Stories / Impact

Why Partnership is the Path Forward

The Beard Foundation is focused on building food system change through collaboration

Katherine Miller

February 19, 2019


Chefs at Boot Camp in Shelburne, VT Photo by Ken Goodman
Photo: Ken Goodman Photography

James Beard Foundation vice president of Impact Katherine Miller argues that in the wake of mounting environmental, economic, and cultural challenges to the future of our food system, the best way to move forward is through collaboration and partnership. 


With almost 11 million employees, the hospitality industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the United States. More than 40,000 jobs in restaurants and bars were added in December 2018 alone. It is also one of the lowest paying jobs—restaurant workers in general are three times as poor as the rest of the U.S. workforce. Within the industry, workers of color are even worse off—on the surface, the hospitality industry feels diverse, but the hidden truth is that racism and racial bias are widespread. Workers of color are twice as likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts.

The problems facing restaurants, farms, seafood businesses, and catering companies are many of the same challenges that plague other industries: expensive and complicated supply chains, unsafe and abusive work places, low wages, and inadequate benefits, to name just a few. 

In addition to all the problems that impact businesses—and people—in our field, there are also ways that we in turn affect the system. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

We work with advocates for local produce, sustainable seafood, and humanely raised animals every day on our various campaigns such as Blended Burger Project, Smart Catch, and Full Use Kitchen. Yet food production and food waste are some of the biggest contributors to climate change and environmental degradation.

Women currently make up most culinary school graduates, and over two-thirds of American women will work in a restaurant during their lifetime. Yet women in executive chef positions make nearly 30 percent less than men, and there are more sexual harassment complaints filed by restaurant workers than workers in any other industry. 

So (and this is obvious), building a good food system for all requires both partnership and perseverance. None of this is going to change overnight, and none of this is going to happen without people and organizations coming together. This is why, through our Impact programs, we’ve prioritized spending more time working in collaboration with other like-minded organizations.

Last year, that meant working with the Farm to Fork Initiative to protect SNAP, and with Ocean Conservancy and PEW Charitable Trusts to help ensure the continued health of American fisheries. It also meant the creation of our online curriculum, Full Use Kitchen, with support of hundreds of culinary professionals, and the expansion of our seafood work, leading to double the number of Smart Catch restaurants nationwide, and new events focused on opening the conversation around sustainable, high-quality aquaculture.

This year, we’re going a bit deeper into our efforts around sustainability by working directly with Good Food 100. This relatively new organization “publishes a list of chefs and restaurants that are helping to build a better food system by using their purchasing power to support local and sustainable food options.” We encourage chefs around the country to participate in Good Food 100 and are looking for ways to broaden the reach of this proven tool for helping chefs showcase their sustainability efforts and guiding consumers towards restaurants that are leading in the areas of environmental and human sustainability.

To help women succeed and lead, we’re not only building out our own programming (subscribe to our newsletter for those announcements later in March), but also using our platform to draw more attention to organizations fighting for women in the industry, from venerable advocates such as Les Dames d'Escoffier and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs to newer organizations such as FAB, Pineapple, SheChef, and Equity at the Table

On policy, we’re moving forward with our work to make sure that SNAP remains accessible to our most vulnerable populations, including women, children, and veterans. We’re continuing to work with the Farm to Fork Initiative and helping to add chef and farmer voices to efforts by the Food Research Action Center and the Center for American Progress.  

Working in partnership and coalition can be challenging. You must know when to lead, when to follow, and how to best leverage your voice and resources. Although the Beard Foundation is relatively new to using our brand and platform in service of combatting these obstacles to a better food system, we’ve been encouraged by so many chefs, restaurateurs, and food community leaders pushing us to collaborate and speak out.

The James Beard Awards may be celebrating its 29th year, but our Impact programs are only a few years old. Through partnerships we’re able to listen, learn, and contribute to the greater food movement in a way that feels organic (yes, I used that word)—to the Foundation and our broader community. We know that chefs, restaurateurs, and owners of food businesses of all types make tremendous contributions to their communities. Working with them, and other leaders, we can advance progress towards a better food system for all.

If you’re a chef or restaurateur, please join us in support of accelerating transparency in the culinary community and promoting the importance and impact of a sustainable food system by applying to Good Food 100 today at For more information about our Impact programs please visit


Katherine Miller is vice president of Impact at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter.