Photo courtesy of The Beecher’s Foundation.
The Beecher’s Foundation is launching a ten-year consumer education campaign to reimagine the food system of the Puget Sound, the metropolitan region surrounding Seattle, WA that is home to nearly four million people. Called the Sound Food Uprising, the campaign plans to teach eaters to challenge the way food is manufactured and deceptively marketed.
“We are at a point in time when food education is mission-critical,” said Sara Morris, president of The Beecher’s Foundation, at the campaign’s launch event in Seattle.
Citing a recent study in The Lancet that shows that average lifespan in Seattle varies by as much as 14 years for women and 18 years for men depending on zip code, Morris explained that the Foundation’s plan grew out of a conviction that “food is the central ingredient of justice.” “We feel called to do more, to push ourselves harder, to take some risks and step out in a very public way…to remake Puget Sound’s food supply for good, for better, forever, and for all,” she said.
The Foundation unveiled its recipe for change in front of a room of hundreds of businesspeople, advocates, and policymakers to field-test the campaign’s messaging and strategy.
“Perhaps the best reason why the Puget Sound Region is such a perfect laboratory for this experiment is our uniquely isolated geography,” said Kurt Beecher Dammeier, the Foundation’s founder, from the event stage. “That’s important because it means that we have very pure demand signals. In other words, if enough of us band together, raise our voices, and, most importantly, diligently vote with our dollars for only the foods we want to see more of, the very food supply in this market will change…Truth can overcome entrenched power.”
The Foundation has set its sights on reducing demand for foods with an “unholy trinity” of characteristics: overly-processed, heavily-sugared, and additive-laden. Their strategy relies on the delivery to each student of two distinct lessons that are designed to equip them to identify foods that check these boxes, to understand where they come from, and to make healthier choices.
First, the Foundation’s educators teach the history of the food system and “how we’ve come to exist in this state of industrialized food,” according to Morris. Second, they “dive deep into consumer power. Who has it? Who can claim it? And how can you as an individual, as a member of your family, as a member of a peer group harness your own consumer power?”
At the launch summit in Seattle, the Foundation invited 30 speakers and panelists to open conversations about power, sustainability, transparency, and health to input from the 350 attendees.
Chef Ethan Stowell discussed transparency in the restaurant industry; Eu-wanda Eagans, COO of Northwest Harvest, weighed in on how to promote equity in the food system; and Monica Mills, executive director of Food Policy Action, unpacked the roles of federal, state, and local policy in enabling healthy eating.
These conversations will inform the development of the Foundation’s curriculum, which is designed to be dynamic and regularly incorporate feedback over the next ten years.
The summit’s organizers were also clear that, while the data support consumer education as an effective intervention, they see their campaign as only one prong in a necessarily many-pronged strategy.
“Achieving food justice has to be a society-wide endeavor,” said pediatrician and advisory board member of The Beecher’s Foundation Dr. Ben Danielson. “A food justice uprising has to be done differently. It can’t be the same ‘universal’ methods that have been used in the past…One-size-fits-all approaches preferentially benefit the most nimble, the ones with the most options in their lives, the ones closest to privilege. It’s for the ones who can assume that their own actions will lead to change.”
With the goal of reaching one million consumers, The Sound Food Uprising has society-wide ambitions. “This campaign is about information, it’s about power, it’s about health, and it’s about community,” said Morris.
In addition to the Puget Sound, The Beecher’s Foundation is scaling up its youth programs in New York City, because “real system change will take the work of an entire community,” said Dammeier. “We can’t accept that people of lesser means are doomed to eat poorly and live shorter lives.”
Food Tank is excited to carry on many of these conversations on March 17, 2018, at our inaugural Seattle summit, Growing Food Policy. Sarah Morris will be speaking at the event. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.