Over its 15 regular seasons, Top Chef has traveled to some of the most delicious and distinctive culinary locales in the country, including New Orleans, Miami, Chicago, Texas, Charleston, and New York City. When the ultimate food reality TV show took off for Colorado for its most recent iteration, long-time host Padma Lakshmi didn’t know what to expect from the regional cuisine. What she learned over the course of the season, she told SheKnows in a recent exclusive interview, changed some of her views, both about food and about politics. It all had to do with meat, game, guns and hunting.

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“One thing that I’m taught every day is that food is really regional,” she explained. “When we were in Colorado, I was really amazed at how much meat they eat — how much game meat specifically. It has implications beyond food. I’m a pretty vocal gun-control proponent, and I think that gun control is very serious and needs to happen in a comprehensive way in this country. But for the first time, I was in a part of our country where people keep guns because they regularly go out and hunt. That was an experience for me, that someone goes out and kills a deer or two, and skins it and freezes it and uses it all year. They use every part of it, they make sausage.”

Lakshmi has gone on the record in the past saying that she doesn’t eat much meat when she’s not filming Top Chef. She’s originally from Madras, where the culture is largely vegetarian, and she’s told Bravo that while she’s learned to love meat as an adult, she only indulges in animal protein a few times a week or month. She says that it’s not only better for the environment, but it’s also better for your health, including your skin, hair and vision.

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“I didn’t grow up a carnivore, I came to that later in life,” she continued. And I still believe that we all need to eat less meat. But being immersed in their culture, I can totally understand the origins of that culture and why that culture exists. I’ve spoken to a lot of chefs, including Top Chef alum Kevin Gillespie, who have guns and do hunt and still are very much a proponent of gun control. It was really interesting to be dropped into such a carnivorous culture.”

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For those who don’t remember, Gillespie is a Georgia-area restaurant owner and chef from Season 9 who is known for his love of hunting and cooking game. Gillespie has talked openly about how important he feels it is to know where your food comes from and to be able to hunt for your food so you appreciate the animal giving up its life and work hard not to squander any part of the animal.

Lakshmi also stressed that hunting wasn’t just about survival, economics and efficiency for game hunters in Colorado (and throughout the West) — it’s also a much more environmentally sound approach to eating meat when compared to buying factory-raised and processed animals. It’s also more nutritional: no hormones, learner meat and minimal processing.

“If you’re going to eat meat,” she said, “Oh, hell yeah, that’s the way you should do it.”

The preview of the new season of Top Chef is out, and it shows the contestants fishing for trout and cooking game in the snow all across Colorado — it seems like they may all get a lesson in cooking from the land right along with Lakshmi. We’ll have to watch to find out.

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