By Edward Smith

Andrew Zimmern is a self-described “fat white guy who travels around the world and shoves bugs in his mouth.”

That blunt and amusing description leaves out that Zimmern is also the host of the popular “Bizarre Foods America” on the Travel Channel, chef, author and James Beard Award winner. He also is passionate about feeding people and that came through when he spoke Tuesday to a capacity crowd at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Minneapolis about the problem of hunger in America.

Zimmern told the crowd of legislators, legislative staff and private sector attendees concerned about hunger that “if I didn't have this ridiculous day job, I’d be doing what you're doing. ... I don’t think there is a more pressing or important problem.”

He touched on a number of areas where people are working to improve food availability, ranging from nonprofits that collect unused food and distribute it to a businessman who helped poor villagers in western Alaska package and sell smoked salmon in the lower 48. He was especially hopeful about the capacity of Millenials to address food insecurity, saying he sees many people of that generation starting businesses that have a charitable component.

“We need to change our attitude about hunger in America. This has to come from the bottom up,” he said. “I know this is something that's not going to come from Washington but from Topeka.”

Zimmern knows the food insecurity issue from the ground up. In the early 1990s he was homeless and living on the streets of New York. He ended up in a rehab clinic in Minnesota and decided to settle down here.

“It was suggested I stay here to give myself some space. I suffer from a twin diagnoses: me and more. I needed to think of me less. I needed to figure out a platform for change,” he said, referring to both himself and the food issues that concerned him.

That led to a TV show. “I figured once I was on TV I’d have a massive platform to talk about patience, tolerance and understanding.”

Zimmern has been talking about food and traveling for nearly a decade. Part of the experience is to show people that no matter the country or the cuisine, when people sit down with their children at the dinner table they have more in common than not.

He also has a children’s show, he added, where he tries to help kids – and parents – get to a healthier diet.

Parents can simply point at Zimmern and say: “If that lunatic can eat that crap you can eat asparagus.”

Edward Smith is the director of digital communications for NCSL.

Email Ed

NCSL Hunger Partnership Project


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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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