In honor of Giving Tuesday, the chef and World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés spoke to Food Network Magazine editor in chief Maile Carpenter about responding to major disasters and the small, everyday ways we can all make a difference in one another’s lives.
Andrés has been in the news lately, announcing in early November the establishment of a $1 billion fund to help victims of climate-related disasters. The project was seeded with money from a $100 million donation made by Jeff Bezos last July. But Andrés has been focusing on philanthropic work for more than a decade.
In response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, he launched World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides meals to individuals and communities in crisis. He joined humanitarian efforts on the island soon after the disaster and saw how vital reliable food prep and distribution are for effective emergency response. Since then, World Central Kitchen has delivered millions of meals to people around the globe.
Andrés and Carpenter delved into a wide variety of topics during their talk, which was part of Hearst’s In Conversation With series. Below are a few exchanges, edited and condensed for space, from their chat.
On Enlisting Other Chefs During the Pandemic
Maile Carpenter: I don’t know if everybody understands that instead of just basically throwing money at the problem, World Central Kitchen had the genius idea of activating small restaurants around the country to make food for those in need. In other words, entire restaurant staffs got to keep their jobs during shutdowns, and in the process they were providing help to people who needed it.
José Andrés: The chefs are our partners, and without them we cannot do much of what we do. For some, having the opportunity to keep things going was better than nothing. But for many others it would have been easier to just shut down their business. Instead they joined in, because they wanted to be of service. Because it is an expression of empathy to say, “I’m going to be doing something.” They were the reason we were able to do 350,000 to 400,000 meals a day.
On Keeping Plans Flexible
Carpenter: One of your first missions during the pandemic was to feed people who had been stuck on a cruise ship outside San Francisco [in March 2020]. You told your staff at the time, “Maybe this is why World Central Kitchen was created.” Do you still think that all the earlier missions were kind of preparing for the pandemic? Or is it that on every mission you think, “This is the one.”
Andrés: We learn something new each time that prepares us for the next thing. Before San Francisco, we had already responded [in February 2020] to a similar situation in Yokohama, Japan. We had a lot of help from people in Japan, and before we knew it we were doing thousands of meals a day. So even before the ship finally docked [in Oakland], we were on the ground with systems in place and were ready. Why? Because we adapt. And we don’t plan too much. I know that sounds strange—in magazines you have to have a plan. But in my world we’ve learned that nothing goes as planned and that teams freeze when they have a plan that doesn’t work out. So we tell people to adapt to every moment. Then nothing is a surprise.
On Fighting Food Waste
Carpenter: You have spoken out about food waste a lot recently. (Andrés partnered with Hellmann’s to create the Fridge Hunters campaign.) Is this one of the small ways—in other words, not writing a $100 million check like Jeff Bezos—you talk about how we can all work together to stretch the world’s resources?
Andrés: Well, we’d still like the $100 million checks! But absolutely. We all have to learn how to make more out of what we have on hand. I have these memories of when my mom made dinners with leftovers. She would find the last boiled half an egg in the fridge—you know, it was dried out with a green ring around the yoke—and a piece of ham that had become so dehydrated that it belonged in a museum. She would chop it, add onion, flour, and make a bechamel and that would become the base for her croquetas, which were absolutely delicious. We need to teach everyone how to maximize the resources we have. I think this can be a great legacy for the world.
On the Spirit of Giving Tuesday
Carpenter: What’s one thing we can all do today? Something to keep top of mind on Giving Tuesday?
Andrés: I think we don’t say “I love you'' often enough to the people that we should say that to. We take it for granted that they know. But we need to communicate it to our loved ones, to our children, to our friends and co-workers. Just say, “I love you. And I care for you because I know you care for me.” Sometimes you don’t even need to use the words; you can say it with your eyes and with a smile. With a simple thing like that, we can start a revolution.
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