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19 Organizations and Initiatives Winning in the Food Movement

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19 Organizations and Initiatives Winning in the Food Movement
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By Jared Kaufman

On November 1st and 2nd, more than 80 food activists, farmers, policymakers, performers, journalists, researchers, business leaders, chefs and others will gather in New York City for the 3rd Annual Food Tank NYC Summit and Gala Dinner. This year, we're focusing around the theme of "The Food Movement Is Growing (and Winning)!" The hard work that food system advocates do every day is making a difference, and we're highlighting the small victories and major achievements that are building a more equitable and environmentally sustainable food system.


Food Tank is featuring 19 nonprofits, companies, and inspiring initiatives that will be represented at our summit and are doing important work to push the food system forward.

1. Africa Farmers Club

A community of farmers across 18 African countries, the Africa Farmers Club aims to bring agricultural workers together from the private sector, the public sector, and farmer organizations to share stories, successes, and knowledge. The Africa Farmers Club believes that "an informed farmer will always make the right decision, which will have a ripple effect in the whole value chain," so they aim to promote entrepreneurship and networking to help farmers use resources as efficiently as possible.

2. Apeel

A natural postharvest protection for produce, Apeel is an invisible, edible, and tasteless coating. By acting as a barrier-like skin to protect fruits and vegetables from oxidation and microbial activity, keeping it fresh for longer and reducing food waste between harvest and consumption. Apeel Sciences was founded by Dr. James Rogers, who invented the technology while completing his doctoral degree in materials sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

3. Co-Op Dayton

Co-Op Dayton is a nonprofit that encourages businesses in Dayton, Ohio, and more broadly to adopt a cooperative model of worker ownership. Cooperative companies are owned by their employees, who are elected to the company's board of directors and participate in open-book financial management. Co-Op Dayton provides resources and services to businesses adopting a cooperative model, to encourage the development of more resilient, community-oriented co-op companies.

4. Farmer’s Fridge

Farmer's Fridge, launched in 2013, installs refrigerators full of fresh salads, sandwiches, breakfasts, and snacks in cities from Chicago to Milwaukee and Indianapolis. Farmer's Fridge is looking to make it easier for people to access healthy food options, wherever they are, at any time of day. And instead of expiration dates, food in the fridges is marked with a "donate by" date, when the food is donated to community partner organizations. As part of their sustainability efforts, any food that is not able to be donated is composted.

5. Food Policy Action

Food Policy Action was founded in 2012 through a collaboration of national food policy leaders, including Chef Tom Colicchio, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group, and Gary Hirshberg, the Chairman of Stonyfield Farm, to hold legislators accountable on legislation effects food and farming.

6. GrowNYC

GrowNYC provides free tools and services for New Yorkers to help improve access to fresh, healthy local food. In addition to a network of farmers' markets and fresh food organizations, GrowNYC builds and rejuvenates community and school gardens and delivers environmental stewardship programs to more than 30,000 children each year.

7. The HAPPY Org

HAPPY—Happy Active Positive Purposeful Youth—is a youth-led organization that addresses the physical, mental, emotional, and social health issues they face today. They equip kids and their families with the resources, skills, and information to takes responsibility for their own health and confidently embrace nutritious and affordable food. Founded by Haile Thomas, the organization brings fun and engaging programs to schools, camps, and communities to engage youth in nutrition.

8. Heated

Heated is a new online food magazine that's a collaboration between the publication site Medium and Mark Bittman, a former New York Times food writer and the author of the cookbook How to Cook Everything. Rather than posting articles on new restaurants or profiles of chefs, the website aims to "showcase the links between food and just about everything else: agriculture, politics, history, and labor; culture and cooking; identity, family, and love."

9. Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center

The Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center works to develop innovative and evidence-based solutions to prevent chronic diseases and promote food security in and outside of New York City. The center's research, policy analysis, and education opportunities joins experts and students together to brainstorm ways New York City's food policy can be a model for the rest of the world.

10. Misfits Market

Misfits Market is a subscription box-meets-food rescue. Working directly with farms around the U.S., Misfits Market buys imperfect produce that may have otherwise been thrown out because it does not look uniform enough to sell in a traditional grocery store. In each box, which comes every week or every other week, subscribers will receive this nutritious, organic produce for prices up to 25–40 percent lower than at a traditional grocery store. As of late 2019, Misfits Market delivers to 19 states plus Washington, D.C.

11. Rise and Root Farm

Karen Washington, a farmer and community activist, wants to build a different agricultural narrative, inclusive of all races, genders, and sexualities. She created Rise and Root Farm to be a place of healing for diverse and marginalized communities — particularly important today, as black farmers work to call attention to not only their own contributions to the modern food system but also the impact of the slave trade on the development of global food chains. "Agriculture must be inclusive in its diversity," Washington tells Food Tank.

12. Sealed Air

Sealed Air, which has decades of experience creating sustainable food packaging — they manufacture the Cryovac brand of products — aims to use food packaging as a way to address worldwide resource depletion and wasteful supply chains. Food scientist Karl Deily leads Sealed Air's commercial team, which aims to create innovative packaging that improves food safety, extends the shelf life of foods, and reduces waste in the food supply chain.

13. Slow Food USA

Slow Food USA is part of the global Slow Food network, which spreads a mission of good, clean, and fair food for all to over 150,000 members in more than 150 countries. Through a vast volunteer network of local chapters, youth, and food communities, they link the pleasures of the table with a commitment to protect community, culture, knowledge, and environment.

14. SnackFutures

Through its innovation and venture hub SnackFutures, food company Mondelēz is pairing startups with experts to help cultivate the future of sustainable, delicious snacking. SnackFutures identifies delicious, nutritious, and environmentally sustainable ingredients that would otherwise be passed off as waste and works to create new brands with them. "It's critical that Mondelēz and other big companies interact with entrepreneurs to keep learning and get stronger together," Brigitte Wolf, the global head of SnackFutures Innovation at Mondelēz, told Food Tank.

15. Soul Fire Farm

Soul Fire Farm grows food as an act of solidarity with those oppressed by food apartheid, while maintaining respect for their ancestors, history, and the environment. Soul Fire Farm conducts training programs to raise the next generation of activist-farmers and support food sovereignty for future communities. The organization's Co-Director Leah Penniman recently completed a book, "Farming While Black," a guide for African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity.

16. Square Roots

This urban farming company, located in Brooklyn, NY, grows a range of delicious herbs and distributes them directly to grocery stores across NYC. At the heart of Square Roots is their unique year-long Next-Gen Farmer Training Program, which provides an opportunity for young people to enter the farming industry. Square Roots farmers spend the year learning about plant science and how to grow indoors while getting exposed to business and community building. Co-founded by Tobias Peggs and Kimbal Musk, the farming company graduated its first class of students in 2017.

17. Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a nonprofit organization that aims to create a food system that is healthy and sustainable. They operate an 80-acre farm and education center that experiments with and improves sustainable farming practices, trains beginning farmers, helps children discover the sources of their food and increases public awareness of seasonal and sustainable food.

18. Trove

Founded by Sam Kass, former White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition, Trove collaborates with corporations involved with transforming health, the climate, and the planet through food. They serve as strategic advisors, investors, and communication strategists to help innovative food companies achieve greater impact.

19. WhyHunger

WhyHunger works to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions to promote self-reliance and community empowerment. Their programs include a hotline to connect those in need with resources and initiatives to advance international food sovereignty and the basic rights to food, land, water, and sustainable livelihoods.

Jared Kaufman is a Research and Writing Fellow with Food Tank and a Boston-based food journalist and cheesemonger.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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