Jean Mayer Prize awarded to HEAL Food Alliance, James Beard Foundation, World Central Kitchen

The Tufts Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences building is pictured. via Tufts University

The 2020 Jean Mayer Prize for Excellence in Nutrition Science and Policy was recently awarded to the HEAL Food Alliance, the James Beard Foundation and World Central Kitchen (WCK).

The $100,000 prize, given by the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, will be split evenly among the three recipients.

The Jean Mayer Prize, which honors the legacy of nutrition scientist and former Tufts President Jean Mayer, is awarded to individuals and organizations for their exceptional efforts in improving health and nutrition and addressing food disparities. Past recipients include former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the Friedman School to put a different spin on this year’s selection process.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the many broken aspects of our food system,” Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School, wrote in an email to the Daily. “For the 2020 prize, the selection committee is recognizing three organizations who are making a real difference in food and nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A virtual awards ceremony, moderated discussion and Q&A session with representatives from each of the three organizations was held Wednesday over Zoom. 

The HEAL (health, environment, agriculture, and labor) Food Alliance, one of the three organizations recognized, works to create healthy, easily accessible and affordable food systems by providing a platform for people from various sectors of the food justice movement to come together, according to its website. HEAL also has a network of member organizations that represent farmers, scientists, environmentalists, public health advocates and food chain workers, among others.

“The recognition of the work of our alliance means a lot, especially right now,Navina Khanna, director of the HEAL Food Alliance, wrote in an email to the Daily.

Khanna emphasized that members of the organization fight for equitable food systems and agricultural practices in different communities.

“Many of our members … work by organizing on the frontlines of food and agriculture justice work in BIPOC communities,” she said. 

Khanna also explained that working to minimize the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will prepare the HEAL Food Alliance to combat similar problems that may arise in the future. 

“Together, we’re creating, organizing, and advocating for the kinds of food systems that will get us through crises like future pandemics, as well as the chaos of climate change,” she said. 

The James Beard Foundation, another award recipient, is a nonprofit organization that offers a variety of industry programs, scholarships and hands-on learning experiences, with the goal of making food culture in the United States more sustainable, according to its website. The foundation recently launched a new initiative, Open For Good, which provides resources to help independent restaurants across the United States survive the ongoing pandemic. 

World Central Kitchen , founded by chef José Andrés, received the award for its efforts to reduce world hunger and create food resiliency. WCK partners with other organizations to provide food to communities that have suffered from natural disasters and other emergencies

“We’re used to operating in crisis mode,Russell Bermel, a special projects coordinator at WCK, said.

Despite these experiences, the pandemic has still presented WCK with a new set of challenges.

We’re not able to line up people and do a buffet, or a traditional soup kitchen. We’re making individual meals, meals have to be prepackaged,Bermel said. 

Bermel expressed gratitude for the prize and recognized the other award recipients. 

These [other organizations receiving the prize] are incredible long standing organizations and to be held in that class, I think makes it even more special,Bermel said. 

Mozaffarian hopes the award showcases the organizations’ achievements and work. 

We hope that the Prize … highlights the Friedman School’s commitment to these issues, and builds stronger relationships between us all to tackle the remarkable challenges, and opportunities, in food and nutrition today,” he said.