I’ve always thought my coming to America was going to be about more than cheffing, eating my way across the country, or being on TV. Since my early days on network television in Australia, I’ve always had a soft spot for kids. I think it’s the way they look at you unconditionally hanging off every word when it comes to cooking and food, that drives me to teach and promote the idea that healthy cooking really matters. Having my own son and wanting the best for him too, has only added to the need to teach and encourage kids in the kitchen!
Teaching a child the simple joy of taking food from the Earth and turning it into something delicious and nutritious to eat is a life changing experience. Connecting with them in the classroom, teaching about food and where it actually comes from--milk from a cow, not a carton; carrots from the ground; honey from a bee.
Back in OZ I was involved with the OPAL program (Obesity Prevention And Lifestyle) which is a state and federal funded initiative that allowed me to tour schools attended by under-privileged and under-served children and teach them how to eat healthy. When I got here to America, that desire to be involved had not diminished. I was always looking for something that would be a cause I could get behind here in the States, but decided rather than force myself into something--just trying to get on the bandwagon of this cause or that--I would keep an open mind and sooner or later the right thing would find me.
Well, two months ago I became involved with No Kid Hungry and Share Our Strength. I was asked to come along to a panel discussion with No Kid Hungry's official spokesperson, Actor Jeff Bridges. From the moment I started doing the research, I knew I had found my home and a cause that truly mattered. Kids. Always back to the kids, a familiar theme. I was shocked as an outsider (Aussie) to learn how many families and kids here in America were going without proper food and nutrition. Actually I am still dumbfounded. How could the so-called "land of plenty" have so much need, much of it not being addressed? It didn't make sense. Here in my state of New Jersey, 45% of all SNAP recipients are children. The majority of the reason for this is their families are economically depressed and are not able to afford good, healthy food. But, I also saw a need for education. A need for economically stressed families to learn and find ways to get healthy meals for their kids while trying to maintain jobs, or make their meager $31 per person SNAP benefits per week stretch.
No Kid Hungry and Share Our Strength, along with many other worthwhile charities and organizations, are doing just that. So I got involved here in NY and NJ and I am truly proud and honored to be a part of the team. I was blessed to be able to participate in a dinner event here in New York City to cook alongside a host of a wonderful chefs. It solidified for me my need to be involved with this wonderful organization and to do what I could to get the word out.
Imagine my surprise when I was asked by my friends at No Kid Hungry to be 1 of 50 people to speak before Congress about the SNAP program and in support of the Farm Bill. I was honored. And yes, I’ll admit, I was a wee bit nervous. After all, this Aussie boy never expected to be sitting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, urging this austere body to keep funding SNAP on behalf of New Jersey, my new adopted home here in America. But there I was last week, part of a three-day discussion and meetings and testifying. WOW!
This experience has been so rewarding. SNAP is so important to children here in New Jersey and all across America. The thought of funding being cut and those cuts limiting good food to those already in need would, and will be, devastating. So I have gladly gotten on board and humbly said my piece to Congress. I urge you to learn more about the Farm Bill and SNAP Program, and join me by getting involved with Share Our Strength and No Kid Hungry. No child should have to choose between the "quality or quantity" of food. It should just be a given that our children, our future, all have access to quality, healthy and nutritious ingredients.
Together, my friends, we can help make sure that across America, there is No Kid Hungry.