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A Return to Our Roots for Healthy, Equitable, Culturally Diverse, and Climate Friendly Food

The diverse people of the SF Bay Area unite to adopt a healthier and more sustainable diet, serving as a model for communities everywhere.

Photo of Lauren Weston
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Acterra: Action for a Healthy Planet

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Acterra roots go back to 1970 with a long history of environmental education and action. We are known as a convener. Our mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet. All our work is done in partnership with local government, businesses, nonprofits and individuals. In order to plan and implement the 2018 Climate Friendly Cuisine conference in affiliation with the Global Climate Action Summit, we first convened Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Zero Foodprint, Stop Waste, Food Shift, Bon Appetit Management Co, SF Environment, SFUSD Future Dining Experience, Oakland USD, Stanford Univ. Dining, Jesse Cool Restaurants, ReFED, San Mateo County, Yelp, LinkedIn, Green Monday, Factory Farm Awareness Coalition, Genentech, San Francisco International Airport, Menus of Change, Kaiser Permanente, TomKat Ranch, Imperfect Produce, numerous local sustainable food product innovators, and local food banks. Our partnership with these groups continues.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.acterra.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Palo Alto

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The San Francisco Bay Area region in the United States covers 6,900 square miles (18,000 km2) of land.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The San Francisco Bay Area is an ethnically diverse, progressive, climate-aware region, dedicated to culturally representative solutions to climate change. Bay Area cities comprised over 20% of CDP’s global A List of international cities showing climate action leadership. The City of San Francisco is among the top five cities in the world for its aggressive goals of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2030. Our region is leading the nation in adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), with new programs aimed at making EVs accessible to lower income residents.

Acterra, celebrating our 50th anniversary along with Earth Day this year, has been an important part of this journey towards sustainability, bringing the people of the Bay Area together to create local solutions for a healthy planet. We actively serve ten Bay Area counties with San Mateo and Santa Clara counties as a focal point. We focus on what the public can do locally to address current environmental problems at home, at work and in between. In the face of daunting environmental challenges, our science-based approach instills hope while building community. Our current programs include the Climate Resilient Communities, Karl Knapp GoEV, Climate Friendly Cuisine, Business Environmental Awards, Silicon Valley Green Team Network, and Public Lecture Series programs.

In the Bay Area, as throughout the world, under-resourced communities are disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of climate change. Acterra builds alliances between community residents, local government programs, and community-based organizations in under-resourced areas in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. These partnerships formed through Acterra’s Climate Resilient Communities program help to create resilience against the emerging and anticipated climate change impacts to the Bay Area.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The San Francisco Bay Area (Bay Area) is a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas surrounding the San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun Bay estuaries in Northern California. The Association of Bay Area Governments defines the Bay Area as including nine counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, and San Francisco. Other definitions exclude parts of or even entire counties, or expand the area to include neighboring counties.

Acterra defines the Bay Area as the nine counties mentioned above plus Santa Cruz County. Home to more than 8 million people, the ten-county Bay Area contains more than 100 cities and towns, several airports, and a vast network of regional, state, and national parks.  The Bay Area's residents are ethnically diverse, with Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, and Pacific Islanders comprising roughly half of the region's population. English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog and Vietnamese are the most commonly spoken languages in the region, but according to the last census, a total of 112 different languages can be heard in Bay Area homes.

 “Foodie” culture abounds in the region, with a diversity of flavors from around the globe gracing Bay Area restaurants and home kitchens. The culinary richness of the area has long made it a fine dining capital, and it continues to hold the US record for the region with the most three Michelin-starred restaurants. The Bay Area is the birth place of the farm-to-table movement, which is now popular internationally. Today, the Bay Area also boasts world famous wines that are out-competing the bottles from traditional wine regions in France and Italy.

The region has a Mediterranean type of climate with warm and dry summers and wet and mild winters. Agriculture is part of the Bay Area economy and land use, ranging from small to large farms producing produce, eggs, and dairy, as well as cattle ranches, vineyards and orchards. Well over 100 local farmers markets are active across the Bay Area, selling a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, as well as other local cheeses, meats, baked goods and more.

Nonetheless, ten percent of Bay Area adults report that they rarely find fresh produce in their neighborhood. Of those adults who have access to fresh fruit and vegetables in their neighborhood, one in six reports that it is “only sometimes, or never” (rarely) affordable. For Bay Area households with an annual income less than $20,000, 15% report that they can rarely find fresh produce in their neighborhood, while nearly 30% report that it is rarely affordable. These data are compiled in a 2015 SPUR report – Healthy Food Within Reach – which also states that adult obesity rates in the Bay Area steadily increased from 2001 to 2011, from 16 to 20%. Obesity rates vary by Bay Area county and by income level. Over a third of Solano County residents are obese, compared to one in 10 people in San Francisco. Among Bay Area adults with annual household incomes below $15,000, obesity rates are 28%, while those with annual incomes of $100,000 or more have obesity rates of only 14%.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

18000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

8000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Acterra’s office sits steps from San Francisco Bay, the heart of the Bay Area. Despite being surrounded by urban sprawl, clogged freeways, landfills, and polluted water and skies, the bay is still one of California's most ecologically important habitats. This precious aquatic jewel filters pollutants and sediments from surrounding rivers, and provides a home for endangered species. With the current predictions of sea level rise due to climate change, Acterra and our neighbors, including thousands of low-income households, are expected be flooded by the century’s end.

Between the extremely high cost of living and housing shortages, there are few options for people displaced by the impacts of climate change, such is flooding or fires. The rising homeless population was estimated by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute at close to 30,000. Many more are at the brink of homelessness, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, while others are buying homes for tens of millions of dollars. There is growing tension due to this stark inequity, and lower and middle-income residents are forced to move further and further away from their workplaces, leading to commutes of 2 hours or more each way. This in turn increases greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, traffic, road rage, etc.

As stress levels rise, diets worsen and overall public health declines. Those working double shifts and commuting long hours have no time to plan, shop and cook nutritious meals. Food deserts persist in low income areas and many lack access to healthy food. Prepared, convenience and take-out foods have become an increasing part of the Bay Area diet. Obesity from poor diet and lack of exercise is on the rise. Food waste and food packaging waste are on the rise. Ironically and tragically, it is estimated that more than 40% of food is wasted, while more than 1 in 10 people in the Bay Area face food insecurity.

Cultural preferences and tastes are a well-known barrier to choosing healthy foods even when they are available. Technology also adds to the problem. Grocery stores and community supported agriculture are in jeopardy as harried people fill their online cart for food delivery. There is a disconnect from touching, smelling and selecting our food, from touching the earth and understanding where our food comes from. Our world becomes increasingly automated with less and less human interaction and fewer jobs in service industries.

Local governments race to implement climate action plans, health and diet recommendations, and other policies to face these challenges. Politics – influenced by strong industry lobbying – gets in the way. Even when positive legislation is passed, funding often restricts implementation. For example, in many school districts, more than half of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. With tight budgets, schools struggle to serve nutritious foods due to the higher cost of fresh produce as compared to processed foods. Implementing the new state policy to increase plant-based options on school menus may therefore prove challenging.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Nearly 20% of a Bay Area resident’s carbon footprint comes from food.  A plant-based diet is tied to far few greenhouse gas emissions than a typical American meat heavy diet. Asking individuals to give up meat and become a vegan is not an effective approach for many reasons — practical, cultural and economic. However, encouraging a “plant-forward diet,” which is healthier for people and the planet, is workable. Plant-forward is defined as “a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, plant-based foods.”

Acceptance of the plant-forward diet is growing. Behavior change scientists explain that a tipping point may be reached when 25% of the population has adopted a new behavior, and it then may become the social norm.  With 39% of Americans are eating more plant-based foods, the time is ripe to go plant-forward.

In 2018, Acterra and partners convened the Climate Friendly Cuisine conference, highlighting the environmental, health and economic benefits of promoting plant-forward menus and reducing food waste (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghpJXHsSrSw). The conference for 140 food service professionals was affiliated with the Global Climate Action Summit. Acterra will now take a holistic approach to engage businesses, residents and government with education and a call to action. The goal is to shift everyone in the Bay Area to a plant-forward diet by 2030.  Acterra will use social media, game theory and a mobile app to encourage healthy competition while tracking individual progress towards pledges to adopt a climate friendly diet.

The campaign will include film screenings, lectures, cooking demonstrations and workshops. An after-school program will educate and empower students to lead the charge. All programming will emphasize engagement of disadvantaged communities through our Climate Resilient Communities network. Acterra staff have earned their trust and possess the cultural competence to show how plant-forward recipes have long been a part of their traditions.

Mayors from 14 international cities joined the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration to achieve a ‘Planetary Health Diet’ for all by 2030. Acterra will invite over 100 mayors from Bay Area cities to take a similar pledge. Using procurement powers and policy changes, local mayors will ensure that healthy, climate-friendly food is available and affordable to all, while reducing wasted food.

The food service industry will reconvene for a 2020 Climate Friendly Cuisine conference. The addition of an online video and resource library with content from the two conferences will reach a much larger audience.

As the attached futures wheel demonstrates, adoption of a plant-forward diet sets in motion a consumer driven chain of impacts that will improve people’s health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide new jobs and economic growth, promote a more fair and equitable society and more. This change is poised to disrupt our broken food system.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In 2050, the Bay Area has returned to our roots. Healthy, equitable, culturally diverse, and climate friendly food is available to all. Access to natural, nutritious and delicious food is now seen as a human right and no one faces food insecurity.

Our diet is primarily plant-based and no food is wasted. People are healthy and thriving in an equitable society. Health care costs are low, good paying jobs are plentiful and the economy is strong.

Ideas about food have changed. People take time to connect to their food, to grow their own food, and to cook delicious, healthy meals. Gathering around the table, people connect and respect each other, appreciating and celebrating the many cultures that make up the Bay Area through food.

Technology and policy support sustainable agriculture and transportation systems. Food is grown closer to home and with respect to biodiversity. We have clean air and water, healthy ecosystems, zero waste, and there is no longer a climate crisis. With regenerative, organic agriculture taking over industrial processes, the food system is now in balance.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Looking into the future to 2050 is like looking into the past. Before settlement by Europeans, the San Francisco Bay Area was home to the Ohlone and Coast Miwok peoples for over 10,000 years. They lived in harmony with nature and the environment was respected, treasured and sustainably maintained. Native American values include considering the impacts of one’s actions, looking ahead for several generations, and prioritizing sustainability over short term gains. Everything is seen as interconnected and people are a part of nature. These values and this spirit has returned to the Bay Area in 2050.

The catalyst for this change in values was that people’s ideas about food changed. People came together around food. Access to healthy food is now seen as a human right, like clean air and water.  Everyone has access to nutritious, fresh, whole foods. There is no more food insecurity, no homelessness, food is never wasted. We live in a more equitable society with good paying jobs for all, many in the food system.

Food is part of communing with others and communing with nature. Busy lives have slowed down and people appreciate the importance of sitting down to a healthy meal to connect with friends and family. The days of grab and go, processed, packaged foods are gone. People enjoy growing and cooking their own food, as well as dining out.

Landfills are a thing of the past and we’ve become truly zero waste. The region has a positive carbon footprint with 100% renewable energy and many other technological advancements.

The plant-forward diet is the norm with 100% of the local population eating very little animal-based food and a growing number of vegans and vegetarians. Health care costs are low because there is very little obesity, heart disease or diabetes. With less demand for meat, the factory farm is outmoded and seen as inhumane. Animals roam freely in pastures. Oceans, lakes and rivers are repopulated with fish and aquatic ecosystems restored.

Agriculture is holistic, organic, and regenerative with support from the government and technology companies. Thanks to the grazing of animals and thoughtful crop rotation with a large diversity of crops, the ecosystem is balanced, sustainable and productive. Soils are healthy, and as a result food is more nutritious.

Policy is in place to support and promote sustainable agriculture and transportation systems. The transportation system has evolved and food is grown closer to home. People and goods are transported autonomously, more harmoniously and shorter distances, so there are no more traffic jams. The landscape is different, with cleaner air and water, and more open space. People are more connected to their food and to nature, and have more free time to enjoy life.

The environmental movement was formed around the idea of thinking globally and acting locally. The Bay Area with its progressive thinking and multi-cultural population has demonstrated that adopting a primarily plant-based diet is attainable in a diverse community such as ours. This change has disrupted the broken food system.

The Bay Area has long been a model for foodies who follow the latest trends. The international community that comprises the Bay Area has spread our message to friends and family outside the region, causing a ripple effect around the globe. We are a model for communities everywhere and change is happening worldwide.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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