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Saturday, November 11, 2023

Chefs as Lobbyists

Helena Bottemiller Evich at Food Fix:
About a decade ago, I started noticing chefs were showing up in Washington to lobby on all kinds of issues — child hunger, school nutrition, antibiotics in agriculture, fisheries management, the list goes on. A lot of these cooks-turned-lobbyists had gone through a James Beard Foundation advocacy training program called the Chef Bootcamp for Policy and Change. Katherine Miller, the force behind that program — which has now trained hundreds of chefs — recently came out with a book about this work and the impact it’s had over the years. “At the Table: The Chef’s Guide to Advocacy” is targeted primarily at chefs, but it offers insights on advocacy that are applicable far beyond the culinary world.

I recently caught up with Miller about her new book and what I find most interesting about chefs jumping into food fights.

The following conversation excerpt has been edited for length and clarity:

Helena: In the beginning of the book, you note that you were very skeptical at first that chefs should even be advocates. It reminded me of when I first wrote about this trend for Politico back in 2014 and a Republican aide gave me a great snarky quote that it’s hard to take policy advice seriously “from a group who thinks neck tattoos are a good idea.” Let’s start there. What changed your mind about the role chefs can play here?

Miller: I think it’s how some people feel about anyone with a public profile. When Bono started talking about aid to Africa, everybody was like, ‘What does he know about that subject? And why should we listen to him?’ I remember I was on the way to the first Chef Bootcamp, and I picked up a bunch of magazines, and in every single magazine I had picked that week there was Sean Brock with his tattoos. He was in Vogue. He was in TIME. He was everywhere. He was at the first bootcamp. I remember thinking ‘Oh, [chefs,] they’re everywhere!’ But in talking to the chefs, I realized the flip side of being everywhere.

There’s a restaurant on every corner of America, essentially — they are places that we trust. They buy from local farmers. They employ our kids, they employ us, they sort of serve as this living embodiment of a food system. Because chefs are so close to their community, they can have a conversation with a member of Congress who comes in, they can talk to the governor when they come in,