7 Names Making the World a Better Place to Eat In

For World Food Day 2014, here’s a shout-out to seven individuals and organizations advancing good-food movements around the world.

by Dani Yokhna

7 Names Making the World a Better Place to Eat In - Photo by Alia Malley (HobbyFarms.com)

Happy World Food Day! Each October 16 (the date the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization was founded in 1945), events and activities are organized everywhere to bring attention to agricultural production; food-growing cooperation and participation between countries, ethnic groups and genders; and hunger and poverty issues and the actions being taken against them.

Sure, we can look at the devastating food-insecurity report released by the FAO last month and get really depressed, but we can also look to the people and organizations improving the state of food and nutrition. I’ll take the high road this year and introduce you to five individuals and two groups being recognized internationally for their work.

Just last night, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance—committed to making sure all people have access to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced in an ecologically sound manner—awarded its Food Sovereignty Prize, to two organizations: Community to Community Development and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees of Palestine. The James Beard Foundation will award its James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards to Mark Bittman, Ben Burkett, Navina Khanna, Michael Pollan and Karen Washington for their work that influences how, why and what we eat. Truly, the mainstream, international attention these folks have brought to real food and sustainable food needs to be recognized. The two award-giving organizations are quite different in focus—the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance working toward food justice and the James Beard Foundation working to highlight food and culinary arts—and their recipients also wide-ranging, yet put together, everyone’s efforts are making a better food climate for us all.

1. Community to Community Development
This farmworker-led organization in Washington works to protect farmworkers’ rights, including assisting in forming the Familias Unidas por la Justicia union for indigenous farmworkers, developing worker-owned cooperatives and connecting labor rights with immigration reform.

2. Union of Agricultural Work Committees of Palestine 
Based in Gaza and the West Bank—not exactly areas from which we hear a lot of good news—UAWC builds farmer cooperatives, seed banks and leadership programs, while supporting the basic human rights of access to food, land and water.

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3. Mark Bittman
I’ll be surprised if you haven’t heard of this author and New York Times journalist. Mark Bittman has done a lot to draw consumers’ attention to what healthy food is, how to find it and how to cook it. This work has, in turn, supported local and sustainable farming systems. His cookbook How to Cook Everything is one of my favorites—and I’ve used a lot of cookbooks.

4. Ben Burkett
A farm and food advocate, Ben Burkett is president of the National Family Farm Coalition, director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, member of the Via Campesina Food Sovereignty Commission, and board member of the Community Food Security Coalition. He’s traveled throughout Africa to work with farmers there, too, and somehow still has time to farm.

5. Navina Khanna
I didn’t actually know Navina Khanna’s name before writing this blog entry, and I’m so glad that I now do because apparently she rocks. Khanna is co-founder and director of Live Real, which empowers young people to shape community food systems through policy and practice. She’s also an innovation fellow with Movement Strategy, a social-justice consultant group, and developed curriculum for the first undergraduate major in sustainable agri-food systems at a land-grant university, University of California-Davis.

6. Michael Pollan
Here’s another name you probably already recognize, and to be honest, I’m surprised Michael Pollan hasn’t already been awarded this honor. When a friend recently asked me for sustainable-food book recommendations, I sent her straight to this author’s work. Michael is highly sought after as a speaker; his nutrition, food and ag books are read worldwide; and lucky students get to learn from him at the University of California-Berkeley.

7. Karen Washington
Urban farming gets its seat at the James Beard table, too, as former president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition Karen Washington gets recognized this year. She’s an urban farmer herself and is on the board of a number of vital community and farming organizations.

There are so many more organizations and individuals who are working toward a better food system, increasing public education about food, and empowering folks working in food and farming initiatives. Who in your community would you give an award to this World Food Day? Let me know, and I’ll try to work them into a future blog entry or article.

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