RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you know Tom Colicchio, you probably know him as "Top Chef" judge, author and restaurant owner. He is also a food activist. Colicchio has just been to Capitol Hill urging Congress to support nutrition programs, especially healthier lunches for kids. Colicchio wants school cafeterias to prepare more fresh food, what he calls scratch cooking, rather than serve mass-prepared meals.
TOM COLICCHIO: We had a trend over the last 30 years to move away from scratch cooking in schools to where it's just mass-produced food that's thrown into a steamer. And so we need to move to more scratch cooking. I actually met with Senator Bennet in Colorado, where all the schools in Colorado have moved over to scratch cooking. So of course they're using more local produce and vegetables, and so it's a real boost to the local farmers.
MARTIN: You have focused a lot in your policy work and advocacy on hunger. What's the biggest lever for change on that issue in the country right now?
COLICCHIO: Yeah, I think the biggest lever for change is actually making foods more nutritious - we produce a lot of calories in this country. And calories are cheap, and nutrition is expensive - and so try to figure out ways to make nutrition more affordable and more accessible. And if we want children to live up to their potential and to really, you know, produce and give back and be part of the economy, they have to have early nutrition. They have to understand what nutrition is about, where their food's from. But they need to grow up nourished. And if we are excluding 30 million children, what does that portend for our country 20 years from now?
MARTIN: Has this always been an issue for you? I mean, have you always thought of food from a policy perspective?
COLICCHIO: Well, no. You know - so it's interesting because as a chef working in New York City - you know, chefs are kind of first responders when it comes to raising money for various causes. And I think a lot of chefs kind of rallied around hunger issues. And so for years, I've done, you know, fundraising and thought I kind of understood the issue. And then about six, seven years ago, my wife was mentoring a young girl. She had some learning disabilities, and we managed to get her into a private school program in New York City. And so we got a phone call that this young woman was clearly hungry and asking for food.
The school didn't have a lunch program or a breakfast program, and she wasn't eating. And my wife's a filmmaker and a writer, and she came home and said, I want to explore this issue. And very, very quickly, we found that, you know, people are are hungry in this country not because there's not enough food here. It's not because of drought. It's not because of famine or war. It's because we don't have the political will to make sure that every single person is fed.
We can end hunger in this country. And you think about this - there's a lot of things - intractable, you know, problems and issues that we can't fix, but we can end hunger. And you fix that problem, you fix a lot of other problems in the country.
MARTIN: Chef, restaurateur, TV host - Tom Colicchio, thank you so much for your time this morning.
COLICCHIO: Thank you.
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