Top Chef Turns Up the Heat on Food Policy
New menu rates members of Congress on food issue votes
Marylanders we send to Congress are accustomed to getting sliced, diced and rated by the likes of the National Rifle Association and an array of business and labor groups.
But who is watching how members vote on vital food policy issues, such as hunger, access to nutrition, farm subsidies and, perhaps, the wisdom of wide-scale conversion to genetically modified crops occuring silently in our midst?
A lot of groups, but not until now are they pooling their clout to elevate food issues in Congress.
Flanked by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, Washington-based Environmental Working Group last week announced a new initiative. Food Policy Action will distribute scorecards on how senators and House members vote on significant matters related to food.
The Environmental Working Group is known for relentlessly disclosing taxpayer subsidies to farmers who don’t need them and pioneering research on consumer products from laundry detergents to sunscreen.
Working Group vice-president Scott Faber spelled out reasons voters might be interested: One-third of American adults are obese; 20 million people lack easy access to healthy food; 3,000 people in the United States die every year from foodborne illnesses.
“We are clearly not doing enough in our nation to address food challenges,” he said. “All the evidence is that voters are really hungry for this information.”
Marylanders, by and large, scored well on the initial report card: At 100 percent, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin couldn’t have fared better.
Among House members in the region, Steny Hoyer scored 93 percent, while Andy Harris scored 21 percent.
The ratings reflect the recent anti-regulatory and anti-spending sentiments of congressional Republicans, leading to the question of whether the new initiative is a partisan enterprise.
The choice of scored votes is entirely subjective, of course, and is determined by an advisory board that includes Gary Hirschberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm and Michael Jacobson, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“I don’t think we made it partisan, but we made it political,” said Working Group president Ken Cook.
Colicchio, from the television program Top Chef, is also a board member and has focused on hunger issues during his career.
“When you have 50 million people, including 17 million children, who are food insecure, you’ve got an epidemic,” he observed.