Chef Tom Colicchio’s Call to Action

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...


Tom Colicchio knows his way around food.

Boy, does he.

He’s a self-described chef, food activist, and an avid eater. He cooks healthy food for his family and he’s head judge on Bravo’s Top Chef–(but, hey, nobody’s perfect). He is head of several restaurants, among them his flagship, Craft.

He was a co-founder (with Danny Meyer) of Gramercy Tavern in 1994. In those days he bought local, fresh food at the Union Square market because of the quality he could find there.

But in his essay, It’s Time to #VoteFood, on he says this:

 I was buying local and organic–not because I was concerned about the environment or farm workers–but because it simply tasted better and my goal at the time was to be the best chef I could be. It was higher quality food, period.

Then he got involved in a Share Our Strength Taste of the Nation Fundraiser and his perceptions began to change.

Chef Colicchio writes:

What I learned that evening really made me start to think about hunger in this country. At the same time, issues pertaining to our food supply and our fisheries became more important to me and I educated myself about them too, with the dawning understanding that my success as a chef rested on the viability of the ingredients at my disposal.

He began thinking harder about the strong divisions that were forming between the variety and quality of food on the plates he was serving at his restaurants and the millions of other Americans who were going hungry.

He did not like what was happening.

So do the math: to make up for the cuts (aimed at poor and hungry people) we would have to replicate a successful $2 million dollar event every single night–for the next 12 years.

The notion that so many people were being shut out from eating fresh, healthy food gnawed at him. He wanted to act.

He began to get involved. He would cook for any group facing hungry head-on. He lent his voice to groups striving to make a difference in sustainable farm practices and environmental organizations looking out for our food.

Then his wife, Lori, made a movie that took dead-aim at the seriousness of hunger. This from Mr. Colicchio’s article:

Making A Place at the Table changed my thinking radically, because I learned a remarkable truth: hunger in the U.S. is solvable. We actually can end it, if we resolve to look honestly and critically at the policies that contribute to the issue. Other nations have done that, and they are not faced with the same hunger crisis. We, on the other hand, comfort ourselves with charitable work that barely makes a dent in the problem. I was so used to raising money, I thought the answer was food banking. Food banks do really excellent, needed work, but they’re not getting us any closer to ending hunger.

But with the draconian cuts by ideologues in Congress, we are falling farther and farther behind in combating hunger in this country.

Mr. Colicchio relates how the most successful fundraising event he has ever attended raised $2 million dollars in support of the New York City food banks. This Congress has slashed nearly $9 billion dollars from the budgets funding SNAP.

So do the math: to make up for the cuts (aimed at poor and hungry people) we would have to replicate a successful $2 million dollar event every single night–for the next 12 years.

Mr. Colicchio writes this:

The truth is that the great work of charities is being undermined by really bad policy, and until we face that truth, we’re deluding ourselves. If bad policies–like cruel cuts to food stamps or a minimum wage so low that working people can’t afford food–are creating the problem, then it will take good policies to fix them. And where do policies get written, decided and voted on? Washington, DC.

Now, this is where Chef Colicchio gets down. He relates that none of us are in a food movement until we start voting people in and out of office–based on their support for good, sound, and fair food policy.

Hungry folks don’t have lobbyists fighting their causes.

Hungry folks are being targeted for budget cuts because their are poor and hungry.

Hungry folks simply have no voice in state houses, governor’s offices or the halls of Congress.

And Chef Tom Colicchio wants to do something big about that situation.

Read here about the Food Policy Action that he has helped to create with food leaders from across America. This plan will hold legislators accountable. Every year Food Action Policy will issue a scorecard that will track how elected officials are voting.

He states:

 . . . on the issues we all care about, issues like hunger, nutrition, food access, food and farm workers, food safety, local food and farming, animal welfare, and reforming farm subsidies.

So we can determine whether or not they share our values.

Quoting Mr. Colicchio:

It’s time we have a Food Movement that votes on a good fair food system for all.

And we agree.

It’s time to work together to elect people who will make food matter.

It’s time to work to tax incentives that will force proper behavior from ‘big food’.

It’s time to raise voter awareness about how their leaders are voting on issues surrounding food.

It’s time to call out lawmakers who show nothing but distain for American eaters.

It’s time to force these lawmakers to defend these terrible votes in primaries, to talk with SNAP recipients, and to see the 17 million kids who go to bed hungry–through no fault of their own.

It’s time to start to vote, not with our dollars, but with our votes.

Chef Colicchio ends his eloquent article this way:

 As soon as one legislator loses their job over the way they vote on food issues, it will send a clear message to Congress: We are organized. We’re strong. Yes, we have a food movement, and it’s coming for you. Join me, #VOTEFOOD.

Thank you, Chef. Thank you for your thoughtful approach to this horrendous problem and to pointing out a positive course of action for all of us to follow.

This post originally appeared on Bill Moyer’s site, Bill Moyers & You can read Chef Tom Colicchio’s post in its entirety right here.

Are you willing to #votefood and affect change about food issues from Washington, DC?

Photo credit: Craig McCord