Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

Heinz Awards honor humor, poetry & science

From edgy films about sustainable food to intimately personal stories about the dangers of chemicals in the womb, this year’s Heinz Award winners bring a powerful blend of poetry, science and humor to their work. 

Since 1994, this award has honored people doing extraordinary things in an area important to the late Senator John Heinz. This year’s winners are working to protect our environment, and they're doing it with creative flare.

As Teresa Heinz told the Associated Press:

I know that young people, when faced with this type of person . . . it is infectious. It puts a light at the end of the tunnel. You see where you could be going.

Inspiring others to walk in footsteps like these is a truly fabulous goal.

Take the award winners at Wicked Delicate Films. Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis use humor to engage people in conversation about the food we eat, what's sustainable and what's not, and why we should care. They planted an organic garden in the back of a pickup truck to introduce schoolchildren to farming. The accompanying Truck Farm documentary inspired a "nationwide fleet of farms on wheels to introduce children to healthy eating."

They've also started a film school to pass along skills activists need to document the on-the-ground stories that bring problems — and solutions — to life. According to Cheney, their philosophy is simple:

I think humor is often overlooked as a tool for sparking conversations about serious issues. And it's often easier to bring people with different views to the table when you're telling a good story.

Hear, hear. As my favorite refrigerator magnet reminds me daily: Life is too important to be taken seriously.

"What we love, we must protect"

Other award winners include scientists innovating to protect coral reefs, combat climate change and document the impact of hormone-mimicking chemicals in our bodies and on the environment. There's also a composer on the list whose music echoes the sounds of the Alaskan wilderness.

And then there's mother, ecologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, who brings the importance of environmental protection home with passion, vision and commonsense wisdom. "What we love, we must protect," she says firmly.

Sandra blends her training as a scientist, her skill as a writer and the realities of motherhood in extraordinarily powerful ways. After making the case that the time is now to take on the environmental challenges that face us all, she urges each of us to find the most powerful contribution we can make given who we are — and then, do something with those skills:

We are all musicians in a great human orchestra, and it is now time to play the Save the World Symphony. You are not required to play a solo, but you are required to know what instrument you hold and play it as well as you can. You are required to find your place in the score.

Congratulations to all the winners, and many thanks to Tereza Heinz and the foundation for this year's inspired and inspiring choices!

Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

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