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Top Chef Tom Colicchio’s Focus on Sustainable Food

Photo: Courtesy of Jim Franco

“Everywhere, people are caring more about food, what they’re feeding their family and the effects it has on the environment and the effects it has on their well-being,” says Tom Colicchio, the head judge of Bravo’s hit show “Top Chef.”

Sustainable food

Five years ago, Colicchio co-founded Food Policy Action, a non-profit that promotes a healthy, sustainable food system and holds legislators accountable for votes that affect food and farming.

“We need to make sure, as we’re producing food for our ever-expanding planet, that we’re not destroying the planet at the same time,” says Colicchio, noting that Americans waste 40 percent of food produced.

He says sustainability is about protecting diversity in plants and animals, avoiding wasting natural resources like water and energy and not contributing to climate change.

The chef, who has 30 years in the food industry, is critical of President Donald Trump’s position on the climate.

“You have an administration right now that just really doesn’t care about the environment,” Colicchio remarks. “It’s interesting how this current administration really has no regard for anything but business.”

He continues, “How does this administration look at the environment and business? Business just trumps it all – pun intended.”

Colicchio wants the government to fund farm bills – including low interest loans and tax breaks – to help farmers find and finance properties for crops.

He also wants increased funding to research how to increase yields of nutritious foods like fruits and veggies.

What’s local?

Colicchio uses fresh, organic foods in his restaurants. For example, his New York restaurants source fruits and vegetables from regional farms from early spring until October or November.

At Wichcraft, his fast casual sandwich eateries, he’s been serving local produce and implementing sustainable practices since opening in 2003. But he wasn’t marketing the chain’s green practices until recently, when he rebranded the design and message “to let the customers know we were using these products.”

It was a necessary step for the chef, who’s frustrated that, nowadays, many restaurants are so loose in labeling their practices as “local and sustainable.”

“There’s no legal definition of local, which is confusing. There’s no definition of what’s sustainable, says Colicchio, suggesting that maybe the government should play a role in defining these terms and how the terms can be advertised.

He encourages consumers to ask questions when dining.

“If someone is claiming farm-to-table, quite frankly I think it’s nonsense,” he says. “Everything that starts on a farm and ends up on a table depends on the farm and what happens in between. But I think if you’re going to pay a premium for that, you should ask questions.”

Colicchio thinks, despite the expense, consumers will continue to pay for sustainable food, especially millennials, who are “more interested in where the food comes from and who’s producing it.”

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