Food Czar Tom Colicchio has a pretty nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Representative (D-CA 12th District) Nancy Pelosi and Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio discuss the Farm Bill for Plate of the Union, Tom Colicchio, Jose Andres, Andrew Zimmern & Leading Chefs Lobby Congress To Clean Up America's Food System on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Food Policy Action Education Fund)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Representative (D-CA 12th District) Nancy Pelosi and Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio discuss the Farm Bill for Plate of the Union, Tom Colicchio, Jose Andres, Andrew Zimmern & Leading Chefs Lobby Congress To Clean Up America's Food System on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Food Policy Action Education Fund) /

Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio is passionate about food insecurity.

Concurrent to the just-completed Top Chef All Stars LA, a global pandemic wreaked havoc on the United States, providing us with a living, breathing version of Alice’s rabbit hole. Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t the product of Lewis Carroll’s imagination but instead is a stark reality. The inverse of that reality was the proverbial fantasy world that we all entered every Thursday at 10 pm upon tuning into Season 17.

This is the hand that 2020 dealt us and we’re forced to take the good with the bad. Chatting with Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio enabled me to examine those cards in greater detail, as I recently had the chance to do a deep-dive into the nation’s food insecurity with him. I also discussed all things Top Chef with Tom too and will feature that part of our conversation in part 2 of this series.

If you follow Tom Colicchio on social media, you’ll know that his activism knows no bounds.

As I read Tom’s Twitter and Instagram posts, listen to his insightful new “Citizen Chef” podcast, and watch his many television interviews, I find myself learning something new with each engagement. I also find myself repeatedly thinking that if an administration were to create the role of national Food Czar, Tom Colicchio would be the person to fill it. So I asked him if his phone rang and he was offered a place at the table, support, and resources, how does Food Czar Tom Colicchio approach the job.

“I think one of the first things to do is look at our farming practices. They’ve become so centralized, especially meat processors and I think COVID-19 also exposed that. So I think looking at legislation that’s already in place like the Sherman Act and asking if we break up some of these big companies. Currently, there are 800 meat processing facilities in America. 50 of them produce 90% of the meat. There are also 25 different licenses that the USDA gives out to process meat. The bigs make sure that those licenses don’t get put out and they’re very very restricted. Meaning if you have a small farm, perhaps you can kill a couple of thousand animals a week, but you can’t break them down. You can only sell that at your farm or at a farmer’s market.”

Tom makes it very clear that farmers and farms would be at the heart of his Food Czar strategy.

“I think much more support for small farmers. When I say support, not in terms of giving them money, but getting them better markets. A great thing to do would be to strengthen that farmer to school market. This goes back to processing because here in the northeast, the farmers are producing food now, but schools are closed. So how about if there is a production facility where these farmers can actually sell food into a process where the food is processed for the school lunch system. That is the missing piece right now because if you go to a school cafeteria, they don’t cook or prep, they’re just reheating food.”

Springboarding off the farm-focused approach, Tom shared his thoughts on leveraging resources, not only during normal times but under current conditions that have caused food insecurity to grow exponentially.

“Clearly we need an increase in SNAP. My wife made a film called “A Place at the Table” that examines food insecurity in this country. I think that there may be an appetite for it too because for years we heard people demonize others who were receiving help. You hear things like they made their own mess, they had too many kids, you know, pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Well, now we’re seeing hour, two, three-hour-long lines waiting for food banks. And these are all people, again, no fault of their own, that never thought they were going to be in this position. So maybe now there’ll be a little more empathy for someone. No fault of their own was born into poverty. No fault of their own perhaps came back from fighting our wars with PTSD and can’t get a job and need help. No fault of their own have mental issues that prevent them from getting and keeping jobs. So hopefully there’ll be a lot more empathy.”

A Food Czar Colicchio would set out to find ways to make nutrition less expensive.

“Calories in this country are cheap and nutrition’s expensive. I would get nutrition as something that had to be taught in public school, basic nutrition, and use it through the school lunch system. I think that needs to happen because kids just don’t know about nutritious food. So the combination of teaching nutrition and finding ways to make nutritious foods more affordable is important. For the last 20 or 30 years, we figured out a way to grow more corn and soy on the same acreage. We haven’t done that with fruits and vegetables, so if you did that and you can increase yields on the same acreage, perhaps you can actually bring the cost down. There are a lot of smart people who can figure out ways to make more nutritious foods affordable.”

Tom went on to share details of the Double Bucks program that is embedded in SNAP.

“If you’re taking SNAP dollars and you’re buying in a farmer’s market, you’ll get double the amount of money you’re spending. So if you spent $40, you can go to a kiosk and they’ll give you a little chip for another $40 that you can spend. Now you’re doubling up your personal buying power. And now people who want to buy nutritious foods can start to afford it, plus the money, which is actually government money, is now going to local farms. And the great thing about that if you really want to push the economy forward, we know that for every dollar spent in that farmer’s market, it goes to the local economy. There’s a multiplier effect of $1.75. So that’s great for the economy too.”

According to Tom, another byproduct of the Double Bucks program would be the need for the same farmers to buy additional equipment, which in turn would necessitate bringing on more farmworkers.

“You can’t have a conversation in this country about immigration without it being in the food conversation too. Those are the people we need to pick our vegetables, to work on our farms, to work in the processing plants. These are the people that are willing to take those jobs. And a lot of those jobs are skilled jobs. “

These basic tenets that would drive Tom Colicchio as Food Czar barely scratch the surface, though they map out the foundation upon which he’d build a gameplan. With food insecurity becoming a far bigger part of the national conversation during COVID-19, I would offer that creating such a position on a national level is an idea whose time has come.

So, Tom, if the phone were to ring next January 21?

“I would always take that call. And if the position was ever offered to me, I would take it. You know, it’s a new position, so you can make it what you want. There are already so many food champions in Congress who really care about these issues too. Plenty of people on both sides of the aisle. Once you sit down with someone you find out there are a lot of things in common. It’s just a matter of getting together and talking. You can get stuff done.”

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Do you think that Tom Colicchio would make a powerful Food Czar?