“The food industry stopped at taste for too long,” says Sara Brito, co-founder and president of the Good Food Media Network. She believes that every bite of food is a product of an interconnected system: While taste is important, the land, plants and animals, farmers and fishermen, purveyors, chefs and restaurant workers must also be compensated and considered.
Brito hopes to support this shift in perspective through the nonprofit’s annual Good Food 100 Restaurants List and Industry Impact Report. The 2020 list, released on September 21, seeks to make the purchasing practices of participating chefs and restaurants transparent and recognizes their commitment to buying good food and sourcing sustainably. This year, 131 restaurants from around the country participated, and 38 of them are located in Colorado. The list will be a platform for conversation during the Good Food Media Network’s virtual seminar series: Eat.Drink.Think.
“It’s really hard to live by your ideals as a chef,” Brito explains, pointing to how COVID-19 has demonstrated just how tight restaurant margins are. Those that “maintain that dedication, both in terms of time and money...[deserve] recognition.”
In contrast, in early 2016, about a year before Brito launched her organization, she read a story in the Tampa Bay Times that articulated a problem she’d come to know in the industry: Some restaurants and chefs falsely advertise by saying they support local, sustainable, organic businesses when they don’t — or when they only do part of the time. Greenwashing, as it’s known, frustrates many chefs who are trying to commit to completely sustainable practices.
The Good Food 100 Restaurants List is an analysis of participating restaurants’ self-reported annual food-purchasing data conducted by the Business Research Division (BRD) of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, and verified by NSF International. The list analyzes where restaurants get their food and demonstrates their accountability to eaters. “In this consumer-driven society, consumers have the power to vote with their forks and support restaurants that are trying to do the right thing,” Brito says.
“If the list gets people thinking more about where their food comes from, and it gets them to care more about who grows it and how it gets to their table, it’s one step in the right direction,” Brito continues.
Brito thinks it’s important to consider every link in the food chain while consuming food. The question shouldn’t only be whether a piece of produce is organic, but also whether the farm hands were treated well and properly compensated, she adds. The Good Food Media Network even includes a list of challenges that restaurant workers tend to have.
“It’s not just a bite of food,” Brito says. “No one link in the economy and food chain can truly be healthy until every link in the economy and food chain is healthy.”
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She also hopes this message will resonate with policymakers. The Good Food survey found that participating restaurants contributed a total of $264.5 million to the economy, with $208.2 million coming directly from good food purchases. Brito thinks this data can be used to help shape government relief deals, like the HEROES Act, because it clearly states restaurants’ economic contributions.
Brito believes that this ongoing conversation can help direct the money spent by restaurants and their guests to people in communities who are committed to sustainable practices that can nurture all involved.
To further the discussion, the Good Food Media Network will be hosting a continuation of its virtual seminar series Eat.Drink.Think. once a month this fall.
The first seminar will be at noon today — Wednesday, September 30 — and will discuss “The Economics of Good Food: An inside look at the 2020 Good Food 100 Restaurants List.” The event will feature panelists Katie Button of Cúrate in Asheville, North Carolina; Steve Cockroft of Croft Family Farm in Kersey; Brian Lewandowski, executive director of the Leeds School of Business's Business Research Division at the University of Colorado; and Erika Polmar, COO of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Register for the Zoom webinar here.