You might expect something called the Julia Child Award to be given to a visionary chef or accomplished restaurateur—and for the past five years, you would have been right.
But while “visionary” and “accomplished” are apt descriptors for this year’s honoree, cooking is not her strong suit. “I’m not a chef. Just ask my husband,” joked Danielle Nierenberg, N01, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Food Tank, which does education and advocacy work supporting a healthier, more sustainable, more equitable food system.
Most recently, chef and restaurateur Jose Andres and Border Grill co-chefs and co-owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Veniger received the annual award and $50,000 grant from the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.
But Nierenberg’s expertise lies in bringing people together, starting conversations, and creating openings for change. “We want to convene people who otherwise wouldn’t talk to each other, to organize a safe space where corporate executives, agricultural companies, and food justice advocates can talk about what’s working and what’s not, and possible solutions,” Nierenberg said. “We want to create the opportunity for uncomfortable conversations. I think a lot lies in that uncomfortableness if you can leave your biases at the door.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, this work is more important than ever. Unprecedented stresses on the food system have exposed its flaws—as well as the opportunities for solutions, Nierenberg said. “I think people are finally seeing things that were easy to ignore before, like the treatment of food workers in restaurants and processing plants, and the fragility of our food system,” Nierenberg said. “COVID-19 is not the last thing we’re going to have to endure, and now people are learning how to better prepare and really transform the food system in different ways.”