Purchasing Power: Harnessing Demand to Change Food Systems

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Did you know that low-income kids get 80% of their calories from school meals? How can schools push the food system to provide better food? On this episode of Add Passion and Stir, hosts and Share Our Strength cofounders Billy and Debbie Shore chat with Washington, DC chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella and social impact innovator and strategist Josh Wachs about child hunger and improving school food programs. Both have seen how demand can drive food systems to be healthier and more sustainable.

Wachs advises the Urban School Food Alliance, a coalition of 10 large urban school districts from around the country that serve about three million kids over three quarters of a billion meals each year. “They are a collection of districts that came together and said, ‘we can collectively through our joint purchasing power radically change the school food market,’” says Wachs. “Because more low-income kids are getting school breakfasts and lunches through programs like Share Our Strength, parents of low income kids are starting to increase pressure on districts over what’s in the food,” he notes. Chef Isabella sees a similar pattern at his twelve restaurants where customer knowledge and expectations are forcing chefs to become better. “Nowadays, everyone knows what they’re eating,” he says. “They read labels. Everyone thinks they’re a foodie, which is a good thing.This dovetails with his work with school districts where he supports programs that teach kids about healthy food.

Listen and learn how consumer education, demand and buying power can transform our food systems.

Resources and Mentions:

Mike Isabella

A Washington, DC-based chef and restaurateur, honored in 2016 by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington as Restaurateur of the Year. In 2011, Isabella opened Graffiato to critical acclaim. Isabella now has more than a dozen restaurants in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia. His newest and largest project is a food emporium in Fairfax, Virginia, Isabella Eatery. In 2012, Isabella was named FOOD & WINE magazine’s The People’s Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic. Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian is his first cookbook, also published in 2012.

Josh Wachs

A social impact innovator with more than two decades of leadership experience at the nexus of the private sector, government and nonprofits. Throughout his career and currently as a strategic consultant, Wachs partners with companies and organizations to create shared value and shape social change. Known for integrating programmatic, communications, marketing and government relations elements, Wachs maximizes external resonance and the bottom line to accelerate impact, growth and scale. As Chief Strategy Officer for Share Our Strength, Wachs led the development, launch and growth of the No Kid Hungry national movement across all 50 states.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Root Cause Coalition

The Root Cause Coalition is a national, member-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of health disparities by focusing on hunger and other social determinants leading to nationwide epidemic of preventable chronic health conditions.

Urban School Food Alliance

The Urban School Food Alliance shares best practices and uses its purchasing power to continue to drive quality up and costs down while incorporating sound environmental practices.

Recent Podcasts


Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Wednesday, September 07, 2022