Culinary Community Bands Together for Food Policy and Change
The James Beard Foundation
Ask chefs about their food and cooking, and you’ll likely hear about the purveyors with whom they work and the people who make the products they like to work with.
Ask chefs what they do in their community, and you’ll likely hear about the many non-profit organizations and causes they support by cooking at fundraisers and donating gift certificates.
Ask chefs if they’ve engaged in advocacy and campaigns around improved food policy, and these days, you’re more likely than ever to hear a chorus of emphatic “yesses” — something reflected in the work the James Beard Foundation has been doing for the past three years through our Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change.
The Foundation has been playing an increasingly important role in the conversation around improving our food system for the last 6 years with our annual JBF Food Conference, JBF Leadership Awards, and by providing advocacy training to chefs through our boot camp program. This work recently culminated in the official announcement of the JBF Impact Programs, an initiative which enhances the Foundation’s work to establish a more sustainable food system through education, advocacy, and thought leadership. JBF Impact Programs bring together chefs, farmers, and other leaders in the culinary community to address the biggest food challenges facing our society — food waste, sustainable agriculture and seafood, and beyond.
JBF Impact Programs currently include the annual JBF Food Conference, the JBF Leadership Awards, the JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, and Enlightened Eaters. In addition, it includes new initiatives such as JBF Issue Summits, roundtable discussions held in cities around the country to explore timely food issues; JBF Culinary Labs, which engage chefs in hands-on, experiential learning opportunities on food-system issues; and JBF local and regional advocacy trainings, which brings the organization’s signature “A is for Advocacy” curriculum to a wide cohort of chefs across the country.
Why the culinary community?
Chefs and culinary professionals are trusted, visible champions of good food. They are critical to influencing behavior change among consumers and to driving public policy reform in support of a healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable food system.
Our goal is to provide these influential advocates with the basic skills needed to effectively engage in any number of campaigns aimed at improving our food system. When we launched our first JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change in 2012, we didn’t know if it would work, or if the chefs would even be interested in engaging in policy. What we found was that the culinary community has tremendous interest in driving change — but doesn’t necessarily have the skills or support to truly move the needle.
At the conclusion of the first program, all of the chefs asked, “What can we do now?” We hadn’t considered immediate next steps, but the timeliness of the campaign around antibiotics overuse in animal production provided a perfect opportunity to connect these new advocates with a partner organization who could engage them in a meaningful way.
With the help of the Chef Action Network (now an official arm of the JBF Impact Programs), the community of more than 110 chefs has engaged in improving our food system with activities spanning the entire spectrum of advocacy — from within their restaurants and local communities to regional and federal efforts. Together, we’ve helped assemble groups of chefs in places such as Sacramento, Nashville, and Orlando to build stronger support for regional food producers, the formation of local food policy councils, and better coordination between the local culinary community and the food policy organizations that are doing great work in their areas.
As we grow and expand our Impact Program work, and the ways that we support and engage these important advocates, we are confident that the culinary community is currently — and will continue to be — a powerful force in creating a better food system in America.