K-12 Education

Aspen Challenge Participants Demand Access to Healthy Foods

February 14, 2014  • Kirsten Saenz Tobey, Guest Blogger

The Aspen Challenge — launched by the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation — provides a platform, inspiration, and tools for young people to design solutions to some of the world’s most critical problems by engaging with leading global visionaries, artists, and entrepreneurs. Denver Public Schools will send 20 teams from 20 schools to compete between January 10 and March 1, 2014. Here, Kirsten Saenz Tobey, co-founder of Revolution Foods, explains how high school students participating in the Challenge are demanding high-quality foods be made available in their communities.

Watch the video above to view this Challenge.

Every family deserves equal access to real food. Unfortunately, this remains a dream for many.  

The food industry has undergone dramatic change over the past half-century. While our parents’ and grandparents’ generations grew up cooking and eating real food for most of their meals, today’s youth are growing up in a world where they are surrounded by highly processed “food” options that are so full of artificial ingredients that eating a balanced diet of real foods is nearly impossible. This lack of access to high-quality foods plays a significant role in the health crisis facing our nation’s youth today. We, the adult generation responsible for this, are not setting up our nation’s youth for success. They deserve better.

Although I believe that we adults have a lot of responsibility for turning this tide, and I work every day to try to make meaningful contributions to the problem through my work at Revolution Foods, I am also turning my view increasingly to the next generation to come up with innovative solutions to the food crisis facing our nation.

Having spent a couple of days with an impressive group of young people from Denver Public Schools through the Aspen Challenge last month, I was heartened by what I saw and experienced. These youth demonstrated a complex understanding of the food issues facing their communities. They demonstrated an acute self-awareness of the implications of their personal choices. The high school students I met through the Aspen Challenge at DPS are incredibly articulate, insightful, and thoughtful. They want to be leaders in their communities, and they understand, in many cases from heart-wrenching personal experiences, that those communities with the least access to fresh, high-quality foods are the same communities suffering from nutrition- and diet-related disease. No one deserves to be put in this type of situation.

Teens have a strong voice and, in turn, the power to bring about meaningful social change.

High school students are tomorrow’s consumers. Any good marketer knows how important it is to not just ride current trends, but to stay two steps ahead and be at the forefront of rising trends. The food industry as a whole is extraordinarily driven by marketing. Billions of dollars are spent every year not just on advertising, but also on gathering the insights from core current and potential consumers that drive the direction of future product development. 

High school students can use their voice and conviction to create innovative solutions to increasing access to healthy food in their communities — not just by starting up farmers’ markets in their school parking lots (which, in fact, would be a fantastic step forward). They can also use their voices and the power of social media to make it clear to the food industry that they demand access to real foods — foods that are free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.   

At Revolution Foods over the past eight years, we have served more than 90 million fresh, high-quality meals to students across the US through our school meals program. After hearing repeatedly from students that they also wanted access to high-quality foods outside of the school meal programs, we created a line of Meal Kits, sold at retail stores across the country and accessible to all. All of this was a direct result of hearing what students and families across the US felt they deserved, and I couldn’t agree more. 

While companies like ours are still unfortunately anomalies in the food industry, I can feel the tide shifting. And I can see that the youth generation is not just going to ride this tide — they are causing the shift because they know they deserve better.