'Top Chef' and Orange County Collide With a Different Reality

Say "Top Chef" and you think fabulous and imaginative cuisine, not children going hungry.

Think "Real Housewives of Orange County" and you probably envision homes behind "the gates," not whether there are housewives who have any house at all.

And "surreal" is the word that comes to mind when reality TV and celebrity collide, but that's happening with two notables who are trying to make a difference for hard-working families who do the best they can, but are still struggling to provide.

Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio has been front and center on news shows recently advocating for federal legislation to make the country's school lunch program better, especially for the innumerable children for whom that meal is their only decent one of the day. Some conservatives are fighting against Colicchio because they think the government shouldn't have to feed undernourished kids -- hey, hunger is a motivator, according to one lawmaker! 


They never needed free lunches to provide good nutrition in their day, by golly! At least that's what uber-right-winger Pat Buchanan tried to tell Chef Tom on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Colicchio is seriously my new hero for slapping Buchanan down (in a polite talk show sort of way, of course -- check out the video at about 14 minutes in) reminding him that government food programs have been around since at least World War II, notwithstanding Buchanan's "I never needed a handout in my day" philosophy.

Top Chef isn't the only Bravo show getting a nod in the name of activism this summer. If you think everything in The O.C. is all glamour and riches, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi (yes, she's the daughter of that Pelosi) has made a new documentary for HBO entitled Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County that tells the story of the working poor who can't scrape enough together to live anywhere but unsafe transient motels -- making them homeless. It looks like Pelosi is a newly minted Mother of Intention, saying that many of these children are also lining up at soup kitchens because there's not enough money for rent and food.

In an interview on the HBO site, Pelosi laments that the truly sad takeaway from her film is that there may not be a happy ending for many of these children who represent the one in 50 in our country who are homeless. I bet Tom Colicchio would say the same thing about the 1 in 6 kids who are obese because of bad nutrition that comes from poverty or the close to 17 million children who go to bed hungry.

When Pelosi also appeared on Morning Joe, she was challenged about using her position as the daughter of the Speaker of the House to raise the profile of those less fortunate, and was asked whether people would criticize her for having an "agenda."

Her reply was, to paraphrase, what's wrong with having an agenda to help end homelessness for children and raise everyone's awareness of just how many families who are working 40 hours a week or more can't put a roof over the heads of their families or food on the table?

I couldn't have asked a better question myself.


Image via Kat Johnston/Flickr


Joanne Bamberger writes weekly for The Stir here at Speaker of the House. Check out her earlier columns and what she's getting all punidt-y about at her place, PunditMom!


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