For many people, putting healthy, wholesome food on the dinner table is a no-brainer, and a daily thing. But for those living in poverty—or a food desert—it just isn’t that easy. Sure, most people know processed food is bad. But making nutrient-rich meals on a food stamp budget is tricky—especially when you’re short on time and energy. But three big-time names in the food industry are working to make access to healthy food easier, for everyone.
The superstar chefs in question: Seamus Mullen, an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author; Bill Telepan, the executive chef of Wellness in the Schools, a non-profit dedicated to, in part, improving children’s health by providing healthy school lunches; and Joseph “JJ” Johnson, the chef in residence at the Chef’s Club, who volunteers in Harlem each week, serving a home-cooked healthy lunch to 89 low-income tenants.
“When you first have children, you start thinking about the food you’re going to give them from birth,” Johnson said at a luncheon hosted by New York’s Horticultural Society to honor the chefs. “I’m a new dad of twins and am already thinking about the type of purees I’m going to feed them. But as your kids get older, you lose focus and forget. That’s when they start eating processed food—and you can’t count on the school to feed them ‘real food’ because many aren’t providing that.”
“Look at your community and open your eyes. There is something that needs your help that has to do with food.”
Telepan agrees. “High-processed food is making children obese and also leading to disease,” he says. It was important to him that New York City schools start providing healthy breakfasts and lunches, and through working with the Department of Education, he was able to do exactly that. “It was very, very, very slow, but it did eventually happen,” he says. He encourages people in every community to be vocal about this change that needs to be made. “Push it slowly, like a constant, gentle pressure.”
The most important thing to remember is that anyone can do the pushing—and you don’t have to be a famous foodie to make a difference. “Look at your community and open your eyes,” Johnson adds. “There is something that needs your help that has to do with food.” Even if you don’t go the public school route like Telepan did, he offers up other ways to get involved. “If you’re a parent, [be aware] of your kids’ classmates who might be in need of a healthy meal and invite them over sometime. Or reach out to a local community center and see if you can help teach classes on cooking [cheap], healthy meals. Education is honestly the most important part.”
Speaking of making school food healthier, did you know New York City schools serve biodynamic cereal? Plus, get the lowdown on a new restaurant that serves up cocktails with a side of food scraps.