Jessica B. Harris Earns 2020 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award

The James Beard Foundation announced that Jessica B. Harris, James Beard Award Who’s Who honoree, 2019 James Beard Award Cookbook Hall of Fame Award winner, author, journalist, culinary expert, and historian, has been named the recipient of the 2020 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is bestowed upon a person in the industry whose body of work has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook, and think about food in America. Additionally, Zero Foodprint, the nonprofit organization dedicated to building a carbon-neutral, renewable food system, has been named the recipient of the 2020 James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award. The award is given to an individual or organization whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large.

For the first year, Michael Phillips, president of Jamestown Properties and a James Beard Foundation trustee, has established the Michael Phillips Humanitarian Fund at the James Beard Foundation, which will award an annual cash prize of $20,000 to the Humanitarian of the Year. Jessica B. Harris and Zero Foodprint will be honored at this year’s 30th Anniversary of the James Beard Awards, presented by Capital One, on Monday, May 4, 2020, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Jessica B. Harris is an author, editor, and translator of eighteen books. Her twelve works on food document the foodways of the African Diaspora—a topic on which she is considered a ranking expert—and include Hot Stuff: A Cookbook in Praise of the Piquant; Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking; Beyond Gumbo: Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim; and High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America. Her other works include My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir and the forthcoming Vintage Postcards from the African World, a work presenting images of the foodways and celebrations of the African Atlantic World.  A culinary historian, Harris lectures internationally, is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and served on numerous boards for many professional culinary, publishing, and editorial organizations.

In almost five decades as a journalist, Harris has written extensively about the cultures of Africa and its diaspora for publications including Essence (where she was travel editor from 1977-1980), Cooking Light, Garden & Gun, Eating Well, Food & Wine, Saveur, The New York Times, and German Vogue, and has made television appearances on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Sara Moulton’s Cooking Live, and B. Smith with Style, among others. Within the hospitality industry she has served as a consultant for national and international organizations ranging from Kraft Foods to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, where her research and writings were essential to the development of the museum’s Sweet Home Café project, and is currently the lead curator for the Museum of Food and Drink’s exhibition, African/American: Making the Nation’s Table.

A native of New York City, Harris is Professor Emerita at Queens College/CUNY in New York City, where she was a professor for fifty years. Harris is the first African American woman to have addressed a graduating class at the Culinary Institute of America and is now – following in the footsteps of icon Leah Chase - the second African American woman to receive the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I am humbled, honored, and more than a little astonished to receive this singular award. I am mindful that while my name is on it, it is also meant for those African Americans in the hospitality world in the past who labored unheralded, un-thanked, and for too many centuries unpaid or underpaid. I hope that this extraordinary honor heralds the beginning of a new era when all Americans can sit down and fully participate at the nation’s table and none of us are strangers at the feast,” says Jessica B. Harris.

Zero Foodprint (ZFP) is a nonprofit organization building a renewable food system rooted in healthy soil. The organization is dedicated to mobilizing the cultural and economic power of the food and restaurant world to solve the climate crisis. To do so, ZFP invests in climate-beneficial agriculture via its grant-making program, Restore California. The organization partners with restaurants to crowd-fund grants for farmers making the switch from extractive to renewable farming. Practices such as compost application, cover cropping, and rotational grazing all help draw carbon out of the atmosphere and incorporate it into the soil, where it is beneficial. Implementing these regenerative farming practices not only helps farmers, but also improves ingredients available to participating restaurants.

Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, award-winning restaurateurs, developed ZFP to support a growing movement of farmers and ranchers who want to use their land to solve climate change, but need vital funding to implement these new practices. Tiffany Nurrenbern, program director of ZFP, coordinates collaborations that foster collective action towards the organization’s overall mission to end climate change. Together, ZFP restaurants, diners, and farmers are shifting the nation’s farmland from climate problem to climate solution. In a recent announcement, ZFP shared that it will organize pilot projects across the United States in celebration of Earth Day. Restaurants can participate by adding a 1% surcharge from April 20 to 26, 2020, with proceeds going to the carbon farming project of their choice. More details, along with a full list of ZFP member restaurants and participating farms, can be viewed here.

“We’re so excited to see the James Beard Foundation shining a spotlight on food and climate, because farmers are amazing, and the restaurant world can do so much to heal the world. We share this honor with all of the Zero Foodprint member restaurants and the farmers we work with, and we hope that the award brings in even more people, as we build on our Restore California program to support carbon farming projects around the country. This is an amazing moment to connect diners, restaurants, and farmers around better food and climate solutions through our Earth Day campaign,” adds Karen Leibowitz, executive director of Zero Foodprint.

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