Andres, Colicchio Criticize Changes, Delays Of School Food Reform Bill

Longtime advocate chef José Andrés is steamed over the delay in revision of school food legislation. The Spanish-born chef spoke with the Chicago Tribune recently regarding the recent Congress heel-dragging over changes to the Child Nutrition Act.

Andrés, who resides in D.C., has been an outspoken proponent of the revised legislation, along with a number of well-knowns in the culinary industry, many of whom gathered at the White House this past summer to support the act. The legislation, which has been mercilessly edited in hopes of getting it passed, made its way through the Senate earlier this year, only after members suggested half of the recommended $10 billion and advised that funds be acquired by cutting the national food assistance (stamp) program.

“This bill is going to influence so much about how we are feeding children at the school level, especially those from the poor families,” Andrés said on the phone from D.C. “If you talk to all the politicians they say that they care about obesity and they care about hunger and they care about children. And yet they are treating this issue so lightly, mostly because they don’t think that these kids have the kinds of parents who vote.

But if cared about the people and our future, they wouldn’t be talking about $10 billion, they would be talking about $20 or $30 billion because it would save us hundreds of billions in health care from obesity later.”

In an effort to address the growing obesity epidemic among adolescents here in the US, officials were hopeful of a larger boost to the school lunch budget. However, the current bill would only increase spending by a small increment.

“If you hear in the coming days that this bill has passed and it has been this bi-partisan success and we have achieved so much for the children and the American people, don’t listen to those mermaid words,” said the chef proprietor of Jaleo, Cafe Atlantico, Minibar and Bazaar among others, “because they are undercutting the children of this country with their lack of vision and lack of courage.”

At a recent virtual town hall with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Feeding America CEO Vicki Escarra, and chef Tom Colicchio, many expressed hope for last ditch efforts, with Colicchio noting the impending partisan shift.

“How can you possibly educate a child when they go to school on an empty stomach?” Colicchio said. “It shouldn’t be a political issue … With the next Congress, cuts are going to be brutal.”

Members of the House, where the bill has laid dormant for weeks, will most likely vote on the revised legislation after the Thanksgiving holiday.

~Jennifer Heigl

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