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Big Moves Could Mean Big Changes for the Food Community

Katherine Miller

July 25, 2018

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Glynwood Boot Camp Photo Ken Goodman
Photo: Ken Goodman

In her latest dispatch, our vice president of Impact Katherine Miller highlights recent moves by major corporations and global social and political coalitions to address concerns around worldwide sustainability and our collective food future.

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I’m impatient for change. My activist-self is eager for every company to have a plan for sustainability, for every restaurant to stop serving bluefin tuna, and for the world to be free of violence, especially violence against women. I want all of these things to happen now. So I sign petitions, donate money, vote, call my member of Congress, and interrogate waiters about food sourcing—all with equal vigor.

But change usually happens more slowly than we all would like. Until suddenly, it happens—sometimes in unlikely places, or by unlikely actors.
 
Over the last several weeks, companies around the world have announced major shifts to their own practices. Here are just a few:

  • Starbucks stated that it will no longer use plastic straws or lids, and that the company is researching new compostable materials for its stores. More than 300 million pounds of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans and waterways annually, killing marine life. Baby seals are dying, fish are consuming plastic, and humans are at risk of ingesting micro-plastics. All of this feels overwhelming, but companies such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Hyatt are all working to eliminate single-use plastics. Starbucks’s move will result in one billion fewer plastic straws being used in a year! (A note for chefs and restaurants: be sure to keep some straws on hand for those customers with disabilities who depend on them.)
  • Major food manufacturers formed a sustainable food coalition. Recently, Mars, Danone, Unilever, and Nestlé formed a new coalition to advocate on behalf of progressive food policies, including “product transparency, nutrition, the environment, food safety and a positive workplace for food and agriculture workers.” With a combined global revenue of more than $200 billion, this group will be among the most powerful drivers of food policies with worldwide impact. Although it’s still in its infancy, this new coalition is one to watch.
  • Chefs for global goals. For months, momentum has been building in support of the Chefs Manifesto, a global call to action created for, and by, chefs. The Manifesto focuses on eight thematic areas, including calling for improved animal welfare, greater biodiversity, and “nutritious food that is accessible [and] affordable for all.” This campaign to influence world leaders’ policy and budget decisions in favor of a more equitable and just food system is gaining steam both internationally and here in the United States, where chefs such as Asha Gomez, William Dissen, and JBF Award winner Mary Sue Milliken are on board.
  • Local action for global issues. It is also exciting to see more chefs leading local actions that support more global concerns, such as Zero Foodprint Dining Week in San Francisco  (taking place September 10-15, 2018). During this week, leaders from around the world will meet in the city for the Global Climate Action Summit to discuss ways to support and accelerate responses to global climate change which impact food production, local livelihoods, the world’s oceans, and more.

These worldwide efforts are powerful, and they have the potential to move markets and policy faster than we’ve seen in the last few years because they are designed to tap into the consumer side of change.

Many of us make dozens of decisions each week about where and on what to spend our food dollars. Those decisions are personal and driven by our individual values, and impact not only what we see on menus and in grocery stores, but also the environments in which our food is grown and where we all live. For millions of families on SNAP, those decisions are already made for them by policies set in Washington, D.C.

Our voices, our dollars, and our votes matter in these discussions. These bold and promising moves by major companies and global communities will help us all amplify the impact of our choices, perhaps helping to make change come sooner than we thought possible.

For more information about JBF Impact programs please follow us at @JBFChefAction.

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Katherine Miller is JBF’s vice president of Impact. Find her on Twitter.