Real is the new-new food term that means, well, not much. Like natural, sustainable and, to some extent, even hallowed organic – it simply nods toward a porous value set. In a sector moving as fast as food, we may tell ourselves that’s all we can reasonably expect. Until now…
DC-based United States Healthful Food Council has succeeded in putting extensive metrics to what restaurants and food-service operators do behind the scenes to source, prepare, cook, and serve your food. Their seal is called REAL: Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership.
Another certification? This Examiner audibly groaned when the Healthful Food Council folks first reached out to share the story. But what I learned both delighted and excited.
Rather than reinvent the wheel (a hackneyed expression, but one we can’t retire because we constantly need it), the Healthful Food Council made its first step a call to neighbors right up the road: the United States Green Building Council.
“We wanted to learn everything we could from the market leaders in green building certification,” explained Healthful Food Council VP Alan Glazer. “They were tremendous guides to us, and ultimately, we mimicked LEED® and its flexible points-based model.”
Nothing excites this Examiner more than designs that can travel across sectors, silos and contexts. As Thomas Goetz wrote for Wired, “the best ideas – the ones with the most impact and longevity – are transferable; an innovation in one industry can be exported to transform another.”
Lest you suspect REAL may be just more fluff and food-washing, this Examiner reviewed the March 2013 draft of the REAL Index Guidebook and its rigorous back-of-house logistics. Index foci include:
- prominence of vegetables, fruits and whole grain in menu items
- local and regional sourcing
- origin and certification of meat and seafood
- healthful preparation and cooking methods (i.e. no unpronounceables in the pot)
- portion sizes
- behavioral components to encourage “better for you” choices
- presence of other relevant and vetted certifications (e.g. Slow Food, Green Restaurants)
Last month at Menus of Change here in Cambridge, USHFC announced that four Guckenheimer cafés “are the first contract food-service operations in the nation to achieve REAL certification.” One of these is the Blue Glass Café inside the John Hancock Building – so you can go check it out for yourself.
Who says we eaters must wait for Big Gov to feed us better fare? Faced with a Farm Bill that resembles a downer, we may find that win-win partnerships between savvy smart certifiers and food industry players who recognize which way the wind is blowing are our nearest term salvation.