Michel Nischan: James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year

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Michel Nischan, an award-winning chef and CEO of Wholesome Wave, was named Humanitarian of the Year, one of the highest honors recognized by the James Beard Foundation. The award is given annually to an individual “working in the realm of food who has given selflessly and worked tirelessly to better the lives of others and society at large.”

Nischan received the award at the James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony and Gala Reception on May 4, 2015. “I am indescribably humbled to be chosen for this prestigious award, especially given the many culinary leaders who work to make real change happen,” said Nischan. “The James Beard Foundation continues to strengthen our community, making the world a better place through good food and genuine hospitality. We grow that focus to ensure that people in need have affordable access to wholesome, delicious food.” The ceremony also recognized Richard Melman for a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nischan’s career, integrating culinary and nonprofit work, paved the way for the founding of Wholesome Wave, which is based on collaboration between farmers, community leaders, healthcare providers, nonprofits, and the public sector. Founded by Nischan in 2007, Wholesome Wave is a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization that works to improve food access for low-income consumers in the Northeast. The Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) developed by Wholesome Wave allows SNAP customers to double their value when purchasing produce at local farmers’ markets. The program benefits both low-income consumers and small farmers, and its national success led to federal legislation in 2014 that doubles food stamp benefits at farmers’ markets.

The organization now partners with more than 80 community organizations in 33 states and Washington, D.C. DVCP and other programs of Wholesome Wave have expanded to more than 500 farmers’ markets, in addition to health care centers, food hubs, and hospitals nationwide.

In April of 2015, Wholesome Wave received US$3.77 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to operate over 425 nutrition incentive programs through the new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program. “We are thrilled to be working with such a diverse and competent group of incentive operators across the nation,” says Nischan. “This network brings together organizations ranging from a flourishing farmers market group to a large-scale nonprofit, capitalizing on the grassroots expertise of community leaders, while also building regional and national impact that allows us to enact the kind of large-scale policy change we see in legislation like FINI.”

Other pilot projects of Wholesome Wave include a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription project, which targets families suffering from diet-related diseases, and Healthy Food Commerce Investments, which focus on sustainable supply chains. Nischan is passionate about this work. “I feel like I’m 30 years old again in the trenches, pushing buttons, turning over stones,” he says. “It fills that hole in my soul of needing to touch people through food.”

In addition to founding Wholesome Wave in 2008, Nischan was the founder and chef of the Dressing Room Restaurant in Connecticut, and co-founded the Chefs Action Network, an organization amassing culinary leadership to create positive change. Nischan is also the author of three cookbooks: Sustainably Delicious, Homegrown Pure and Simple, and Taste Pure and Simple, which was a 2004 best-selling Beard award winner. He continues to serve on the advisory council of the Chefs Collaborative.

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