“Why does a tomato cost more than a package of cookies at the gas station?”
That’s one of the many questions chef Spike Mendelsohn aims to answer in his new food-focused podcast, “Plate of the Union,” which launched Friday. Of course, that’s not the only question discussed on the show. But it fits into the podcast’s overall goal of showing people how national food policy impacts what ends up on your plate.
The podcast – which has eight episodes – is paid for by Food Policy Action, an organization founded in 2012 that aims to educate voters on food issues and lobbies Congress primarily on behalf of liberal causes.
“All across America, we look to our representatives in Congress to govern and make difficult decisions. Many of those decisions, whether we realize it or not, make a real difference when it comes to the food we’re consuming,” Mendelsohn, a “Top Chef” alum known for his DC gourmet burger chain Good Stuff, said in a statement. “Through ‘Plate of the Union,’ we’re exploring hunger, nutrition, food deserts, humanitarian food aid, urban farming, you name it.”
Each episode, co-hosted by Food Policy Action’s executive director Monica Mills, tackles a different food-related topic, and features guests including lawmakers, professors, food experts and – of course – chefs.
But Chef José Andrés, who is a guest on the first episode of the podcast, said he believes “food can be and should be a bipartisan issue.”
“Many things can divide us, but food has the unique power to bring people together, to bridge divides, to spark conversations – and to change the world,” Andrés said in a statement. “I was honored to join Food Policy Action and my friend Spike for this project to talk about the issues that touch our lives in so many ways.”
Democratic Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a guest on the fifth episode of the podcast, said “food policy is one of the most multifaceted issues out there” and hopes the podcast “allows for a long conversation with diverse voices.”
In the episode Kaptur is a guest on, she and Professor Sabine O’Hara discuss the power of urban agriculture, which Kaptur described as “a priority” for her.
“My father owned a small grocery market, and we prided ourselves on local ingredients and handmade products. I even helped make the sausage, not my favorite task, but it was popular in our neighborhood,” Kaptur told CNN in an email. “We got away from locally based food sellers and growers in the past, but in recent years there is a movement to ‘eat and buy local.’ We can use this enthusiasm to change the way we produce food. We can create jobs and revitalize neighborhoods by making the right investments hand in hand with the good work local governments and community organizations are doing across Ohio and in cities and towns across the country.”
The podcast’s launch comes just after Senate passed its version of the farm bill with a 86-11 vote earlier this week.
The farm bill is monumental legislation that sets the eating and farming policy in the United States – including what Americans grow, what Americans know about their dinner and how much the government spends in the process – for about five years. All eyes will now turn to efforts between the House and Senate to resolve major issues between their respective bills by September 30, the deadline for the expiration of the current law, which was enacted in 2014.
At the top of the list is the House Republican overhaul of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – the primary reason none of the chamber’s Democrats supported the traditionally bipartisan effort. The program itself serves more than 40 million people annually and accounts for almost 80% of the bill’s $430 billion cost over five years.
Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, supports keeping SNAP funding intact. He said he wanted to participate in the podcast because “too many people – including some members of Congress – seem unaware of the realities of hunger in America.”
“We have the resources to end hunger in America,” he told CNN in an email. “We have the know-how. What we lack is the political will. And hopefully by focusing on food policy, we can convince some members of congress that ending hunger in America isn’t some crazy idea.”
Update: This story has been updated to reflect that Food Policy Action says there will be eight episodes of the podcast.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report