Words like “farm-to-table,” “seasonal” and “locally sourced” are on so many restaurant menus these days, but with a lack of regulation around these terms there’s no telling what they actually mean. As the food industry moves toward increased transparency and sustainability (a trend that’s in no small part driven by consumer demand), the Good Food 100 Restaurants list and economic report is shedding light on restaurant purchasing practices and the impact of these dollars spent on “good” food purchases.
First, some definitions. “Good food” (for the purposes of businesses reporting their purchases) is defined in different ways depending on the category of food. For bread, flour, grains, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables, good food is “produced using certified organic and/or sustainable agricultural practices.” For dairy, eggs, meat and poultry, good food is “raised without the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics or added hormones; no cages or confinement.” Fish and seafood is “wild and sustainably farmed,” and includes fish and seafood on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s green and yellow Seafood Watch list.
The Good Food 100 Restaurants initiative is in its third year, and is currently collecting data for its 2019 list and report. Each year, restaurants (from fine dining to fast-casual) are encouraged to fill out an application and share information on their purchasing practices. There is no cost to apply, and the restaurants that exhibit a commitment to supporting the good food economy are recognized on the list. “The annual list and corresponding economic report is designed to educate eaters and celebrate restaurants who are using their purchasing power to honor and support every link in the food chain and change the food system for good,” the report reads.
The 2018 Good Food 100 Restaurants list (which is searchable by restaurant, state, city, category and rating) includes 125 chefs and restaurants, 23 states and all eight U.S. regions. The corresponding economic report written by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder noted that “good food” had a $255 million economic impact in the U.S. “Domestic good food purchases totaled an estimated $80.1 million in direct purchases, resulting in economic benefits of $255 million (including direct, indirect and induced impacts),” the report read.
Sara Brito, co-founder and president of Good Food Media Network (the nonprofit that produces and publishes the Good Food 100 Restaurants list and report), explained that when you buy something from a good food producer, each dollar you spend has about three times the economic impact when you factor in the fact that the producer has to spend money to make their product, whether that’s buying feed for their animals or hiring people to help them on their farm, who in turn rent apartments or houses in the area. In short, where you choose to spend your money has ripple effects on other aspects of the economy.
“If you knew you were having three times the impact, which food system do you want to be having that big of an impact on, the one that you’re trying to change, or the one that you’re trying to move towards?” said Brito.
Brito hopes to see the list grow in the coming years, and one day have 100 restaurants in each business category (fine dining, specialty grocers, catering companies, etc.). The data collected from participating businesses each year may also be used at workshops or conferences to help educate chefs on how they can expand their good food purchases. Additionally, the producer data may one day turn into an online directory for chefs to use as a resource when looking for new vendors and producers to work with.
“Good food means caring and knowledge about where your food comes from, [and] how your choices in sourcing impact [the] environment, sustainability, culture, guest, and [the] end result on the plate,” said Alex Seidel, executive chef and proprietor of Fruition Restaurant, Mercantile Dining and more.