October 4, 2011

Good Food Awards. ~ Merissa Nathan Gerson

Local is better. Food should be gorgeous. Everyone deserves to eat well.

At a recent food conference in Davis, California I listened to a woman lament the organic movement. She asked, “What, exactly, do you do for non-elitist people?” This was the same type of question raised as I solicited entries for the Good Food Awards, happening in San Francisco this January (the 13th and 14th).

I called small artisan cheese makers, independent breweries, distilleries, charcuterie makers and coffee roasters asking if they wanted to participate in this year’s food awards. “William Sonoma and Whole Foods are our partners,” I explained, “and they are aiming to stock and promote many of the winners.”

At this point in the pitch many a cheese-maker would lament, “I don’t have enough cheese for a national franchise to carry my product,” or a brewery, “We haven’t even made our first brew yet.” A few people had a whole diatribe against the corporate food world and launched right into it. “Is it not a contradiction? I don’t want to participate anymore in something that goes against its own values by making things corporate.”

Oh, woe be the cheese makers, the beer brewers, the liquor distillers. Not quite. Last year’s pickles and preserves winner from Ohio, Ann’s Raspberry Farm was honored by the Ohio House of Representatives for the attention garnered by her Brussels Sprout Relish and Jalapeno Raspberry Jam.

Another handful of very happy producers, winners of last year’s Good Food Awards, are canceling trips and postponing vacations to take part in the Good Food Awards road show activities in New York and Austin.

In fact, the Good Food Awards, corporate sponsorship or not, works to raise industry standards for smaller food manufacturers.

What this means is that, with efforts like this that applaud and promote small producers, the standards for production raise nationally at the same time as the demand for such products go up. With efforts like the Good Food Awards, local products are suddenly coveted, and on receipt, are actually up to gourmet industry par. This is good for everyone.

The Good Food Awards are in their second year, founded by a woman named Sarah Weiner who got her start at Slow Food in Italy and as Alice Waters’ assistant at Chez Panisse. She has since built grassroots walls around her own food universe, one that hinges on Alice Waters’ high standards. Local is better. Food should be gorgeous. Everyone deserves to eat well.

Sarah, a foodie vagabond who trained her palate in Italy, oscillates between D.C. and San Francisco heading her own organization called Seedling Projects. It works to raise food industry standards and bring attention to small artisanal food producers. The Good Food Awards is her baby, and it is growing up.

This year there are 926 entries from producers nationwide as well as 125 judges who include Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, Clark Wolf, Margo True, Alice Medrich, and Amaryll Schwertner. This is Weiner’s arsenal: big names, big companies, small producers. It is a steady lift to the lower canopy by engaging the very people that defined the food world that then provoked 926 devotees to food craft and sustainability.

Inside the Good Food Awards world is also an emerging network between previously disconnected groups of craft food producers. The website, the events, the tasting itself, all serve to unify a world of individuals who are laboring at the methodical details of local and sustainable fine-food production.

A great inter-category connections example: Peter Giuliano, the president of the Specialty Coffee Association of America offered to talk with the chocolate committee about the benefits of growing beans organically. Two bean producers, one standard, and big changes to small industry.

Working for the project meant being part of a small team of people that love the earth, love good food, and love community. Weiner’s crew is well known for being “so nice” and they are a group of Cum Laude brainiacs turned food devotees.

We spent the summer working in a tree house in Berkeley, laying out on a rooftop overlooking the bay as we called over 1000 small food producers. Lunch was homemade rustic bread, local butter, and a lamb that Sarah Weiner had roasted “for fun” the night before. It was a simple apricot tart, her grandmother’s blueberry cake, and one day, a rare Indian feast.

We lived the tastes she was working to promote, and attempted to carry out the mission in everything we did as a collective. After all, in a tree house in Berkeley, California it is hard to avoid good taste and environmental sustainability.

The team is working now at setting up the Seedling Projects office in downtown San Francisco, and pounding out the elegant details that will embody the Good Food Award’s blind tasting in October and public Marketplace on January 14th.

Last year’s winners, this year’s potentials, and a rack of foodies will be eating well at the tasting so that we can eat well too, and locally no less, in the years to come.




Merissa Nathan Gerson is a freelance writer with a penchant for religion and fine food.  She holds an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School and presently lives and learns in Berkeley, CA where she is earning another Master’s and teaching fourth and fifth grade.  Merissa received her yoga teacher certification in June from the Sivananda lineage.


Check out the Good Food Awards at GoodFoodAwards.org for fine local products near you.

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