Political empowerment, social justice, and environmental resilience are increasingly upheld alongside flavor and quality as criteria of “good” foods. However, these criteria cannot be simply assessed through taste tests—one cannot determine from a bite of chocolate whether the cacao it contains was tended by child slaves in the Ivory Coast or fairtrade farmers in Ghana. In order to reinvent these global commodities, to rediscover the small farmers hidden behind bulk purchasing and corporate branding, consumers today increasingly rely on a variety of twenty-first-century tools, technologies, and labels. This article explores one of these instruments, questioning the relative merits of the product rating system provided by GoodGuide, an internet-based tool designed to help consumers with product research, and comparing it to the fairtrade labels that are more familiar to most coffee drinkers. GoodGuide’s greatest strength is how it assesses a product from crop to cup, capturing multiple and diverse factors within global supply chains. However, in comparison to fairtrade labeling, GoodGuide employs quantitative metrics and opaque rating criteria that inadequately capture the complexity of smallholder coffee production in places like Guatemala. It also fails to promote food citizenship in a meaningful way. One key part of reinventing foods is intentionally placing people at the heart of the provisioning system. Therefore, it is important to question the extent to which new tools and technologies for assessing the relative “goodness” of foods promote food citizenship and food-related behaviors that support, rather than threaten, the development of a democratic, economically just, and environmentally sustainable food system.
The GoodGuide to “Good” Coffee
Sarah Lyon is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets (University Press of Colorado, 2011) and the co-editor of Fair Trade and Social Justice: Global Ethnographies (NYU Press, 2010). In addition to her ongoing research on coffee, fairtrade-organic production, and the gendered dimensions of economic development in southern Mexico, she investigates the fairtrade movement and ethical consumption in the United States.
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Sarah Lyon; The GoodGuide to “Good” Coffee. Gastronomica 1 November 2014; 14 (4): 60–68. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2014.14.4.60
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