Female Food Heroes: 9 Women Shaking Up our Food System

1. Michelle Obama


Through the “Let’s Move” Initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama has been a relentless voice in championing healthy habits. It is inspiring to see one of the most public figures in America devote herself to such a noble cause, addressing not only the American public, but the food industry as well. I am particularly impressed by her September 18th address on food marketing to children (check it out here).

2. Marion Nestle


Marion Nestle is my absolute favorite voice in the nutrition and food systems arena. While not a Registered Dietitian, this NYU nutrition professor and public health expert has a no-nonsense interpretation of nutrition science that simply can’t be argued with. Her bluntness is refreshing, and she has no problem pointing fingers when talking about the culprits of obesity. Marion Nestle has written several insightful books, and I am completely addicted to her blog, foodpolitics.com.

3. Kathleen Marrigan


Kathleen Marrigan has been a champion of organic and local foods from the very beginning. In fact, her MIT dissertation became the basis of the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act. In 2010, Time Magazine named Kathleen Marrigan as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.  She has held various positions for the US Department of Agriculture throughout her career, including most recently the Deputy Secretary (a post from which she retired in March of 2013). During her time there, she managed the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, and worked tirelessly to strengthen the American food system. Oh yea, and she’s a longhorn (hook ’em!).

4. Frances Moore Lappe


In 1971, 27 year old Frances Moore Lappe wrote the book on sustainable diets. Literally. In Diet for a Small Planet, she made made waves by re-framing world hunger as a problem of distribution, not a problem of production. Since then, she has authored or co-authored 17 other books related to world hunger and living democracies, and has co-founded 3 organizations (Food First, the Small Planet Institute, and the Small Planet Fund). Her enthusiasm has been an inspiration to numerous activists over the years, and I am proud to be a new member of the Small Planet Institute team.

5. Anna Lappe


Anna Blythe Lappe is the daughter of Frances Moore Lappe, and was also a co-founder of the Small Planet Institute. Anna has written multiple books, including the recent publication, Diet for a Hot Planet. She is also an advocate for “real food” and sustainable food systems (causes near and dear to my heart!) Check out her TED talk on food marketing to children here.

6. Alice Waters


When people search for the beginning of the local food revolution, many people point to Chef Alice Waters. Since the 1971 opening of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters has shown consumers the magic of local, seasonal food, as well as helping chefs and other members of the food system see that eating locally and seasonally is not only possible, but profitable as well. In 1996 Alice expanded her reach into children’s food and nutrition education by founding the Edible Schoolyard Project.

7. Ann Cooper


Chef Ann Cooper, aka the Renegade Lunch Lady, is working hard to show our kids what healthy, delicious food looks like. Reforming the National School lunch program is a HUGE challenge! (I would know, I spent 6 weeks managing an elementary school cafeteria). So I applaud Ann for acting not only as a role model in her own school district, but as a consultant and advocate as well.

8. Ellie Krieger


“To get people to eat well, don’t say a word about health. Just cook fantastic food for them”- Ellie Krieger

Ellie Krieger is a Registered Dietitian, television chef, James Beard Award winning cookbook author, and consultant to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity initiative. With her recipes, Ellie Krieger proves that healthy eating is not a punishment, and that choosing health does not mean sacrificing taste. It’s exciting to see RDs become public figures and have the opportunity to model healthy behaviors!

9. Vandana Shiva


Located in India, Dr. Vandana Shiva is a world renowned expert on agriculture and food systems. She started started research and advocacy organization Navdanya “to protect biodiversity, defend farmers’ rights and promote organic farming”. A relentless advocate for environmental activism and biodiversity, Dr. Vandana Shiva has also authored numerous books.

That’s my list! I would have loved to feature 10 women (because 10 is a nice, even number) but these were the main ones that came to mind. Any ideas?

– Kelly

P.S. For photo credits, click the image.


4 Habits of Healthy Kids

Alarmingly high numbers of obesity and chronic disease in children are causing a stir across the nation. There are a number of debated environmental factors at play, but it’s important to remember that food habits start at home and are often carried into adulthood. So what can families do to instill healthy habits in their children from a young age? Here are 4 strategies to promote health in kids.

Family Dinner Time - Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas

Image via The Moat Blog

1) Slowly savor family dinners. We all know better than to scarf down our food, but according to this study, all it takes is an extra 3-5 minutes at the table! According to the research, children of families that interacted over a 20-minute meal, 4 times a week, weighed significantly less than children that left the table after just 15-17 minutes of mealtime. Echoing the importance of family meals, Phipps Conservatory executive director Richard Piacentini has launched a “10,000 Tables” initiative, in an effort to promote 10,000 Pittsburg area families to share a meal together each week.

Image via Best Ads on TV

2) Get moving. Recent research shows that 7 minutes of vigorous activity is all that is needed for children to get the health benefits of exercise (including obesity prevention). Enrolling kids in sports is not only a great way to get in physical activity, but also a great way to teach kids about discipline, teamwork, and goal setting. Limiting screen time and encouraging outdoor play is also a great way to get kids moving. If health motivations aren’t enough, you can read this article about how physically fit children perform better in school than their out of shape peers.

Image via Eat Drink Love

3) Teach kids about food. Involving children in the food preparation process teaches them valuable skills about where their food comes from, and is also a great way to interest them in foods that they otherwise might not try. Expose children to a variety of healthy foods, and remember that it can take multiple exposures to a food before children acquire a taste for it. Children have a knack for intuitive eating, so avoid tampering with their internal cues by enforcing rules such as “clean the plate” or “no second helpings”. It is also important to teach children the difference between a snack (cheese, crackers, fruit, yogurt, or veggies) and a treat (candy and cupcakes). Snacks are mini meals that energize the body, while treats aren’t for eating everyday. “Kid foods” are often just glorified junk food, so model healthy eating behaviors based on wholesome meals and ingredients, and let the food facts come from you, not from marketers.

EWG Dirty Dozen

Image via The Environmental Working Group (2012)

4) Avoid toxic exposure. Pesticide exposure to people outside of farms occurs through consumption of nonorganic foods, and chronic exposure is associated health problems including cancer. (Recent publications are even discussing a link between toxins and obesity, although I don’t think that this new stir should downplay the importance of energy balance.) The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report on the benefits of eating organic foods, and although organic products are not significantly different nutritionally, there are times to go organic. Because antibiotic resistant bacteria can spread between people and food, the report indicates a preference for antibiotic free, organic meat. Washing produce reduces some pesticides, but isn’t shown decrease overall exposure. Consult the graphic above (from the Environmental Working Group, 2012) when deciding which fruits and vegetables to buy organic. And don’t think that toxic exposures only come from food. Check out this short article for 5 ways to decrease toxic exposure.

So what do you think? Do you implement any of these habits in your household? Another resource for raising healthy eaters is the book French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon. Although I admit that I have not read it yet, I am very intrigued by the 10 rules (see below).

French Kids Eat Everything via Joanna Goddard

Image via A CUP OF JO

– Kelly

School Lunch


Tomato soup, chicken with brown rice, fresh garden salad, an apple and low-fat milk from Burlington, VT schools. YUM! (here)

School lunch gets a bad rap, and it wasn’t always undeserved. But if you have visions of chicken nuggets and pizza, you must not have stepped foot in a cafeteria lately. School lunch ain’t what it used to be. Under the new school nutrition standards, there must be a greater amount of fruits and vegetables (and a greater variety), 50% of grains must be whole grain rich by July 2012 (and 100% by July 2014), milk must be either 1% (low fat) or skim (nonfat), and only nonfat milk can be flavored. Additionally, there are now standards for sodium and calorie levels (there used to be no maximum for either), and there must be 0g trans fats per serving (no previous restriction). Despite some concern over the new school guidelines, I applaud these changes, as they are absolutely a step in the right direction.


Beautiful meal from Portland, Oregon. (here)

Room for improvement: The new school nutrition standards are no doubt a victory for childhood nutrition, but there are still some problems to be worked out. These are the biggest challenges facing school lunch today. And yes, sadly enough, pizza sauce does count towards the vegetable requirement…

  • School lunches are definitely getting healthier. So why can your child still eat chicken fingers and french fries for lunch everyday? Two words: Competitive foods. Foods from vending machines, snack bars, and fast food chains are not a part of the National School Lunch Program, and therefore are not subject to the school nutrition standards. If we really want to create a healthy environment for our children, we need to set stricter standards for competitive foods as well. (here)
  • Unfortunately, the increased amount of fruits and vegetables on lunch trays is often correlated with the increased amount of fruits and vegetables in trash cans and compost bins. Acceptability of healthy foods is a complex issue, and it takes time to adjust. My suggestions? Get more kids to eat lunch after recess, instead of before, so that they are not rushing through lunch to go out and play, and they come in hungrier and ready to eat. Additionally, interactive nutrition programs that teach children the importance of a healthy diet, as well as where their food comes from, will be beneficial when trying to get children to embrace healthy foods. And don’t forget that acceptability starts at home! Model positive eating behaviors for your children, and encourage them to try new foods frequently. (here)


Navajo tacos on a whole wheat bread with from scratch chili, and topped with all the fixings, at Centennial Middle School in Utah. Looks delicious! (here)

Innovative Ideas: The new school nutrition standards present their share of challenges for schools trying to implement them. Here are some clever ways to combat challenges and make every student healthier. 

  • Hector P. Garcia Middle School has fought back against competitive foods by offering healthier choices at after school concession stands. (here)
  • Elkins Middle School is improving breakfast participation by serving breakfast later, grab & go style. (here)
  • Lafayette Parish School System is trying out healthy lunch vending machine kiosks to help combat the logistical issues of serving healthy meals. (here)
  • Hall High School students taste test new cafeteria food in order to increase student education of the school food service system, as well as make sure that student needs are being met in dining halls. (here)
  • Pajaro Valley Elementary School utilizes recess fruit carts with nutrition education as part of their farm to school program. This approach is popular with students, and doesn’t infringe on precious classroom time. (here)
  • This study demonstrates that catchy names for healthy foods increase children’s selection and consumption. What a simple way to help nudge children in the right direction! (here)
  • Chefs in schools are improving student’s knowledge of healthy foods and food preparation, as well increasing student interest in healthy eating. (here, here and here)


Beautiful veggie hummus wrap from Ashland Public Schools in Massachusetts.  (here)

Can’t get enough?

  • All of the images above are from the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Pinterest page. Check it out to see images of successful healthy lunches from around the country, as well as get the facts on school lunch.
  • Want better school lunches in your area? Click here for all of the resources you need.


Scene from the trenches: My 6 weeks managing an elementary school cafeteria in 2012, just as the school nutrition guidelines were getting finalized.

– Kelly