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Farm to table on a global scale

As a chef in America, I have the luxury of taking food beyond life’s basic needs and focusing on creating delicious food as a creative expression of who I am. As part of the farm to table movement, I join other chefs and farmers who recognize that eating locally is good for everyone: it is economically advantageous for farmers, it seeks to provide fresh veggies and produce for everyone regardless of socioeconomic class, and it promotes healthier eating. We take this movement and culture seriously and we share a responsibility and a belief that this can be taken globally. And that’s why I recently spent a day with Oxfam America, the Chef Action Network, and a nearly a dozen other chefs from around the country pounding the marble floors of the U.S. Congress.

One in every nine of us on this planet is chronically hungry. That means not knowing where your next meal will come from or going to bed with an empty stomach. It means mothers skipping a meal so their children have something to eat. It’s means people struggling to survive on just two dollars a day, people who survived a natural disaster, or families who have fled a violent conflict.

{mosads}American food aid has delivered life-saving assistance to millions of hungry people around the world for more than half a century.  During crises or emergencies, food aid has been crucial to save the lives of people who are unable to feed themselves. The U.S. is the most generous food aid donor in the world, and I am proud of the incredible life-saving impact of what our taxpayer dollars has achieved.

But the laws governing our global food assistance programs were written back in the 1950s when the U.S. government held large surpluses of grain, so the focus then was on shipping food from the United States to people in need around the world.  That was then, this is now:  food policies in the U.S. have changed, so should the food aid program.
Today, red tape mandates that all food aid must be purchased from US grain traders and be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels, even if cheaper food is available closer to where it’s needed. This means that only a little more than half of the food aid spent ends up in the form of food. And it means that food on average takes up to 147 days to get to where it’s needed. That’s simply too long. And too expensive. Too much money is being spent in the middle of the process without getting to the hungry person at the end.

The way I see it is that the current food aid program is a farm to shipping to table program. While some transportation costs are necessary since we’re talking about feeding people around the globe, we can still be a lot more efficient and give humanitarian workers the flexibility to buy the food closer to where it’s needed.

Simple common sense reforms, like the ones proposed in a bipartisan bill recently introduced in the Senate by Sens. Corker (R-Tenn.) and Coons (D-Del.), can make the necessary reforms that would help save millions more lives with no additional costs to us taxpayers. This bill would start turning our food aid program into a global humanitarian version of farm to table. And that’s a good thing.

As we have learned in the farm to table movement, encouraging locally produced foods create as stronger economy and a closer community. In developing countries, buying food locally would also help boost the local economy and decrease the likelihood that people living in poverty now will need food aid in the future. Politically stability is also increased if people have enough to eat.

Across the globe food is our common denominator. Everyone has the right to food for survival and the opportunity to be self-sufficient. Bringing our food aid program into the 21st Century can help this tiny slice of the Federal Budget reach up to 12 million more hungry people without having to spend one cent more. And what’s not to like about that?

Luchetti is the chief pastry officer at San Francisco’s Big Night Restaurant Group that includes The Cavalier, Marlowe, and Park Tavern. She is also the chair of the Board of Trustees of the James Beard Foundation.


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