Food is an incredible force. It is the staple of many cultures. It gives us the nutritional base to grow and develop. Food also brings together friends, family and loved ones around the table and serves as the starting point for conversations, like the one I want to have right now.
I have made a career out of feeding people in my Capitol Hill restaurants. But around the world, one in nine people lack access to proper meals each day, and, as a result, their health and the stability of these nations are in jeopardy. Without access to nutritious food, children cannot develop to their full potential and parents make agonizing choices about if and how they can feed their children. Hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to global health, killing more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, and malnutrition contributes to one-third of childhood deaths.
As an advocate for the global poverty-fighting organization CARE, I had a chance to see the impact of such challenges on farmers firsthand. Last year, I traveled with the organization to Ayacucho, Peru where I met a local farmer named Edilberto. For generations, Edilberto’s family successfully produced and sold native Peruvian potatoes, but their land was destroyed after years of internal conflict and attacks from guerilla groups.
With the help of CARE, Edilberto regained the confidence needed to start his business again with a focus on protecting his land and his assets. In 2011, Edilberto and other small-scale farmers in the area banded together in a potato cooperative. With the knowledge of better natural resource management techniques, including conservation agriculture and soil management, the group produced more potatoes at a higher quality and sold them at higher prices. They began selling to the renowned Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, who helped to get the native Peruvian potato on the menus of some of the finest restaurants in Peru, thus reviving the market for traditional potatoes. Their new business created a steady income for Edilberto and many other farmers like him.
Global hunger is not something that can be fixed overnight or with just one meal – it takes time, effort, coordination, proper planning and funding. With the passage of the Global Food Security Act, the U.S. will be closer to ensuring that critical coordination is taking place and that food and nutrition security remains a priority of the U.S. government’s development work for years to come.
As a chef, I understand that hunger is preventable and that access to food is the key ingredient to poverty alleviation. I hope you, too, recognize the importance and power of food. I plan to take my story and this message to Capitol Hill, to share with members of Congress the importance of building a stronger food system. So, to my fellow chefs and to anyone who wants to take on global hunger: Encourage your policymakers to do the same by supporting the passage of the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (S.1252/H.R.1567): www.care.org/gfsa.
Mendelsohn is a chef ambassador for CARE, a TV food-show contestant and host, and the owner with his family of several restaurants including DC establishments Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza.