Steinhardt Food Studies Grad Student Aspires to Feed the World, One Child at a Time


(Lauren Bush, second from left, and Ellen Gustafson, far right, founders of FEED Projects, with community children in a Rwandan village supported by the U.N. World Food Program.)

As a former communications officer for the United Nations World Food Program, Ellen Gustafson saw firsthand the difficulties in providing nutritious food for children in developing countries. Wanting to make an impact, Gustafson, a first year master’s student in food studies in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, partnered with U.N. goodwill ambassador Lauren Bush to found FEED Projects, a socially minded business that provides funds for the U.N. World Food Program through the sale of FEED reusable shopping bags.

Click the play button to listen to Ellen Gustafson discuss her project or get the mp3.

“The U.N. operates school feeding programs in 74 countries and feeds close to 22 million kids,” said Gustafson. “By giving out free meals, you’re giving an incentive to parents and to kids to come to school.”

Gustafson and Bush, a fashion designer and model who is the niece of President George W. Bush, had seen how effective school feeding programs can be. They approached Whole Foods Market with the idea of creating a reusable shopping bag sold exclusively in its stores, proceeds from which would help pay for school meals for kids in Rwanda.

“Whole Foods has such a reach and so many stores, we realized we can have an impact on a small country in a really big way,” Gustafson explained. “We can support their entire school feeding program for one year.”

Each FEED 100 bag sells for $29.95; $10 from every purchase goes towards the U.N World Food Program’s Rwandan operation while the rest covers the cost of the bag and administration of the program. “We’ve been successful enough to say we’ve raised over $ 5 million for the U.N. World Food Program and we’re supported all of the school feeding in Rwanda in 2008,” said Gustafson.

Designed by Bush, the FEED 100 reusable bag is made of organic cotton and burlap. Gustafson stressed the importance of finding a manufacturer that ensures fair treatment of its workers. “We’re working with a Chinese factory that is highly audited and that has the capacity to make as many bags as we need but also has very high labor standards,” she said.

Already a successful social entrepreneur, Gustafson is looking forward to finishing her degree and applying that knowledge to her work to end world hunger

“I’m very interested in nutrition, public health and looking at the food system as a whole. We hope to find ways to make the food system more sustainable and nutritious for everyone,” she says.

Looking ahead, Gustafson hopes to partner with new retail stores in 2009 and is thinking of ways to support school food programs in the United States. “We’re thinking about creating a track within FEED that is focused on healthier food in schools across America. People understand that international food issues are really important,” she said, “but if we can make a difference in the lives of international kids and kids in the U.S., then we’ll really be making a big impact.”

This post appears in the following categories: nutrition