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The next big march in Washington should be for food, celebrity chefs say

Tom Colicchio, left, and Andrew Zimmern, right, at the Food & Wine Celebration of the 2017 Best New Chefs. The celebrity chefs were lobbying on Capitol Hill this week. (Photos by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food & Wine)
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First, the women marched. Then came the immigrants, and the scientists followed. Now celebrity chefs are calling for another Washington march — this time, for food.

“Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern and “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio were among the chefs lobbying on Capitol Hill this week on behalf of Plate of the Union, a group that advocates for better, healthier food, fewer hungry Americans and food policy that’s less beholden to corporate interests.

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The idea for a march came from José Andrés, the famous chef who recently settled a legal dispute with President Trump’s company. In February, Andrés “turned to Tom Colicchio and I and said, ‘We need to have a million people in front of the Capitol,’ ” Zimmern said. “We had the Million Woman March, we had the Million Man March. How many people could we get out there marching for food? I think José is right.”

Many chefs have spoken out about immigration for months. Though there still aren’t concrete plans for a food march, the call for one adds to mounting criticism of the Republican-led Congress’s agenda, particularly as many Republican lawmakers have been eager to cut back on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

Zimmern and Colicchio are specifically speaking up on behalf of the Farm Bill, far-reaching legislation expiring in September 2018 that affects everything from agricultural subsidies to international food aid and is revised and passed about every five years. They’re calling for the bill to help meet the country’s demand for organic food, as well as for more transparency in the way food is grown, processed and labeled.

Though chefs have been “falsely perceived as feeding the few, [they] have become obsessed with feeding the many, and are leading this charge,” said Colicchio, who was joined at a kickoff event Wednesday by Andrés and other local chefs, including Edward Lee of “The Mind of a Chef” and Succotash and Marjorie Meek-Bradley, a former “Top Chef” contestant and chef and co-owner of Smoked and Stacked.

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“We need to work on renaming the Farm Bill the Food Bill, because that’s what it is,” Zimmern said. “It’s about what we do every day with food.”

The Farm Bill dictates government subsidies for crops, crop insurance, land conservation, food aid and trade, and a number of miscellaneous programs, like research of organic food. It can especially affect food assistance, like the SNAP program.

“The question is … does Donald Trump want to go down in history as the president that ended hunger? History will be very favorable to someone who does that,” Colicchio said. “Who wants to step up and take that responsibility?”

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“It took us decades and decades to get Washington to start talking about food,” Zimmern said. “Right now our biggest issue is just to get people to leave it as it is.”

Food waste, a hot topic among chefs, is also high on Colicchio’s list — he lobbied on behalf of anti-waste legislation last year. If there were more tax incentives for farmers to repurpose edible but “ugly” unsalable foods, Colicchio said, it could be a win-win: It would alleviate hunger, put more money in farmers’ pockets and feel like a victory for Democrats and Republicans. “Nobody wants to see waste,” he said.

Colicchio thinks chefs are exactly the people to lead these efforts.

“I get it a lot: ‘Stick to the kitchen,’ ” said Colicchio, echoing his critics. “Everything that is on your plate is touched by policy and politics.”

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