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An Incoherent Salad Bar of Attacks

This morning Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier took aim at chef, restaurant owner and MSNBC food correspondent Tom Colicchio’s food and farm activism. In a National Review piece titled No, the culinary is not political, they write:

Colicchio is now cooking up liberal food policy to expand the government’s ever-encroaching role in how we eat, and what.

In a classic case of punching well above your weight class to obtain reputation by association, Julie Kelly made a minor splash last fall by criticizing Coliccho in the Wall Street Journal. She’s a cooking school instructor whose lobbyist husband lists industrial agriculture mega corporation Archer Daniels Midland as a top client.

Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and an “expert” at the climate change denying Heartland Institute. His bread and butter is pushing back against activists on tobacco, food and animal welfare issues on behalf of industry. Reading his own words makes him sound like a poor man’s Richard Berman.

Yesterday, I spoke at a conference in Orlando to a number of top executives at companies that make a variety of consumer products. Corporate executives, just like the media and government regulators, are part of our target audience. They need to be educated on public health issues, because all too often they cave in to the demands of activists rather than stand up and defend scientific principles, and that hurts the consumers that we represent.

Are Kelly and Stier wrong in their attacks on Colicchio?

Oh yes, and let’s count the ways.

Stier, whose two defenses when criticized are to either run to his boss for cover or characterize critics as using ad hominem attacks, begins the piece with an ad hominem attack:

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio probably doesn’t cook much these days.

The incoherent, consistently misfired shots get only lamer from there. Let’s go back to the first line:

Colicchio is now cooking up liberal food policy to expand the government’s ever-encroaching role in how we eat, and what.

News flash, the government already has control over how and what we eat. A main tool of control is the federal farm bill that showers billions in subsidies on the largest commodity growers in America (and benefiting companies like ADM). The farm bill is staunchly defended and in fact written by the likes of Steve King (R-IA) and Pat Roberts (R – KS) – hardly liberals. In fact, reforming the gross inequity in the farm subsidy regime is part of Colicchio’s message.

But apparently television and restaurant fame don’t hold enough gravitas for this wannabe political star. Over the last few years, Chef Colicchio has emerged as the face of the food movement…

And then they go on to contradict themselves in the space of two sentences — which is it, wannabe or face of the food movement?

No doubt the chef will want a seat at the table to spin the now controversial update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, due for approval later this year.

Yes, no spinning of the guidelines please.

To further impact food policy, Colicchio co-founded Food Policy Action, a PAC that scores lawmakers on how liberal they vote on food issues. Far from reflecting a consensus of top food and nutrition experts, the FPA scorecard represents a narrow view of some of the nation’s most ideologically divisive activists.

Well first, FPA isn’t a PAC (remind me again what the National Center for Public Policy Research does). Narrow view? I wouldn’t paint the Reverend David Beckmann or UFCW’s Mia Bell with that brush.

And yes, FPA has a point of view, so does the League of Conservation Voters. So does every group in Washington, DC. If FPA’s scores focused solely on small and organic farms Kelly and Stier could have a point. But FPA looks at the whole suite of farm and food issues with wide ideological backing. FPA gives low scores to lawmakers who back corn ethanol mandates and farm subsidies to wealthy recipients and mega farms. Who else holds that view? The National Review, CATO, Heritage, American Enterprise Institute…too many to list here.

The implication is that members of Congress who don’t agree with Colicchio and his leftist cohort oppose healthy food and the reduction of hunger and are indifferent to degradation of the environment.

Not implication, truth. Please show me a member with a low FPA score who is a champion for the hungry and supports congressional efforts to improve the environment. They simply don’t exist. Members are sent to Congress to cast votes. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

To buttress his political agenda, Colicchio serves up one amuse-bouche after another of half-truths and platitudes.

Dunno, maybe I need a cooking school refresher ‘cause its been a while since I ran a commercial kitchen, but I’m still sure amuse-bouche is by definition not a repeated action. Also, when you accuse someone of a half-truth, cite evidence or link.

Despite hundreds of billions spent each year to feed people in America, Colicchio insists that “we don’t have the political will in this country to fix hunger.”

Yes, we spend billions feeding the hungry and still thousands of kids and veterans go to bed hungry while the authors’ ideological brethren in Congress cut feeding programs.

His biggest whopper is that the only reason that people prefer fast food to fresh produce is that the latter is more expensive, as if the demand for Big Macs reflected only people’s economic decisions and had nothing to do with what they like.

Yep. There’s no evidence at all of the scientifically crafted addictive nature of fast food or the hold marketers have on what we eat.

Serving as a mouthpiece for liberal foodies has paid off for Colicchio; MSNBC named him its first-ever food correspondent last month. (MSNBC host Alex Wagner is married to former White House chef Sam Kass, another food scold, who banned boxed macaroni and cheese from the White House kitchen.)

I’m sure after reading this the First Lady is going to rush to put metal shard laden mac and cheese back in the White House pantry.

But the culinary elitists behind the food movement aren’t truly interested in how to get dinner on the table. Theirs is a political crusade disguised as a public-health campaign. They use food as a wedge to further divide Americans between blue plates and red plates. Listen, for example, to Colicchio’s comparison of the food movement with social and political struggles of the past: “At some point, we need to take this social movement and turn it into a political movement,” Colicchio said during the Food for Tomorrow conference. “It’s what happened in other social movements as well, whether it was civil rights or whether it was marriage equality.”

This is the core purpose of Kelly and Stier’s screed. Food corporations and the industrial agriculture lobby don’t want a political discussion of food. Once voters realize they can change our broken food and farm system at the ballot box industrial food Mountain Dew carriers like Steir and Kelly are out of business. This is what industry and their patrons in Congress want — a complacent, unquestioning populous on which to market highly profitable food products.

And the hypocrisy of their piece smacks you in the face. It’s not OK for a chef to engage in politics but perfectly fine for a cooking schoolteacher to do so in the pages of National Review? And how un-American is it to tell someone they don’t have the right to engage their beliefs in the political system? Where is the criticism of companies for their political stances and their front groups that influence policy and through deep-pocketed spending on lobbying and campaign contributions?

What Kelly and Stier engage in here is politics. They are the loyal opposition. It is their duty to try and take reformers down, or at the very least, try and cloud the issues.

The fact that industry proxies have Tom Colicchio in their crosshairs is the most obvious indicator that our food and farm system has become the political topic du jour.

Don Carr

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