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How do you make people care? Throw a dinner party with Zooey Deschanel

How do you make people care? Throw a dinner party with Zooey Deschanel
Singer-actress-activist Zooey Deschanel and her husband, entrepreneur-producer-MIT grad Jacob Pechenik, want to "reconnect people with their food" through their business venture the Farm Project. (NeueHouse)

Nobody likes a lecture, but there are lots of important issues out there — such as the origins of our food and how far it has to travel to reach our plates.

How do you make people listen long enough to care?

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That’s the mission of the young digital media company ATTN: (pronounced “attention”), which partnered with NeueHouse (German for “home of the new”) in Hollywood to do what they do best: inform people about important issues in a quick, engaging way … and maybe start changing some minds.

On Wednesday night that strategy meant bringing singer-actress-activist Zooey Deschanel and her husband, producer-entrepreneur-MIT grad Jacob Pechenik, to NeueHouse to talk about ATTN:’s popular Facebook video series “Your Food’s Roots” and break some amazing bread under the stars with about 70 guests.

The Creative Couples event ended with a multicourse dinner, made with food grown at L.A.-area farms, under a perfect evening sky at NeueHouse's outdoor restaurant space.
The Creative Couples event ended with a multicourse dinner, made with food grown at L.A.-area farms, under a perfect evening sky at NeueHouse's outdoor restaurant space. (NeueHouse)

The event, part of NeueHouse’s Creative Couples series (highlighting “powerful couples who choose to collaborate”), also gave Deschanel and Pechenik a chance to talk about their new venture, the Farm Project, which sells vertical towers called Lettuce Grow Farmstands, which grow lots of fresh vegetables hydroponically in a relatively small (2-foot-square) but sunny space.

It was a lot of information to digest in a very short time, but the NeueHouse members who attended got to do it all in style, listening to the Q&A while sitting in very comfy chairs, drinking generous goblets of wine and then sharing an elaborate, mostly vegan meal prepared by farmer-chef Eric Tomassini of Avenue 33 Farm in Lincoln Heights, with foods from Los Angeles County farms.

Seemingly everyone in attendance had a message, which is kind of in keeping with the NeueHouse vibe, creating posh, beautiful workspaces where creative people who would otherwise be working from their bedrooms can easily network, collaborate and buy an espresso. NeueHouse even offers tasteful decanters of mouthwash in the restrooms, with tiny paper cups, to keep everyone minty fresh.

Here’s a breakdown:

The Farm Project and Lettuce Grow Farmstands

Deschanel and Pechenik got serious about the origins of their food four years ago, when she was pregnant with the first of their two children.

“Jacob has this science background in chemical engineering, and he kept asking, ‘What are you eating? Are you eating as healthy as possible? How can we have the best, smartest baby?’ It was a little annoying but it sparked my curiosity,” Deschanel said during the couple’s presentation.

Those conversations grew into the Farm Project, whose mission is to “reconnect people with their food” by helping them grow at least 20% of their fruits and vegetables at home and connect with farmers in their communities.

Their motto? “Know it or grow it.”

The Farm Project's Lettuce Grow Farmstands are vertical garden beds, meant to inspire families to grow at least 20% of their produce at home.
The Farm Project's Lettuce Grow Farmstands are vertical garden beds, meant to inspire families to grow at least 20% of their produce at home. (NeueHouse)

During their presentation, Deschanel became tearful talking about the injustice of people living in “food deserts,” without easy (and/or affordable) access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Much of the food we buy from supermarkets and stores travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to our shopping carts, said Pechenik. Buying more food from local farmers means our food is fresher, he said, and less polluting since it doesn’t have to travel so far.

The Farm Project’s Lettuce Grow Farmstands (made from recycled milk jugs) cost $399 per unit, and for an additional $49 per month, people get new plants and nutrients delivered to them every two weeks for the hydroponic grow system, Pechenik said. The goal is to make vegetables easily accessible to families and reduce the waste of food going bad in the fridge before it’s eaten. This way people harvest what they need when they need it.

ATTN:’s Facebook Watch series

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“Your Food’s Roots” is produced in association with the Farm Project, with Deschanel as the host. Over the past two years, ATTN: has created 13 short (six- to eight-minute) segments with titles such as “Why We Should Save Our Bees” (1.3 million views), “What’s in Your Vitamins” (7.1 million views), “What’s in Your Bread” (15 million views) and “Plastic Bottle Addiction” (46 million views).

The company was founded in 2014 by 30-something activists Jarrett Moreno and Matthew Segal, whose earlier collaboration, OurTime.org, focused on getting young people registered to vote. ATTN:’s other projects include its flagship series “America Versus,” which explores “political, social and cultural differences” between the United States and other countries, and a documentary called “For Our Lives: Parkland.”

ATTN:’s “entertainment that informs” is left-leaning, but the company’s focus is more generational than political, Moreno said in an interview before dinner, with a target audience between the ages of 18 and 35. “Our big goal is to educate people about why they should care, in an entertaining, relevant and personal way.”

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