If you’ve caught any episodes of Andrew Zimmern’s new MSNBC show, What’s Eating America, you know that the chef, producer, James Beard award winner, and longtime Bizarre Foods frontman has a lot on his mind. The show covers a great deal of ground, delving into issues of hunger, health, labor, immigration, education, climate change, declining fish stocks, and factory farming, to name a few, with a determined seriousness and intellectual vigor that you might not expect if you only know him as that dude on TV who eats coconut grubs and dung beetles.
All of those urgent issues have turned out to be central to public conversations about the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions. The crisis is shining a glaring spotlight on the systemic problems that are rooted in the way America grows and sells and consumes food. Why are farmers euthanizing livestock, dumping milk into ditches, and burying fresh vegetables in the ground at the exact same time that tens of thousands of suddenly unemployed Americans are lining up for free boxes of food to help them get through another week? What is the connection between the American diet and certain health complications that make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus? Are we really going to be left with cities whose vibrant independent restaurants have all been gutted and boarded up?
Esquire’s food and drinks editor, Jeff Gordinier, recently put in a Zoom call to Zimmern at his office in Minneapolis to get his wide-ranging viewpoints on these topics—and what the pandemic is teaching us about America’s relationship with food. Zimmern did not hold back. As we were saying, the guy’s got a lot on his mind.