EL: What inspired you to co-found the Food Policy Action network?
TC: Working as a chef, I thought I knew about why people were hungry in this country, but it turns out that I didn't know a whole lot. Once my wife and I started doing research for a film that she directed and produced, A Place at the Table, a few things became clear right away. One was the scope of the problem; I didn't realize that 49 million Americans were food insecure at the time. And these people weren't hungry because of famine or drought. They were hungry because we didn't have the political will to end hunger in this country.
At the time in 2012, this idea of letting a member of Congress know how you feel about these issues felt a little "yeah, right." So I started brainstorming how we could bump up this issue of hunger so it could become something people think about when they go to the polls. I thought, well, I'm also involved in this other food movement of chefs and eaters who care about how their food is produced and how it affects the environment. Typically, those people who care about their food sources also want to feed the hungry. So how do you mesh these two together? That's how Food Policy Action came about.
Our first piece of business was to produce the online Scorecard, which gives consumers a way to easily see how their representatives are voting on food. The second year, people started paying a little more attention to it. By the third year, we started hearing people say that they were really starting to keep score.
The Plate of the Union campaign calls for reform on The Farm Bill, which will be voted on in 2018. What sorts of policies does this bill set and how do they affect our food?
The Farm Bill is massive. It covers programs like SNAP and it controls what we're eating, how we're eating it, and the price of food. Right now, the majority of government subsidy programs go toward commodity crops like corn and soy that go into highly processed, fast food. Very few of these subsidies go toward what we call specialty crops: fruits and vegetables. We've seen a huge consumer shift over the last 10 years about what people are demanding. Organics alone is a $48 billion business right now. Consumers want high-quality food, so we're trying to get the Farm Bill based more on what consumers are looking for, not what Big Ag is looking for.