getting ready for the GFAs

The Good Food Awards are a little star on my calendar next week. I’m excited for two reasons: Good Food (and bevies) and a night out sans baby. I doubt Avery would dig the charcuterie plates. 

I did a little write up for Sprudge about the coffee portion of the GFA and judging, which you can read here (note, I didn’t attend judging as the article preface says, that’s a closed-door).

Here’s the thing, people get down on judges and judging. It’s never “the way” people want it to be and standardization makes people’s faces turn green. Everyone gets homogenized fears about homogenization.

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In my little world, writing and the arts, judging is this strange thing we touch with a stick. In my poetics class last quarter my students commented on poems by saying, “It’s not my place to judge this” or prefaced comments with, “I don’t like to judge other people’s work, but…”. We talked about this less than I’d like to. Ideally, I’d like an introductory poetry class to be about assessment, critique, and how we talk about poetry. This was not that class. This was the “get comfy writing” poetry class where we dabbled in how to talk about and read poems, but focused on how to get words on the page. When we talked about it there was a lot of “art can’t be judged” input and the word subjective was thrown about the room. It stuck. It stuck too much.

I get it. And, I don’t.

When I make something, I expect it to be judged. Actually, I want it to be judged. I want it to roll around in someone’s ear, head, and stomach; to leave little snail trails or make a cobweb inside of them. I know—or maybe I believe—judgement and critique is part of the work. The reader and the experience enlarges the work and, if the feedback is heard, changes and develops the work. That whole reciporcal thing is important to me. 

Bottom line, my material is language. Language will gather more language. I’m not sure everyone will be able to relate to my language, to the particular way I assembled or navigated that language, but the judgement isn’t about “relating” to poetry, it’s about judging it for how it is working. Sometimes language works and sometimes it doesn’t right? We’re quick to judge and assess how Obama is using (even innovating) words and we know that rhetoric and fields (especially in politics) “shapes” the way we think/react, so it seems pretty easy to see how poetry can be critiqued. Not as “right” or “wrong,” but for what it does with language; how it uses language to do something. There should be doing, even if it’s just trying to find the way to say something.

What’s  harder, I think, is “who” gets to judge. If poetry is for the people, if readership is democratic, how do we get that audience? And how do the judging panels and “elite” communities work toward the goal of enlarging and inviting readership? I don’t have answers for that, but I see that issue – the who of it all – as way more deep than “why” and “how” do we judge. 

For the GFAs, judging has this same problem. The food, bevies, and the practices of making (including the way the ingredients are grown and processed) are improved by having to meet a higher standard. This year, that standard included sustainability. I’d rather we have this standard because it improves the work, the working conditions, and the product. Who doesn’t want to preserve and conserve the environment? I don’t have any issue with there being standards, assessment, and judging that better things.

This isn’t homogenization, this is innovation. 

I do, and the article doesn’t cover this, wonder about the democracy/participation question. The cost of tickets is high. Who is experiencing the GFAs? Are we truly reaching the population? Is part of sustainability not just the growing practices, but inviting people/consumers to the product? 

I would have liked to spend more time with Geoff Watts and his value that the product, the coffee products, are available for consumption. This is different from most coffee competitions and it’s important. I want to pick his brain about that…hear me Watts, I’m coming to pick your brain (and I haven’t cut my nails in weeks). 

When Jesse started working for Verve, he told me about how most coffee farmers don’t get to taste the final product. They don’t always get to taste the cup of coffee that coffee plant, their crop, goes into. It really turned a switch in my mind: All that work, all the value of that work, and no experience or product? 

If we want to escape the monoliths of Monsanto and Purdue, if we want to encourage small batch and well crafted food that is “good” in many ways, don’t we also want to destabilize the traditions that have encouraged these food-powers? The best destabilization seems to be inviting more acts of stewardship that are not just environmentally sustainable but are also sustainable in terms of the people. Are the people involved earning a living wage? Are the people cared for and treated well? Are all elements of the product traced so that the people are accounted for? 

I don’t have the answer to this question and I’m not sure I know where the GFA and judges stand on accountability and sustainability that attends to the people, but it’s on my mind. It’s coming to the front of my mind. 

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