Community & Partnerships

Revolution Foods + YOLO Life: Discussion on Food Insecurity

Community & Partnerships

Revolution Foods co-founder and Chief Impact Officer, Kirsten Tobey, sat down with YOLO life to discuss food insecurity and how the company is thinking about systematic changes to citywide wellness in the future. Read on for highlights of the interview and to learn about how Revolution Foods has evolved from delighting students to nourishing communities.

How did Revolution Foods come to be?

“The first thing I’ll say is that it’s taken a huge team of people to get to where we are today. I want to make sure to recognize and shout out to everybody who’s been a part of this journey. It’s been 15 years in the making, and we now have over fifteen hundred teammates who are with us and many others who’ve been with us along the way.

My personal journey started when I was a teacher, working both inside and outside the classroom. One of the things that I noticed early on was that you could just tell the difference between kids who were well nourished and their ability to focus in school and kids who were not eating well. In the early days of when Kristin and I were going out and talking to teachers, students, and principals, we would hear teachers all the time telling stories of the kids who were coming into the classroom with their fingers bright red from eating hot Cheetos for breakfast and their tongues bright blue from drinking some kind of soft drink on their way to school. Those kids were the ones that were falling asleep before lunchtime because they were just not able to focus.

That’s a part of what spurred me to really look at the idea of how to change the way that Americans eat. I say Americans, because I spent some time in West Africa looking at school feeding programs, working with some really amazing leaders on the ground there who were working to make locally sourced food available. In schools in that situation, it was mostly to get girls to show up at school because they would get a free meal at school. It was being there that made me double down and say, you know what, right in our backyard here in Oakland, there are kids who are undernourished in very different ways.

So that was what led me to partner up with Kristin. We had this idea of transforming the way that kids eat first. And over the years, we’ve expanded into adult meals as well. So, it’s not just about kids, but it’s about eating well throughout life.”

What did you do in the beginning to get things started?

“It was going out and talking to principals, teachers, students and parents to learn more about what the challenges were in the world of school meals and what needs were not being met. 

We sat down and talked with kids and we said, what are your favorite things to eat? We just kind of started with that. And across the board, every kid told us they love fresh fruit. So, we were like, well, there was a really good starting point where we would make sure that we serve good-quality fresh fruit with every meal that we deliver. 

From that day on, the chefs on our team have always spent a lot of time sitting down with the consumers that they’re designing for. In many cases, that’s kids. In other cases, that’s now senior citizens and others.

That also translates into the importance of making sure that the food that we’re making is culturally relevant, because what kids are eating and what they want to eat in San Francisco might be super different from what kids want to eat in Houston, New Orleans or Boston. We made sure in our food design that we’re always focused on what kids like.”

What can be done now?

“What we’ve seen through COVID especially has been that there’s a real potential for change. There’s a lot that needs to be changed about the food ecosystem citywide. There’s a really important role that schools can play where schools and community programs can actually be a place where high-quality food is distributed. 

If a school is in the middle of a food desert, why not make that school be a place where food banks and other programs are also distributing good-quality, fresh produce in addition to what the school lunch program might be providing for the kids and their families?”