Bettina Siegel is impressive. She has a degree from Harvard Law School, writes extensively about school food policy on her blog, The Lunch Tray, and was named one of the “20 Most Influential Moms of 2015” by Family Circle.
Bettina is also one of the most successful petition creators in Change.org’s history working on controversial issues like “pink slime,” “Chinese chicken,” and a marketing program McDonald’s launched in schools.
Since Bettina recently won her third campaign using Change.org, I wanted to take a chance to ask her about her work and share those insights with the Change.org community.
Pulin: Congrats! You’ve now won three campaigns on Change.org. How does that make you feel?
Bettina: It feels pretty great! Each time I’ve started a petition (the second one was launched with a fellow advocate, Nancy Huehnergarth), I haven’t been sure that anyone else would care about the issue. So to watch each petition go viral and then actually end in victory has been so gratifying.
I’ve never been more hopeful about the power of ordinary people to make real changes in the world, and the Change platform is a phenomenal tool to help them do it.
Pulin: Why do you think the food issues you talk about receive so much support?
Bettina: The three petitions I’ve launched have all related to school children and food in some way, and I think a lot of people - not just parents - are genuinely concerned about how we feed this next generation. And, speaking more broadly, we all have to eat, so food tends to be a common denominator even for people from very different walks of life.
Pulin: Can you tell everyone a bit about your blog The Lunch Tray?
Bettina: I started The Lunch Tray six years ago as a space where I could write generally about children and food. Because of my involvement in school food reform, both in my own district (Houston ISD) and nationally, I’m particularly interested in that issue and other food policy issues that affect kids. But I also discuss topics like picky eating, family dinner, even lunchbox packing, and I’ve been lucky enough to interview a lot of really interesting people on the blog, everyone from a US Senator to noted book authors.
The best part of blogging, though, has been watching the growth of this vibrant community of Lunch Tray readers, one which includes not just parents but also school food professionals and policy experts. I’ve learned so much from them.
Pulin: Do other bloggers ever turn to you for advice on how to use Change.org for the issues they write about?
Bettina: I have had people ask me for guidance and my advice is always the same: be sure to choose a narrowly tailored goal that targets a single individual or entity. There are a lot of problems in the world in need of sweeping reform, but a petition that makes a broad demand and targets an entire industry is just likely to be ignored.
By putting one entity or person in the hot seat and presenting them with a single goal that can actually be achieved, you’re more likely to succeed with the petition and raise awareness of the larger surrounding issues. And that victory can start a ripple effect that can lead to even bigger changes down the road.
Pulin: What lessons did you learn from previous campaigns which you applied to this McDonald's campaign?
Bettina: I really wasn’t intending to launch a petition against McDonald’s at all. It was my hope that after I wrote my blog post first exposing the “540 Meals” program, there would be enough press coverage that McDonald’s might back away from pushing the film into schools.
But when the company continued to defend the film, even though the reaction to it was mostly negative, I decided a petition was called for. So I wound up drafting it pretty quickly, but I’ve learned from past experience to keep the petition text as streamlined as possible - people have short attention spans online - and then to link to more detailed information on my blog for those interested in learning more.
Pulin: The media loves talking with you. How do you prepare for those interviews?
Bettina: Well, that’s nice of you to say - I’m not sure that’s true! But the first time I went on national television (to talk to Anderson Cooper in front of a live audience about my LFTB petition), I was so nervous I seriously thought I might pass out! Since then, I’ve grown a lot more comfortable being on television and talking to reporters.
I just try to remind myself that I’m being given an incredible opportunity to share why a particular cause is so important to me, and to keep my focus on making the most of it. I also try to think through in a general way what I want to say in advance, so no matter how nervous I get, I'll hopefully hit the key points.
Pulin: You write about school food policy most often, but what do you have planned while schools are out for the summer break?
Bettina: It’s true that school food tends to drop off people’s radar in the summer, but there are so many aspects of “kids and food" that interest me, and so many related items in the news to cover, I’m pretty sure I’ll never run out of topics to write about. I think that’s borne out by the fact that I’ve published over 1,300 posts to date - and still have a drafts folder that’s overflowing!
Pulin: How can readers connect with you or other organizations to get more involved?
Bettina: Readers should feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@thelunchtray) or by email (bettina at thelunchtray.com). And depending on the food causes they care about - childhood hunger, school food, food waste - they can find lots of relevant organizations by following my various Twitter lists, which are grouped by those topics.
Looking for more advice on how to run a successful campaign like Bettina? Check out our Petition Guide.
Pulin Modi is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org