For a group of folks who generally don’t like to be photographed while shopping, celebrities always seem to be smiling when they’re caught buying organic produce. It must be relaxing to escape the Hollywood set and enjoy the fresh air of Studio City’s Farmer’s Market, child in hand. Maybe they stop off for a pony ride or check out the petting zoo. Plus, for every dollar spent, a portion goes to a relevant charity, they’re doing their part for the environment, and that just happens to be good PR, right?
But for the scores of stars and starlets who happily grin at the farmer’s market and pay their weekly respects to sustainable agriculture, there is always one for whom the dedication to healthier eating habits is nearly religious, and for whom CSA is more than three letters after a director’s name. Some celebrities have sacrificed a great deal of time and money to improve children’s health in North America, and for that they should be singled out. So we’ve put together a list of six celebrities who not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk when it comes to children’s health.
No. 6: Jessica Alba
The California-born starlet and mother of two has been at the forefront of a campaign to ensure that manufactured chemicals, including those used in agriculture, are safe for the nation’s children. In 2011, she began campaigning for the Safe Chemicals Act, which essentially reverses the burden of proof clause laid out in a 1976 federal statute requiring the EPA to prove that these substances are unsafe. (The bill was passed by Senate committee in July 2012 and now awaits full Senate approval.)
“You can’t hire a team of scientists to do your shopping for you,” Alba said while pregnant with her younger daughter, Haven, born in 2011. “I mean, I barely have time to brush my teeth with a toddler and another on the way. At some point, the government has to step in and ensure that chemicals are safe before our children are exposed to them.”
No. 5: Jack Johnson
Now that the first attempt in this nation to mandate GMO food labeling, in the form of Proposition 37, has fallen flat, this folk singer is still waiting, wishing, for a change in agricultural policy, but he’s not sitting around doing nothing. At every turn, the folk singer urges people to know exactly what’s in their food, and promotes the values of healthy, local, organic produce.
His home state of Hawaii has a unique dilemma in that most of the food there is imported. And, the crops that are grown there are mostly corn and soy sown from genetically modified seed. Little of the islands’ agriculture is devoted to feeding the Hawaiians themselves, and only a small but fast-growing percentage is organic.”In Hawaii, 80 to 90 percent of our food is shipped in,” he says. “Why are we shipping in so much food when we could be growing it here?”
So Johnson spends time teaching schoolchildren where their food comes, and is an active member of the Kokua Foundation, one of several groups in Hawaii dedicated to getting kids excited about the importance of local food. (Another is Ho’oulu ‘Aina, whose motto is “the breath of the land is the health of the people” and aims to connect children to the land. Meanwhile, the Family Hui organization is dedicated to helping Hawaiian families raise healthy children through a network of peers. They also have some real star power in the person of Maya Saetoro-Ng, who is on their advisory board.)
“We tried to figure out ways we could get kids connected to food at a young age,” Johnson said in an interview with Rodale.com. “Things like field trips to farms… just trying to get them to have the vocabulary that’s needed to ask the bigger questions of why are we shipping in so much food when we could be growing it here.”
No. 4: Emmanuelle Chriqui
Born in Canada, the 35-year-old bombshell of HBO’s “Entourage” has leveraged her limelight to prompt the L.A. school district to provide organic gardens and healthier lunches to school children. She is an active booster of the Yes to Seed Fund, which provides grants to schools to pursue these projects. But most visibly, Chriqi has made it her mission to talk about a health issue that rarely passes the lips of Hollywood divas: colon cancer. The disease took the life of her mother when Emmanuelle was 16, and now threatens her father.
“I want to do whatever I can to raise awareness of colon health and screenings,” Chriqui said. Her fans have pledged more than $10,000 to Colon Cancer Canada. “I’ve made it my mission to take the shame out of getting tested. Preparation isn’t pleasant, but when you wake up you are done. And to me, it is better to be safe than sorry.”
She recognizes that diet is a major factor in preventing the disease. “Drink tons of water, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and examine the size of portions,” she said.
No. 3: Lance Bass
Once partnered with Chriqui in a project called the Power of 2, this pop singer has been “in sync” with children’s health issues long before he made a public bet with the Canadian actress that he could raise more money than she could for charity. (He lost, but bravely lived up to his losing end of the bet by donning a dog suit and letting Chriqui walk him through a canyon.)
Bass contributes to a great number of these causes, all of them with the goal of somehow helping children to live safer, happier and healthier lives. He is a native of Mississippi, the poorest state in America and statistically the lowest-performer in most health categories. In 2001, not coincidentally, the boy-band hero started The Lance Bass Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to meet the health needs of low-income children. The son of a medical technician and a 6th grade teacher, Bass is a particularly large supporter of the International Medical Corps, the Thirst Project, and Love Our Children USA.
No. 2: Gwyneth Paltrow
(photo: Andrea Raffin)
Gwyneth Paltrow has probably done more for the local food movement in this country that any other celebrity for the simple reason that she communicates her own diet to her millions of followers every single day. She stresses that the secret to her healthy physical appearance and her happy, glowing outlook on life is eating unprocessed, locally sourced, real food.
We might be slightly biased here at Design My Meals as Paltrow’s CSA of choice is our own partner, Farm Fresh To You, but there’s little doubt that the actress, blogger, cookbook writer, home chef and 40-year-old mother of two (a daughter, Apple, and a son, Moses) is the nation’s leading booster of local produce and healthy eating.
“From the beginning, my kids have eaten organic,” she said. “I make a lot of their foods myself. Some people say it sounds difficult, but I don’t find it so. The more I learn about food, the more amazed I am at how their properties can basically fix anything. My main feeling is that the more you keep the body as pure and healthy as possible, the healthier you will be. I feel that eating well is the best start for living well.”
No.1 Scarlett Johansson:
You might get the impression that this Manhattan native of fine graces sees fighting childhood hunger as her noblesse oblige, but looks can be deceiving. As Johansson explained in a recent interview with WebMD, ”We were a single-income family with four kids living in New York City. My parents tried not to make a big deal of it, but I know it was a struggle for them.” She and her siblings qualified for government-subsidized lunches at their public school in Greenwich Village, and she does not recall seeing a bagged lunch as a kid. Her parents relied on the school for the children’s nutrition. ”So I know first-hand how important these school lunches are for kids,” she said.
When the director of the national food charity USA Harvest approached the star about a program that extended publicly provided nutritious lunches through the weekend as well, Johansson jumped at it. The organization is called Blessings in a Backpack, and it feeds about 25,000 children in more than 100 schools across the country.
The food from Blessings in a Backpack is financed through private donations, bought by volunteers at a discounted price that USA Harvest has negotiated and delivered to schools in backpacks on Fridays. ”I think, especially now, a lot of people are struggling financially, and a lot of kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Johansson said. “They see their parents trying to scrape together money or welfare or food stamps for meals. For parents to have some relief and know their kids are fed for those extra two days of the week makes a huge difference.”
At 28 years old, Johansson’s contributions to feeding nutritious meals to needy children are already too many to count. She famously missed the Oscars in 2007 to work with Oxfam in Sri Lanka, noting afterward that the publicity she generated for the non-profit organization was much more valuable than for any designer she might have worn on the red carpet. The next year, after she sneezed into a tissue on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, he joked that she could auction that tissue off for a pretty penny. So she did – for an eye-popping $5,300 on eBay, with the money going to USA Harvest.
Last week, she joined forces with Michelle Obama on late-night television to help promotoe the First Lady’s child fitness initiative, “Let’s Move.” It was not the first time she and the First Lady had worked together on similar causes. In 2010, they teamed up to help push through the Healthy School Meals Act. As part of the effort, Johansson wrote an open letter to her congressman:
“Children depend on adults to provide them with nutrition and sustenance they need to reach their full potential,” Johansson wrote. “It is our responsibility, as adults, to give school children the nutrients and vitamins they so vitally need, especially during school hours where their food intake may be monitored. School is an environment where children develop life skills, skills that help them to become responsible young people who will one day be able to care for themselves. A means to a healthy diet and a nutritional education must begin in the school cafeteria, on the lunch line.”
Tags: celebrities at farmers market, children health, children's nutrition, diets, emmanuelle chriqui, gwyneth paltrow, jack johnson, jessica alba, lance bass, organic food, scarlett johansson