The James Beard Foundation's Kris Moon on JBF's Impact Programs and the Good Food Movement

Photo by Jeffrey Gurwin

We recently spoke with Kris Moon, Vice President at the James Beard Foundation (JBF), an organization whose mission is to "celebrate, nurture and honor America's diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire." As part of this mission, JBF has launched its Impact Programs, which "represent the evolution and solidification of food-systems advocacy work that JBF has undertaken in recent years." Here, Kris tells us more about the JBF Impact Programs, the Foundation's role in the good food movement and what inspires him in this work.

Tell us about the James Beard Foundation Impact Programs. What was the motivation behind starting them, and what do you hope the Impact Programs will accomplish?  

For decades, the food movement has made tremendous progress in helping people have access to healthy, affordable, nutritious and delicious food. But we all know there are still huge gaps in the system and, in some cases, disparities are growing. As we've studied this issue over the last several years and heard from experts, consumers, farmers, corporations and chefs, we saw the real need for the James Beard Foundation to help bring all of these voices together, to have them at the same table, in the same room. 

We started bringing people together 6 years ago in regional salons and at our annual food conference. Over the last 3 years, we have worked with hundreds of chefs to understand the issues they care about and now we see a real opportunity - and a responsibility - to get even more involved in helping create a better food system for all. 

The new JBF Impact Programs aim to engage the culinary community in the ongoing process of creating a sustainable food system that provides nutritious and delicious food for all. In 2016 and 2017 our Impact Programs will focus support around four issue areas: food waste reduction, sustainable seafood, sustainable meat and childhood nutrition. 

How has the process of establishing the Impact Programs influenced the overall vision for the organization?

The JBF Impact Programs have been growing organically since we made a commitment to an annual food conference six years ago. The Foundation's leadership recognized the organic growth our programs had experienced and the opportunity to engage in meaningful planning throughout 2015 in order to set outcome-oriented goals for our programs and solidify the focus of the Foundations' work in this space. As we completed the process and announced our new plans, the response and interest from others working in the good food movement has been tremendous. 

Over the last 3 years, we have worked with hundreds of chefs to understand the issues they care about and now we see a real opportunity - and a responsibility - to get even more involved in helping create a better food system for all. 

The James Beard Foundation is approaching its 30th anniversary, which kicks off this November. Over the past three decades, the Foundation has built great brand equity and friendships throughout the culinary world thanks to our core programs that include the James Beard House, the James Beard Awards and our culinary scholarship program. As we begin to roll out the new Impact Programs, we are excited to integrate important industry and consumer educational messaging and programs around key food system issues as part of our existing programs, where appropriate. 

We often say that we were a "three-legged stool" for many years with our three core programs mentioned above. Now, with the new Impact Programs, we are more sturdy "four-legged stool", but one in which all four legs have to be working together in order to be successful. 

Talk to us a little bit about your background. How did you get into this work, and what motivates you personally working on issues surrounding sustainability and food? 

I actually share a similar story to James Beard in that I moved to NYC to pursue music after studying classical vocal performance at Boston University. James Beard was an aspiring opera singer and actor who found his way into food after his performing pursuits didn't work out. Personally, I found my way into restaurants in NYC while auditioning and realized I had fallen into another industry that I loved. I worked as a waiter and bartender and then eventually as a restaurant manager and special events coordinator. Years into my time in NYC, I realized that I loved the food industry and began seeking a more permanent position in food, which led me to the James Beard Foundation. I joined JBF in 2007 as the Director of House Operations and House Events and have been fortunate to have had a number of exciting roles with the Foundation over the last 9 years. 

During my time at JBF, I've also had an intense personal interest in health and wellness, which led me to study at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where I also started to learn about sustainability and various issues facing our food system. My personal and professional interests all came together in 2012 when JBF decided to pilot our Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change and I was asked to help conceive of and coordinate the program. Since then, it's been an amazing ride developing and launching the various Impact Programs, and seeing firsthand the power of the culinary community when they put their passion to work to help us improve the food system in America. 

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the food system right now? What can the culinary community bring to the table to impact our current food system, and how do you see the Impact Programs helping this effort?  

There are so many challenges facing the food system right now, including the discussion around if a united food movement even exists. We'll actually be discussing that as the topic of our annual JBF Food Conference October 17 and 18 in NYC with the title "Now Trending: The Making of a Movement." With the Impact Programs, we are focusing on four key issue areas that we frequently hear from the chef community that they are passionate about: food waste reduction, sustainable seafood and fish, sustainable meat and childhood nutrition. In these key areas, we believe the culinary community has a tremendous role to play in evaluating how they source food for their establishments, how they message those choices to their guests, and what they advocate for at the local, regional and federal levels in terms of policies.

Chefs have a platform and voice today like never before. They are community leaders, small to medium size business operators and employers and economic drivers. They have an increasingly large social, digital and media presence and speak to a huge constituency of people on a daily basis. For these reasons, we know they are a powerful and important voice in the good food movement. 

What are you most excited about for the future of the JBF Impact Programs? What inspires you the most about the future of our food system?

At this moment, I'm incredibly excited and proud that the James Beard Foundation has made this commitment and launched the Impact Programs. Both as an organization and in partnership with our broader community, we have an important role to play in bringing awareness to the issues, facilitating meaningful dialogue on how we make improvements and supporting our passionate community in taking steps to drive those changes. I'm looking forward to being able to look back 10 years from now on all of the great work that the culinary community - with the support of the James Beard Foundation and others - was able to accomplish. 

I'm also inspired by the fact that there has been such an increase in discussion, programs, education and philanthropic support directed toward improving the food system in America. Whether you believe there is a food movement or not, there is certainly an increased awareness around food and the important role it plays in all of our lives. And to leave you with a quote, as James Beard was known to say: "Food Is Our Common Ground, A Universal Experience." I hope we continue to insist that food be recognized as an integral part of both our country's culture and our communities.

 

Follow the James Beard Foundation on Social Media for updates (and photos of delicious-looking food!): 

Twitter: @beardfoundation

Instagram: @beardfoundation

Facebook: /beardfoundation

And follow Kristopher directly on Twitter at @kristophermoon 

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