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Chef Tom Colicchio to Host New MSNBC Show on Food Policy Reform

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Chef Tom Colicchio to Host New MSNBC Show on Food Policy Reform

Chef Tom Colicchio may be best known as the head judge on Bravo's "Top Chef," owner of a chain of restaurants and host of the new show, "Best New Restaurant." But the renowned chef is also dedicated to food policy reform. He co-founded Food Policy Action in 2012 to educate the public about food policy and to pressure politicians to reform the food system.

Chef Tom Colicchio speaks with Rachel Maddow about the need for reform of our national food policy.

Last week, he joined Senators Barbara Boxer and Richard Blumenthal and Representative Peter DeFazio as they reintroduced a genetic engineering food labeling bill. As if Colicchio wasn't busy enough, he announced yesterday that he will be MSNBC's first-ever food correspondent. He will also host his own weekly show, "Stirring the Pot," on MSNBC's new online channel Shift this spring.

"This is a big deal," author Michael Pollan told the LA Times. "The fact is that people are deeply engaged by food stories, whether about food safety, nutrition, hunger, animal welfare, public health or the environment. Tom has a sufficiently broad grasp of the issues to connect the dots between food and all these issues."

Even before the show has begun, Colicchio has already started "stirring the pot." In his interview announcing his new position, he laments how "some members of Congress are pushing back on the standards for school lunch." Colicchio says, "I've spent some time in some school lunchrooms where the food is actually really good, and so I would love to challenge Congress to look at what school lunch can be."

His solution for the impasse in Congress: "they need to sit down around the table and have a good meal. They need to break bread and have a discussion."

It's not only Congress that needs to sit down, eat a meal and talk about food. Everyone needs to. "Sitting down and asking questions about food is something that is missing right now," says Colicchio. "If you look at the last election, food never came up. Hunger barely came up. So let's have this discussion. Let's talk about food."

He also went on The Rachel Maddow Show yesterday to talk about the state of our food system. The chef applauded Michelle Obama's efforts to get Americans, especially children, to eat healthier. He says, "she's done such a great job," especially in "broadening her audience" by using a variety of media, including talk shows, TV programs geared towards children and viral videos.

He says the problem, though, is deeper than just raising awareness about eating healthy food. "Fruits and vegetables are typically more expensive than processed foods," so how do you help people who are trying to eat better but can't afford fresh produce, says Colicchio. "That has to go to policy."

If you look at subsidies, 85 percent of the $25 billion worth of subsidies goes to commodity crops, according to Colicchio. Fifteen percent goes to meat and dairy. One percent goes to specialty crops, which includes fruits and vegetables. "So there has to be a policy change to make those more affordable," Colicchio says, because our food policies don't support the dietary guidelines set by our own government.

The chef points out that a lot of stories we hear about in the news are really food stories. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a food story because "it affects the food chain, the fisheries and people's livelihoods that rely on those fisheries." Same goes for the "overuse of pesticides, which leach into the waterways and create a dead zone in the Gulf. Another food story."

"People are ready for that next conversation about food," says Colicchio. "People want to know what's in their food, they want to understand food safety, they want to understand social and economic issues around food and they want to fix hunger problems."

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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