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Chefs Come to Washington to Cook Up Food Aid Reform

By Oxfam

Ten award-winning chefs from around the United States joined Oxfam America in Washington, DC this week to urge members of Congress to modernize international food aid programs. The chefs met with a number of legislators, including Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who recently introduced the Food for Peace Reform Act, a bipartisan bill that seeks common sense changes to food aid programs that would help save millions more lives with no additional costs to taxpayers.

“As a father of three, I can’t imagine the choices some parents have to make in times of crisis,” said Guillermo ‘Willy’ Thomas, chef and owner of Nashville’s Park Café. “If we can be more efficient and be able to save more lives without spending additional taxpayer dollars, why wouldn’t we do it?”

Although the US is the most generous donor of food aid in the world, American food aid is inefficient and often too slow to reach people in need. Archaic rules require all food aid to be purchased from American grain traders and processors, even when it is available closer to where it is needed, and mandate that food aid be processed and bagged in the US, even when that is a costlier option. At least half of food aid must be shipped on US-flagged vessels, greatly adding to costs and sometimes causing delays in delivery. For every dollar we spend on food aid, only 42 cents is actually spent on food.

“In the business world, if you can cut cost by 30% and still have the same – or even a better outcome – it’s a no-brainer,” said David Garcelon, the culinary director at the iconic Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. “With food aid reform, we would save more lives and feed an additional 14 million people without costing one additional penny. 

Introduced in 1954, the Food for Peace Act has not been substantially updated, even as some minor reforms to food aid policies were made in the 2014 Farm Bill. More ambitious changes have been increasingly gaining  support from both sides of the aisle, and there is hope for this bill to empower the US Agency for Development (USAID) to use modern tools that have been proven to cut costs, speed up delivery, and increase the number of people reached.

“I am proud that the American people provide half of the food aid in the world, but we can make it more efficient and effective,” said Emily Torgrimson, the executive director and co-founder of the Minneapolis-based Eat for Equity, who joined the chefs. “By reforming food aid, not only can we help save more lives, but we can also help build and strengthen local food systems.”

The effort was organized in conjunction with the Chef Action Network in support of the Food for Peace Reform Act. The bill would slash unnecessary red tape and add much-needed flexibility to enable the US Agency for International Development to reach people more quickly and effectively in times of crisis.

“We’re grateful to these talented chefs for their eagerness to help us cook up some food aid reform so we can help bring our food aid programs into the 21st Century”, said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “In these fiscally constrained times, we have to do more with less. These reforms not only do exactly that, but could also save millions of lives in the process.”

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