In the context of food, the word quality is often used as a vague term. One person might use the word when referring to nutrient density while another really means fresh from the farm. But what does quality really mean? Let’s break it down.
Food quality is usually defined by a combination of attributes. Here are a few that come to my mind:
Sustainably grown and harvested
Raw and unprocessed
Lacking pesticides, harmful chemicals or other additives
Fresh off the vine
Individually, all these characteristics mean something different. In a marketplace where offerings range from conventional, manufactured “fast” food to high-end, beyond organic “slow” food, it’s important to define your own quality standard and what you’re willing to pay for it. It would be great if we all had unlimited means to support the farmers and food companies that are passionately offering us better food choices. But the reality is that most of us must consider price as an important decision-making factor when we shop.
I had a roommate in college who always bought the most expensive product on the shelf when we were grocery shopping. Her rationale was that if it costs more, it must be higher quality. I admired her standard but knew that it couldn’t be that simple, and I certainly couldn’t afford to adopt such a high bar. I was raised in a family of humble means and was trained to always buy the cheapest product on the shelf. I began to think more critically about what I was getting for my money.
Over the last few years I’ve been motivated to do a considerable amount of research on the role of diet in health. This has led to learning more about our food supply and all of the costs and consequences associated with the agribusiness model. I’m convinced that quality does matter, but I’m still defining what my quality standard is and how much of it I can afford. I’m learning about gardening by participating in a community garden, most of my diet is coming from lower down the food chain and I’m shopping around more to see what products and prices are available. I feel far more aware now than when I started, but will always be learning.
So, I’m curious. What is your quality standard and what are you paying for it?