Mission nutrition with Kumar Chandran, USDA Senior Advisor

By Sarah Williams, ASU Sustainable Food Systems graduate student.

Our cohort was extremely fortunate to spend a week in Washington D.C. to learn more about the intricacies and complexities of policy making. We met with many varied stakeholders working within the policy sphere to learn about the impacts one can have and the many paths that can lead you there. One such individual that I was especially ecstatic to meet was Kumar Chandran.

Kumar has had an inspiring career thus far (see a little background here in this blog post from previous student Abigail Martone-Richards), and is still happily serving as a Senior Advisor, covering nutrition, in the USDA’s Office of the Secretary. Kumar’s role is to advise Secretary Vilsack in all matters concerning nutrition and food assistance policy. Now that he’s been in the role for a couple of years, what has he been up to?

When asked about his current projects, Kumar replied that he has been busy “landing the planes in the air”. What are those planes you may ask? The most recently landed plane is the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. This conference, the first in over half a century, lays out an ambitious roadmap for ending hunger and reducing diet-related disease by 2030 (White House, 2022). Kumar was part of a large team who worked tirelessly to make it the success it was. While he credits the Domestic Policy Council as the driving force and organizer of the conference, Kumar was one of two point people for USDA on the project. Since the conference’s conclusion, he has been meeting with various stakeholders to strategize about the resulting priorities and how they can best be supported and accomplished.

Some current “planes'' in the air are flying around in the rulemaking process. There are two particular proposed rules Kumar is focused on: revisions in WIC food packages and updates to school nutrition standards to be in line with 2020 dietary guidelines. The proposed rules have gone through the public comment period, and now the team will assess all concerns brought up during that period and put out a final rule, which you can find in the Federal Register once posted.

Another area of focus is the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization process. During this process, USDA works with the Agriculture committees to provide technical assistance and support as they draft their bills, while also communicating publicly about the Administration’s goals on food and nutrition policy.

Kathleen Merrigan, Swette Center Executive Director, with her former student, Kumar Chandran.

Kumar was once a student like me, interested in advancing nutrition and food security for our communities. Taking the lessons learned from his amazing mentors, he has worked on food policy from several different positions, which has led him to where he is now. His career is far from over, and considering all that he has accomplished so far, one thing that is sure is that he will only continue to grow his influence and impact as an important advocate for food policy.

This blog is part of a series from the May 2023 Washington D.C. Immersive component of the Swette Center graduate programs. Students met with federal food and agriculture focused officials at USDA, the White House, and Congress alongside many other important influencers of policy in industry and non-profits.