What makes food “good”?
It may be taste. If you have a sweet tooth, maybe you’d consider a decadent layered chocolate cake with fluffy whipped frosting “good”. Or for the savory side, a bowl of soup that has a harmony of seasonings and flavors singing out. That sounds good.
Or based on presentation. They say we eat with our eyes, so the appearance of a plate could mean everything. Freshness is also key--does it look like it just came from the garden or was it forgotten on a counter at the back of the kitchen somewhere.
At Access of West Michigan, we appreciate a more specific definition than something that just tastes yummy and looks appetizing. And for good reason. In our effort to promote sustainable, wholistic solutions to poverty, the food we work toward is more than just a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
According to the Michigan Good Food Charter in 2010, which presents a vision for improving Michigan’s food system, “good” food has four requirements.
First and foremost, food that is good is food that is healthy. Which means those packages of frosted mini donuts probably won’t cut it. The charter states that healthy means the food “provides nourishment and enables people to thrive.” Healthy foods like ripe red strawberries, bushy stalks of deep green kale and whole grain oats provide essential nutrients to give energy and sustainability.
No, in this case green does not refer to money. Rather, the charter defines green as food that “was produced in a manner that is environmentally sustainable.” Biting into a crunchy Granny Smith means that the grower didn’t need to use harmful pesticides that hurt the earth, animals and humans. No obnoxious or harmful fumes were emitted into the air while washing potatoes. Good food is not only based on the food itself but protecting and preserving the environment in which it’s grown.
This has become a buzzword in today’s culture, referring to justice in the production of food from start to finish. Yet it’s a concept of the food system that is of high importance. The charter describes “fair” as “no one along the production line was exploited during its creation.” This element of criteria for good food ensures that those involved won’t get abused or taken advantage of in supporting both those who eat and those who grow or produce it.
Having food that is health, green and fair is so important. But what if people can’t even purchase or obtain it? Affordability means that no matter their income level, social status, age or gender, everyone should be able to have access to such food.
So why is this definition of “good food” important?
For our co-executive director Emma Garcia, it provides a path toward improving how food pantries serve their community.
Charitable food organizations, or those that distribute emergency food such as a pantry, don’t often find it easy to follow these guidelines. Emma says that when the charitable food system began, it was a fairly straightforward concept. “For the surplus of food, rather than it ending up in a landfill, give it to people who need it,” she said.
Yet a lot of the food that is produced in surplus and is often donated is unfortunately foods that don’t meet these four criteria for “good” food.
Through our Farm to Pantry program, we are working to make good food a reality for all by investing in our local food economy and partnering pantries with small West Michigan farms to better our community and practice good food values.
Doesn’t “good food” sound, well, GOOD? View the Michigan Good Food Charter here.