Perhaps the most straightforward of the research spectrums, Distribution assesses how far a food product and its component ingredients must travel to reach the consumer.
For research purposes, HowGood divides the United States into 14 regions that reflect historic regional foodsheds. We reward products whose major ingredients are grown, processed, and distributed within the same region. Minimizing the distance food has to travel has the obvious benefit of reducing the energy cost and carbon footprint of that product if other aspects of production are equal. But even more importantly, closing the gap between the grower and the customer base increases accountability enormously, making more direct the relationship between the farmer, the maker, and the eater.
Consider the impact of a bottle of maple syrup sold locally at a food co-op as compared to a generic bag of white sugar sold in a chain retail store. The first is cultivated, processed, and packaged by a small team, all within a 100-mile radius; while the second is made with commodity sugarcane, from an unspecified long-distance origin, grown under indeterminate labor conditions. The vast distance the sugar must travel makes oversight more difficult and minimizes social controls over environmental and employment practices. In contrast, the consumer’s direct link to the farmers producing the maple syrup means that not only do both parties have increased connectedness and accountability, but also that the money spent is invested back into the local community, creating regional prosperity and employment opportunities.
From a socioeconomic perspective, regional supply systems support diverse foodsheds and increase food stability globally. If every region grew a large variety of staple foods and produced a significant percent of its own calories, the whole country would have markedly increased resilience in the face of large scale, high impact events, such as blights, pest plagues, major weather events, political uprisings, economic recessions, etc. Also, though it holds no bearing on the rating, when growers are not shipping their produce cross-country in crates to be sold in several weeks or months, they can select varieties for flavor and nutritional value, rather than bruise resistance and delayed ripening.
Though products with exotic ingredients like coffee and chocolate can never score well on the Distribution spectrum, they can still earn a positive HowGood rating if they demonstrate that they meet our standards in other areas. These are not inherently bad foods, but their international origin does increase the likelihood of ecological issues, labor abuses, and other adverse conditions resulting from a lack of oversight afforded by diffuse globalized supply.
Products are assessed on this spectrum relative to the location of the shopper. Therefore a product will score higher when sold within its region of production. Many food products score well on the Distribution spectrum as the United States is a highly productive country, with significant agriculture and food processing occurring in every region.