Most celebrity chefs do more than appear on TV and hawk cookbooks and frying pans. To name but a few on a very long list: Tom Colicchio uses his Top Chef fame to bring awareness to healthy school lunches; Marcus Samulesson works with global humanitarian relief organization UNICEF; MilkBar’s Christina Tosi helps create jobs for recent immigrants; and D.C.’s Jose Andres has a foundation to fight food insecurity. In other words, a lot of the chefs you’ve heard of are probably working to change the food system in some important way.
Chef, cookbook author, and TV host Tyler Florence has long been involved in hunger-fighting causes through his work with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, the New York City Food Bank, and other similar organizations. This month, he took it national by teaming up with Naked Juice, Wholesome Wave, and celebrities like Adrien Grenier and Common for a campaign directed at helping bring more fresh produce to a range of neighborhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by. The Drink Good Do Good campaign aims to donate the monetary equivalent of 500,000 pounds of fresh produce by October 15.
“Anyone can take a selfie with fresh fruits and vegetables and tag it #DrinkGoodDoGood, and Naked Juice will donate 10 pounds of produce to Wholesome Wave,” says Florence.
“It means that anybody with a banana or something can make a contribution—which is huge,” he adds. “It doesn’t take a lot to get fresh food and produce [to people in underserved communities]—it takes money and effort and desire.”
Why partner with the Pepsi-owned Naked Juice on the campaign? “When we started thinking through how are we going to attack this, you do have to bring in muscle,” he says.
In last year’s Farm Bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIA) allocated up to $31.5 million in grant funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. This money is available with an equal dollar match from non-federal funds—so a large donation from a corporation like Naked Juice can actually go a long way in helping people in underserved neighborhoods gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“There’s just not a lot of money out there for projects like this,” says Wholesome Wave founder Michel Nischan. He knows that working with big corporations often presents challenges (and there is a lot of focus on the beverage industry in particular), but Nischan says he vetted the partnership carefully. “It’s a no strings attached campaign,” he says, adding that there are no requirements to do anything with which he or the organization is uncomfortable.
Instead, Naked Juice will help support Wholesome Wave’s programs, such as its Double Value Coupon Program—which helps low-income shoppers in around 500 farmers’ markets literally double their spending power—and its Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program. “We took a very careful look and decided it was an excellent partnership,” says Nischan.
What’s in it for Naked Juice? The company is recovering from a 2013 $9 million in a class action lawsuit over its use of the term “natural” in its marketing products. So positive affiliation with high-profile chefs and a good food movement pioneer like Wholesome Wave is undoubtedly a draw. But Florence says, the effort also stems out of what he sees as “genuine concern to make society better.”
Florence says the question is, “How do big corporations get involved in getting more nutrients into these dark corners of our cities. I really applaud [Naked Juice] for jumping into this because it’s a mission I’ve been caring about for 20 years.”
Florence also brought well-known and respected chefs like Michael Voltaggio and Jose Andres on as ambassadors for the campaign, a sign that he feels a larger sense of responsibility in his public role.
“If we don’t do something about [food insecurity], I don’t know who will, to be perfectly honest with you. Because at the top of the business model it’s just business as usual. They want to keep you excited and distracted and hungry, and then on a consumer level people don’t know what to do, they’re just concerned with satiating the family every night.”
The answer, as he sees it, is to inspire “brave individuals who want to stand up and do something about food deserts.”