition of eating what is locally available — isn’t seen in restaurants and homes across the country (Nashville included). The appreciation for local and fresh returned, and continues to grow.
In our community, we have seen a resurgence in farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture (CSA). Farmers want relationships with the customers, and vice versa. Farmers’ markets, CSAs and local grocers are three ways you are likely to get easy access to local, fresh ingredients, but let us introduce you to a fourth: MEEL. The difference? MEEL is a meal delivery service with recipes that guide you on how to use local ingredients. “I always noticed people at the market lost on where to begin and how to cook with not-so-ordinary goods,” MEEL Founder Marti Emch shares. She alleviates this issue by sharing recipe cards and ingredients for meals that serve 2-4 people.
“We are bringing a slow food philosophy to meal kits, without sacrificing convenience,” Marti explains. “It’s like the pendulum swung away from the farm to mechanized, agro-business on a global scale and our health suffered — in the body, the community and the globe, and now it’s swinging back, on a smaller scale, and MEEL is helping make it accessible.”
“We want the experience to be beautiful, and we work hard making it all beautiful — from the way we package the crates, to the recipe cards, to the bundles of herbs tied together with twine. One customer described that getting her crate each week was like Christmas — she was excited to see what wonderful surprise was wrapped inside,” shares Marti. “We want to help create an authentic, beautiful experience with each delivery, not just a box of food. Although it is about the food, it’s also not about the food. It is about the experience.”
Below are the three ways MEEL is so different from other meal delivery services, including Blue Apron.
You don’t know exactly what you are going to get.
A MEEL kit includes ingredients and recipes for two meals. One meal includes sustainably sourced meat or fish, and the second meal is a plant-based vegetarian dish (with the option for a carnivore add-on). You might be familiar with other meal kit services that tell you exactly what is on the menu. Here is where MEEL stands out. At MEEL, the menu is created around local ingredients. Similar to a CSA, ingredients are chosen from what is seasonally available. Admittedly, I was a bit tepid when ordering my first MEEL kit. As a young single lady, I cook all of my meals or order exactly what I want from a restaurant — meaning no surprises, and I can be as picky as I like.
Pleasantly surprised to receive the makings of dukkah-crusted rockfish with quinoa tabbouleh, my mood changed. Not one to eat much protein or cook much fish, I welcomed the deviation from my regularly scheduled meals. What I once thought of as a negative quickly made MEEL more attractive. I didn’t have to execute any thought, was given the opportunity to fall in love with rockfish and added a new recipe to my collection.
Similar to a visit to the farmers’ market or picking up a CSA box, you might be excited to find a new ingredient or disappointed that an item on your list isn’t available — and then you adapt. “The meals are diverse and focus around creative eating,” Marti tells us. “I keep the ingredient list as simple as possible, and most meals take about 45 minutes or less [to make]. I want to help people reap the benefits of local bounty in the form of fresh, creative meals.” Let yourself be surprised.
It is local and, therefore, sustainable.
Let’s expand on the benefit of local. Local ingredients direct the recipes, and the company’s mission to stay local benefits the entire community. “My vision for MEEL started as a vision to help connect people — to the community, the farmers and farms, their families and their food,” Marti shares. “I have a personal relationship with most of the farmers.” MEEL is bringing food that is organic and grown and raised locally from the farm to your front door. “Eating local is sustainable due to the lack of significant transport involved in getting the food to your table. Vegetables are allowed to ripen on the vine (thus providing better nutrition) instead of being harvested early and forced to ripen in the back of a semi truck traveling cross-country,” Marti explains. “In contrast to the ‘big box’ meal kits, our customers don’t have to dispose of a cardboard box and heap of plastic. With MEEL, everything comes fairly raw in glass jars, compostable bags and reusable crates. Plus, there is the benefit and boost that eating local provides to our local economy (and community).”
Last week’s MEEL kit came with ingredients from Barefoot Farmer, Fresh and Local, Hopewell Gardens, Lupine & Poppies, Old School Farm, Pond Creek Gardens, Village Bakery + Provisions and Virgin Bay Seafood. Although sourced from various farmers, the produce, meats and vegetables are always organic. “We started sourcing from Hill and Hollow Farm in southern Kentucky,” Marti explains. “I subscribed to their CSA for a long time, and I initially thought to source all ingredients from them, but quickly found that it would be very difficult for one small farm to fulfill our constantly evolving needs, so I have decided to share the love.”
The marketplace allows you to customize.
While you might not be able to pick your meal for the week, you can choose items from MEEL’s marketplace. With hand-picked items from local makers and farmers, the marketplace allows you to add breads and pastries, coffee and tea, gifts and pantry items to your order. In the marketplace you are likely to find items from Honest Coffee Roasters, Short Mountain Cultures, Virgin Bay Seafood, Haulin’ Oats, Firepot Nomadic Teas, Wise Butter, Projet Chocolat and Noble Springs Dairy, plus farm fresh eggs and house-made granola.
In addition to the market and pantry items, you will find dinner components that can be delivered alongside your MEEL kits on Mondays and Tuesdays. Currently in the marketplace, you will find meatballs and marinara, which can be paired with pasta or polenta; a bratwurst bundle that includes locally made sausages, hoagie rolls, local farm kraut and a Smith & Lentz beer mustard; and a kids’ MEEL for the picky eaters.
The marketplace allows you to customize your order while supporting the mission of sustaining the creative community of local food artisans and farmers.
How to order:
All orders must be placed by 5 p.m. on Wednesday for delivery the following week. The crates are delivered on Mondays (to 12South, Belmont, WEHO, Green Hills, Belle Meade, West Meade, Bellevue, Sylvan Park, Hillsboro-West End and Forest Hills) and Tuesdays (to the Nations, Germantown, Salemtown, East Nashville, Downtown and Donelson). Brentwood/Franklin locations require a $5 delivery fee and are delivered on Mondays and Tuesdays. You will receive a text when the crate is delivered, and although it is recommended that you unpack your crate immediately, perishable items are stored in an insulated bag that will preserve ingredients for two hours.
MEEL can accommodate gluten-free eaters and other simple dietary restrictions.
Try a one-week trial for $68 or order a monthly subscription (four meals that do not have to be delivered for consecutive weeks) for $240.
Visit the store page for more information on subscriptions and deliveries!
“This is a simple, basic approach to food. In our country, this movement gained popularity with Alice Waters in the ’70s, but really it started a long time ago. This is how people have eaten since the beginning of time — eating what grows and thrives around you. It is a fundamental way of existing and nourishing our bodies — the way of our ancestors. A farm-to-front door philosophy makes it quite easy to reclaim the nutritional benefits of real food,” Marti says.
To learn more about MEEL or try it for yourself, visit localmeel.com.
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