"I find myself in the slightly surreal position of being able to comment on issues of importance to me to a public willing to listen."
You may know Chef Tom Colicchio from his many seasons as head judge on Top Chef, and from his wildly successful restaurants. But the celebrity chef has recently taken on a different kind of food project. Yesterday, Colicchio testified before the House Education and Labor Committee in favor of the "Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act." In a well-written and thoughtful speech, he detailed the importance of the Act from a personal act compelling perspective. Read the full text of the Act here, and see the transcript of Colicchio's comments here.
The Act, proposed by Chairman George Miller (D-CA), reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act (CNA) and expands its programs to serve more hungry children nation-wide. Such improvements include universal access to school breakfast and lunch programs in high-poverty areas, improved food safety precautions in school kitchens, and stronger farm-to-school relationships to increase the amount of fresh produce available to students. The overall price tag of this bill is higher than the previous CNA, but also has the potential to be far more effective.
Colicchio spoke humbly, seeming almost surprised to be in such a seat of power: "I find myself in the slightly surreal position of being able to comment on issues of importance to me to a public willing to listen... Once upon a time my job wasn't public at all - [chefs] stayed in the kitchen cooking... Nobody gave a hoot what we had to say, just what we sent out on the plate." But his comments demonstrated a nuanced knowledge of the issues at hand, and how Congress can make strides to effect change.
For instance, Colicchio drew upon his own experience as a parent to two small children: "It's my job as a parent to make sure they have a variety of real, nutritious foods served to them at every meal... And yet, I hear people say, '...If we give [kids] good food they won't eat it.' Come on, people! We're the adults. It's up to us to do better." His stern tone continued as he stated that allowing sugary foods and soft drinks into school cafeterias is "an egregious abdication of our responsibility towards kids." The thousands of children who receive their only food of the day at school, must be provided with more nutritional and well-rounded options.
In a strong closing paragraph, he took an economic stance on the issue: "There can be no better investment—no better stimulus to our economy—than feeding this nation's children healthily and well...Providing the building blocks for millions of kids to grow and develop as they should, will mean a population of robust and productive adults, and a more competitive America." I thought this was an interesting way to frame the increase in budgetary requests of this bill—better food for our children is an investment in our economic future. I couldn't agree more.
Colicchio has been doing the morning show rounds for the past few days. He appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe to publicize his efforts in Congress, and on CNN's AM Fix to discuss his simultaneous campaign to promote gulf seafood. Also of interest, Colicchio's wife, Lori Silverbush, will soon release Hungry in America, a film that details the struggles faced by thousands of Americans who go hungry each day.
I applaud Colicchio's efforts in Congress, and the fact that he is using his public image to work for the greater good. His efforts, combined with the work that Mrs. Obama and White House Chef Sam Kass are doing in their Chefs Move to Schools project, makes me optimistic about the future of the CNA.