This time of year, you’d be hard pressed to get me out of bed before sunrise on a chilly Saturday morning. Unless, of course, there’s an incentive, like a major shoe sale… or a perhaps a fest of award-winning food. This past Saturday it was The Good Food Awards Marketplace that had me up before dawn, under-caffeinated, and in the car heading up US 101 to San Francisco’s Ferry Building. For me, the event is a kickoff to a new year of food and drink and an opportunity to taste some of the best handcrafted deliciousness in the US without leaving the Bay Area. (Need a review of last year’s GFA Marketplace adventure? Clicky to read Part Un and Part Deux.)
If you’re not familiar with the Good Food Awards, here’s a short summary from their website:
“The Good Food Awards celebrate the kind of food we all want to eat: tasty, authentic and responsibly produced. We grant awards to outstanding American food producers and the farmers who provide their ingredients.”
Note that the awards go to the food and beverage producers and those providing the ingredients! It’s not just the craft and end product that receive recognition, but also the ingredient producers. An award that celebrates the value and importance of a sustainable food system, including the relationship between producer and farmer? Yes, indeed! Because, really, isn’t that what good food is all about — marrying delicious, fresh, sustainable ingredients with the art and skill of food making?
Awards are given in 11 categories: beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, confections, pickles, preserve, spirits, oil, and honey. There’s no single winner in each category, rather there are multiple award winners representing five regions throughout the country: Central, East, North, South, and West.
The Marketplace event gives the public a unique opportunity to meet producers and taste the winning products. Hosted by CUESA and The San Francisco Ferry Building, the tasting event, which ran concurrently with the Saturday farmers’ market, was set up around the outside of the Ferry Building and along the driveway. (Two other Good Food events — the awards ceremony gala and Good Food Mercantile “un-trade show” — were held at other San Francisco locations on January 8th and 9th, respectively.)
More than just a tasting event, the Marketplace is an opportunity for Bay Area food lovers, trendspotters, and food and beverage crafters to connect with the people who are making good stuff all across the US. Where else might you meet a beekeeper from Pennsylvania, a chocolatier from an island off the coast of Maine, or jam maker from Oregon? Certainly the Bay Area was well represented among the winners, but this year I wanted to look beyond our local and regional foodcrafters, because good food happens everywhere. (While the focus of 650Food is my “local” — the San Francisco peninsula — I can’t encourage you enough to examine the food system in your neighborhood, town, and region.)
Equally as valuable and engaging as the products themselves are the stories about the creation of those products. Every foodcrafter has a story about how he or she was inspired to follow a passion, practice their craft, and create something delicious that is worthy of a Good Food Award. The story behind the food and its ingredients is, in fact, part of the product itself. As consumers and food lovers, those stories can become part of our food experience, too. And that goes a long way to providing support and broadening the community that is so essential to the growth of small food businesses.
What struck me as I tasted and chatted my way through this year’s market was the role that food plays in connecting us. At the GFA Marketplace, it’s certainly an easy conversation starter, but those conversations can lead to connections. A love of well-made and responsibly produced food, not to mention the experience of sharing that food, brings people together. I can’t say it enough times: talk to the people who make your food — whether you’re shopping your local farmer’s market or visiting a chocolate shop in St. Louis, MO. You never know what you might learn or how you might be connected.
For a roundup of products I’m crushing on from this year’s Good Food Awards Marketplace, not to mention interesting product stories and unexpected connections, click on over to Part Deux.