Food Network’s star chefs not only serve up delicious recipes, but they also link food with emotion and something deeper to which the audience can connect. Since March 2020, when COVID forced the world to stay indoors, more people than ever before turned to food and cooking in order to occupy their time.
The subsequent economic turmoil also threw into sharp relief widespread food insecurity across the U.S. The Food Network is not new to this revelation and has been working for years to end hunger in this country. Well-known chefs such as José Andrés continue their miraculous work via World Central Kitchen, Guy Fieri feeds first responders in California and Marc Murphy serves on the council of City Harvest. And the cabler’s entire stable of stars is also contributing to the cause.
Food Network’s parent, Discovery, has upped the ante in giving back. “As a chef, all items related to food and nutrition are built into the DNA of our profession,” says Alex Guarnaschelli, a frequent judge on “Chopped,” and host of “Supermarket Stakeout.” “Sharing recipes and ideas about food and spreading the word about fighting hunger in our own country are so important. Chefs always want to feed people. It’s part of what we naturally do!”
Food Network and Cooking Channel president Courtney White says in 2018, when Discovery closed its acquisition of Scripps — bringing Food Network, HGTV, ID and TLC under its purview — they’ve had the advantage of a dedicated social good team looking for ways to “augment and increase visibility and reach of cross-portfolio pro-social efforts. In 2019 they took our Food Network/No Kid Hungry partnership and expanded that into Turn Up! Fight Hunger, with a goal to provide 1 billion meals to children and families in need by 2025.”
Turn Up reaches out through Discovery personalities, their shows as well as social- media campaigns and other platforms.
The program has been a roaring success — it recently hit its landmark goal of helping to provide 1 billion (yes, with a b) meals to children in the U.S.
Turn Up was also the charity featured on “Chopped: Grudge Match,” hosted by Ted Allen.
“It should be important — and unacceptable — to all of us that one in five children in the world’s richest country go to sleep hungry on any given night. When your tummy is growling, it’s hard to pay attention in class or to anything else,” says Allen, who urges everyone to embrace the cause.
“Actually, everybody has a platform, now! We have social media. We have networks of friends at schools, churches and work. If we have the resources, we can make donations to food banks; if we don’t, we can volunteer a few hours of our time. So let’s go!”
He puts his words into action. “The best part is that No Kid Hungry succeeds every day in getting more people fed. I also work on hunger campaigns with City Harvest and the Food Bank for New York City, and on raising funds to fight HIV/AIDS with Dining Out for Life,” Allen says.
Duff Goldman, whose hit series “Buddy vs. Duff” returned in July, says: “I remember back in 2005 No Kid Hungry asked me to participate in a national bake sale. I wasn’t really clear on the mechanics and I was relatively new to philanthropy so when I heard from the organization that we raised enough money for something like several hundred thousand meals, the enormity of my reach really dawned on me. I’ve been working with them ever since.”
The COVID pandemic has made their work more urgent.
“I certainly find myself directing more of my energy and attention towards local food banks and organizations that contend with fulfilling the simplest needs for all people,” Guarnaschelli says. “Getting good rest, having a safe place to live, and not feeling food insecure are critical and basic needs. COVID made everything less secure and it still makes the future unknown in so many ways. Doubling down on campaigns like Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry is the only logical response to create positive changes and recovery in America.”
Goldman notes that No Kid Hungry “pivoted during COVID. Most of the meals that NKH serves are distributed in schools. With schools closed, these kids were losing access to meals that they have come to rely on and NKH arranged pick up locations and delivery systems to ensure those meals were still available to kids who needed it.”
Like many chefs and restaurateurs, Goldman got involved in helping workers hit hard by the pandemic lockdown, and has raised funds for nonprofit org Off Their Plate.
“COVID was a wrecking ball for the food-service industry and what these cats figured out was that they could keep restaurants open and employees working by having brick and mortar kitchens preparing food for food-insecure families in their own communities,” he says. “On top of this, they are revolutionizing the supply chain to cut food waste drastically. Off Their Plate kept restaurants open, restaurant workers employed, families fed, and food not wasted. Win, win. Check them out at offtheirplate.org.”