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Memo To: Chef Mario Batali


re: The wrong challenge

Dear Mario ... first off, let me say, loved you on Iron Chef, but I hate the Crocs.  Now that's out of the way, we can get to your Food Stamp Challenge and why I submit that it's the wrong challenge for America to take.

I will say this.  Raising awareness is always a good exercise and has value.  But when you're advocating only half the solution, it's really not going to help anyone.  I do agree that as Americans, we need to understand the challenges that come with making a nutritious meal on a Food Stamp budget.  It's hard.  Damn hard.  Especially when kids want Happy Meals and mom is dreaming of the  Food Network lifestyle that is your reality.

And I also agree that we as a nation should decide that “there has to be a standard of living that we [nationally] decide to support.”  But what we don't agree on is how to get there.  You want the government to provide more services, which means a greater drain on limited treasury.  Sure, we could tax people like you at a far higher rate.  But then you wouldn't have that extra money to hire that young, up and coming chef or you'll have to raise the prices at those posh 4-5 star restaurants you own to cover the shortfall.  Either way, jobs aren't being created and people are being taken off those Food Stamps.

Since the current Administration came into power, over 15 million Americans have been added to the Food Stamp rolls, nearly 1 in 4 Americans getting food stamps from the government. And you know, that sucks.  You're right.  It's not enough.  But we don't need to be aware how getting help to feed our family sucks.  That's a given.  We need to be reminded HOW TO GET OUT OF IT.

You want richer Americans to live for a week on a Food Stamp budget.  That's a good idea.  But it's only half the solution.  And that's where I have another challenge for you ...

My challenge for you is to call your buddies Michael Symon, Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, and any other Food Network celebrity that owns a bunch of successful restaurants.  Then, have them call their buddies who have restaurants.  And so on.  And get them to have a week where your restaurants will serve ONLY FOOD STAMP recipients.  Give them the royal 5 star treatment in exchange for their food stamps.  Remind them what they should be striving for.  And then remind them that after this week is over, they'll never be able to get that life living on those same Food Stamps.  While they're thinking about it, hand them a lighter and ask them to BURN THEIR FOOD STAMPS or pay the restaurant bill.

Now sure, you and your A List Celebrity Chefs will take a bath on restaurant costs for a week.  But so what?  You can afford it.  And I bet you can even get some of your Food Network and ABC sponsors to underwrite it all.  It makes for great PR.

And a year later, how many people do you think will still be on Food Stamps because of your challenge, or mine? Because at the end of the day, it's a taste of what's better that motivates us, not being given more of what doesn't.

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