Just under a dozen renowned hospitality professionals looked to carve up both chambers of Congress, pressing their respective lawmakers to support the realignment of outdated global assistance provisions.
Excited to talk with @SenGillibrand, @SenSchumer and @OxfamAmerica to #FixFoodAid just like we're #fixingthecapitol! pic.twitter.com/8bt1c3Y2eV — Evan Hanczor (@evanhanczor) February 24, 2015
The food service vets, who walked the halls of Congress on behalf of Oxfam America, flew in from across the country on Feb. 24 to voice their support for the Food for Peace Reform Act co-authored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chris Coons, D-Del.
“This is an antiquated system that needs a total overhaul. And this legislation is the gold standard of what aid would look like if it were designed from the ground up today,” Oxfam America Senior Policy Adviser Eric Muñoz said of the proposed policy changes. The celebrated chefs tasked with holding their respective delegation’s collective feet to the fire included: William Dissen, owner/operator of The Market Place in Asheville, N.C.; David Garcelon, director of culinary operations at New York City’s storied Waldorf Astoria hotel; Ben Hall, co-owner of Russell Street Deli in Detroit; Evan Hanczor, executive chef at Egg restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Emily Luchetti, cookbook author and James Beard Foundation award-winning pastry chef with the San Francisco-based Big Night Restaurant Group; Dena Marino, owner/operator of MC Kitchen in Miami; Kyle Mendenhall, executive chef at The Kitchen in Boulder, Colo.; Guillermo "Willy" Thomas, owner/operator of Park Café in Nashville; Emily Torgrimson, executive director and co-founder of Minneapolis-based nonprofit, Eat for Equity — a community building organization with a branch here in the District ; and Paul Wright, executive chef at Eastland Café in Nashville.
The nutrition-savvy constituents strolled into meetings armed with commemorative grocery sacks, a “shopping list” of reform factoids and plenty of anecdotes from the front lines of the sustainable dining movement.
Mendenhall told HOH he chewed the fat with Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, as well as Rep. Jared Polis.
The freshly minted lobbyist — his only prior trip to D.C. took place last summer, when he breezed through town to help coordinate the snack pairings for the annual SAVOR craft beer fest — discovered some lawmakers were as confounded by the status quo as his colleagues in the mushrooming Chef Action Network .
“When you really are able to take a step back and look at the issue of food aid reform, it’s a win-win situation. The process is what’s holding it down,” Mendenhall said, blaming the current inflexibility on bureaucratic red tape. “We’re talking about helping human beings and the ability to help more human beings without there being a great impact on more tax dollars or anything like that. Let’s use our existing resources and use them better and more wisely.”
Torgrimson, who bent the ears of staffers in the employ of Minnesota Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Keith Ellison, as well as aides to Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., noted that, technically, she’s been advocating for social change since the tender age of 6. (Her father was the director of Oxfam Hong Kong).
She said staff mainly raised questions about how the proposed changes might play here at home.
“The pushback has been how concern about how this would affect farmers,” Torgrimson told HOH. “And I feel that we’ve been able to give a pretty definitive answer that says ‘no.’ … The research shows that there would be no job losses for American farmers.”
A staunch believer in the D-I-Y model of improving things, Torgrimson vowed to keep fighting the good fight to the best of her abilities. “Food is how I make change in the world,” she said.
Updated 2:23 p.m. This post has been updated to reflect that Naomi Pomeroy was unable to attend the event.
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