If there were one change that Tyler Florence would like to see made at the federal level when it comes to food policy it would be more transparency. But not just the one specific context in which that word is most commonly applied.
“GMO labeling is where it starts,” says the 45-year-old chef, known locally for Wayfare Tavern and nationally for his show The Great Food Truck Race. “Transparency is a great way to grab a big idea and start being honest about where things go.”
It’s vital to the American economy, Florence continues: “We make a couple of things: We sell food, entertainment, and weapons to a lot of people around the world.”
Transparency is a key component of Florence’s latest crusade: ending the food deserts that stubbornly populate cities and suburbs. He’s partnered with Naked Juice and Michel Nischan, CEO of the food access nonprofit Wholesome Wave — on whose board Florence also serves — to launch a campaign of selfies of people holding fresh produce. For every pic that includes the hashtag #DrinkGoodDoGood, Naked Juice will donate an impressive 10 pounds of fresh produce.
From this “one simple thing that’s free,” he says, half a million pounds of fresh food made it into for deserts in the last year.
“And it’s from one partnership,” he adds. “We’d rather do fewer, better deals.”
Wholesome Wave’s efforts began in Miami, and Florence is the face of the Northern California segment. Musicians and athletes are a part of it, too; Common, the rapper and actor, is working with it in Chicago. And in contrast to the many splashy, well-intentioned, and poorly thought-out celebrity philanthropies out there, Wholesome Wave uses hard data to establish a delivery network — watering, if you will, America’s food deserts.
“We’re taking this fresh farmers market experience and making it accessible to a lot of people,” Florence says. “It’s the same produce, same organics, but we’re bridging the gap to make it affordable.
Nischan worked with Newman’s Own for years, and Florence sounds like he, too, is in it for the long haul. Reducing rates of obesity and diabetes won’t happen overnight, he acknowledges, so it starts with improving the eating habits of the current generation of young people.
“Get them excited about cooking,” he says. “We have to look at fast food for what it is: a treat. Food is fuel, and the better fuel you put in your body, the better your machine will be. We have to take better care of ourselves, and it all starts with a good plate of food.”
In San Francisco, the issue of homelessness is the lens through which most people view and encounter poverty. But hunger is rampant, something which is doubly perverse given that not only are we a wealthy city but one that’s located in such an agriculturally rich region.
“It’s a combination of hunger and malnutrition that creates a sick society,” Florence says. “It’s not that there’s no food to eat. It’s that it’s poor-quality food. And then the cycle of, ‘Well, now I’m obese, and I have to take these medications.’ But the ability to say, ‘Here is a great, long-term plan with a great philanthropic group that comes from a long history of creating these wonderful programs that stick’ feels like a thing we want to be a part of.”
It all sounds like something a certain first lady of the United States might be interested in, and indeed, Florence has cooked for Barack and Michelle Obama (and raised “almost $7 million” for the president’s re-election campaign). On the one hand, the clock’s ticking on the first lady’s tenure in the White House — but after her husband leaves office, she might have more bandwidth to work on her pet cause.
“In theory, it’ll free her to do what she wants,” Florence says. “Moving back to the price sector, he doesn’t have to ask for permission from so may people to be able to pull things off.”