So, what is 'Good Food'?

About this week's cover story

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In part two of the series on this week's cover, we throw around the words "sustainable" and "good food" a lot, but what do they really mean? The series is based upon the fundamental premise that over the course of the past century, the food system in America had been profoundly reshaped by the forces of standardization, commoditization, and industrialization so that the quality of the very ingredients we eat are but a pale shadow of what they once were.

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When we say "sustainable food" or "good food," we mean the following:

• Food produced in ways that place a higher emphasis on the quality of the end product and its nutritive value than on price and yield

• Heritage breeds of animals and heirloom varieties of grains, fruits, and vegetables that were bred and developed for their flavor and eating characteristics instead of meeting the demands of an industrial food system for uniformity, high-yield, shelf-stability, and suitability to mechanical harvesting and processing.

• Food raised using farming and fishing practices that have a minimal negative impact on the environment, from soil conservation to water quality to the health of fishery stocks.

• Food raised by methods that emphasize animal welfare, including free-range grazing, natural diets similar to what the animals evolved to eat, and not using things like hormones and antibiotics to boost growth or prevent disease.

Fundamentally, the question we are attempting to answer is whether such food can scale. Will pasture-raised, heritage breed chickens and crisp spears of locally grown asparagus remain a luxury good for a few elites, the culinary equivalent of bespoke-tailored suits? Or, is there a viable middle ground out there, a practical way to make this sort of old-fashioned, high-quality food scale so that it is accessible to a much broader public?

To answer that question, this series examines each of the links in today's food production chain discussing how an increasing number of dedicated people are rethinking the way it works and trying to make it scale.

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