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9 Hours with Three Food Heroes

Ann Cooper, Alice Waters, and Jamie Oliver

I have worked in the sustainable food arena for just about 15 years now, and have been fortunate enough to be exposed to some pretty high-profile foodies and food activists, while working through exciting times like the emerging local foods movement, SNAP dollars used at farmers markets, USDA organics regulations, national healthier school food standards, and much more. We have come a long way in 15 years.

As these herculean initiatives have come to pass, I look back and remember that I had this intangible feeling that the work I was connected to was taking shape and supporting those historic changes. I recently had that twinge, feeling, and future glimpse once again.

On January 7th, I joined Ann Cooper, Alice Waters, and Jamie Oliver in Sacramento, California to launch their new Food Truth initiative. These three food-fighting giants have come together to form a coalition to advocate for the disclosure of the truth about food and to push for food and nutrition education in every school. As Jamie Oliver recently said on Jimmy Kimmel Live while first speaking about the Food Truth campaign: “…none of you guys are going to die young because you didn’t do your geography homework.” Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about food education.

The day was pretty typical as far as campaign launches go: meetings with politicians at the California capitol building, a press conference, a trip to Pacific Crest Elementary to see an innovative food education program (Food Literacy Center) in action, more meetings with politicians, and ending the day with a live social media discussion with the three chefs. But what struck me as different about this launch was the side conversations that Ann, Alice, and Jamie were having with each other, the camaraderie that they felt together, as well as the respect and admiration they each had for one another. Seeing these multigenerational food activists together, fighting the same fight, gave me hope…a lot of hope. They are all so different. Ann is like this little fighting dynamo, when she speaks you know just how strong and knowledgeable she is and you get a glimpse of the battles she has conquered. Alice flows through the day somewhat like a good fairy, softly granting pieces of unearthed, historic food wisdom along the way. And Jamie is this lovable, big-hearted, unpretentious guy whose passion and resilience becomes everyone’s lifeline.

As we waded on through the day, my feet grew tired and my energy began to dwindle, I started to have what I like to call “spent clarity.” These three, together, had moved mountains in their careers. They had all won and been defeated in many battles, and as they have grown accustomed to doing, they have dusted themselves off and prepared once again for the fight. They are not as young as they once were, but their mental stamina has no limits. This is not a choice for them; they are compelled to create change.

We know that many of our communities are sick and unhealthy. We watch as leaders scramble to try and solve these issues with reactive initiatives that bandage the problems, but we must be proactive in our approaches. Just because kids want to eat Doritos instead of broccoli doesn’t mean that we should feed it to them just to fill their bellies. Let’s explain to them what a piece of broccoli can do for them, how it can help them feel better, achieve more, and have a better and longer life. What Ann, Alice, and Jamie all know from the work that they’ve done is that kids “get it”—they are not dumb or too young to understand. We just need to take the time to explain it to them. We have made great strides in food regulation, both in schools and out. Now we need to do the back work, the work that should have been done first or along side the regulation change. We need to educate kids to ensure that they understand the effects of their food choices.

Alice, Ann, and Jamie all know this will be a long road, but that doesn’t scare them. Long roads are what they are used to. In talking with Ann after the day was over, I asked her how she thought it went and where she thinks it will go. Her response was that of a veteran, “Great day, lots accomplished, it was just the first step…lot’s more to do.”

You might also be interested to know that when Jamie announced the Food Truth initiative on Instagram, asking folks to support #foodtruth, he also asked what they would do to create change. Over 30k people responded with nearly 600 comments. The amazing thing was seeing how many people posted about what they were doing. Everything from “Been doing workshops on food in schools and loving it.” to “Been fighting for #fooded for the last year. Would love to set up a river cottage for kids on a small farm, teach them about foraging, sowing and growing, cooking etc.” It reminded me of just how many Anns, Alices, and Jamies there are out there fighting everyday. After spending the day with these guys I realized that they represent the thousands who are advocating for better food and a better existence all across the world.

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