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Food Heroes is a gamified food education program empowering kids and families to make smart food choices for personal and planetary health



To radically accelerate the pace of climate change action, we need to truly engage consumers across society to live more sustainably. But, how do we get enough people to care? This has been the environmentalists’ holy grail.

Food Heroes is a food education program empowering kids and families to make smart food choices. It uses storytelling and gamification elements in its curriculum and products to enhance learning, education, and behavior change. The Food Heroes characters will tell a story of planetary regeneration, interpersonal connection and teamwork, establishing a new paradigm for children’s education and entertainment. This is told through the lens of food choices to unite health, happiness, a renewable world, and a new era of smart consumerism

 Every bite we take can change the environment and our health. According to experts, eating less beef is the single biggest contribution to reducing emissions an individual can make. Food systems account for 30% of greenhouse emissions, require 70% of our drinking water, are the main source of plastic pollution in oceans, perpetuate soil acidification and loss, deoxygenate oceans, and deforest land for industrial agriculture. Switching to a plant-based, natural and locally sourced diet can reduce our dependence fossil fuels and refrigerants as well.

The genesis of Food Heroes came from JUCCCE’s China Dream workshops, retelling the story of sustainability through the lens of personal prosperity. We then realized that food is the ultimate emotional and personal "magic lever" not just in China but around the world, with entry points to people's sense of personal prosperity, whether health or wealth.

Improving diets is a single golden lever that can help achieve all 17 Global Goals and democratize climate change action in the process. Food Heroes is one of the few curriculum world-wide integrating personal, planetary, economic, and societal health.

Is this proposal for a practice or a project?


What actions do you propose?

Food choices are the single biggest impactors on our planetary and personal health with huge economic and health repercussions.

Food Heroes is a behavior change program teaching China's kids how to eat in a way that is good for them and good for the planet. It aims to empower children to help turn the tide on personal health and planetary wealth - with every bite they take.  Food Heroes changes the way people eat. The program’s play-based curriculum and edutainment products for home engage young children and their families to make eating choices that are good for them and good for the planet.

    Food Heroes aims to catalyze a transition:

  •     From dietary guidelines that only focus on personal health, to ones that include planetary health.
  •     From industrialized farming to soil-healthy farming
  •    From overly processed and packaged goods to real foods.
  • From harmful climate change impacts of beef and dairy to a low-impact plant-based diet.
  •  From added sugar and huge portions to moderation.
  • From inequitable food distribution to local self-sustaining food sources.
  • From an emphasis in big food on increasing production, to an emphasis on increasing nutrition
  • From treating exploding costs of non-communicable diseases to preventing them with food education.
  • From eating alone or in-front of TVs, to socially vibrant, family oriented eating habits.
  • From no food education in schools to mandatory food education.
  • From nutritionally-void school lunches to nutrition-dense affordable lunches.

Food Heroes is poised to achieve these goals through its unique learning system.

Food Heroes Proprietary Learning System

  • Designed with global experts across nutrition, medicine, agriculture, cooking, food production, sustainability, gamification, storytelling
  • New dietary recommendations integrate personal and planetary health
  • Uses kidspeak to bring actionable knowledge down to level of every bite
  • Play-based, kid-tested activities help retain learning
  • A gamified reward system helps players gain mastery over long-term engagement
  • Classroom activities, home educational toys, mobile app engage both kids and parents
  • Channel partners
  • Teacher certification helps scale local capability 
  • Lovable Food Hero characters let kids emotionally relate to food benefits and social aspects of eating
  • A multi-faceted channel strategy surround kids everywhere they go with Food Heroes and their games.

Food Heroes is a gamified curriculum of activities and lessons with intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Using storytelling, characters and game elements, Food Heroes excites children in learning, exposes them to good food habits, and encourage positive food and sustainability behavior. To make sure our program is sticky, a completely gamified reward system keeps kids and parents engaged for the long-term to gain full mastery of diet knowledge. The Food Heroes characters are lovable and create affinity and will tell a story of planetary regeneration, interpersonal connection and teamwork, establishing a new paradigm for children’s education and entertainment. Over the next 3 years, we will finalize curriculum through 3rd grade. This is part of our vision to be a part of the implementation of mandatory food education in China.

 A teacher certification program will enable nutritionists and teachers to teach good nutrition and sustainable food systems in their classrooms, communities, and practices. This certification program is a key step to scaling Food Heroes across and beyond China.

  Beyond the classroom, the program’s narrative and characters will engage kids at home through media, books, toys, etc. A sustainable revenue model from home product sales of subscription boxes filled with Food Heroes dining and edutainment products will enable distribution of free classroom curriculum throughout China and eventually globally.

Food Heroes partners with public and private groups and companies to build the brand and bring products to the target audience quickly and efficiently. We collaborate to enable Food Heroes to be deployed through multiple channels and integrated into existing popular products and media.  This unique approach allows us to have already reached 1 million children and parents in China through our partners and collaborations. In the next one to two years, we plan to license our curriculum, narrative, characters, and brand to localize Food Heroes to the target audience. 

Who will take these actions?

JUCCCE is a unique change-making organization, known for catalyzing large-scale change with a small team. We do this by creating win-win partnerships with well-resourced groups. We understand how to create momentum towards action. We are well networked internationally and in China, able to cross culture and knowledge barriers to make a large and lasting impact.

We have three key users in the Food Heroes program: children ages 4-8 whose tastes and dietary habits are still forming, their families and caregivers, and teachers who utilize our curriculum at school. Secondary players include health professionals integrating our program into their practice, and city developers planning new health-inspired urban landscapes. 

Food Heroes works with schools, early education centers, and camps. These partners utilize our curriculum and products, for example flashcards and workbooks, in their classrooms. Food Heroes is best implemented as a whole year extracurricular program, where children will complete all 40 classes and internalize the lessons and messages. To enable the sustainability of curriculum integration and in-school deployment, a teacher certification program will enable nutritionists and teachers to teach good nutrition and sustainable food systems.

Beyond the classroom, the program’s narrative and characters will engage kids at home through media, books, toys, and other 'edutainment' products achievable through working with our network of creative and media agencies. These partners help to implement this aspect of Food Heroes through non-classroom kid-friendly channels. Social media channels, kids and parents TV shows, mall event planners, and restaurants are also key partners in deploying  Food Heroes through cross-branding and value added services utilizing  the Food Heroes curriculum, content, characters, and narrative to actualize healthy and sustainable eating in a consumer environment.



Where will these actions be taken?

JUCCCE creates a livable China by focusing on acupuncture points to create innovative sustainability solutions. JUCCCE is setting out to change the way Chinese kids eat through China’s first food education program built to integrate nutrition and sustainability. Food Heroes has been piloted in China as part of JUCCCE’s established record of catalyzing environmental change and positive initiatives.  The program already has traction in multiple channels nationally.

Our target is to reach 35 million urban children ages 4-8 in China by 2020 through a combined effort of all of the Food Heroes implementation channels. Simultaneously, we plan to localize across the globe. Food Heroes starts in China, but its bilingual activities will be localized to top languages around the world. We are currently working on partnerships to bring Food Heroes to Southeast Asia, New Zealand, South America, and Scandinavia. The power of the Food Heroes model and program is that it is easily localized to a country or culture. It’s reliance on games, activities, and storytelling is universally appealing to children and parents who want to entertain, educate, and raise healthy children. 

One of JUCCCE's strengths is its ability to create "China-scale" changes. We've built the Food Heroes program in this vein, with qualities and elements that are easily scaled, replicated across the country and widely appealing to all key users. Improving China's dietary habits has a significant impact on emissions and the supply and demand of low impact food. 

In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.


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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

The skyrocketing demand for meat and dairy has begun to strain the environment, causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Three food crops alone: soy, palm, and cattle, are responsible for 80% of global deforestation, and in China a 35% jump in meat consumption from 1994-2005 resulted in the emission of 230 million more tons of CO2.

Since the introduction of fast food to China in the 1950s pushed the industrialization of agriculture, food production has been heavily dependent on oil. This oil dependency becomes more evident upon learning that the number of overweight Chinese children skyrocketed from 5% to 20% in the last 35 years. 23% of energy used in food production is allocated to processing and packing food, resulting in energy consumption increasing 100 fold without the same increase
in food production per acre. Processed food and its packaging creates trash which overwhelms oceans, rivers, landfills, another negative effect of our current processing-heavy food systems. Furthermore, non-local food distribution, like oil-laden Western food, uses 4-17 times more fuel and emits 5-17 times more carbon dioxide than local food distribution. Food waste is another massive drain of crops and energy. One-third of the world’s food production is wasted, accounting for 4.4 gigatons of CO2 emissions annually.

The Food Heroes program includes specific lessons on the detriments of food waste, how food is grown, the path
from seed to food, and food preparation to teach children to respect their food. Reducing food waste by 50% by 2050 would decrease emissions by 26.2 gigatons. According to “Drawdown”, the first comprehensive study on how to reverse the effects of climate change, reducing food waste and eating a plant based diet are the third and fourth best
ways to reduce and reverse the effects of climate change. This study further estimates that 26.7 gigatons of emissions could be avoided if 50% of the global population restricted their diet to a predominantly plant-based 2500 calories a day. A 2016 study from the University of Oxford
modeled that emissions could be lowered by 70% through adopting a vegan diet, and 63% for a vegetarian diet. Improving diets around the world will decrease healthcare costs, increase global productivity, and save lives.
Understanding this, the Food Heroes program prescribes a plant-based diet through engaging activities and games to inspire them to eat their fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The program also highlights how these plant-based foods feed, strengthen and grow your body in a manner that intrinsically develops children’s interest and conviction to eating healthfully.

What are other key benefits?

Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, something that is made even more detrimental by the fact that, currently, 107.7 million of those who are obese are children.

Sales of processed foods and beverages with high quantities of fat, salt, and sugar have grown at more than twicethe rate of fresh fruit and vegetable sales over the last 15 years, correlating with a rise in obesity, diabetes, and lifestyle diseases among children and adults. Unhealthy lifestyles stemming from poor eating habits, processed food laden with animal fat, sugar, and salt costs nearly $1 trillion
USD per year. Conversely, countries with mandatory food education systems, like Japan and Switzerland, have a fast food presence without the corresponding increase in obesity and diabetes. By taking a cue from these countries and implementing a program such as Food Heroes, China can lower healthcare costs, increase global productivity, and improve, and set a tone for the multitude of other countries suffering the effects of lifestyle diseases. 

Food Heroes highlights empaty, compassion, and socially conscious learning and group engagement. It's lesson and activities stress teamwork and cooperation to build these positive skills in children. 


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

From its launch, Food Heroes has not received grants or direct support. JUCCCE has incubated this initiative and additional funding has been in-kind corporate contributions, volunteers in the form of experts’ time and interns, and ~USD50K staff salary from JUCCCE.

Financial support will build out the curriculum and products to create a sustainable business model through licensing and merchandising. Our set of educational toys and products will be for sale through multiple channels to generate revenue. All income is and will continue to be funneled into an effort to provide free curriculum materials to teachers and to continue to scale the Food Heroes program within China. Licensing of the Food Heroes program and brand (IP & Copyrights are in progress) around the world will be another revenue stream and will promote the goal of sustainable food education for all.

We operate as a non-profit in spirit, but legally are a Shanghai-based consulting company and a Hong Kong offshore entity. Until 2017, we took non-profit donations under our fiscal sponsor Give2Asia. Due to new foreign NGO laws, we are not able to do so anymore.

We estimate that Food Heroes requires USD200,000 to finalize and productize the curriculum and to offer free distributions to schools in China. Some of our major costs are staff to develop curriculum as well as continued work with leading gamification consultants, Octalysis Group, to ensure our program is sticky, engaging, and motivating.


By March 2018, we will have a finalized kindergarten curriculum, with complete lessons and materials, ready for teachers to use in their classrooms or extracurricular sessions.

In the next one year, we plan to have our first localization of Food Heroes as well as home products and ‘edutainment’ toys featuring Food Heroes characters, food education lessons and content.

Over the next three years, we plan to scaffold kindergarten through third grade curriculum and launch Food Heroes activities, books, games, and home dining products. This model provides revenue for continued curriculum development and outreach as well as supports the Food Heroes goal of surrounding children with healthy and sustainable daily habits. We also plan to continue with localizations of the program to scale Food Heroes and implement the program worldwide to make a larger and more profound impact.

About the author(s)

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Drawdown by Paul Hawken  (2017)