Danone Institute North America Awards $250,000 to Five Teams to Advance Stronger and More Sustainable Food Systems

Winners of the Danone Institute North America Sustainable Food Systems Initiative grant program represent leading universities in the US and Canada

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Sept. 27, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Danone Institute North America (DINA), a not-for-profit established by Danone North America, today announced the five winning teams of the DINA Sustainable Food Systems Initiative – a grant program that promotes resilient and sustainable local food systems. Each of the five teams from Harvard University, McGill University, Tufts University, University of Tennessee Knoxville, and University of Texas Austin will receive $50,000 USD in grant funds to develop and execute their community-based projects.

These projects are focused on generating positive impact in five distinct communities in the United States and Canada: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Montreal, Quebec; Alameda County, California; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Austin, Texas.  Selected from applicants across the United States and Canada, the 2023 grantees were awarded for their innovation and impact, and how they address evolving food challenges during times of food price inflation, climate change, and food insecurity.

First introduced in 2019 as the “One Planet. One Health” Initiative, the DINA Sustainable Food Systems Initiative grant program supports local projects that strengthen regional food systems and demonstrate a commitment to actionable and achievable projects that sit at the intersection of community, health of people and health of planet. The Institute and its seed funding is also a key component of Danone’s larger commitments towards health through the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in September 2022.

“The social and economic effects of changes in the food environment have magnified the fragility and inequity in our food systems, and the 2023 grantees are building community-based programs that can mitigate the impacts on vulnerable communities,” said Leslie Lytle, PhD, President of Danone Institute North America and adjunct professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and at the University of Minnesota. “We are inspired by their commitment to create a healthier world through food and look forward to helping them advance their programs in the two years ahead.”

In addition to the $50,000 in grant funding, the five teams will participate in trainings and workshops with Danone Institute North America leaders and partners throughout the next two years to support the development and implementation of their projects. In October 2023, one team will also be awarded an additional $10,000 for the strongest communications plan, as judged by the DINA Board.

The 2023 DINA Sustainable Food Systems Initiative grant winners and projects are:

PROJECT #1: La Cajita Mutua (The Collective Box): A Value-Centered Farm-to-Community Sustainable Food Project
(Team Members: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Fundación de Investigación Science and Education, San Juan)
Communities in Puerto Rico (PR) experience disparately high prevalence of overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes or pre-diabetes, along with high levels of food insecurity. In light of health, social, and economic concerns, local food movements in PR are increasing in number and scale, bolstering local agricultural production to promote human and planetary health. This agroecological movement is a holistic approach to food production that reconciles natural systems, local cultures, and nutritional needs for the mutual benefit of local communities and ecosystem health. Thus, efforts that promote farm sustainability in PR likely also make important contributions to nutrition and health. This project evaluates the impact of La Cajita Mutua (The Collective Box) Project in increasing access to local, nutritious, and sustainably grown foods that improve food security, social connectedness, and cardiometabolic health. It examines dietary intake, cooking, food purchasing, and sustainability behaviors gained from Cajita, along with changes in attitudes and behaviors from participation in a value-centered agricultural learning experience.

PROJECT #2: Technology Solutions for Simulating and Stimulating Dietary Change
(Team Member Organization: McGill University)
Most consumers do not understand the impact of their food choices on the environment and do not have the tools to explore the trade-offs against other products before purchasing foods and beverages. The McGill team’s novel simulator, Dashboard for Improving Sustainable Healthy (DISH) diet choices simultaneously maps out the health, nutrition, and environmental impact of selected meals, enabling consumers to envision the potential impact of their choices prior to purchasing. On DISH, users can see the environmental savings of meals compared to reference sustainable and unsustainable diets. The McGill pilot study focuses on upgrading the current version of DISH and answering two research questions: (a) how can engaging gamified interventions on DISH can propel dietary shifts. and (b) how can effective interventions before mealtime decisions propel dietary shifts? It aims to test the mode of delivery, features, and the impact of DISH’s modules on people from different sociodemographic backgrounds and explore student views of the environmental impact of dietary patterns and awareness of the link between climate change and food choices while gauging their opinions about their willingness to transition to a more sustainable diet. 

PROJECT #3: A Recipe4Health in California: Modeling the planetary and human health impacts of a holistic, community-based ‘Food as Medicine’ program at scale
(Team Member Organizations: Tufts University, Recipe4Health)
Creating food systems that provide equitable access to healthy food while staying within planetary boundaries is a critical challenge of our time. Food as Medicine (FAM) programs, such as produce prescriptions, have emerged as promising solutions. The Leading a Sustainability Transition in Nutrition Globally (LASTING) Project is led by an interdisciplinary research team at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. The team is developing a model to simulate the holistic impacts of dietary changes that will be applied to a community-based Food as Medicine program, Recipe4Health (R4H). R4H works to improve health outcomes among low-income populations in Alameda County by increasing access to healthy foods, nutrition education, and behavioral health strategies while simultaneously sourcing from regenerative, organic farms. LASTING aims to simulate the potential environmental, health, and cost-savings impacts of implementing R4H at scale in California.

PROJECT #4: Impact of an On-Campus Food Upcycling Program on Food Sustainability and Nutrition Security of College Students
(Team Member Organization: University of Tennessee Knoxville)
The prevalence of food insecurity on college campuses is more severe than in the rest of the population. To help address the high proportion of food-insecure students on campus, the University of Tennessee Knoxville team developed a food-upcycling program, food4VOLS, that repurposes unused food from on-campus foodservice facilities into heat-and-serve meals to reduce food waste and increase access to meals. The current number of meals distributed is grossly insufficient to improve food security among students and does not incorporate the full volume of food available for upcycling to students. The purposes of this transdisciplinary project are to ascertain motivators of and barriers to utilizing the on-campus food upcycling program, evaluate the diet quality of users of the on-campus food upcycling program; evaluate alternative food and nutrition sources of college students; expand food access points of the on-campus food upcycling program and evaluate ability of new sites to reach additional food insecure students; and communicate lessons learned from this project with other scholars at public colleges and universities.

PROJECT #5: Food is the Best Medicine
(Team Member Organizations: University of Texas Austin; Ascension Texas; Cooks Nook Austin; Farmshare Austin)
The postpartum period is a challenging period for all women, but particularly difficult for mothers who are food insecure. Maintaining adequate intake of nutrient dense foods often takes second place when coping with the physical, mental and financial demands of taking care of an infant. Compared to food secure postpartum women, postpartum women experiencing food insecurity (FI) have lower quality diets, lower rates of breast feeding, higher rates of mental health disorders, and greater weight retention. The Food is the Best Medicine (FBM) program is an 8-week intervention during which food insecure postpartum mothers receive weekly food boxes with fully prepared meals and food kits created from locally grown, organic foods, delivered to their homes. This project seeks to expand the original FBM intervention to include a social support component that teaches food preparation skills to support home cooking, assists women with accessing community food resources, and fosters a Facebook support group. The objectives of this project are to increase diet quality, specifically fruit and vegetable  consumption, among food insecure, postpartum women and to test the impact and feasibility of the FBM and FBM plus social support interventions on diet quality, food security, and health outcomes of food insecure, postpartum women.

For more information about Danone Institute North America, please visit http://www.danoneinstitutena.org/

About Danone Institute North America
Launched in 1997, the Danone Institute North America fosters transdisciplinary, community-based work to promote sustainable foods systems in the US and Canada. It is a separately incorporated, 501c3 non-profit foundation dedicated to non-commercial activities. The Danone Institute North America is one of several Danone Institutes created worldwide by Danone, the ultimate parent company of Danone North America Public Benefit Corporation.

The Board of Directors is made up of both independent experts in nutrition science and business leaders of Danone North America Public Benefit Corporation. The nutrition scientists establish program direction, determine recipients of funding and are closely involved in all Danone Institute North America programs. Danone North America managers offer communication support, program development and management expertise.


Makayla Martin

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SOURCE Danone Institute of North America