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Better Food Advocate and Renowned Chef Tom Colicchio to Speak at Human Rights Conference

Renowned chef and food policy activist Tom Colicchio

Award-winning chef and food policy activist Tom Colicchio, head judge and executive producer on Bravo Television’s Top Chef, will be the featured speaker at the Kean University Human Rights Institute (HRI) conference in March 2019 that will focus on hunger and food insecurity.

“We have a hunger crisis in this country,” said Colicchio, who grew up in Elizabeth near Kean’s main campus. “We produce more than enough food to feed everyone in the United States, but people go hungry because of politics and policies. I appreciate Kean University calling attention to this issue by providing a platform through the Human Rights Institute.”

The 12th annual Human Rights Conference, Hunger: The Politics of Food, will be held on Friday, March 22, 2019 in Wilkins Theatre on Kean’s Union campus from 9 a.m. to noon. It is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

A chef who got his start at prominent New York restaurants like Gotham Bar and Grill and Gramercy Tavern, Colicchio owns Crafted Hospitality, operating restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He has appeared on the reality competition show Top Chef since 2006.

Colicchio is also a longtime activist on food policy and was executive producer of the 2013 documentary A Place at the Table. He has worked with former First Lady Michelle Obama on the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and continues to lobby Congress for a food system that values access, affordability and nutrition over corporate interests.

Forty million Americans struggle with hunger and 6.5 million children live in food-insecure households, according to sobering statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Research shows Americans waste nearly a pound of food per person each day.

“No one should go hungry in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world,” said Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D. “As a public institution, it is Kean’s job to educate people about the prevalence of this problem in our nation and around the world, and to look for solutions that lift people out of poverty and hunger.”

Also speaking at the conference will be Karen Washington, a leader in the urban farming movement, and Kean alumna Lovely Randle ’16 MPA, who has conducted research on the correlation of food deserts and childhood obesity.

"The number of people worldwide who are engaged in a daily war against hunger is staggering, nearly 1.7 billion people. I believe that a lack of adequate, nutritious food is the most basic human rights violation in the world today,” said Lauretta A. Farrell, D.Litt., HRI director. “At HRI, we want to teach our students and colleagues what they can do to help end hunger in our lifetime."

The Kean campus has been engaged on the issue of hunger and food scarcity since the start of the academic year. Throughout the fall semester, the Institute hosted a series of conversations and events for the campus community. Most recently, John Prendergast, the founder of The Enough Project and Kean’s Anne Evans Estabrook senior human rights fellow, and Nicole Smith, a producer for 60 Minutes, explored the correlation between conflict and hunger in South Sudan in Hunger & Conflict: 60 Minutes Goes to Darfur.

Nearly 600 students created a robust social media campaign to educate the greater community about hunger, while also hosting campuswide food drives. In addition, HRI, in partnership with Kean's Center for Leadership and Service and Office of Student Success and Retention, is sponsoring a student group that is looking to establish an on-campus food pantry.

The Human Rights Institute will continue to explore the subject in humanitarian service-learning trips for students in the Spring 2019 semester. In Costa Rica, students will focus on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals; and in Puerto Rico, students will see firsthand how communities work together on redevelopment in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Register online at to attend the 12th annual Kean University Human Rights Conference, Hunger: The Politics of Food,  Friday, March 22, 2019, 9 a.m. to noon, Wilkins Theatre, 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083.