Sharing new tools that will transform the U.S. food system

By Kevin T. Kirkpatrick

Photo: “Reset the Table: Messaging Guide”, The Rockefeller Foundation

With encouraging signs that the United States is approaching a much more manageable phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be tempting to want to shrug off anything related to it and turn the page as quickly as possible.

Yet, the pandemic has not been an isolated incident. It has been connected to every aspect of our lives and in many cases has revealed deep cracks in our systems and policies, and the ways in which they do and do not promote public health, advance social justice, and protect our natural resources and address climate change.

Case in point: the U.S. food system.

Our food system and the policies and practices that support it, are deeply inequitable. As one of the major contributors to economic equity, health and environmental challenges, it is long overdue for change. The marketing of unhealthy food, the continuing lack of access to affordable nutritious food, the environmental impact of food processing and transportation, and the working conditions and low wages paid to food system workers all demand our attention and our commitment to manifest positive change.

And while the pandemic did not create any of these underlying challenges in the food system, it most certainly drew urgent attention to it — for good reason.

This year, an estimated 42 million people, one in eight, could experience food insecurity, according to Feeding America. It is worse in communities impacted by systemic racism. A study by the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University found that over the course of the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, Black families in the United States have gone hungry at two-to-three times the rate of White families.

In late 2019, just a few months before COVID-19 entered all our lives, The Rockefeller Foundation (@RockefellerFdn) launched a project to research and design an initiative to help accelerate transforming the food system in the United States to make it healthier, more equitable, more resilient and more sustainable. Little did we know then that a global pandemic would soon sweep across the country and around the world, leading to a once-in-a-century public health crisis and an economic meltdown, both of which exacerbated long-simmering issues related to the country’s food system.

As food insecurity exploded in the spring of 2020, while supporting its grantees in providing emergency food through schools across the country, the Foundation sought insights from hundreds of people and organizations in both #meetingthemoment and setting the stage for a much-needed transformation of the food system. Farmers and food activists, social justice leaders and public health researchers, food industry leaders and environmental leaders and many others came together, virtually, to identify lessons learned and to spotlight the shifts needed to transform this inequitable system.

The result was the release of Reset the Table: Meeting the Moment to Transform the U.S. Food System that outlines a series of fundamental shifts and near-term steps to effectively promote healthy people and a healthy planet.

To advance one of the needs called out in the paper, the Foundation released a Reset the Table: Messaging Guide with specific guidance and supporting research to help systems change advocates in all sectors and at all levels promote transformation of the U.S. food system.

The guide comes just in time and shares a new core narrative: “Working together, we can transform our food system to promote the health of all people and our planet.” And it shows how the supporting message framework can be used to address a wide range of related issues from school meals and environmental sustainability to racial justice and equity. Metropolitan Group was honored to partner with the Foundation and numerous food system change agents and to apply our social impact approach to narrative and public will building in the research and development of the paper and messaging guide.

Photo: “Reset the Table: Messaging Guide”, The Rockefeller Foundation

We hope the shifts called for in the policy paper and the messaging tools in the guide can help change agents in every sector transform the food system, which impacts every one of us in every community.

  • Now is the time for many voices to tell a more effective story that makes clear the changes needed and the powerful shared benefits of an equitable food system.
  • Now is the time to make fundamental changes to the economics of our supply chains to ensure living wages, to build more resilient and regional food economies.
  • Now is the time to shift what and how we grow, process and transport our food to make us all healthier.

In short, now is the time to #ResetTheTable.

MG/ISMG crafts strategic and creative services to amplify the power of voice of change agents in building a just and sustainable world.