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Our stunt in Chicago used over-the-top tactics to call attention to a serious issue: climate change.
I’m not sure my parents really know what I do as a campaigner at Oxfam—and these new photos of me floating in Lake Michigan while dressed like Tony the Tiger may not help clear things up.
But there’s a story behind the costume. Since 2013, I’ve worked on Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, which calls on the world’s 10 biggest food and beverage companies to do more to fight poverty and hunger.
To get these companies’ attention, we need to bring all of our campaign force to the table. After all, they make more than $1 billion a day. We don’t have that kind of money, but we have creativity, policy analysis, research, media might, and the support of hundreds of thousands of consumers like you, whose voices are making a real difference.
So, we organize stunts—splashy (no pun intended), over-the-top events designed to grab the attention of companies and the media. Things like constructing a 14-foot-tall scale of justice outside Nestlé headquarters in Los Angeles, or hanging our own giant sign underneath the iconic PepsiCo sign in New York.
This time around, we’re calling on General Mills and Kellogg to help stop climate change from making people hungry. We decided to host a stunt in Chicago during the gigantic Sweets and Snacks Expo earlier this week, which was attended by Kellogg, General Mills, and the other companies in the big 10. Our plan was to portray the breakfast of the future: waterlogged, failed crops, and unhappy mascots facing rising food prices and increasing hunger… all real possibilities if we do not address climate change now.
Our team of Oxfam staff and volunteers scoped out a beach near Navy Pier, testing water temperature and depth. We assigned roles and put on our costumes: Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, Tricks the Rabbit, and the Pillsbury Doughboy. And of course, we wore lifejackets, both for visual effect and for safety, though the water never got above our knees. (It just looks like it got to our waists—we were in fact kneeling. Movie magic, that’s how it happens!)
The hot, sunny day could not have been more perfect for a dip in chilly Lake Michigan. We spent the first 10 minutes hamming it up for the camera and making adjustments. After we knew we had the shot, we started playing around with new visuals. A volunteer got the idea that we should all float in Lake Michigan. That shot may be my favorite—climate change is marked by too much water (floods and sea level rise) or not enough (droughts), both of which wreak havoc on our food system.
The message was serious, but the shoot was fun. Laying back, looking up at the amazing Chicago skyline, I had the best work day ever—even if my mom had a LOT of questions later.
Tell General Mills and Kellogg to help stop climate change from making people hungry. Add your voice at behindthebrands.org.