What's Eating America isn't the typical gimmicky culinary show, however. It takes an in-depth look at major issues the nation is facing and how it all relates to our basic human need for food. The five-part series will include a two-hour premiere during which Michelin-starred Spanish-American chef José Andrés joins him to discuss immigration and its role in how Americans eat. The remaining four Sundays will offer one-hour episodes covering the topics of climate change, addiction, politics, and healthcare.
Known for voicing his opinions and starting thought-provoking dialogue, Zimmern explains his concept for the show: "Food is so popular on TV, but it's mostly seen in game shows and travel and home shows that don't speak to the majority of Americans who don't have time to cook dinner. So if not now, when? If not me, then who? It's time that we had a show that was entertaining and informative and looks at the real issues surrounding food in America. Through food, we can tell stories and illuminate diverse topics, and I think it's vital."
According to Zimmern, the nation is so divided at the moment that there isn't a willingness to hear one another's views, but rather a lot of finger-pointing and not enough movement forward. By giving these hotly debated topics a platform for knowledge and understanding on a more relatable level instead of "a talking head behind a desk," we can find a way to make an impact. He shares in earnest: "My hope is that this show will bring people to a table to talk about the issues that are extremely important to us, galvanize leadership to make changes where it's needed, and that we continue to define ourselves by the things we have in common rather than the things tearing us apart."
Instagram about his sobriety anniversary, he says the addiction episode is a very personal one he hopes will inspire change and shed light on a dark, complex issue. "The biggest thing we can do is to continue to take away the stigma," he says. "We need to do a better job caring for our fellow co-workers in restaurants by asking if you're OK. The numbers in the hospitality industry are almost double that of the rest of the population."
Zimmern will return to Miami in a few weeks for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, and he says he has plenty of eating built into the itinerary. "It's my annual pilgrimage to Joe's Stone Crab. I'm not sure there's a city in America that's as defined by one restaurant, and I don't mean to minimize the incredible, diverse food scene. The food in the city is phenomenal, but it's amazing how one heritage restaurant has come to represent so much of what the city means to travelers and tourists."
Amid the marathon of festival events, he also plans to venture to Hialeah for Nicaraguan tamales and to the Design District for Ember. "I'm a big fan of what Brad and Soraya [Kilgore] are doing at Alter and their new restaurant, so I can't wait to visit them and eat Brad's food. I think he's one of the great young chefs working in America." Zimmern also speaks fondly of James Beard Award-winning chefs Michael Schwartz and Michelle Bernstein, who have been making their mark on Miami's restaurant scene for many years and continue to impress. "It's chefs like Michael and Michelle who are so gifted at putting flavors on a plate that their food makes you feel like you're getting hugged from the inside of your mouth."
What's Eating America. Premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, February 16, on MSNBC.