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Sheila Lucero, executive chef of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, has had a busy summer. In June, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk with members of Congress about the importance of sustainable seafood. And earlier this month, she was invited to participate in the James Beard Foundation’s (JBF) Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, a summit designed to teach chefs policy and advocacy skills so they can become “even more effective champions for food system change.”
“Food is a powerful thing and it affects a lot of people. We, as chefs, have the ability to help with change,” Lucero says. “JBF is still known for gastronomy and awards, but they’ve really shifted their mission in being advocates and helping chefs do good and use our voices. I think it’s pretty cool.”
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This year’s three-day boot camp, held at Shelburne Farms in Burlington, Vermont, focused on the Farm Bill—legislation that determines most of the government’s food and agriculture programs; it’s up for reauthorization in 2018, something Lucero, a seafood expert, didn’t know much about beforehand.
But now she’s committed to learning and sharing more about, in particular, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides nutritional assistance to low-income families. Lucero would like to eventually extend Jax’s charitable work to programs such as SNAP and the communities it serves. “We definitely need more backing for that program,” she says. “There are still so many people that are hungry in the United States—kids, too. There’s a lot of work to do.”
Between educational sessions and role-playing how to have conversations with congressional leaders around food and sustainability, Lucero discovered that she has a voice that extends beyond the kitchen—and beyond the world of seafood. “I’m pretty soft-spoken and shy, and [advocacy] is not really an avenue I thought I could be successful in or be passionate about,” says Lucero. “Knowing we [chefs] can be part of that change…gives me hope and inspires me to want to do more of this type of work.” Lucero plans to make another trip to D.C. soon.
Lucero joins a prestigious group of Colorado chefs who have taken part in the boot camp, including Kyle Mendenhall (Arcana), Paul C. Reilly (Beast & Bottle, Coperta), and Jennifer Jasinski (Crafted Concepts).