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Event Wed Mar 19 2014

Good Food Culture isn't So Good

dsc_3332.jpgThe 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.

dsc_3297.jpgWhen 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.

dsc_3311.jpgEveryone 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.

 
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Monica Eng / March 19, 2014 1:54 PM

Judy I think you have some good points but I don't think zealous promotion of sustainable food is at odds with trying to make it more accessible. I've attended many panels at the GFF aimed precisely at policy, grass roots and commercial efforts to do just that.

Bill / March 20, 2014 1:39 PM

Elitism and feeling like you are committed to something that others just aren't able to appreciate is a lot of the appeal of "foodie-ism". It's a way of saying "I'm more enlightened" or "my body is just more in tune with what I eat." Deep down I don't think many proponents of this type of food production really want it to go mainstream.

Christy / March 22, 2014 9:31 AM

What often bothers me about the conversation regarding food-systems in underserved communities is they rarely involve the communities themselves. There are some well-intentioned people trying to affect change, but there are others - distanced by intellectual posturing or moral finger-wagging - who feel they know best and pursue shortsighted and colonizing approaches to improved food delivery. (Nothing makes me crazier than the move to convert empty lots to community gardens in disinvested neighborhoods. This isn't an if-you-build-it-they-will-come scenario. Far more heavy lifting and resource development is essential to create a local food system that's by, for, and about the people).

If you asked most residents of low-income communities what they want for improved quality of life, it likely wouldn't be non-GMO food. It would be a job offering a living wage. So guess what? If municipalities and think-tanks want to foster true connections between healthy food and struggling families, find a way to create meaningful workforce opportunities out of urban ag and food security.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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