Making Healthy Food Children's No. 1 Priority

The Aspen Challenge -- launched by the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation -- provides a platform, inspiration, and tools for young people to design solutions to some of the world's most critical problems by engaging with leading global visionaries, artists, and entrepreneurs. District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) will send teams from several schools to compete with each other to present their solutions at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Here, internationally recognized culinary innovator José Andrés explains how the Challenge prepares students to be leaders and problem-solvers.

When I came to this country more than 20 years ago, I wanted to change the world. As a chef, I am always exploring the possibilities of what food -- amazing, delicious, fresh food -- can do for the people of America, the people of the world. How food can make their lives better. The mission of ThinkFoodGroup, the company behind all of my operations, is "To change the world through the power of food," and while we feed the few in our restaurants, our dream will always be to feed the many, especially those beyond our restaurant walls.

As a nation, there is so much that we could be doing to improve the eating habits of America, especially with how we are feeding our youth. Children are the future, but today, they're expected to live shorter lives than their parents. A third of them will develop Type 2 diabetes. And while the US Department of Agriculture recommends a diet of 50 percent vegetables and fruits, the administration devotes less than 1 percent of farm subsidies to support the research, production, and marketing of those foods. More than 60 percent of that funding subsidizes the production of corn and other grains -- mostly fed to animals, converted to fuel for cars, or made into exactly the kind of processed food that's giving our children diabetes.
We can do better. It is our duty to do better.

What if we could change how our country feeds itself to a way that makes everyone happy, giving them good choices that fit their way of life -- and their wallets? A way that offers meals with flavors that challenge and excite, and have real stories to tell? Most of our options today include meat as the centerpiece, with vegetables and grains or potatoes on the side. Vegetables are so much more interesting and have so many more possibilities than that. They don't deserve to be on the side of anything, they should be center stage! A tomato, or an asparagus, or a head of broccoli is just as powerful as a cow or a chicken. And they'll help us live full and healthy lives.

To do something big, you have to start small, and resolving these problems should begin with our youth. Now is the time to educate them on how to eat better, making food their priority and a part of their DNA, because without food, we are nothing. There are already initiatives like this in place. At The School Without Walls here in Washington, D.C., students learn how food is connected to everything by studying issues with health and nutrition through traditional academic subjects. And at the White House, first lady Michelle Obama is taking action, working to make our school lunch programs better and our children fitter with her Let's Move campaign.
But we can always be doing more. One day, our children will be the doctors treating Type 2 diabetes, or the senators writing legislation for the farm bill, or even the chefs deciding what food to put on their menu. They're going to be the decision makers, so we need to empower them so that they make the right choices and they no longer see food as the problem, but part of the solution.

It was the great food philosopher, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who said, "The future of nations will depend on how they feed themselves." Our future is our children, so let's make food their No. 1 priority.