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Event Wed Mar 19 2014
The Good Food Festival & Conference (GFFC) resembles a Whole Foods carnival, where instead of funnel cake and decrepit rides, you enjoy organic kale smoothies and baby chicken exhibits. It's a place where vegetarians are the majority, where people drop words like gluten-free, heirloom, and artisan into casual conversation. This multi-day event is organized by FamilyFarmed.org, which aims to "expand the production and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food in order to enhance the social, economic, and environmental health of our communities."
Despite my utter respect for FamilyFarmed.org, I'm somewhat ambivalent towards the concept of Good Food, defined as "delicious, healthy food produced as close to home as possible, by family farmers and producers that use sustainable, humane, and fair practices." While its inherent principles merit recognition, the movement's culture is elitist and annoyingly partisan.
When I asked one exhibitor why her products were gluten-free, she explained that scientists in the 1980s modified wheat, rye, and barley so that "regular" gluten became "super-gluten." Nodding expertly, she confidently declared that consuming gluten caused arthritis and inflammation and that Dr. Oz said gluten would cause the world's biggest epidemic. Wincing internally, I nodded politely and thought about smearing butter onto warm baguettes.
Although the GFFC generally showcases amazing farmers, chefs, industry experts, and food vendors, some aspects of the movement feel more like an arduous moral exercise than a constructive philosophy. "Conventional" foods always leave a guilty aftertaste, with traces of pesticides and labor malpractice to finish the palate. But if I eat non-GMO organic tofu and non-homogenized yogurt from a local dairy farm, I'm a good person right? I spend more time avoiding foods than I do enjoying them, and I eat to satiate both my stomach and conscience. It feels like religion without the promise of eternal afterlife. And when ideology (as opposed to impartial science) fuels environmental policy, legislation, and business choices, the consequences are just as dangerous as antibiotics or soil erosion.
Everyone deserves Good Food, but the movement's culture doesn't always appeal to average Americans. Labels like gluten-free and non-GMO carry a restrictive connotation, and wholesome foods from local sources are often expensive and inconvenient. Michael Pollan, everyone's favorite foodie intellectual, once said, "Not everyone can afford to eat high-quality food in American, and that is shameful; however, those of us who can, should." But I also believe that it's our mission to extend this privilege to others, to "normalize" Good Food into a basic necessity that everyone needs and can afford. Good Food should be fun and accessible for not only a four-person family from Wilmette, but also a single mother in Southside Chicago. I realize that goal implicates a whole slew of socioeconomic and cultural variables, but reducing the exclusivity and over-zealous aspects of Good Food culture may benefit the overall movement.