The Good Food 100 2017

It’s a Matter of Character

By Amanda Faison and Andra Zeppelin

“Character counts,” said Jeff Tripician, general manager of Niman Ranch, during the
company’s 20th Hog Farmer Appreciation Weekend in August in Des Moines, Iowa. “What are you going to do in that moment of challenge?” he asked an audience of
chefs, restaurateurs, retailers, distributors, sales people, and the farmers themselves,
but he may as well have been speaking to all Americans. Character—that moral
compass and gut-check—impacts all food-related decisions whether you’re choosing
what’s right for your hogs, standing in front of the meat counter, or selecting a
restaurant in which to eat.

Over the course of five decades, Niman Ranch has made character a central piece of
hog-raising, and during the September weekend of tours and talks, the company featured
speakers that touched on the ways in which integrity impacts our food system as a

The takeaway is that an informed and caring consumer is essential to the health of the
system. Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley, who galvanized a national
conversation about the lack of integrity on restaurant menus, advocated for more consumer awareness. The simple point of her Pulitzer Prize-nominated story Farm to Fable is that if you eat out, you are being lied to. All those chalkboards and printed menus listing local farmers and
producers? They are often out of date, if not myth. It’s a mass of informed
consumers—the ones who care enough to ask the uncomfortable questions and makes
dining decisions based on the answers—who will bring about the seismic shift. “Change
[in the food industry] is going to come from us, from the bottom up, forcing eventually
policy-makers to also make changes,” shared Fred Kirschenmann, president of the
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and distinguished fellow for the Leopold

Perhaps most impactful message was the speech by John Ikerd, scholar, agricultural
economist, and author of several books including Small Farms Are Real Farms, who
candidly spoke about his industry about-face. “[In the 70s] I was the one promoting
industrial agriculture. I told farmers that farms had to be a business not a way of life,
that farmers had to get big or get out,” he told the crowd. “And we saw the
consequences of that.” His point: It’s never too late to start caring, it’s never too late to

“In many ways,” says Sara Brito, co-founder and president of the Good Food Media
Network, “this is what the Good Food 100 Restaurant List is really about. It will take the
collective action of everyone—farmers, chefs, and eaters—to change the food system
for good. We have to care with our dollars and we have to care with our forks.”