As Americans, we love our cooking shows. From Rachel Ray to Ina Garten, celebrity chefs provide genuine entertainment, even if you’re not the type who ever lifts a spatula.
Across the pond, the British public are no different in their love of televised cooking. The Great British Bake-off is watched by millions, and it’s hard to pick up a newspaper without an article on the latest celebrity chef scandal.
But in recent years, some of Britain’s most vocal and effective social activists have been the country’s best-loved celebrity chefs. How great would it be if American celebrity chefs similarily used their kitchen stardom to tackle tough issues?
Jamie Oliver—career campaigner for healthy food policy
Jamie Oliver has built a food empire in the UK. He has a range of TV shows, nearly 20 cookbooks and a string of restaurants across the country.
But increasingly, Jamie Oliver is also known for his informed and passionate advocacy of healthy food policy. Jamie has his own foundation, from which he operates the Food Revolution campaign. The campaign website features a large photo of a no-nonsense Jamie, and encourages visitors to “join the revolution” by signing up for updates and spreading the word about healthy eating. The website claims over 700,000 subscribers—that’s a serious email list.
Most recently, Jamie has used his foundation to publish a 6-point plan to address childhood obesity. The plan features a tax on sugary drinks, a ban on TV ads for junk food before 9 p.m. and improvements in the nutritional content of school lunches.
Last August, when new Conservative MP Teresa May announced that the government’s childhood obesity plan would only address one of Jamie Oliver’s six points—a tax on sugary drinks—the celebrity chef didn’t hold back. He accused May of acting more like a politician than a parent and called her policy decision “unforgivable.”
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall—warrior against waste
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has similarly been on the UK food scene for some time. In addition to being a chef, Hugh has also been a journalist, and his cooking shows stress local produce and environmental sustainability.
Recently, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall kicked his activism up a notch with a new BBC mini-series on waste. In the first episode, Hugh exposed the massive amount of produce thrown away because of the strict cosmetic standards of British grocery stores.
Hugh confronted one supermarket chain executive on camera, asking him why the store isn’t offering consumers the option of paying less for misshapen produce. Amazingly, the grocery chain responded by starting to offer “wonky” vegetables in their stores. The other major UK chains have followed suit, scoring a remarkable victory both for the environment and price-conscious consumers.
Interested in supporting healthy food policy?
Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation does welcome donations, but it’s difficult to see how they’re using donor money at the moment.
Here are a few nonprofits doing similar work, specifically in the US:
Center for Science in the Public Interest. This Washington, DC-based group advocates for healthy food policy, including a tax on sugary drinks and keeping soda out of schools. They’ve been involved in a number of recent food victories, including the phasing out of trans fat.
The Edible Schoolyard Project. Founded by California chef Alice Waters, the Edible Schoolyard Project helps schools integrate a food garden into their curricula. While it supports a network of “Edible Schoolyards” around the country, the nonprofit spends most of its money on schools in Berkeley, CA. That said, school-based gardening is very popular around the country and many communities have similar organizations. A good place to start is by asking your local school district or a even just a well-connected teacher.
I am passionate about helping people become informed, empowered and enthusiastic donors. After more than 10 years in the nonprofit/charity sector, I embraced my fear of spreadsheets and got an MBA so that I could help citizens like myself become more strategic givers. Today, I use my unique experiences in both sectors to help people who care deeply about using their money to make the world a better place.