What a Difference a Year Makes
What 2018 meant for the fight for good foodKatherine Miller
December 21, 2018
Our vice president of Impact Katherine Miller closes out the year with a review of the food advocacy and policy highs and lows of the past year, from developments in Congress to the chefs and activists pushing for change, and shares the signs that give her hope for progress in the fight for good food in 2019.
As I look back on the past year, I’m filled with a sense of awe. For the first time in a while, I don’t want to kick the year to the curb. I have enthusiasm and energy to enter 2019 and continue the hard work of achieving a more equitable food system for all.
After the challenges of 2017, it was hard to believe that 2018 would be any different. There are plenty of endemic problems that we’ve yet to tackle, such as global climate change, families being separated at the border, violent crime, and extreme poverty. There is still a lot of work to be done.
Yet 2018 was, surprisingly, a year of great promise and progress, especially in food policy, sustainability, and professionalizing the culinary industry. Here are some of the developments we can celebrate as we close the year:
- Inclusion Moves to Center Stage. In May 2018 we celebrated the most diverse roster of James Beard Award winners ever. Of the 23 awards given, over half were won by women and chefs of color, including the groundbreaking wins by Edouardo Jordan, the first African-American chef to receive Best New Restaurant and Best Chef: Northwest. But the Awards were only one step in making sure that diverse communities are not only represented, but also included in important conversations about the future of culinary. In April, Julia Turshen launched Equity at The Table (EATT), a database that includes hundreds of writers, food stylists, chefs, caterers, and influencers in the food world. This first-of-its kind directory makes it possible to find and work with a variety of collaborators, including those in the LGBTQIA communities. While unique in its focus, EATT’s efforts join campaigns and initiatives by individuals and organizations across culinary from Open Table, A Fine Line, Pineapple Collaborative, and the Civic Table Project.
- We’re Now Talking about Mental Health. Chef-author Anthony Bourdain’s suicide in June of this year sent shock waves through the culinary community. Bourdain’s death spurred an urgency across the industry to deal with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and the stigma attached to these diseases. Gregory Gourdet was one of several chefs—including Sean Brock, Gabriel Rucker, Michael Solomonov, Andrew Zimmern and Evan Zimmerman— to host a “sober chef” dinner that helped raise awareness of the issues facing restaurant workers in the kitchen. Sober spaces have cropped up at food festivals around the country, and writer Kat Kinsman’s website Chefs with Issues continues to gather new stories. Chef Patrick Mulvaney is taking it one step further, hosting a series of mental health seminars and trainings in Sacramento. Mulvaney is collaborating with Kaiser Permanente, WellSpace Health, and the Steinberg Institute and hopes to launch an online portal based on these trainings in 2019. This is all good—and overdue—news for an industry that self-reports that over 70 percent of its workers suffer from multiple mental health conditions.
- The Farm Bill Passed. After 2017, where very little moved in Congress, it was hard to imagine that 2018 would be any different. For months, through the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change and in partnership with the Farm to Fork Initiative and groups such as Food Policy Action, chefs around the country rallied in support of the Farm Bill. At first, it seemed as though efforts might fall flat, and that the Farm Bill might go the way of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) (which remains stalled after almost four years of congressional negotiations). But thanks to coalition efforts and leadership from a bipartisan group of House and Senate members, the Farm Bill passed just a few weeks ago. This Farm Bill protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from cuts that would have endangered food and nutrition supports for our most vulnerable populations including families, children, and veterans. The fight to preserve SNAP and protect benefits for more than 40 million Americans was at the center of the debate over the bill, but the final bill also contains funding for food waste reduction efforts, help for young and new farmers, and an increase in supports for organic farmers. Several initiatives to promote local food production and farmers’ markets were moved from pilots to permanent programs, ensuring that local food systems will only get stronger.
- Chefs Continue to Lead. Whether it was their work on the Farm Bill, or their support of reducing food waste, or fighting for gender equity in the industry, chefs led the way for the culinary community, and we were honored to support their work. Chefs such as Ouita Michel and Kirsten Dixon used their voices in support of their local food systems. Chefs in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, and South Florida met to promote solutions in their communities around sustainable seafood and farmworkers’ rights. Chefs Tiffany Derry, Rob Nelson, Matthew McClure, and Katie Button were among the hundreds of chefs around the country working on food waste reduction efforts and helping us promote both the Waste Not cookbook and the Full Use Kitchen curriculum.
These are just a few of things that moved forward in 2018. We also saw chefs and the seafood community step up in support of sustainable seafood; chef Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen continued to feed those impacted by natural disasters, including first responders across California fighting the wild fires; and more chefs and farmers are coming together to find ways to combat climate change. There are dozens of other examples of positive, community-based change.
It wasn’t a perfect year. There is still more work to do but now we can build on our successes, form more productive partnerships and coalitions, and work together to make even more progress in 2019.
Katherine Miller is vice president of Impact at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter.