Video: Obama administration chef/adviser criticizes the low funding provided for child nutrition programs under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, urges changes in the upcoming Farm Bill
Via our friends at Eater: Frequent White House guest chef José Andrés, a DC-based restaurateur, TV personality and cookbook author, spoke at The Economist's recent conference "The World in 2011." In a wide-ranging speech, Andrés called for dramatic changes in the attention paid by governments -- especially the American government -- to food policy. He both lauded and criticized the attention the Obama administration pays to food policy, and discussed First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign. He described the new Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, the legislative centerpiece of Mrs. Obama's campaign, which President Obama signed into law on December 13, as so underfunded it stands to harm children's health. (Above: Andrés, left, in the White House Kitchen Garden with Mrs. Obama, and Senior Policy Adviser For Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass, during the 2010 Spring Harvest)
"I'm here representing the food people of the world, and making a statement about the need for a new national food policy," Andrés told his conference audience.
Andrés is not only a frequent guest chef at the White House, but he is also the only chef who serves as an appointed member of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.
"I can only praise the efforts of the Obama administration on food security, and First Lady Michelle Obama's efforts to combat childhood obesity with her Let's Move! campaign," Andrés said. "But still today when you visit the White House and you go under issues on the webpage, you will see every word...energy, taxation, empowerment...but never a word about food."
"Actually yes, you will go and you will find the latest on the State Dinner at the White House," Andrés said, adding "We need to do more. It is time to recognize that food is as important as every other issue."
>Andrés stars in a White House video with Kass for the Let's Cook series, which shows how to create healthy, affordable meals
School nutrition legislation is underfunded...
"We were not too successful," Andrés proclaimed as he described for the audience what happened as Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
"We're sending the wrong message when we underfund the school lunch program," Andrés said. "What does it say when we use the same funding to fund SNAP to fund school lunch programs?"
Andrés was referring to the use of a temporary boost in Food Stamp money, under the Recovery Act, for the legislation, which the White House has repeatedly pledged to make up.
"We had our politicians funding this in the way that undermines childrens' health. Only six cents per kids meal can do so much," Andrés added. "We can only hope that in the future there will be more funding."
Andrés was on the White House-released list of high-profile advocates and professionals who lauded the passage of the child nutrition legislation, but he had the same message then, too.
"While I am happy we were able to squeeze a few more dollars for school lunch programs, I think we can do better," Andrés said. "We need to band together on these issues to make sure we don’t shortchange our kids.”
Subsidize fruits and vegetables...
In the rest of his remarks, Andrés called for a dramatic changes as the 2012 Farm Bill gets taken up in Congress. He suggested that subsidizing fruits and vegetables is necessary, and that "Big Agribusiness" is driving people like him--restaurateurs--out of business.
"Why does just one class of farmer benefit so much from this system?" Andrés said about USDA's crop subisdy policy. "I predict in 2011 that we will need to level the playing field. This country has been built on the shoulders of the small-business people, family business, and entrepreneurs. Give the small farmers the chance to compete with big agribusiness."
Andrés also suggested during his speech that Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who was another guest speaker at the conference, should, "with the permission of" Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, "take over food policy, because food is crucial to energy." He also commented on the State Department's use of food to ensure global security.
*Top photo by EGK/Obama Foodorama; screengrab via Eater; video from The Economist