Food and social justice are at the heart of everything Andrew Zimmern does. They were the two intersecting topics the chef and activist explored in his MSNBC show, “What’s Eating America,” which ended just before the coronavirus ravaged the American economy and way of life.
If he could have, he would have dedicated a sixth episode to the coronavirus and the ways its effects on the American food supply chain affect the economy and almost everyone, from those who harvest food to those who serve it or buy it.
“When you have a huge event,” he told TheWrap, “it affects every single structure within culture and society.”
That was the premise of “What’s Eating America,” during which Zimmern traveled America to see the impact these critical issues like immigration, climate change, addiction, voting rights and healthcare have on food and the everyday lives of Americans. The coronavirus, he said, is a perfect example of the confluence of social issues and food issues.
“Let’s just start with how we how we grow and harvest plants and raise our food everywhere,” he said. “That system has been radically altered by the fact that there’s a viral pandemic. With no leadership in Washington, no testing and tracing mechanism, no therapeutics and no vaccine, what we are left with is prophylactic care, things like masks and PPE and washing hands a lot. And we are left with social distancing. We also are left with what’s called time consideration.”
People who grow and harvest food are, then, at quite the risk for getting sick, he said, and that’s just the beginning of issues arising in the American food supply as the pandemic progresses. Lower amounts of available visas mean lower amounts of workers to harvest crab in Maryland, tomatoes in Tennessee and strawberries in California. With no one to harvest seafood, restaurants that serve it will suffer. With fewer shoppers allowed inside, super markets will suffer.
The list goes on and on.
But Zimmern’s goal, as with “What’s Eating America,” isn’t just identifying problems. It’s identifying solutions, too. Ideally, he told TheWrap, he and his Independent Restaurant Coalition want to see a restaurant stabilization fund to begin dispensing $120 billion to the 600,000 or so independent restaurant around the country, starting with those owned by minorities and women. The IRC is a policy-based advocacy group working to make that happen.
“Restaurants are micro-economies and arguably the most important in our country,” he said. “Restaurants are the number-one employer of human beings in America, second only to the US government.”
He may not have “What’s Eating America” to advocate with during the pandemic, but Zimmern isn’t slowing down.