As part of an effort to bring awareness to important issues surrounding food, including hunger, sustainability, and farming, National Geographic has created a multichannel initiative that will explore—in print, online, on television, and in exhibitions—the many facets of how the world eats.
Deputy creative director Kaitlin Yarnall explained that National Geographic’s goal is to shine a light on the complex global food system. “We’re looking at how we will be able to healthfully feed nine billion people by 2050 without causing irreparable environmental harm,” she said. “It’s a solution-oriented series and continues the narrative with our readers as we’ve covered water, population, and other critical issues in the past.”
National Geographic will release two food-related titles on September 9: National Geographic Kids Cookbook: A Year-Round Fun Food Adventure, a children’s cooking guide with activities for every month of the year, and Foods for Health: Choose and Use the Very Best Foods for Your Family and Our Planet, which will serve both as a reference guide to common and unfamiliar foods and an exploration of healthy and sustainable eating. Both books are written by Barton Seaver, who is a chef, National Geographic Fellow, and director of the healthy and sustainable food program in the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health. At the Harvard School, Seaver says his job is, “to show that our health is wholly dependent on our environment. We work with Fortune 500 companies and students and conservation groups alike to broaden the lens at which we look at sustainability to include humans in that equation.” In short, he considers himself a “food explorer.”
Susan Hitchcock, senior editor at National Geographic Society, said Foods for Health and Kids Cookbook are the first such food-related books that National Geographic has ever published. “It’s a new frontier for us, but we’re excited to do it. We’re dipping more than one toe into food because it’s such a connecting force around the world.”
Editor Becky Baines believes it’s the perfect time for National Geographic to release its first children’s cookbook. “The Food Network has been around for over 20 years, and its popularity is only growing. There are now kids shows, like Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off,” she said, adding. “Kids are becoming more sophisticated with their palates, and they are more careful about what they’re putting into their bodies.”
Kids Cookbook is aimed at children ages eight to 12, but Baines believes the book can reach a broader audience. “The activities and recipes in the book are a family sort of thing—something parents and kids can work on together,” she said. “With the book, we really wanted to show kids what’s good for you and good for the planet. The aim is to have children involved in food from the beginning, from selecting food for recipes to helping to create what they eat.”
Seaver was pleased to have the opportunity to write a cookbook for children. “Food is a wonderful way to engage with kids and to have them learn about food,” he said. “In our culture, food has become a burden and a chore, but I grew up in a family where food was joyful and uniting, and it defined the relationships I had with my family.” Through Kids Cookbook, Seaver said he hopes children will learn to “embrace the culture of food and the role it holds in our lives.”
Seaver’s adult title, Foods for Health, is not a cookbook. “You’re not going to open the book and see a recipe,” said Hitchcock, “but you’ll get guidelines on preparing foods.” Seaver, who wrote the book with nutrition scientist P.K. Newby, said the book was written to inform people about the foods they choose to eat and give them “a deeper appreciation” of the ingredients used in cooking. “The book is mostly vegetables and just a bit of grains and meats,” said Seaver. “It suggests a healthy use of food, with the idea that the more vegetables we inspire you to eat, the healthier you are. Essentially, health through the joy of eating.”
Hitchcock said Seaver’s and Newby’s opinions and views infuse Foods for Health. “We didn’t want to stray from our core National Geographic topics with the book,” she said. “So we bring in the history and environmental implications of the food we eat, and they are both recurring themes in the book.”
On Screens, in the Magazine, and in Person
Other facets of National Geographic’s food initiative include coverage online, in its magazine, on TV, and an exhibit. In April, National Geographic launched a website dedicated to The Future of Food, which features articles exploring such topics as providing food for a growing global population grows and how climate change affects growing seasons and planting zones. Site visitors can also find videos, charts, and articles about sustainability, foodborne diseases, the cost of eating healthily versus eating fast food, and more.
The May issue of National Geographic magazine featured a cover story called Eat: The New Food Revolution, which kicks off a series of feature articles about food that will run throughout the year in the magazine. And on TV, there’s Eat: The Story of Food, a miniseries airing on the National Geographic Channel starting this fall. There will also be an exhibition on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., called “Food: Our Global Kitchen,” which opens on October 16 and runs through February 22, 2015. The exhibit will have sections devoted to growing, transporting, cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating food. There will be opportunities for visitors to taste seasonal treats in a working kitchen and peek into the dining rooms of famous figures from history.
To publicize the books, Seaver will do a number of events this fall, including a radio tour aimed at engaging both children and their parents. Seaver will be on The Absolutely Mindy Show on the Kids Place Live channel on Sirius XM Radio and he will also give a talk at the Maine Seaweed Festival on August 30 and deliver a keynote address at the Tennessee Aquarium on September 4, with additional events still in the works. Live events surrounding the larger initiative will be held throughout the fall and winter in the National Geographic Society’s auditorium and will feature appearances by filmmakers, photographers, and chefs, which are in the process of being confirmed.