PSYC 123: The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food

Lecture 23

 - Success Stories, Innovation and Change from the Grass Roots


Professor Brownell concludes the course by exploring the question of how to change the food environment. He identifies health, environment and social justice as three broad reasons for changing the food environment and highlights the need to unite these initiatives. To address the questions of who creates change and how it happens, Professor Brownell explores top-down change and bottom-up change. As exemplars of both types, he reviews the issue of menu-labeling laws and identifies people who have inspired big change through local action. He then ends by summarizing what his goals have been for the course throughout the semester and highlights the need for innovative change on a variety of levels.

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The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food

PSYC 123 - Lecture 23 - Success Stories, Innovation and Change from the Grass Roots

Chapter 1. General Housekeeping for the Course [00:00:00]

Professor Kelly Brownell: As you guys know, this is the last lecture. We’ve got the final exam on Wednesday, a fact that probably wasn’t lost on most of you. We’re going to finish up today by talking about success stories. We’ll talk about how a lot of the principles that we talked about in the class have been put into action in real world settings by some very inspired people, and they’re quite interesting stories.

Before I do that, I just wanted to remind you again about the final exam on Wednesday. I hope you didn’t have to use up too much of your time over the break studying for the exam, and I hope you all had a very nice Thanksgiving break, but the exam is on Wednesday. Let us know if you have any questions about that and also for those of you who have your OpEds published, please send them to me.

A bunch of you have already done that and it’s really nice to see these OpEds published all around the world: some community newspapers, some larger places, some internet websites, and the like. It’s very nice because it’s a great way for you to learn that you really do have a voice in these matters if you care to exercise it, and that it’s a very good exercise learning how to take what could be a pretty complicated argument and distilling it into a relatively small space that an OpEd requires.

I’m not surprised by your success at having them published, but I’m very delighted to hear that they have been. Again, please continue to send them to me. If you’re inclined, if you feel like you’ve got a good point to make in your OpEd, and you felt that there was some reason to do it just beyond the assignment from the class, if you don’t hear back from a publication after awhile it usually means that they’re not going to publish it. It’s perfectly fine to call them to find out, or just to go ahead and send it to someplace else, and so keep sending if you’re devoted to having it published, and I hope you would be. Then continue to submit it to other places until you find someplace that will publish it. Don’t get discouraged if the first place you send it doesn’t publish it.

One thing I’d like to do before we move onto the content of the class is to thank the teaching fellows. These folks have done a tremendous amount of work over the course of the class, have graded and graded and graded, worked with you guys, fielded emails, phone calls and the like, have been one of the best groups of teaching fellows that I’ve ever had for this class, so let’s please give them a big hand. As I did in the beginning of the class, don’t forget that they’re going to be grading your final exams, so maybe you should give them another hand. There you go. All right —

Chapter 2. Bring It All Together: Health, Environment and Justice [00:02:33]

So let’s talk about changing the food environment. Now we’ve talked about a lot of reasons for changing the food environment and there are — they break down into three broad categories. Depending on which category you pick as the most important, you start finding groups that are interested, scholars who are interested in it, and governments that are interested in it. They basically fall into three categories.

We’ve talked, during the class, about health reasons, the impetus for changing things from a health point of view and you see some of them listed over there: healthcare costs, obesity, hunger, and the like. Then there’s a group of people around the world who care deeply about changing the food environment for these reasons.

There are also of course environmental reasons that we’ve talked about during class and there’s another group of people who care deeply about these. And then of course there are people who care about these things for social justice reasons, and believe that the food environment should be changed just because it’s the right thing to do.

There are constituencies in each of these categories, and one of the problems is that they don’t very often talk to each other. A course like this, for example, where we really try to bring this all together is pretty unusual around the country. It’s unusual because people tend to focus in one category or another, and not cross the boundaries of those. It’s my belief that by crossing the boundaries and bringing these perspectives together, you have a lot more reason for doing things, a lot more ammunition for making change, and a lot more people could be on the team if they all came together.

Let’s talk about what it takes to make change. If we’re going to give — I’m going to give you some examples of people who have created real change. People who have had impact, people who have changed the way the world thinks about food, have done programs where there’s really been a significant impact and the like.

If you look at the common denominators across these people and their approaches, there are certain things that tend to fall together. If we start off with whatever the end product is, some program, some initiative, some public policy that’s had impact, there are a variety of things that I think converge into making this happen and some have to do with the people, some have to do with the process they follow and the like.

First on the people front, it seems to me that what’s common to these things is a good idea to begin with, of course that has to be in place. Lots of people have good ideas and nothing ever happens with them, so what really makes a difference to some extent is the personality of the individual who is driving for the change. That has to do with their passion and of course their personality characteristics. Those dovetail with these things you see on the right, people’s ability to frame a message in a constructive way. That is, create an argument that defends the change that they think needs to be made, and an argument that’s persuasive, compelling, it draws people in rather than turns them away, etc. That framing becomes very important, and I’ll give you some examples of that today.

Next is the diplomacy of course. You can kind of the bull in the china shop, rant and rave about how bad things are, but very often that doesn’t get things done. A diplomatic approach where you bring people into the team, encourage others to join the whole cause can really make a big difference and some people have been very good at that.

Deputizing is another thing we talk about at The Rudd Center. This is the ability of an individual or an institution to get people who ordinarily wouldn’t be interested in the topic interested in the topic, and then bring in their professional expertise or their personal passion to the issue, and that makes a lot of difference. If you think about the hunger and obesity areas, for example, now there are some economists paying attention to it, there are lawyers paying attention to it, political scientists.

Some of these people are the ones who came and spoke to the class, so you’ve seen and heard from them. Well, the fact that they got deputized into the cause, the fact that these were all people who used to pay attention to other issues but now are paying attention to food issues can really help a lot because they have new perspectives, new ideas, victories they’ve won in other arenas that can now be applied here. So that deputizing that some people have a real knack for is very important in this.

Then finally, organization and science can be part of it. If you’re organized you can — or you have people work with you who are organized, you can really pull off a lot, and that just means you’re more effective. Then the science can be very important ammunition for making public policy changes. The science — there is very often — public policy is not connected enough with science and that’s a problem, but in the right context, the right piece of science at the right time, can make a big difference in the debate about an issue. Science can be quite important if it gets communicated and if it’s connected out there with the real world changes.

The question is, who creates change and how does it happen? I’m going to give you several examples of people, one of whom is this person right here whose name is Alice Waters. Now you’ve probably — you’ve seen — we’ve mentioned her before in class and she gets mentioned here and there in the readings. She’s a very interesting person and I’ll come back and tell you more about her later. She’s a well known chef, an author of a number of books — I’ll show you some of those, owner of a restaurant in Berkeley, California called Chez Panisse, and is an activist who’s pushed very hard for bringing local food to people, better foods in schools, and the like.

We’ll start off with the premise that she’s been an effective person. She’s been in the newspapers, documentaries have been done about her, and she’s had a big impact on the national, even international scene. She’s considered by many to be a visionary, inspirational person, so what is it about her? What is it about her that’s made her effective in this context? We’ll talk about that and then talk about how the ideas get put into play, and how one can make change and go about doing that.

Chapter 3. How Much the Food Environment Has Changed [00:08:55]

Now it’s interesting of course to think back about how much the food environment has changed. For those of you who are interested, we have something called a food timeline, or the evolution of food on The Rudd Center website. If you go to our main website which is and scroll down to the bottom of the home page, which is what this is, you’ll see this evolution of eating at the bottom and it’s a timeline. You can scroll across the little things and it goes way back in food history and tells clever little stories about when this started, or when this was invented, and who the players were and things like that. It’s really a very interesting thing to read.

As we’ve talked about before, the food environment has changed unbelievably in a short period of time. In the course of human evolution, a life as short as mine is not very many years, but if I go — I’ve told you stories about what my life was like as a child and the food environment at that point. Almost no marketing at all except for Saturday morning commercial television ads for sugared cereals, Coke and Pepsi bottles, an eight ounce or six and a half ounce servings, the like; it was really, really very much different.

It’s interesting to go back a little bit in history, and I wanted to do just a little bit of that again to give you some sense of how much things have changed. There are some people that are interesting figures and kind of became pioneers in some ways. I’m going to make the point that in some ways we’re going back to our roots in thinking about changing the food environment.

This is an interesting man named Sylvester Graham, lived in the 1840s. He was a Presbyterian minister, stumped along the eastern seaboard and became prominent because of that. He preached on vegetarianism and not many people were talking about being vegetarian at that point, but he believed in it, and he developed a coarse fiber food that you guys will know as graham crackers. The purpose of the graham cracker, at that point, wasn’t to put marshmallows and chocolate on it, but it was to have fiber and other nutrients packed together in food that was healthy. In some ways, it was sort an early version of an energy bar or something like that, but was a much healthier food than other things have become today.

Now another contemporary of his that happened, was this gentleman here, and here’s the history that he had and you’ll recognize his name in just a minute. In the state of Michigan there was the Adventist Church — was established in 1854, shortly after that it changed names to The Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The church established a health retreat, a sanitarium for people who had things like nervous exhaustion, fatigue, just weren’t very healthy. They would come to this health retreat to recuperate and this was — it was called The Western Health Reform Institute and it was led by the gentleman that you see pictured here. They focused on healthy diet, it was in a small place to begin with, and you’ll see the picture in just a minute, and then a larger place as it grew in prominence that you see on the right; people walking around in formation, they’re getting physical activity.

You talk about healthy diet, natural foods, and physical activity it starts to sound like the prescription that we believe in today for remedy of a lot of the world’s chronic diseases. This was the original place where it began, a very small place. It was called The Old San, short for sanitarium and the — a person who was a frequent visitor there and a lecturer, was Abraham Lincoln.

It grew in size from that little place to a much bigger place, and then a much bigger place after that, and became a very prominent institution in the United States. The location of this was Battle Creek, Michigan and, as you may imagine, the name of the person, the physician who ran this was John Harvey Kellogg.

Now the history of the cereals that he developed was interesting. The cereals he developed — cereal wasn’t really a product or it wasn’t really considered a food, until Kellogg came around and started thinking about grains as something people should be eating more of, and something that could be eaten in a healthful way.

He developed combinations of grains and doing different things with grains and then the cereal was invented at that point. Then some funny things happened, like at one point they were playing around with grains, there was a fire, and from that came corn flakes. There are accidental discoveries but other things that were more intentional that had helped form the shape of the cereal world.

There was another gentlemen who entered in 1891, The Old San, suffering himself from nervous exhaustion. He decided that there was a business opportunity here, that Kellogg had a good idea, and so he decided to go into business himself. His name was C.W. Post and then Post cereals were born from that. Now the interesting little — so Post Toasties was the original corn flake that Post made, and then Grape Nuts goes way back to the early 1900s and was one of the original products that the Post Company developed.

There is just a little aside, an interesting history, is C.W. Post had one child, her name was Marjorie Meriwether Post. She married a banker, the fellow you see pictured here, E.F. Hutton and so they became quite a powerhouse family as you might imagine.

If you look at these two gentlemen, Post on the left and Kellogg on the right, and think about what they stood for: the original corn flakes, Grape Nuts, mixed grains, healthy foods, exercise, back to nature, locally grown things for the most, you wonder what they would think if they looked at their own products today and they got to see things like this.

The Post and the Kellogg companies are quick to boast about the history and about the prominence of these people, and how they got started with cereals and healthy foods and things like that, not sort of realizing the irony that these two people would probably be appalled if they saw what was being sold today under their names. It’s also interesting is we talk about today’s diet, the vegetarianism that Graham preached, the grains, the exercise, all these sort of things that these other guys stood for, we’re right back to some of those same values again, so it’s an interesting return to our past, if you will.

The modern food environment has come a long way and I’m going to show you a cute little clip from You Tube that doesn’t have much to do with Post or Kellogg but I just thought was cute. As you hear this it will seem redundant in about the middle, but if you listen to the end it gets cute [video].

I don’t know what that had to do with anything but I thought it was cute. I know it has to do with this: the food environment has changed a lot from the early days. What should happen now? If we want to think about changing things where should we go, what should we do, and what might be done?

Chapter 4. Grid Changes, Top Down Approach, and the Importance of Local Innovation [00:19:00]

Well one way — I’m going to give you two possible ways of thinking about it. One is to think about power, and the other is to think about top-down versus bottom-up change, and then they connect with each other. If you think about the power to make change in the food environment you can create a grid that looks like this where you can cross power with impact, and look at things that are high and low in power or positive or negative in impact.

Then you can take various things that have been done and place them somewhere in this grid, so basically everything we’ve talked about in the class, from the U.N. Development — Millennium Development goals to even the most local program like some of the things that were discussed here in class, everything could be placed in the grid here as having positive of negative impact, or having high or low power to really create change.

Let’s just put some dots, hypothetical dots in this as symbols of where things might fall. Let’s take a dot over here, something that would have a positive impact but low power. When you heard about the local sustainable food projects, for example, those have high local impact but nothing really is happening nationally because of some program that might be occurring here in New Haven, it could potentially but it’s not yet, it’s really a locally focused impact and a very positive one but low power on the national or global scene and so that would fall in that quadrant.

You could take something like food advertising and put it over here having a negative impact on health and well being and being very high in power. We could think of all the different things we’ve talked about and populate this grid with various things that fall into different quadrants.

If you want to make change — so this would be the status quo, this is where things might be right now — if you want to make change there are a couple of ways that one might proceed. One way would be to work down here and that’s to find the things that are having a negative impact and try to change the situation by moving the dots over here. You’re taking the things that are having a negative impact and making them less powerful.

A perfect example of that would be efforts to reduce the amount of food advertising that children are responding to. It’s still going to be there, but if you reduce the amount of it, or put limits on the type of it, you’d be giving it less power, so that would be moving the dots from one part to another.

Now we talked about a number of things that would fall into that category already. The other way to do it, would be to focus up here in this quadrant. To take things that are positive but low in power and try to move those dots over here, and so you end up with higher power with those programs. You take something local and make it spread, make it more prominent, create a national law or a state law that puts it into place in more localities would be examples of that.

The people that we’re going to talk about today are people that are doing just this sort of thing. You’re taking things that started small, started with an idea but they’re making them more powerful, more prominent and bigger. That’s one key to making social change and that’s one area where the people that we’re going to talk about work.

Those — moving things from the bottom left to the right is really a top-down approach for the most. You need government to be involved, you need laws, regulations, litigation perhaps, those sorts of things. That really is a top-down approach that might work like this: where you get federal action or state action, usually in the forms of laws or regulations, those things percolate down here to the individual. So you start at the top and you hope to create things that affect the lives and the behavior of individuals.

Now you can also look at what happens in between, which is local action that affects the individual, so these two things percolate down to local actions, which in turn affect the individual, which sometimes happens. Of course sometimes global action might create this sort of a thing.

Now it’s startlingly apparent how seldom this happens with the United States — that last line that gets put in. Where the rest of the world takes the lead, they come up with creative ingenious ways of solving problems, and we don’t listen. The perfect example of the American arrogance has to do with the environment, America not signing the Kyoto Treaty, and things that a lot of you guys know about.

Now my own politics are showing through here, but why do I feel that way? Well I travel a lot around the world, and when I go to various countries, and we talked about food, nutrition issues very often the people from other countries just say when will the U.S. ever catch up? When will they ever stop getting in the way of global advances of these sorts of things? Once in a while in the U.S., the global action will affect what we do, but not enough, but sometimes it does happen.

This would be a top-down approach. An example of that would be menu labeling, which is a very prominent issue out there now, as we’ve talked about in class a number of times. Putting calories or other nutrition information on menus at restaurants, or on menu boards, and the drive in windows at fast food restaurants — now this is being fought out a lot across the country in the federal arena with several people in the House and Senate introducing legislation on menu labeling; the food industry introducing its own weaker legislation as an act of preemption; things happening at state and local levels around the country.

Why is this important? Well more and more people are eating out, so now over half the American food dollar gets spent eating outside the home. As you can see from this revenue chart, the amount of money that gets spent on restaurants is absolutely enormous.

The restaurant industry is very effectively organized into a group called The National Restaurant Association that has considerable lobbying muscle and fights these menu labeling laws and has since their inception. The rationale has a number of pieces, and you can see them listed right there. Most of these would fall under the category of common sense, but these have to do with the frame of how you would approach the menu labeling law.

Let’s talk about inspirational people in this picture and we can talk about a top-down approach. There are some people that have made this possible. There is some frames of the issue that have made this possible, and then there’s some science that’s made this possible. We’ll walk through this quickly as an example of top-down approach; I want to talk more today about the bottom-up approach.

Now we talked before in the class about legal optimal defaults, and in the case of New York City there is now an optimal default for menu labeling. In New York City, the restaurants are required to put — the chain restaurants, not all restaurants yet, but chain restaurants are required to put calories on the menu.

That was made possible by Thomas Frieden, the Commissioner of Health in New York who I mentioned before, who is a very determined, passionate committed commissioner of health, more effective on these issues than really anybody else in the country has been so far. He’s supported by Michael Bloomberg, who’s a very public health oriented Mayor, and you put these two together, you’ve got some passion, and some commitment, and some power, and that’s allowed this to happen in New York City, but not without a fight. The restaurant industry sued New York City two different times, ultimately lost, and so now menu labeling is in effect.

There are different ways to frame the issue. Now they have — the health commissioner there and the people working with him, and the advocacy community, have had to go out and convince the public that this is a good idea. You have arguments to convince people that it’s a good idea, and the frame has a really a very important thing.

There are two different ways this issue has been framed, one more prominent then the other, but in my mind the less prominent one perhaps is the ultimate winning argument here. One is health of course. People are eating out at restaurants, they don’t eat very well when they eat at restaurants, they don’t know what’s in the food they deserve to know, a pretty clear argument logic chain right there. That’s the most prominent argument that gets made.

The risk in pursuing this argument? It’s a very good one, and depending on what the science shows it could be a very good frame. But, as we know from science, several predictable things are going to happen. The science on an issue will be mixed. You have some studies that will say that it’s good, some studies will suggest that it’s not good; that’s just the nature of science. It’ll take a long time to work this out; the proponents will seize on the positive science, the opponents will seize on the negative science. In the minds of the public, it kind of gets put into this mash that ultimately may not make much sense to people. The science could help this argument or it could weaken the argument depending on what the science shows.

One thing you can almost guarantee, is that the food industry will support scientists that are friendly to the food industry to do their own set of studies, and one can pretty much guess in advance what those studies will show. That will muddy up the waters even more.

A second frame is that people just have a right to the information. This is a frame that’s very hard for the industry to refute. That argument, I think, can be very important. Here, for example, up in that doorway there and the doorway there, you see exit signs; there’s another one there. Probably nobody has ever done a study to suggest that lives are saved in the event of a fire with exit signs posted in bright red letters; but you have a right to have that information there just in case it’s helpful. Just in case it might save your lives you have the right to have the information there.

You’re all wearing clothing that has tags on it, that’s all part of somebody sometime pushing the government to have tags on clothing. Why? Nobody’s ever done a study to show that you’re better off because you have tags on your clothing; that you’re going to live longer, you’re going to save money, you’re going to make wiser choices. But you want it there and you’d probably be upset if it got taken away. Why? Because it’s your right to know what’s in the clothing, so that would be an example. Even on a pillow you see this sort of thing; even if you gargle with Listerine there’s a label that will tell you what’s in it.

Of course there is the precedent with food, food labels. Packaged foods tell you what’s there. My guess is that there would be complete consumer outrage if those labels got taken away. Nobody’s done a study, a convincing set of studies at least, to show that consumers are better off because of those labels. There’s some research but not a lot. But it’s the right to know, and don’t we have the same right to know what’s on restaurant labels? That’s a pretty compelling argument, and as I said, harder to refute then the scientific one, which will probably end up mixed.

But there is some science on this issue. Science is very interesting, so for example, one argument is that — that the industry makes is that the industry provides information to people anyway. You may see, if you go into a McDonald’s outside of New York where the restaurant — where the menu labeling isn’t required little pamphlets sitting somewhere, maybe a poster on the wall, and so they — or it’s on a website, so they say we don’t need to put it on the menu, people can get it anyway, and we make it available.

Well, our very own Christina Roberto, one of your teaching fellows, did a very interesting study in some places, fast food places around New Haven to find out how many people actually access that information. It turns out to be about 1 in 1,000. Yes they make it available, but people aren’t using it; it’s not having any impact on consumer choices.

Another bit of information is that consumers don’t want the information; the industry has made this argument. People really don’t want it, they don’t care to have it, they’re out to enjoy themselves, and they don’t want their experience spoiled by knowing how many calories are in the food. But the polls show that that’s really not the case; people really do want the information.

There are a series of studies on this, in fact, a very, very nicely done study that Christina has just completed and submitted for publication, showing the impact on what consumers choose to eat, if they have the calorie information available or not. Without going into the details of the study, because it’s not yet published, it makes a big difference.

The science is supported in this case and you combine that with the argument that people have the right to know, you’ve got a pretty strong reason for doing menu labeling legislation, and that’s a top-down approach. That would be government intervening federally or in a statewide or local, like in New York, to make a difference and that is an example of top-down.

If you’re interested in this particular topic, we’ve done a report on this at The Rudd Center, and you can get to it from our website. We’ve also published a paper that I think was in the readings, although I can’t exactly remember; the paper on menu labeling legislation laws.

Now let’s talk more about the local innovation approach. Let’s talk about bottom-up kind of approach. It starts with the individual; an individual in an area, a legislator, a person, a parent; anybody in the population can become an agent of change if they have the right characteristics and a good idea behind them.

The local innovation approach starts with the individual. Usually that person gets other people on a team and they form some kind of a group, may give it a name may not, but these people then work to create local change by doing these things: where they try to get public opinion to change and that allows institutions to change. So parents who band together to try to get better foods in schools would be an example of this. That would all start with an individual, then other people join the team, and then you get an institutional change.

Then when these things happen, at some point you hope the government gets involved, and does something systematic so that parents may get together in a given school, change things in the schools, but then you hope the local government might get involved and create change in the whole school system.

That’s what’s happened in Berkeley, California with a program I’m going to talk about in a minute. Then of course, an individual, an inspired individual even by themselves can make a difference. This is one of the reasons why I’ve asked you guys to write OpEds, because it’s a way to show that you really can make a difference.

Now why is local action so important? If you’re looking at changing things on the — let’s say for the whole country, why can’t we just have the federal government make laws? Then the job is done, you’ve got everything taken care of, and in one fell swoop you get change. You don’t have to worry about all kinds of things happening locally, which would involve thousands and thousands of communities, or at the very least fifty different states.

Well here are some of the reasons. Federal government tends to be much more affected by business interests then state and local governments, and therefore, the federal government can be very slow to react on some of these fronts. In the tobacco arena, which has been a major public health victory, only half the people smoke now that did several decades ago; that was totally done at local and state levels with taxes, clean indoor air acts and things like that. The federal government has still done very little to deal with the smoking problem.

These other reasons, as you can see, are very important as well; that lots of times, local ingenuity makes a difference. Industry can’t fight all these local fires and so — and you get things spreading; something happens in one community, the community next door hears about it, they do it, and you get this positive contagion that goes on. That can be very, very important. Also, of course, if people are doing these things in their own communities they own change. They feel like they created it, they owned it, they developed it, and that’s a very powerful impetus for things to keep going once they’ve become initiated.

There are lots of examples of local action. You’ve heard about some of them from the guest lecturers, you’ve read about a lot of them in the readings, and you’ve seen examples of these. I’m just going to go over a couple quickly and then a few in more detail in this context.

One example is community gardens, so this is the corner of 25th Street and Dickinson in Northeast Philadelphia. You can see from the surrounding neighborhoods that it’s not the wealthiest area. The area where this community garden now exists was probably burned-down houses or abandoned houses that got torn down, and the green space got created. This would be an example of a local victory that’s occurred, in this case in Philadelphia. That’s one thing that can be done locally.

Community supported agriculture is another example. Now we haven’t talked about this specifically, but I think Jen McTiernan eluded to this when she talked about CitySeed, but CSA is where you buy a share of a farm. Now, it might only cost you ten dollars a week for the growing period or something like that, but then you own that little tiny share of the farm. Then each week you get money — you get — not money, but you get food from the farm.

It’s a way where the farmer gets money in advance, the farmer then has a steady income, knows much to grow, people get locally grown fresh food; the cost of your share goes down if you go and spend some time working on the farm. These CSA’s are really spreading around the country. There are number of them that exist around the New Haven area so that’s another example of local victories. There’s a — the guide here on community supported agriculture if you’re interested, and I’ve given the websites for the various things down there.

Chapter 5. Local Actions: People and Ideas [00:37:29]

Let’s use some specific examples of local action and talk about both the people and their ideas. The Yale Sustainable Food Project is one, but of course you’ve heard about that already, and this was founded by Melina who you heard from as a guest lecturer. Josh Viertel who was here for a number of years co-running The Sustainable Food Project with Melina, but got recruited to be the President of Slow Food USA and has left the New Haven area. CitySeed, you heard from Jennifer McTiernan about that; so those are examples of local people making a difference.

The Edible Schoolyard, I’m about to talk to you about, and that’s with Alice Waters. I’m going to talk about Jaime Oliver, the chef from Britain, who Marlene Schwartz talked about briefly in her lecture. Then I’m going to talk about a program called The Sustainable South Bronx, and the woman who runs that is Majora Carter.

In each case, in each of these bullet points here, what you see are inspired, committed, passionate, effective people and that’s what’s made those programs possible. Now let’s talk about some of them. Again, you’ve heard about The Sustainable Food Project and CitySeed already, so I won’t talk about those in any more detail; but those are examples right in our own backyard that have been very effective, and have become models for action outside the New Haven area.

Let’s loop back to Alice Waters. I mentioned she’s a chef, an author, owner of a restaurant, etc. Alice went to France when she was young, studied to be a chef, came back to the United States and founded what may have been the first sustainable, locally-grown oriented healthy food restaurant in the United States in Berkeley, California called Chez Panisse, and then she did many things after that.

Here’s a picture of Chez Panisse, if you’re in Berkeley it’s a fabulous place to eat. I’ve been there a number of times and it’s really very good. Alice has written a number of books as a chef, so she’s written Chez Panisse Fruit, Chez Panisse Vegetables, but a variety of other things. Her most recent book is this, The Art of Simple Food, which is very interesting and well done.

So she’s been quite effective as an author, but perhaps what she’s best known for is this project in Berkeley called The Edible Schoolyard. This used to be a paved parking lot behind a middle school, The Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California. Alice, some years ago, had this very inspired idea that you’re now seeing more around the country primarily because of her, which is to create a garden food experience for the students right there in the schoolyard. She convinced the school officials to tear up the parking lot. She got money from people in the community to help support this, tore up the parking lot and planted this sustainable garden right behind the school.

Now you can’t really see so much from this, but you’ll see from some other pictures that this Martin Luther King Middle School is a mixed race, mixed social class middle school in Berkeley, so it’s not sort of upper crust Berkeley by any means. This community garden becomes a place, not only for students, but for people in the community, so families come and walk through the garden in the early evening just to enjoy themselves and the kids in the school work in the garden a lot, and it becomes part of their day-to-day experience.

Foods from the garden go into the cafeteria; some kids help work with the foods in the cafeteria. When the kids are doing poetry readings for an English class they’ll go in the garden and do it. When the kids are learning elementary genetics, they’ll learn plant genetics and go in the garden to do it. The afterschool programs take place in the garden. So it really has become integrated into the life of the school. Not just one little club or something like this doing it, but lots of kids in the schools doing it.

The garden has lots of different varieties of fruits and vegetables, and plants, edible flowers and things, they have chickens in there, they have a few other kinds of animals, and it really is a very interesting place. Alice’s vision of this was to make food a part of the learning environment; the point was kids are exposed to a toxic learning environment with food in most schools, and this was a way to turn it around. It’s a very interesting place.

If you ever have an opportunity to be out in Berkeley and you can visit this, you can’t help but be impressed — I couldn’t help but be impressed when I visited there. I mean these kids are out there locked onto these plants; they’re just completely passionate about it, and committed to it. These are some kids who grew up in families where all they ate was processed fast type food. They’re then bringing vegetables and fruits home with their parents with a little sheet on how to prepare them. It really presumably, although it hasn’t been tested thoroughly enough yet, has had a big impact on the lives of some of these families.

You can just see from these pictures, but again, as you see it in person it’s really pretty amazing how — what kind of affect this program has. Then there are programs where younger kids come into the sustainable garden, and learn how to deal with the fruits and vegetables. You see pictures like this that are really very touching and there’s a lot of this kind of stuff around.

I remember going there once in the late afternoon when the kids from an afterschool program were there, and what they had done is they gone out the garden and picked something — I forget maybe zucchini or something, and they sliced it up and then baked it in the oven, and they were going to have it as a snack. I’ve never seen kids so well behaved, so engaged with what they were doing — it was really quite amazing.

So this inspirational person Alice, really helped turn the environment of this school around. This picture that you see on the right is pretty typical of — that’s the main table in the building they have that’s off of the Edible Schoolyard, and that’s pretty similar to what I saw when I was there: those kids smiling and laughing and really enjoying themselves and really pretty inspired.

Here’s another picture of Alice with the kids from the garden and all the vegetables and things like that. The concept here, and here’s a quote from Alice, it’s a little hard to read in the back it says,

“Right there in the middle of every school day, lie time and energy already devoted to the feeding of children. We have the power to turn that daily school lunch from an afterthought into a joyous education, a way of caring for our health, our environment, and our community.”

I wish Alice Waters had been in the area and we could have had her come in to guest lecture, because she’s this sort of dynamic person who has this infectious way of getting people excited about these ideas. You hear her and you just can’t help believing, oh my God, this is exactly what ought to be done. She has the power, the passion, and the ideas, but she’s had persistence as well. This one school did this in Berkeley, she then convinced other schools in Berkeley to do the same thing, and then got the Berkeley Unified School District to create these gardens system-wide in other schools.

That was an example of one person, local change, and then the government gets involved and institutionalizes the change. If you’d like to read about this, there are some books that have come out just recently on this, just a few weeks ago actually. The website for tracking those down is listed on the slide you see there. This is very impressive, and it’s an example of one person making a real difference. Her power, her ideas, her persistence, her organizational ability, all those sort of things I showed on the one slide have come together, and that’s been very effective.

Another thing she did, which was to get national officials interested in this, and as part of The Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, that happened several years ago on the mall grounds in Washington, D.C., there were a lot of things occurring. You can’t see it very well, but over here in the bottom right hand corner is a sustainable garden that Alice help put together as part of this folk life festival. She got the people that did The Yale Sustainable Food Garden, Josh and Melina to come down and help coordinate and then plant it.

Then what she did was she had this garden, had a tent, and had a table there. Then she invited people from Congress to come and take part in a sustainable lunch to get them interested in school lunch programs around the country. She had a lunch, she invited me and I took part in this with these people and a few others, sitting around a table eating foods that had come right from that sustainable garden.

She made the point to these individuals that this is important and needs to be done for kids nationwide, and these folks listened. In fact, Hilary Clinton has followed up with some legislative initiatives herself; Tom Harkin is a real champion on these issues; and there were several other legislators as well there who I think heard the message and got inspired by this. The way this table was set up and the way the event was done was so nice.

I had my camera with me, I took a few pictures of sort of things like this, and you just got this sense from being there that there is this beauty, majesty, joy of food that Alice talked about in that quote, that should be shared with our children. That should be done in the schoolyard, it should be done in the cafeteria, it should be done in our educational system, and that might help change people’s opinions, attitudes and behavior with respect to food.

Here was another example of just a little thing from the table that just created this kind of beautiful atmosphere that was very touching. Back to the Edible Schoolyard, this is the building that they built off the schoolyard where the kids take part. It’s of course made possible by the inspiration of one person. One person can really make a difference.

Now, that’s one example. Okay, the next example is Jamie Oliver, and as Marlene mentioned in her lecture, Jamie Oliver is a chef, a prominent chef, has a national TV show in Britain, and is very popular. He went by the title of Naked Chef, and it had nothing to do with what he was wearing, it was all about foods that were in their more natural form, and weren’t covered by lots of other things.

He got very interested in school lunches around Britain. In addition to his show he started looking into the school lunch programs and was pretty appalled by what he saw. He became a very prominent advocate in Britain for better school lunches. There are pictures of him liked this looking at these sorts of mysterious things that were part of the school lunch program, and railing about the poor nutrition and how it was hurting kids, and how it was costing a lot of money along the way.

He did several very visible events. As you can see these are kids in a lunch line but they’re in the middle of London here, they’re not actually in a school, where he served healthier foods to kids and showed quite visually how kids would eat these foods if they were made in an appealing way. He finally got the ear of Tony Blair and other prominent people, and basically embarrassed the government by doing television show after television show railing on about how bad the food was. The British Government then stepped in and changed the school foods in a pretty important way.

Again, this was the vision of one person, so that’s made possible by the inspiration of one person, in this case Jamie Oliver. Here’s a person who made national change, not so much by creating local action but making it visible on national television — and in this case embarrassing the government. A different approach than Alice Waters took, but a very effective one.

You have these two people who started out as chefs, becoming appalled by what kids were being served in schools. They shared a passion for the health and well-being of children, and one made a big difference in the U.S., and another in the UK.

Another example that I’d like to share has to do with this program called The Sustainable South Bronx. Now this is a very interesting and inspired program that is run by a woman named Majora Carter. Now The Sustainable South Bronx, and here is a picture of Majora Carter here, she I think has a Master’s Degree in public health but I’m not sure, but graduated at some point from Columbia University and really wanted to do something in her home area of the south Bronx.

Those of you who are from that part of the world will know that the south Bronx has a reputation for being a very run-down, dangerous, poverty stricken part of New York City. Movies have been made about it, documentaries, etc., and so these sort of pictures are kind of the stereotype of what people thought the south Bronx should be.

If there was ever a place, if you wanted to find the toughest, hardest place to make change or to do something more sustainable, the south Bronx probably would have been at about the top of that list but Majora Carter took it on. By herself in the beginning, and then others joined the effort, she got city government involved, and now The Sustainable South Bronx is an award winning program that has international visibility. They still have a lot to do, but they’ve made some good progress as well.

You can go to their website, which is sustainable south — it’s, and that’s listed on one of the previous slides. You can scroll through the information but it’s very impressive. I know a number of you have been in touch with me about places to go do summer internships, to do volunteer work and things like that. I don’t know if the Sustainable South Bronx has those sorts of things available, but boy if they do it would be a really very interesting place to work and a lot of good things happen in the context of The Sustainable South Bronx.

One of the things that they talk about are urban heat islands. If you do a temperature plot — and this is one that just has hypothetical Y axis there — and you look at temperatures in various places, you see a spike in temperatures at the same time of the year in urban places, and it’s pretty evident why this happens. You have things like the asphalt, the rooftops, and things that absorb heat, so there’s very little greenery in these areas to help cool things down to provide shade and also to just not absorb that heat and then keep the temperature high. These urban heat islands create climate issues for the people who live there makes it less pleasant to live in in the summer, but also makes it just generally more inhospitable.

One thing The Sustainable South Bronx has done to try to solve this problem is to focus on rooftop gardens. In the south Bronx there, there are a number of rooftop gardens that have gone into place. You take something that you might see on the left, and transform it to the kind of thing you see on the right.

Some people have taken aerial pictures of parts of the south Bronx before and after The Sustainable South Bronx came in, and what you used to see is just a constant slate of black, if you will, and now what you see are — is the landscaped peppered by green rooftops. Not enough of them yet, but more and more of them happening all the time.

Of course you can see multiple benefits to doing something like this, not only the urban heat island problem, but of course getting people involved with growing their food, you have a little more locally grown food, you get people out, families out doing things together, etc., and again, you might see this kind of a thing on a rooftop. When you talk to the people who work in The Sustainable South Bronx Project, and hear them discuss how this kind of experience can transform people, especially children, it’s really pretty impressive.

Now they have vision in the south Bronx, and some of this has come true. To take something like this, and transform it into something like this. They will take something like this, a common streetscape in New York City and create something like this.

Now in order to make this happen you need commitment, you need the support of government, because of course there’s zoning issues and all sorts of city agencies have to be involved; and you need money to do them. It takes an inspired person to get people together to invest in this, and that’s what Majora Carter has been able to do. You see photographs like this where people are out in canoes and kayaks with not a very appealing background, but if that factory is abandoned — I don’t know that it is, but if it is, and it gets torn down and be replaced with park areas, you’ve got a lot more livable landscape.

One of the things they did originally was to create a schematic for Hunt’s Point and create a riverside park there. Now they’re trying to put that into place. They’ve talked about the South Bronx Greenway, and have created a map for where it can go now and where it’s likely to go in the future. Of course you can imagine in an area like this how challenging that would be to create a greenway trail type thing, but they’re working very hard on it and having some success.

There’s some very interesting and creative things that they’ve talked about. First, they brought people together in order to argue for justice. Remember when the first slides I showed: reasons to make change in the environment, you’ve got health, you’ve got the environment, and you’ve got social justice. Well, here these people are tapping into two of those frames really, well all three if you will, but there’s the health of our children is being threatened, you’ve got a social justice issue going on here, and then of course the environment’s involved there. When people band together like this they can become a powerful force; so this would be an example of deputizing people into a cause.

Another thing that they talked about doing there was to take the Sheridan Expressway, which was an underutilized expressway in New York, and decommissioning it, so shutting it down, tearing parts of it down, reconnecting neighborhoods that previously had been divided by this expressway, and use it to create park space, open space and green space for people. Now that’s a pretty bold idea, isn’t it? Decommissioning a whole freeway, tearing some of it down and using it for things, but that’s what they’re working to accomplish as part of The Sustainable South Bronx, so very impressive.

Here’s another picture of Majora Carter. The picture’s a little dim but I think the second person from the left is Mayor Bloomberg, and a number of other officials there who are breaking ground for one of the projects as part of The Sustainable South Bronx. So another example of somebody making a real difference; again, made possible by the inspiration of one person.

You’ve seen these examples; you’ve seen The Yale Sustainable Food Program, CitySeed, the Alice Waters, the Edible Schoolyard, Jaime Oliver, and now The Sustainable South Bronx. All examples of projects that have become nationally famous, internationally known, have become examples for other people making change — all made possible by one person. None of those people is different than you.

Now some of you will be passionate about this food issue and others won’t. But for those who are you really can make a difference. This shows that you can create change from the top-down; you can work with institutions, with government to try to create changes. You can work from the bottom-up or from the grass roots up in order to create change and both are necessary.

Real social change happens when these two things are happening in sync, and then they meet in the middle. It’s almost like when the railroads were built in the U.S., they started from the east, built toward the Midwest, started from the west, built toward the Midwest, and then they met up. That’s similar to what’s happening now with the food arena. You see many examples of action that have happened at both the national level and at local levels that are making a big difference. Both are important, both can be effective, both have to come together to do this.

Chapter 6. The Food World: Challenges, Success Stories, and Resources [00:59:00]

There are some challenges to making these local changes, and you can see some of them listed here. They tend to rely on precarious funding, and they all need a more reliable source of funding. They tend to be understaffed because they don’t have enough funding, and therefore, have to rely on volunteers. Now thankfully, there’s a large group of very committed volunteers who work on these things, and those people can make a big difference.

The third bullet point there: they tend not to connect with science, and then that connects with a fourth bullet point: is they just don’t tend to get evaluated very well. They look good, they appear to be having a positive impact; but without a thorough evaluation you don’t really know. That’s why connecting science with some of these existing programs is, I think, a very, very good thing to do.

Then another limitation is that in each of these community programs, they tend to do a lot of things altogether and you don’t really know what — in that constellation of activities works, and is having most impact. The beauty of science is to be able to disengage, disentangle rather, a variety of things and see what might be most effective. One very important role scientists can play in this whole picture is to help evaluate the impact of these local programs.

Now, I’m going to show you a series of about five slides with a ton of things that are going to be resources for you to refer back to in the future if you wish. I’ve collected a variety of websites that I thought would be helpful for you guys to see if you’d like to pursue any of these topics.

As you can see, there are some things about CitySeed up there; The Food Trust is a very active group in Philadelphia. If any of you are from the Philadelphia area, or would be there in the summer and could volunteer or do some even paid work with The Food Trust that would be a terrific place, because they’re doing a variety of programs in Philadelphia. Websites for The Edible Schoolyard, Sustainable South Bronx, and then a variety of other places as well.

The Leopold Center is interesting. It’s at Iowa State University and was one of the early centers for sustainable agriculture. It’s named after a very inspired person named Aldo Leopold who graduated from Yale. Not as an undergraduate, I believe, but in the School of Forestry, an environmental scientist, and was known as one of the first pioneers to deal with sustainable agriculture. Then you see some other things here that are interesting and around the country having to do with sustainability, healthy food in the community, and the like.

There are a variety of other resources that are available. Looking at nutrition advocacy and child marketing, the things in the New Haven area that I mentioned before, all resources if you’d like to follow up on those; things that are dealing with obesity, public health and advocacy, hunger and food security. Then a variety of places that deal with food and sustainability. Again, not expecting any of you to go to these websites, but if you’re especially interested and you’d like to get more information, they’re all there.

Let’s go back to our original slide and look at what has to be done. If you look at the people that I talked about, so Alice Waters today, Jaime Oliver, and Majora Carter — all effective people that made a difference. All these things came into place. Unfortunately, science is really the last part of the picture, and I think it’s now being brought to bear on these sorts of things. It would be nice if science got involved in this process earlier, but all these other things have happened and that’s what’s made these things possible.

I’d like to end with two quotes, one from Gandhi and one from Margaret Mead, to talk about what it takes to make a difference. Before I do that I’d like just to summarize to some extent what the whole semester has been about, and what my aim was in bringing this course to you guys.

One was to sort of show that the world of food is incredibly interesting, complex, and it has economic, political ramifications. Biology is a player, psychology is a player; all these things come into play whenever somebody makes a decision about what to eat. One person reaches for one food; another person reaches for another food; why? What’s going on? Well, I hope you have some appreciation for the breadth of factors that addressed those issues.

I hope you also have some appreciation for food victories and food failures. On the food victories part we’ve helped address the world’s hunger problem, but not totally. One of the failures is that hunger still exists with many, many millions of people affected. Obesity is a food failure; food insecurity is a food failure; the fact that some people in the United States don’t have enough to eat or don’t have access to the right foods is a food failure. There’s a lot we have to do, but there have been some successes.

Most people in our country and around the world in fact, don’t make a connection between the food they eat and the environment that they’re exposed to. That’s why we had such a heavy focus here on the impact of modern food production on water resources, fossil fuel depletion, biodiversity — all those sorts of things.

My guess, although I don’t really know this to be the case, is that the public is rapidly becoming aware of these things. People are becoming more aware of and concerned about the energy costs and the climate change costs of the food choices they make. I think this is going to present a big problem for the food industry that they’re not wise to yet. Now they may be thinking about it, but I haven’t seen much evidence that there’s anything going on.

We talked about the concept of food miles. My guess is that more and more consumers are going to be concerned about food miles, looking at where their food comes from. As this happens and the food industry hasn’t adjusted to delivering more local food, they’re going to have a commercial problem on their hands, but again that’s just my prediction.

We’ve talked about heavily influenced people are by the food environment, by the environment they’re exposed to. Food marketing is a big issue, especially directed at kids. Brian Wansink talked about the number of factors in our environment, size of plates, the shape of glasses, how big the portions are people are served having a big influence on what they eat. Marlene Schwartz talked about the food in schools; Rogan Kersch talked about the variety of political things that affect food. It’s amazing how broad this area is and how many factors are influencing what people eat.

I also hope that you come away with the appreciation of how important these things are to health and human well-being. The vast numbers — I mean everybody is affected by food, of course, but vast, vast numbers of people are affected by the food failures that we discussed.

In order to address these things, we need vision, commitment, we need political change, economic change, corporate change, government change. All these things have to happen. You guys are going to be in a position to change it; every one of you will be able to change it one way or another, if you choose to do it. Some of you will end up in law, law is a big player here; some of you will end up in government; some in science; some in a variety of things. Each of these areas has a way to contribute to this as you’ve seen during the class.

If you look at me, a person with a background in psychology and public health, and then the other speakers who come along, what kind of backgrounds did they have? Rogan Kersch in political science; Derek Yach from PepsiCo was an epidemiologist to begin with and a physician; Stephen Teret, a lawyer; all these people are having a big impact. Brian Wansink, a person with a background in business and marketing, all these people are having an impact, so there’s something that can be done from a lot of different perspectives angling in on this one thing, which has impacted change.

You guys, if you choose to, can make a big difference. I hope these two quotes that I’m going to leave you with today inspire you as they do me. One is this, this is a quote from Gandhi that talks about a series of steps that occur as a country might be approaching political freedom, and he talks about what the enemies do who are fighting freedom and he says this, “That the first step is first they ignore, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

Now the interesting thing about that is — now we’re talking about food, and that doesn’t seem so important compared to the freedom of a whole country like India in this case, but these same steps apply. You first talk about what — how the food industry and the people in government who favor the food industry responded when all these concerns first started getting raised, there was no threat so they ignored it in the beginning.

Then there was the laughing, the lampooning and things like that. I have a whole series of things I could show you, where I’ve been lampooned in various publications, editorial in The Wall Street Journal, a variety of places like that, that have sort of laughed at the whole thing in the beginning. Then, the threat became apparent. Then the people who were favoring the status quo and not wanting change felt like they had to fight. That’s the stage we’re in now, and to some extent some of the victories are starting to occur.

The moral here is keep going. If you feel you’re right and you’re passionate about a topic, whatever it happens to be and whatever position you embrace on this, keep at it, keep at it, and then keep at it some more because you might be plodding through some of these stages.

Then the last quote that I’ll give you is from Margaret Mead, a famous sociologist who talked about whether one person or a small group can make a difference and she says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”

Good luck with the final on Wednesday; we’ll see you guys then.

[end of transcript]

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